Tuesday, January 22, 2019

OT Theology of God 3 (God of Israel)

continued from here
The God of Israel
The starting point for an Old Testament theology of God is the fact that God is the God of Israel. The Old Testament does not approach God as an abstract philosophical or theological concept. The Old Testament exists because God chose to reveal himself to a people. Through that people, God revealed the Scriptures. The Scriptural understanding of God thus is predicated on the relationship between God and Israel.

Someone might object, "Does not the Old Testament begin with creation?" "Is not Abraham the father of all of those who believe (Rom. 4:11-12)?" These are good questions that lead to important hermeneutical questions. Once we have left the theology of the individual books of the Bible, we have left the orbit of inductive Bible study for the world of the canon and the church. The inductive begins to blur into the theological.

Our approach is to begin with the inductive and move toward the theological. At some point, the Pentateuch was bound together as a package. It would not be too controversial to suggest that the individual books in the Torah were edited into their current form as they became a single canonical bundle. From one perspective, we can consider the Pentateuch as a single work, despite the distinct histories various parts of the Pentateuch may have had as sources and individual books.

Within this literary whole, it seems apparent that the giving of the covenant at Sinai is the center, the fulcrum point of the Torah. The parts of the Pentateuch that precede Exodus 20-40 are leading toward the giving of the Law, and the other books of the Pentateuch play out its consequences. From this perspective, Genesis is a preamble to the covenant, which is found in the latter part of Exodus but expressed more powerfully in Deuteronomy where Moses recapitulates the Law a second time.

Within the Old Testament as a whole, the Law is clearly the centerpiece, the sun around which the other books orbit. What we might consider the historical books point back to the giving of the Law as the point of departure. This fact is especially clear in 2 Kings 22, where Josiah discovers the book of the Law and initiates a thoroughgoing reform.

The prophets proper are best organized in relation to the history of Israel expressed in the historical books. Some prophets functioned before the exile. Some during the exile. Others after the exile. This organizing principle, however, ties them to the organizing principle of the historical books themselves, which we have already seen look to the giving of the Law as their fulcrum point.

The last section of the Jewish Bible, the Writings, are headed by the Psalms, the worship texts of Israel. These of course make reference to the Law in a number of places (e.g., Ps. 19:7; Ps. 119), suggesting that the Law and, at one point, the temple centered their use. Once again, we find that the inductive starting point to conceptualize the Old Testament is the Law.

So the Law is the centerpoint of the Old Testament, and the covenant is the center of the Law. This fact suggests that the covenant is the starting point for Old Testament theology. It is the codification of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel.

Several texts ground this covenant relationship, many of which are in Deuteronomy. "I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. There will be no other gods above me" (Deut. 5:6-7). The cornerstone of Israel's faith is the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone." These passages embody the covenant relationship between one God and one people.

In the ancient world, each nation had its patron deities, the gods that they served. Babylonians did not normally worship Dagon. Philistines did not normally worship Marduk. When two groups of people went to war, they understood their gods also to fight. In the case of the Trojan War, Athena especially took the side of the Greeks, while Poseidon took the Trojan side. The Romans typically invited the gods of whatever city they were surrounding to switch sides, with promises of honor after victory.

Psalm 82 draws on this imagery when it pictures God as the "Most High" in the counsel of the gods of the other nations. From a Christian perspective, this is a figurative rather than a literal portrayal. The point of the psalm is that God is going to judge the other nations for the way they have treated their own poor and needy. To the extent that Israelites might have referred to other gods, Christians might think mostly of demonic forces.

Yet Deuteronomy 32:8-9 uses this imagery as well, "When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance and when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the boundaries according to the number of the sons of God, for his people are the portion of Yahweh, Jacob, the place of his inheritance." The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (100BC) have confirmed that the original reading here was "sons of God" rather than "sons of Israel," as the much later Masoretic text says (AD900s).

Again, Christians would not take this passage literally, but it gives us the same sense that, of all the peoples of the earth, Yahweh especially chose Israel. Deuteronomy 7:7 puts it well: "Yahweh did not love you or choose you because you were more numerous than all peoples, for you were the least of all peoples. The book of Jonah makes it clear that God was not uncaring toward the other peoples of the earth, even the enemies of Israel. As Christians we might say that God used Israel as an entry point to the world with a view to the world's eventual salvation.

The Ten Commandments stand at the beginning of a covenant agreement between Yahweh and Israel. [1] They are to have no other gods above him. They are not to make images of him or any other god. They are to keep any oath they make in which they invoke his name. Deuteronomy 28 invokes both blessings and curses on Israel depending on whether they keep the covenant or break it. Keeping the covenant results in many material blessings. Breaking the covenant will result in even more cursings.

The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are often known as the "deuteronomic history" for the way that they embody the consequences to Israel depending on their faithfulness to the covenant. We see what happens to Israel in battle after one man, Achan, violates God's command (Josh. 7). The book of Judges in particular is a case study in the consequences of such obedience or disobedience. Whenever Israel turned to other gods, Yahweh allowed them to be defeated and enslaves.

The starting point for an Old Testament theology of God is the fact that God is the God of Israel. The story of creation, more than anything else, served to show that the one God of Israel was the creator God, not Marduk of the Babylonians or the god of any other ANE people. It was Yahweh, the God of Israel, who laid the foundations of the earth (e.g., Ps. 102:25), not some other god.

[1] The similarity of this pattern to ancient suzerainty treaties is often noted (e.g., Hittite treaties). The ruler of a people agreed to defend and provide for a people if they in turn would give their complete loyalty to the ruler.


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for this.

anonymous said...

keep it up!