Thursday, April 11, 2013

Section 8: Law and Gospel in the History of the Old Testament

The Self-Donation of God, pg. 12-13:

"These descriptions of Israel’s early history suggest several things. First, the narrative strongly implies that the Tabernacle and the later Temple are in a sense the restoration of Eden, wherein humans dwelled directly in God’s gracious presence. In the same manner the promises to the patriarchs and the fecundity of creation are portrayed as a restoration of the true humanity. Secondly, these accounts imply that through entering into a covenant with the patriarchs, YHWH has pledged his own being to Israel as a pledge of his faithfulness. Indeed, to give an unconditional promise means always to give the self, because a promiser is logically tied to the enactment and fulfillment of the promise. The presence and the activity of the divine self now must conform to the situation of the one whom the promise was made. 
If then Edenic harmony and its restoration in the election of Israel means the renewal of creation and the self-donating presence of YHWH, then sin and its consequence of exile mean the very opposite of these goods. YHWH speaks to the Israelites through Moses and tells them that “if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant . . . I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it” (Lev 26:15-6). Indeed, “I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins.” In the exile “I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze” (26:18-9). The curses that we discover in Leviticus also suggest that there will be a loss of Israel’s restored dominion in the land: “I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you” (26:17). These curses are also well attested by the threats of the later prophets. Ezekiel, who was a priest, also places an emphasis on the loss of the divine presence. According to Ezekiel 10, the prophet fully realized the completeness of the judgment of the exile only when he had a vision of the divine glory leaving the Temple (Ezek. 10:18). 
Nevertheless, in spite of the situation of exile and human sin, YHWH promises his continuing faithfulness to Israel. After the passages threatening judgment, we find passages in same texts the assuring Israel of God’s continuing faithfulness to his promises made to the patriarchs. In spite of human sin, there would be eschatological renewal and the return from exile: “I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham” (Lev 26:42). St. Paul observes in Galatians 3:13-25, the Mosaic record demonstrates that the Abrahamic covenant of grace (or more properly, his "testament," as Paul puts it) precedes and in fact stands as separate from the Sinaitic covenant of law. In contrast to the Abrahamic testament of unilateral promise and blessings, the Sinaitic covenant entails a long list of demands and curses. The reception of the two covenants is different as well. Von Rad notes that Abraham is passive and asleep as he receives the unilateral covenant of grace (Gen 15). By contrast, we are told that the Israelites were called upon to actively receive and to perform the works of the Sinaitic covenant: “Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exod 24:3). 
Therefore, YHWH’s dealing with Israel takes on a paradoxically dual character. On the one hand, God has pledged himself to Israel and will fulfill his promises to it in spite of every obstacle. On the other hand, the covenant of Sinai is equally valid and demands on the part of Israel a real heart-felt obedience to God’s commandments. Both words from God are valid and therefore the unconditional nature of the former continuously comes into conflict with the conditional nature of the latter throughout the history of salvation. In the book of Hosea, the prophet enacts the sign of this paradoxical situation by marrying a prostitute (Hos 1, 3). As a sign of Israel’s state of affairs, Hosea marriage presupposes the validity of the covenant of the law, as well as God’s unilateral and unconditional faithfulness to Israel. Israel is rightly imputed with sin for having broken the law by prostituting itself to the nations, but YHWH must remain true to his promise and remains “married” to Israel in spite of its apostasy."

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