Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Samuel, Exodus & A Historical Faith (part 2 of 2)

Returning to the words of Samuel, he makes an appeal to the recurring motif of exile and exodus, as he very briefly recounts the history of Israel, saying “When Jacob entered Egypt, your ancestors cried out to the Lord.  The Lord sent Moses and Aaron, and they led your ancestors out of Egypt and settled them in this place.  But they forgot the Lord their God, so He gave them into the hand of the Sisera… and into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them” (12:8-9).  Samuel presents the fact that the people were in exile, and that God granted them exodus, but that they repeatedly returned to exile.  Then, “they cried out to the Lord,” groaning like Israel in Egypt, and repeatedly “admitted, ‘We have sinned, for we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the images of Ashtoreth’.” (12:10a)  Upon confession of what took them into exile, exodus is repetitively requested, with words such as “Now deliver us from the hand of our enemies so that we may serve you” (12:10b), which reminds us that exodus is not an exit, but an entrance upon God’s divine purposes for those previously in exile.  The Lord, as we know, and as Samuel reminds the people, acted in the form of deliverers, and “sent Jerub-Baal (Gideon), Barak, Jephthah, and Samuel, and He delivered you from the hand of the enemies all around you, and you were able to live securely” (12:11).    

Samuel’s recitation of Israel’s past is not something that is confined to the Hebrew Scriptures, but we see it in the New Testament as well, especially since Christianity is pre-supposed by an actual, literal, physical, historical Resurrection. The book of Acts---that which marks the beginning of what we might refer to as the “Christian era,” is replete with the same such recitations, rooted in Resurrection.  This demonstrates the importance of the historical underpinnings of this faith, and the eternally historical nature of the Gospel message (Jesus is Lord of all), which has God’s covenant with His people, the repetition of exile and exodus, God’s action within history, and the historical example of the Caesar and the Imperial/Caesar-cult (along with its language at the time of Christ), as its foundational premises. 

Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, makes an appeal to history as he preaches the Gospel of the resurrected Lord.  Stephen, the man who carries the record of being the first to be put to death for naming the name of Christ, presents a thorough history of Israel, replete with references to idolatry, and the ever-present themes of exile and exodus, before being stoned to death.  In the thirteenth chapter of Acts, Paul speaks of Israel’s history as he is called upon to provide a “message of exhortation” (13:15), and does so by preaching the Gospel.  We can imagine that such was not the first nor the last time.  In Romans and Galatians, Paul makes it clear that the message of the Gospel cannot be presented without reference to Abraham (along with Isaac), as it was God’s dealings with Abraham that effectively mark the beginnings of the church. In the tenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes reference to Moses and the failures of Israel, and references Moses again in the second Corinthian letter, making yet another important historical connection, as Moses, and by extension, the significance of the exodus as it relates to the history of the people of God, is brought forward into the era in which Resurrection power is at work in the world.  

In the anonymously composed letter to the Hebrews, we find that it is impossible to understand most all of what is written without reference to Israel’s history, its covenants, and its theology.  The famous eleventh chapter of Hebrews, in fact, is a recapitulation of Israel’s history, couched in terms of God’s covenant faithfulness, as it boldly speaks forth of exodus after exodus, and of the deliverers and deliverance that only God could provide as He plots the path of His people though the ages.  In the first letter of Peter, his speaking of God’s Israel (for all time) as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own” (2:9a), has him quoting from the book of Exodus, with the reminder that the purpose of the choosing being so much more than an escape from this world, but rather “so that you may proclaim the virtues of the One Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9b).  With those words, Peter might as well have spoken of proclaiming the One Who took you from exile into exodus, rescuing you (and continuing to rescue you) from the foreign subjugation that seeks to rob God’s people of their hope and confidence in Him. 

Of course, all of Jesus’ words and actions, as recorded in the Gospels and in Acts (with His disciples questions concerning the restoration of the kingdom of God in the nation of Israel), are rooted in an understanding of the history of Israel, as Jesus echoes the themes of the past in the image of the judges and prophets of old, as it is impossible to understand the need and desire for a messiah apart from understanding the foundational premises of exile and exodus in God’s long dealings with His people.  Indeed, it is impossible to understand the continued need for a redeeming messiah (King and Lord) apart from an understanding of the foundational premises of exile and exodus---historically, theologically, and cosmologically---in the context of God’s ongoing mission for and purposes in this world, as conducted and carried out through His church (renewed Israel), as He continues His long dealings with His people.

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