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According to the Scriptures… 1. The God of Israel 2. The Election of Israel 3. Israel as Man with God 4. Man is Given Responsibility 5. Talking Back 6. The Hope of the Nations
1. The God of Israel
The Divine Assembly and Council The Lord is surrounded by his assembly. This assembly is made up of the righteous, who echo the judgment of God. They stand around the Lord and enjoy watching him bringing justice. They sit in judgment on the judgments of God and find his decisions good.
The name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem when the people and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord (Psalm 102.22) In the council of the holy ones God is praised (Psalm 89.7). Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders (Psalm 107). In the council of the upright and in the assembly I will extol the Lord with all my heart (Psalm 111).
He is the Lord of hosts, that is, of armies. The elements of creation are those armies, and all nations and the leaders are included in them.
The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command (Joel 2.11) A chariot of fire appeared and separated the two them, and Elijah went up the heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and said ‘The chariots and horsemen of Israel’ (2 Kings 2.11)
The forces of the Lord are innumerable.
‘Do not be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked as saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round’ (2 Kings 6.17).
Sometimes these lights or stars appear to be the gods or rulers of the nations. (Psalm 24) They are the host of Heaven. Sometimes they reveal him to us, sometimes he conceals himself from us behind them, and they are so numerous that they appear as ‘cloud’, or ‘smoke’.
I saw one like a man coming with the clouds of heaven.. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. (Daniel 7.13) Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him… (Revelation 1.7) There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne (Revelation 7.9)
Creation makes way before the Lord Israel makes no strong distinction between cosmological events and political ones. She recognises that cosmological changes reflect the disorder between nations. Cosmological disorder is a reflection of political disorder, which breaks out because man has not exercised the office given to him of subduing creation. The roaring of the seas is an expression of the tumult of the peoples:
You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples (Psalm 65.7)
All creation recognises its master and makes way before him. He alone can command it. He can judge, divide and separate any creature from any other. He bring together what has been separated. No material or mortal or created thing is any barrier or impediment to him. That all creation recognises him in this way is the demonstration that he is indeed Lord of creation.
Look the Lord is coming from his dwelling place; he comes down treads the high places of the earth. The mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope (Micah 1.3) Fire goes before him and burns up his enemies on every side. His lightning lit up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth (Psalm 97.3).
The Lord leads his people The Lord leads his people through creation.
He rebuked the Red Sea and it was dried up; so he led them through the deep as through the wilderness. He saved them from the adversary’s hand and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. (Psalm 106.9) By day the Lord went head of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light… neither the pillar of cloud nor the pillar of fire left its place in front of the people. Then the angel of God who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army went behind them and the pillar of cloud stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel (Exodus 13.21, 14.19) He breaks open the way and leads them forward; they will break through the gate and go out, their king passes through at their front, their Lord is at their head (Micah 2.13)
Creation as the Provision of the Lord for Man All creation is the hospitality and provision of God for man. Creation serves us, for man is God's representative in creation. The Lord goes through the world, looking out for the righteous. As the Lord leads his people through creation, it makes way for them too. As the Lord passes the violent are subdued, the uprising is put down, justice and order are restored and the land becomes fertile again. All creation opens to provide water and food for his people. The Lord turns the world from barren in inhospitable to fertile and productive.
He opened the rock and water gushed out, like a river it flowed in the desert (Psalm 105.40).
The clouds shelter his people from the harshness of the sun, and provide the rain which grows the grass that feeds the cattle and all those who depend on them.
He makes grass grow for the cattle and plants for man to cultivate, bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread that sustains his heart (Psalm 104)
His blessings shower down with the rain. They renew the face of the earth and makes people flourish. The sacrifices make Israel fertile.
The land that you are crossing over to occupy is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, a land that the Lord your God looks after. The eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. If you will only heed his every commandment that I am commanding you today--loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul- then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill’ (Deuteronomy 11. 11-15).
All creation does him homage, and makes way before him, as a crowd parts when the king comes through.
The sea looked and fled, the mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. Why was it sea that you fled? Tremble O earth at the presence of the Lord (Psalm 114)
The arrival of the Lord may be preceded by a storm.
A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earth quake. But the Lord was not the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper… (1 Kings 19)
But the arrival of the Lord may not be heralded by any cosmic disturbance. It may be perceptible only to those who have been trained to see it and who wait for it. The Lord travels through creation ceaselessly. This ongoing journey is reflected in Jesus’ saying that ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matthew 8.20).
2. The Election of Israel as Witness of God
Election to Holiness Israel is chosen by God. The Lord has given himself to them.
‘The Lord is their inheritance’ (Deuteronomy 18.20).
The election of Israel is the most controversial and, to Israel, the most embarrassing doctrine. The God of all commitments himself to one particular is universally regarded as implausible, and much of our history has featured the suppression of this doctrine. The Distinction between Israel and the Gentiles Israel is the gentile chosen by God. That Israel is elected means only that she has been made the people for all other peoples. Israel is holy for the nations. Israel is pulled out of the crowd just so that, by watching Israel, the crowd can see the action that Israel learns from her Lord. The Lord begins to teach Israel the life he has in mind for his creatures. Israel has been appointed the follower and attendant of the Lord. There is no higher office. God is inducting man into his office. God is teacher, and man, in the form of the people of Israel, is his student. God is supervising man’s learning and correcting his performance of the highly priestly office. The whole nation of Israel is sanctified, dedicated to God. Israel cannot be assimilated into the world. The whole nation is like Samson the ‘Nazirite of God’ who ‘drinks no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean’ (Judges 13).
The nation which must ‘keep away from the devoted things’ (Joshua 6.18). Those things which are selected to be present to God already carry a holiness which other things must be preserved from. Ordinary things should not be exposed to the direct holiness of God. Israel is told ‘Do not touch the things devoted to the Lord’. When any member of Israel comes into contact with Gentiles he is to wash the impurity off. If Israel took anything from the Gentiles, she would be sourcing her existence from them rather than from her Lord.
The Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance (Deuteronomy 32.8)
Israel as Innocent Humans are animals. They are like other animals. Each nation identifies itself the animal that represents those characteristics which it regards as most desirable. Israel is as innocent and peaceful as any herbivore, a lamb or a dove. Israel’s first statement about itself is that they were slaves, who escaped captivity and death by the skin of their teeth. They have been the victims of cruelty and therefore can never inflict cruelty on anyone themselves. Gentiles are like carnivores and scavengers. Their behaviour can be predatory and murderous. They can be cruel, to animals and to man. They are their own enemy. How can they be saved from their own violence? How can the ferocity be taken out of the Gentile? The Jews are pure, peaceful, while the Gentiles are impure and violent. Israel looks so lost and vulnerable in this world of ravening Gentiles. Will she survive? Surely God must intervene to save her. Why doesn't he intervene more often? Why doesn't he intervene to take her out of danger finally? Israel is put into danger, as part of her commitment to the world. God has divided Israel from all other nations, putting Israel on one side and them on the other. Circumcision is a sign of the division that makes this fundamental distinction between them. Holiness demonstrated Leviticus is the guidebook to national holiness
I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming creature that moves on the earth. … This is the law pertaining to land animal and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms upon the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten. (Leviticus 11.44-7)
Blood is life. ‘The life of the flesh is in the blood’ (Leviticus 17.11). The only permitted shedding of blood must be demonstrably to be that of those animals permitted for Israel’s consumption. There must no cruelty, no suspicion that animal blood has been offered to other powers and no suspicion that human blood has been spilled.
‘If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat and does not present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, he shall be held guilty of bloodshed; he has shed blood, and he shall be cut off from the people’ (Leviticus 17.2-4).
Israel does not engage in cruelty or murder or in anything that looks like them.
‘If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement’ (Leviticus 17.8-10).
Israel was taught to present publicly the bodies of the creatures she consumed. She paid their blood as a form of rent that must be returned publicly to God. An account for their life had to be given publicly. They publicly returned the life to God. We cannot have all creation: we can have the animal but not the blood, all the fruit except that of one tree. Abstention from food is a public demonstration of the teaching that the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the doctrine of creation.
‘You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality’ (Acts 15.29).
For Israel the rule not to eat the blood is to demonstrate that Israel does not consume and exhaust the life which God has given to his creatures, and which continues to belong to him. This life is merely lent to us. It may not be taken from any bodies by violence. Israel abstains from bloodshed, and therefore she abstains from the suspicion of bloodshed which any contact with blood may cause.
3. Israel as Man with God
God called Abraham and made the him the beginning of a people. That people is like all other peoples except in respect of this call. The call of God is the beginning of a history without parallel. Israel is the companion of God. He can hold out against God, but he cannot shake him off. And according to the covenant that he has made with him, God will not shake Israel off.
‘Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with man and have prevailed. (Genesis 32.24-29)
Israel may not wish to be the people of God elect for this purpose. But cannot wish this call and this history away, for God’s word went out to Israel and will not return to him empty. Though Israel may in find this comfortable, and may protest, Israel has no other definition. As long as Israel protests about this calling Israel shows us
ourselves, a picture of misery. But God will secure for this people the life he intends for them, and this is his own life. In Christ the life God has given Israel does not returned to him empty. If Israel keeps its law it will grow into the status promised to it. Israel will indeed be the leader and guide of the world. The Commandment – Worship the Lord only Israel may follow the Lord exclusively. She may withhold her worship from every other god.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them (Exodus 20.2-5).
Israel can reserve her acknowledgement for the God who gives her glory. She is free from the compulsion to defer to any other beings and from any obligation to worship any other divinity. The Way of the Lord Israel can follow the Lord. She can opt out of all routes and stick to the path the Lord takes.
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper (Psalm 1).
The Law is our Way
‘Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord’ (Psalm 119.1). Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119.104-5) I direct my steps by all your precepts; I hate every false way. Your decrees are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. Keep my steps steady according to your promise (Psalm 119.128-33).
The command given to Israel is expanded and explained in the Law (Torah). The Torah is the Scripture, in particular its first five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, together the Pentateuch). ‘Law’ means both the instructions given to Israel which amplify the first command not to worship other gods, and it means the Scriptures, the narrative record of the way Israel takes as she follows her Lord. It is also a portrait of Israel, the ‘man after God’s own heart’ and the
people after God’s heart and so it reveals the characteristics that God intends for Israel. It is the means by which Israelites can see how they have acquired those characteristics. They can compare themselves with that portrait and see what they can conform themselves more closely to his image.
The Rule of God
The image of the king is not a only personal description but also a job description. The true Israelite, displayed in the person, or at least the job description, of the king, will uphold justice. Descriptions of the Man after God's heart include the royal, priestly and prophetic attributes listed in Isaiah:
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9.2) The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11.2)
The man with the full complement of powers we could regard as a king, priest and prophet. The God of Israel is Lord of all kings and nations. His people may exercise with him his leadership and rule for all other nations. Israel is leader and ruler of the nations The nations may resist that leadership and wish to throw off the rule of God and of Israel, his representative.
Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, "I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill." I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, "You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him (Psalm 2).
Other lords acknowledge this. They must pass on to God the acknowledgement and homage that they receive from their own peoples. They must not allow anyone to praise them excessively or credit them with any acts that are beyond their own power. They pass that credit on to God.
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendour. … in his temple all say, "Glory!" The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever (Psalm 29)
Man before God
How can mankind come into God's presence, and remain there? Who is holy enough to do so? Israel does so. Israel is man, living in the presence of God.
O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbours; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honour those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15)
The City of the Great King. Since fortresses and palaces are built on them, hills and ‘high places’ are synonyms for the capital cities of kings. The mountain of Jerusalem, and particularly the temple at its summit, is the incarnation of God of with man. The temple is the place in where God makes himself available to us. It is the meeting point of God and man.
One thing I ask of the Lord, one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple … He will keep me safe in his dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle (Psalm 27).
The City of Jerusalem strikes awe into all and fear into those who oppose the God of Israel.
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, the city of the great King. Within its citadels God has shown himself a sure defence. Then the kings assembled, they came on together. As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic, they took to flight (Psalm 48).
The Good Judge God is the good judge and is the guarantor that there will be justice and right judgment. The temple is the court of appeal for all nations. It is the court to which people of all nations can appeal over the heads of their rulers to the king of Kings. All mankind can turn to Jerusalem to petition the Lord and receive release from their masters
My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56.7)
The Lord will enable us to be judges of one another. The Lord is there as guarantor of fair judgement, who will not let anyone go until all has been heard and true and fair judgment has been given by all on all. We will be entirely revealed to one another. We are to judge first ourselves, and then one another. We are to judge one another gently, for each of us belong to Christ and so is ‘another man’ servant’. We may not decide that the Lord has made a mistake, or that we can condemn and dismiss him. We are created to be judges – and admirers – of God's creation. Each 9
of us has to regard those nearest to us as our works, and has to lift and commend them to the Lord, in the hope that he will also find our work good. We judge all creation, to be its umpires. We are to grow into this role in which we can see rightness and goodness of all creation. At the final judgment, all will be present, and will be able to make their charges again those who have persecuted them. This judgment is not a judgment imposed on us from outside. It is the truth about ourselves, which we and everyone will be able to recognise and acknowledge. Others may have decided that we should be condemned, but the Lord God prevents any such sentence of condemnation from becoming final, until the whole truth is known. Other Ways There are always two ways – the way the Lord takes, and all other ways. There are therefore two sorts of man, the one who follows the Lord, and all other men who take other routes and follow other masters. And there are two outcomes, prosperity for those who follow the Lord, and misery for those who follow any other master. Israel has to say this in faith, because it very often appears that the reverse is true.
4. Man is given Responsibility
Israel is teacher and leader of the nations
God has called man to be the steward and custodian of creation. Man is to arbitrate between one creature and another and so provide justice to creation. Man as Priest of Creation God has given man the task of keeping the cosmos in order. Man is to allow all things to praise their maker, so that each creature can receive its life from God and give its thanks to God for that life. No creature should be allowed to get in the way of any other creature’s acknowledgement of the Lord. Creatures exist only because God blesses them. He gives the praise that gives them their existence. All creatures live well as they acknowledge their receipt of life from God and from no other source. Man is commissioned to prevent any creature from attempting to extract excessive reverence – worship – from any other creature. If man does not exercise that police function, the more faithless will propel the weaker and more gullible to become their devotees, and so to turn themselves into little gods. But man has not yet grown into his role. He has not given the creaturely forces the rule they need. He has not performed his role in the provision of justice, by arbitrating between them. The result is that they are out of kilter and the world is in rebellion. Instead of presiding over it, man becomes afraid of nature. The creaturely forces have become centres of rebellion. Rather than return power to God, these creatures hoard power. Man has given away to them the powers that he should exercise on their behalf. Adam has allowed created forces to get out of hand and become menacing. Gods come into existence when man lets his own powers become independent of him and then attributes too much authority to these independent powers. Instead of being images of the authority devolved to them from
above, they are idolatrous, images that do not reveal that they reflect the glory that God has given them, but which they award to themselves. The Lord invites us to assess our performance. It is good to keep short account with the Lord. God expects man to communicate, report to him and stay in touch.
The kingdom of heaven is a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants (Matthew 18.23).
This settling of accounts does not mean that the relationship is over. It is not. But relationship is sustained by regular self-examination; it is good to ask ourselves how we are doing. The Lord invites us to examine ourselves. The Lord judges and intervenes only when the powerless are threatened by the powerful. To the weak it may seem that he takes unbearably long to do so. The poor beg the Lord to intervene for them against the rich.
5. Talking Back
Interceding and bargaining with God If we have not looked after those in our responsibility, but have become wealthy by making them poor, the Lord invites us to come to the table to parley. He hopes to reason with us. ‘Review the case with me’ (Isaiah 43.26).
Listen to what the LORD says “Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. “Hear, you mountains, the LORD’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. (Micah 6.1-3)
The Lord judges, and intervenes, only when the powerless are threatened by the powerful. To the weak it may seem that he takes unbearably long to do so. The poor beg the Lord to intervene for them against the rich. The God of Israel hopes for a people who can listen and reply. We can change his mind. Israel’s Self-Criticism Our comeuppance is the outcome of the actions that we have inflicted on one another. Our own acts rebound on us. God may delay this rebound in the hope that we ask for forgiveness and alter our course. But Israel has such a high view of God's sovereignty that it tends to attribute everything that happens to God's intervention. Israel recounts its history in selfcritical mode in psalms 78 and psalms 105-107, and in Deuteronomy. The result is that for us, either Israel seems responsible for every misfortune she suffers, or that the God of Israel seems to be responsible, as though every misfortune were God's act of punishment. These two features run in parallel through 11
the Scriptures. Israel is permanently trial, sometimes put on trial by God, sometimes on trial before the watching gentiles. And Israel’s God is permanently on trial, sometimes by Israel, or by the gentiles. All outcomes are the result of the repeated appeals and negotiation that takes place in the council of God. God is on trial. His creation is examined for evidence of its ultimate order and justice. Has any nation or civilisation developed this degree of self-examination through this relentless asking of the question about justice and the justice of God. Is there ultimately order and justice at all? Fools say…
Fools say in their hearts, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. (Psalm 14)
God does not seem to want to step in to deliver justice. He appears to have a nonintervention policy.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, "I have prevailed"; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. (Psalm 13)
As a result, some people believe that God never intervenes, or does not hear appeals for justice. Some foolishly believe that God will not discover their crimes, and believe that they themselves are out of reach. This raises the question of whether God is just.
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor-- let them be caught in the schemes they have devised. For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord. In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, "God will not seek it out"; all their thoughts are, "There is no God." Their ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of their sight; as for their foes, they scoff at them. They think in their heart, "We shall not be moved; throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity." Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places they murder the innocent. Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; they lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net. They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might. They think in their heart, "God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it." Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed. Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts, "You will not call us to account"? But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan. Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers; seek out their wickedness until you find none. The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land. O
Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10)
Israel reminds God that he has promised to provide justice, and points out that, if he does not, the Gentiles will say that Israel’s God cannot be relied on. Then the poor might despair. Israel puts the question of whether God is really faithful to Israel. Israel asks why God seems to abandon her and humiliate her? Which of them is unfaithful to the other?
Yet you have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our armies. You made us turn back from the foe, and our enemies have gotten spoil. You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations. You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them. You have made us the taunt of our neighbours, the derision and scorn of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face at the words of the taunters and revilers, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger. All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way, yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness. If we had forgotten the name of our God, or spread out our hands to a strange god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart. Because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love. (Psalm 44.9-26)
God is Faithful For the most part, Israel affirms that God is faithful and just. The Israelite can be faithful because he can be confident that God is both just and faithful. God does intervene and come to the rescue:
In my distress I called to the Lord I cried to God for help. From his temple he heard my voice, my cry came before him into his ears… He parted the heavens and came down, dark clouds were under his feet… he mounted the cherubim and flew he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering his canopy around him… he reached down from on high and took hold of me, he drew me out of deep waters (psalm 18.9) You exalted me above my foes from violent men you rescued me. Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O Lord (psalm 18.46)
Israel has always believed that God would be faithful. He always was.
We have heard with our ears, O God, our ancestors have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old: you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted; you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free; for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them victory; but your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance, for you delighted in them. You are my King and my God; you command victories for Jacob. Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down our assailants. For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. But you have saved us from our foes, and have put to confusion those who hate us. In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever. (Psalm 44.18)
Our doubts are reflections of our own failure of faith.
Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked… ..But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin... When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you. Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honour. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73)
The Delayed Justice of God The Lord hears the cries of those oppressed and return to save them and throw out their oppressors.
The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death (psalm 102. 19-20)
The poor man cries to the Lord
Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let me abide in your tent forever, find refuge under the shelter of your wings (Psalm 61).
But the poor man must be patient
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken (psalm 62.1-2) You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place (psalm 66.6, 12) Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting
for my God. …With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me. (Psalm 69)
God is fierce with Israel Israel is so small. Sovereign Lord how will he survive? Amos asks the question, and gives us an instance in which the Lord was persuaded not to give up on Israel, or perhaps, Israel was at last persuaded to ask him for the mercy that the Lord wanted to give.
This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: he was preparing swarms of locusts… just when they had stripped the land clean, I cried out Sovereign Lord, Forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small! So the Lord relented. This will not happen the Lord said. This is what the Lord showed me. The Sovereign Lord was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the Lord. Then I cried out ‘Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!’ So the Lord relented. ‘This will not happen either,’ the Sovereign Lord said. (Amos 7.1-6)
Waiting for Just and Merciful Judgment At the final judgment, all will be present and everyone will see everyone, and will be able to make their charges again those who have persecuted them. This judgment is not a judgment imposed on us from outside, but is the truth about ourselves, which we and everyone will be able to recognise and acknowledge. It is the outcome of all our actions. Others may have decided that we should be condemned, but the Lord God prevents any such sentence of condemnation from becoming final, until the whole truth is known.
The Lord was angry with his people and abhorred his inheritance. He handed them over to the nations and their foes ruled over them. Their enemies oppressed them and subjected them to their power (Psalm 106) ‘The Lord entered into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?’ (Isaiah 3.14-15)
The Lord returns in Judgment The Lord comes to throw out the wicked. He takes on the gods of the gentiles and all the disobedient forces. This God, the God of Israel, is stronger than the gods of the nations. They are the interlopers whom the Lord is going to drive out of Israel and out of the world. The Lord will overcome all the enemies of his people.
Fire goes before him and consumes foes on every side (Psalm 97) He rebuked the Red Sea and it was dried up; so he led them through the deep as through the wilderness. He saved them from the adversary’s hand and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. As for those that troubled them, the waters overwhelmed them; there was not one of them left. Then they believed his words and sang aloud his praise (Psalm 106.9).
God intervenes at last The Lord vindicates the poor man
But you indeed are awesome! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused? From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still when God rose up to establish judgment, to save all the oppressed of the earth. (Psalm 76.7-9)
The good prince delivers justice: indeed, justice is the sign of a good prince, psalm 72 tells us:
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. …May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service. For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper (Psalm 72). God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." (Psalm 82) He looked down from his holy height, from heaven the Lord looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die. (Psalm 102.19-20)
This is how psalm 143 puts it:
Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness; answer me in your righteousness. Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you. For the enemy has pursued me, crushing my life to the ground, making me sit in darkness like those long dead. My spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. Save me, O Lord, from my enemies; I have fled to you for refuge (Psalm 143.1-9).
The Israelite can always appeal to the Lord:
Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication. Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint. I am distraught by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamour of the wicked. ... But I call upon God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice. (Psalm 55.1-5) The Justice of God You hear the desire of the afflicted, you encourage them and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man who is of the earth may terrify no more (Psalm 10.17) The Lord is in his holy temple the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them (psalm 11.4)
God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself (Psalm 49.15). The Lord… raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from ash heap he seats him with princes, with the princes of their people (psalm 113).
In psalms 18 and 144 the Israelite expects the Lord to come to his rescue with full cosmological panoply.
Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down; touch the mountains so that they smoke. Make the lightning flash and scatter them; send out your arrows and rout them. Stretch out your hand from on high; set me free and rescue me from the mighty waters, from the hand of strangers. (Psalm 144.5-7) In my distress I called to the Lord I cried to God for help. From his temple he heard my voice, my cry came before him into his ears (psalm 18.9) …he parted the heavens and came down dark clouds were under his feet… he mounted the cherubim and flew he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering his canopy around him the valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke oh Lord at the blast of breath from your nostrils he reached down from on high and took hold of me, he drew me out of deep waters (Psalm 18.9)
There seems nothing that Israel cannot say to God. There is an extraordinary equality in this relationship. But it is its faith that allows Israel to asks the question of God's justice.
6. Israel as Learner and Teacher Israel participates in the life of God. Now Israel must learn how to life that so and so participate - become an active participate in the life of God for the world, and so be a free and willing creature, who can on his own account say Amen to this life. Returning to God as gift a proportion of the creation he leases to her, Israel demonstrated her progress towards competence as custodian of his creation. God is inducting the other into creaturehood, an event and process of paideia. God has given man the mandate to be steward of creation. Sacrifice is the process by which man is trained into the skills by which he can exercise this mandate. This is an event, in which one party mandates the other, and a process, in which one is trained by another into the skills by which he can receive and exercise this mandate. The two parties comprise a teacher and a learner, a man sacrificing, and his Lord supervising his learning and correct performance of sacrifice, the exercise of the priestly office. God is teaching and man in form of Israel is learning, and God is supervising his learning and correct performance of sacrifice, the exercise of the priestly office. The sacrifice is not for the benefit of the lord, but is part of the practice of the
husbandry into which the Lord inducts his servant. Every process of teaching and learning is accompanied by a process of testing and inspection. By bringing some of the results of her husbandry to the temple for inspection and sacrifice, Israel's progress in appropriating the land and learning the holy practices of husbandry of her God are tested. The identification and isolation of sin is part of the process of checking progress, which is required for learning. The Education of Israel as Gift to Humankind Israel went through this hard training for us. It was all for our benefit. She kept her learning diary, and now through the new testament we have access to it. Israel went through all this with God just as the instructor pulls one student out of the crowd and goes through the whole action with them. It does not matter if at the end they have not entirely got it. The point is that the onlookers, the whole student group, now has some good idea of what the whole action consists of. Now the work for each of them begins. The Old Testament is a hundred test cases and cautionary tales. There is no cover up about any of this. The embarrassing moments are collected and told with glee. The point is not that Israel looks good. Israel is made a fool of, and consents to this being made a fool of, in front of the Gentiles, and for their sake – for our sake. The teller of Scripture is simply not interested in making Israel look good. Inasmuch as Israel reveals all these errors, and endures mockery, Israel is the servant who suffers. This ridicule will turn to respect when we outsiders come to realise that Israel left all the record of these trials in only in order that we should have the benefit of it. It is experience that cannot be bought. It is Israel’s gift to us.
‘For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope’ (Romans 15.4).
The Old Testament understands that the holy people will get into trouble, sustain injuries and blemishes and so be regularly threatened by unholiness. It provides a number of ways that these blemishes and that unholiness to be dealt with. It is a people-purification system. The Israelite Passes on What He Receives The prophets of the Old Testament planted, and the churches of the New Testament are the harvest. The Son does not found a new community on the Gentiles. He opens the existing community, of Israel, to let the Gentiles in. We are not a new community. We are the arrival of the missing second half that completes the existing community of Israel. Righteous Israel has sowed, and the Gentiles are the reaping. It is our belated arrival that completes Israel and makes Israel comprehend the world in a single community. All earlier members of this community of God planted us, and we are the harvest they have been waiting for.
Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for’ (John 4.36-38).
The prophets of Israel did the hard work and we are its result. They built so well that their work survives and they will be raised with them (1 Corinthians 3.14). The new children of God now appearing all over the world are the fruit of their work. These righteous of Israel came first and bore the heat of the day (Matthew 20.12). We came later and so will take a lower place (Luke 14.9).
‘According to the Lord’s own word we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18).
Those who have died before us will go before us in the procession and will take a higher place, because they are of greater honour. They worked but have not yet seen their reward. The Lord is gathering what he has planted and nurtured. Other masters may be rapacious and take what they have not worked for (Matthew 25.24), but the Old Testament is demonstration that the Lord has sown and worked and waited, without knowing what fruit he will receive. Israel has been vindicated. The Gentiles are her harvest and her prize.
‘Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance and so they will inherit a double portion’ (Isaiah 61.7).
The Gentiles are the inheritance promised to Israel, and the Church is the form in which they are gathered.
6. The Hope of the Nations
Elect Witness Israel makes the life with God visible for us. This is expressed by two doctrines. The first is the doctrine that God has chosen Israel – the doctrine of election. The second is that this election is for a purpose. Israel is chosen to be a witness for us. The purpose is that we, and the whole world, should be included in this course that will allow us to share in the life of God. God, in the form of his Son and servant, is witness to himself. The Son is the true witness and true form of Israel. We know the Son because his witnesses, the people of Israel, have made him known to us. There is no way to God for us except through their witness, and so through the Scriptures that record their testimony. God has borne the people of Israel, so that and the people of Israel have borne him.
God picked for himself a people. He has chosen this people to be his witness to all subsequent peoples. Israel is the student of God. She is put through this course in order that she is able to teach the Gentiles what she has learned. Israel is the learner who will demonstrate to all others the life that God intends for all humankind. Israel models the behaviour that belongs to this life. Israel is the leader and teacher of the Gentiles. Isaiah gives us a number of accounts of this commission.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples (Isaiah 2.1-4) Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you (Isaiah 60.1-4 )
Israel undergoes an apprenticeship. They recorded in the Old Testament their reactions and misapprehensions for our edification. Israel has been given the Law, the instruction of God in the holy life in the company of God. The Old and New testaments are together the single indivisible testimony and gospel of God. The Gentiles are promised to Israel. They are the crop that God sows and Israel has to nurture and, when they are ready, to gather in. She is to be the king and the Gentiles the people who make up her kingdom. They are body of which she is to be head.
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