Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Birth of Israel 1

continued from here


For the next two weeks, we are going to read the book of Exodus, the second book in the Bible. If you read three chapters a day, you will only have one chapter left to read on the last day.

1. Again, you may ask, "Why are we going to Exodus rather than Genesis, the actual first book of the Bible?" There are two reasons. Both have to do with our quest to be able to read and hear the Bible on its own terms.

First, we mentioned in the first chapter that Adam is hardly mentioned in the Old Testament outside of Genesis 2-3, and Eve is never mentioned elsewhere. In the New Testament, Adam features prominently in two chapters of Paul's writings, barely elsewhere. Eve is similarly mentioned only twice. [1]

The situation is quite different if you do a word search on Abraham. Abraham is mentioned 42 times outside of Genesis in the Old Testament and 69 times in the New Testament. This observation takes us back to something we mentioned in the first chapter--there is more than one way to tell the same story. In the way the authors of the Bible themselves tell the story, Abraham is much more central than Adam.

Why is this the case? Why is Abraham more important to the story for the biblical writers than he probably is for Christians today in the way we tell the story? The answer is that almost all the writers of the Bible were either Israelites or Jews. (On a side note, we use the word Jew from the time Israel returned from captivity in 538BC on. More to come.) The only possible exception would seem to be Luke.

In the Jewish telling of the story, the story really gets going from Abraham on. Abraham is the father of the people that would become Israel. What we call the "Old Testament" is really the Scriptures of Israel. What we called the "Old Testament" is really the Bible that the earliest believers used. The Scriptures of Israel are the Scriptures that Jesus used while he was on earth.

Jesus and his opponents in the Gospel of John do not argue over who is a child of Adam. They argue over who the true children of Abraham are (John 8:31-59). The biblical story, as the Bible itself predominantly tells the story, really gets going with Abraham. Everything before Abraham has somewhat of the nature of preface or "prolegomena" (things you say beforehand).

2. So one reason to start with Exodus is to make it clear to us that we are reading the Scriptures of Israel. Most of those who will read this book are not Jews but non-Jews or "Gentiles" as we are called. The Bible is Scripture for us as well, but it is easy for us to "take the Bible over" and narcissistically ignore the fact that the Old Testament was first collected as the Jewish Scriptures. 

Even the New Testament was predominantly written by Jews for Christians who either were Jewish Christians or non-Jews who understood themselves to have become part of Israel. Even the Gentiles of the New Testament understood themselves to have become children of Abraham (Rom. 4:11-12). Again, we start with Exodus so that we can better begin to read the Bible on its own terms rather than our own.

Why then start with Exodus? Why not start with Genesis 12? In part for convenience. In part because Exodus really brings out the centrality of the Old Testament as the Scriptures of Israel. Although Abraham is the father of Israel he is also the father of Ishmael. There is a sense in which all of Genesis is prolegomena to Israel, which only becomes the people of God fully with the exodus and the covenant at Mt. Sinai.

However, another reason we are postponing Genesis is so that we can begin to get our hermeneutical legs under us. Genesis 1-3 especially are so familiar to so many of us that we may have a difficult time reading them with fresh eyes. Perhaps more than any other part of the Old Testament, we are likely to think that we already know Genesis 1-3. We may think their meaning is obvious because we have heard so much about them. We already have our ideas formed.

Accordingly, it will be hard to hear Genesis 1-3 with all those voices in our head. Our thoughts are clouded by modern arguments and fights in the church. It will do us well to stay in the less trodden paths of books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy before we go back to Genesis. Then when we look at them, we will have a little more familiarity with the world to which God was speaking when he inspired those chapters.

3. Nevertheless, although we are reading Exodus for the next two weeks, we should dip back into the story of Genesis briefly to get a sense of how we got to Exodus 1...

[1] Adam: Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15; Eve: 2 Corinthians 11: 3; 1 Timothy 2:13.


Bob MacDonald said...

Great starting place.

Bob MacDonald said...

The second word of this book is wmot (pronounced shemot - stress on the last syllable). This is the name by which Jewish readers know this book. It made me think of the phrase from John 10, He calls his sheep by name. They and we have this specific grounding in space and time. Though I am suspicious of time-based words as 'defining' our existence or theologies, yet we have and are part of a real history so we can ground our thinking and actions in our own time and space and in a legitimate study of history. (I am having difficulty typing and thinking today. Sorry about the deleted comments.)

Martin LaBar said...

Sarah/Sarai is mentioned over 50 times in the Old Testament, almost all in Genesis. She is mentioned 5 times in the New Testament.

Martin LaBar said...
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