Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Righteous Shall Inherit the Land (Leviticus 23-27)

We now plunge into a list of holy festivals – the Passover, the feasts of firstfruits, weeks, trumpets, booths, and the day of atonement. There are six, and if you count the weekly Sabbaths (included in the list) you get an even seven.

I was particularly struck by the feast of firstfruits:
When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest… And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
Not a single bite until you’ve given back a share of the harvest to the Lord. The land is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, and a symbol of Israel’s continuing calling. And, like Esau with his birthright, the fickle people are in danger of throwing away their treasure in exchange for the most transient of pleasures – food not the least.

But there is another thread running even deeper. God is not only concerned with the hearts of his people. His aim is to bring life and renewal to his entire creation. The cursed ground will now be blessed with the loving stewardship of his chosen people. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in one of the most peculiar and impractical laws in the Bible:
When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.
The land itself gets a Sabbath. How stunning this is to the modern reader! Especially in America, the sovereign ownership of land by the individual is one of our most sacred values. But if the Israelites had any similar notions, the Lord nipped these in the bud with the establishment of the year of Jubilee:
The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land.
Every 50 years the former owners of the land have a right to buy back their old property – even if the new owners aren’t interested in selling. No one has ultimate claim to it. The land is the Lord’s, and the people are only his tenants.

Leviticus ends with a choice – to walk in the laws of the Lord or to reject them. Obedience means rains, rich harvests, prosperity, peace, health, victory over their enemies, and loving communion with God. Disobedience means panic, disease, famine, defeat, and exile:
I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.
A sober warning indeed. The land you live on is holy ground – not a mere commodity. Your everyday work of tilling the fields is a sacred task – do not simply do with it as you please. God will not hold guiltless the man who takes his land in vain.

How do you see the ministry of the church function within the scope of the national redemptive matters which belonged to the Hebrew nation?

Collin - do you want the long or the short answer?

The short answer is: the church's calling is a continuation of Israel's calling as understood through the king of the Jews who is embodiment of Israel's god - Jesus himself. By his atoning death he has made all things clean. By his resurrection he has begun God's new creation - making all things new. By his Spirit, he has called all nations into the blessings of Israel - making all peoples chosen. By his authority, he has sent his redeemed people into the entire world - making every land holy. It's Israel on a whole new scale, defined not only by original deliverance from Egypt, but by the exodus' ultimate fulfillment in the death and resurrection of the son of God on behalf of Israel and the world.

The long answer is: read this blog for the next 3 years or so.

So, to better understand your theology, are you post-mill?

Gosh, I don't even remember what that means. I'm certainly not whatever Tim LaHaye is. ;-) Post-Mill means that the 1000 year reign has already happened and ended? I have no idea - I'll have to read Revelation again. One thing is certain, I do await the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

I do think Revelation is a deeply symbolic book that, in order to understand, you need a solid grasp of the entire Bible, and especially the book of Daniel. I really hope I manage to make it there in this little project of mine!

My theology is a work in progress. I don't currently have a solid camp I'm in, though I'm learning a great deal from N. T. Wright at the moment. Please don't take what I say on any of these posts as my final opinion on anything. I want to learn more, and go deeper into the Bible - and I appreciate other people joining me along the way to help me do just that.

Studying is certainly the best way to develop a theology. There seem to be two major elements (within orthodoxy) that help refine theology.
What is the Church?
Is it all people of faith through all ages, or did it start at Pentecost?
How this is answered provides a framework for the next issue:
How has God been working through history?
Has He worked *primarily* by way of (1) covenant relationships or (2) through an outlined plan to accomplish specific goals at different times?
Your view of the end times will likely cascade off your answer to these two concerns.


Of course, deciding what questions to ask has a huge influence over what answers you will get. This is true of everything - from scientific visualization to theology. The questions you've asked, especially with the answers you've posed, come out of well defined theological battle lines. But there are more than two sides to many issues, and I think the picture the Bible paints is far more nuanced than either side.

Basically, I want to avoid coming at the Bible with predefined theological questions, and let the Bible itself determine the questions it wants to answer. Perhaps I am deceiving myself - we all have implicit questions and assumptions. But what I've done so far is go at it as a story - rather than as raw data to be collected into a theological model.

Let me try to muddy the waters for you a bit. Here are some quick answers to your "either/or" questions.

What is the Church? It is the people of God, expanded to include all nations into the promise of God to Abraham. Once many of us were not a people - now we are God's people. We are a part of the family of Abraham through adoption by the work of Christ and his spirit at Pentecost. Is that option 1 or option 2?

How has God been working through history? He has worked primarily in calling a people to himself out of all the nations of the world, as a platform for his own engagement with the world. In the fullness of time, he was embodied as one of them and fulfilled the vocation of Israel by the utter obedience (typified by Abraham and Isaac) that the nation as a whole so often lacked. The great act of redemption (Jesus death and resurrection) is modeled on the great types in Israel's history - Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac, the Exodus, the Kingdom & Temple, Exile and Restoration - but large enough to then shower Israel's blessings to all nations. It's a great work of art - a great story that we are a part of, through our participation with God as his covenant people. But it is a developing story, and things are not now as they were - in fact things are so different now that we might even say God's new creation has already begun in Jesus & his resurrection - and in the work of the Spirit. Is this option 1, or option 2?

I chose those two questions because of their history in Biblical studies -- all the way bak to the early church. They reflect directly on the principles of separating law and grace, of chosen people and chosen nation, and so much more.
They're not meant to be simple either/or issues, but starting points for creating a mental framework for a better understanding. They're questions that have received attention for most of the past 2k years and can help clarify matters as you let the Word speak for itself.

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