Friday, June 08, 2012

Saving the (Super)powers

I've been in the thick of Walter Brueggemann's Theology of the Old Testament, but now I'm finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In part three he spends several chapters talking about the various aspects of partnership with Yahweh: Israel as partner, the human person as partner, the nations as partner, and creation as partner. I found his consideration of the nations as partner to be really insightful and challenging, particularly the part where he talks about the superpowers of the Old Testament: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. While all four of these superpowers are easily villainized as those who must be defeated, we can't forget that each, in some way, was solicited by Yahweh to partner with Him in the redemption of His creation (see pages 502-518).

- Egypt, through Joseph, becomes a refuge during a great famine (Genesis)

- Asssyria is the "rod" of Yahweh's "anger" (Isaiah, 10:5) against the idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel, as God commissions them to "take spoil and seize plunder" (Isaiah 10:6).

- Babylon, specifically Nebuchandnezzar, whom Yahweh calls "My servant" (Jeremiah 25:9), functions like Assyria except towards the rebellious southern kingdom, Judah.

- Persia, perhaps the least threatening of the four, is the means by which the people of God are able to "return" to Jerusalem, albeit still in service to Persia, in order to rebuild the temple.

In the end, however, these superpowers overreach, as they are wont to do, thus receiving from Yahweh the same judgement as Israel receives. 

So, two things:

1. I find interesting the way Brueggemann is able to situate the chosenness of Israel within this geopolitical scope, namely that the centrality of Israel needs to be sharply qualified. Yahweh won't be monopolized by Israel's concerns as such, regardless of the covenant. Israel is always a small fish in a big pond with a cosmic implications. The cosmic implications of salvation are always in God's purview, regardless of what Israel says and does, and especially if Yahweh must move outside the bonds of covenant for the life of the world. That's a wild and surprising God, right there!

2. I find his argument for the salvation of the superpowers to be really, really compelling. His section on Nebuchadnezzar is great, and at points downright moving in a poetic sense, the way preaching is supposed to be! The story of Nebuchadnezzar is like the story of Jonah in a sense. What if your preaching actually works and people return to God? This is the challenge of "love your enemies" because there may come a point one day where you will fellowship with them at a common table. If you haven't already been practicing forgiveness and reconciliation, what makes you think you will all of a sudden be able to share in the Lord's Supper with them? This is the public challenge of the Amish community shooting back in 2006. It all comes down to hope. Do we hope our enemies will be saved or destroyed?

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