Tuesday, March 20, 2007

the OT and judgment...

Recently I wrote a paper for an Old Testament Theology class, taught by Pam Scalise. My chosen passage was Amos 9:7-8, where God tells Israel that, in fact, God has been responsible for the "exoduses" of other nations (it's vital that we understand the nationalistic undercurrent flowing through the OT) from their captivity as well. This got me thinking about the themes of redemption and judgment in the OT, and how to better understand the picture of God painted for us in Israel's story of deliverance, rebellion, and repentance.

God’s revelation must be recognized in both the history of Israel and of the world – indeed, in the history of all creation. This includes the history of other nations; in fact, the activity of every nation is directed toward God’s purposes. The role of every nation is also related to God’s covenant with Israel - even enemy attacks upon Israel are preordained by God. As Brevard Childs states: God is "revealing his righteous will and redemptive plan for Israel through the events of history…"

From God’s perspective, history is not ultimately determined by the winners, but by God’s promises. A quick review of Scripture shows us that God’s concern is for all the nations, and this means all humanity is somehow in relationship with God. Amos 9:7 reminds the people of Israel that they are not the only nation with whom God is concerned. God has delivered other nations as well. And God will deliver them again.

God’s judgment is not partial or based on a lack of awareness. God sees the "big picture" and responds accordingly. Even Babylon had the ability to do good, but chose evil, and that is why God judged them. It is inevitable that all people and all nations will eventually acknowledge God. But the final fate of each nation is somehow dependent upon what that process of acknowledgment entails.

Even though they are God’s "chosen people," if Israel refuses to acknowledge God, they are open to the same judgment as every other nation, and will receive it in due time. Israel mistakenly believed that being in covenant with God conferred some special status on them. But God’s aim is that all the nations might know God’s true character, and serve God as a result.

God’s decision to use the covenant with Israel as the means by which all nations would be blessed is not reflective of Israel’s worthiness, but of God’s sovereignty. Childs points out that throughout the OT there are images of God being glorified among the nations, often to Israel’s demise. Psalm 96 and 98, for example, proclaim God’s majesty and dominion over all the nations. Psalm 82 describes God’s judgment of all those who are unjust and idolatrous, including Israel.

God’s chastising of Israel through the actions of other nations was not only for Israel’s benefit, but also that other nations might realize God’s character. But many of these nations, all too eager to assault Israel, were likewise punished for their unwillingness to recognize God’s hand at work in Israel’s judgment. In this way, God is shown to be completely sovereign over all the nations, letting each mete out punishment for the sins of the other, and at the same time holding all accountable who are sinning against God.

So though Israel is God’s chosen people, they are not exempt from judgment. The only apparent difference is that, as a race, they will not be completely wiped out. This still leaves us with the difficult question: Is God playing favorites? Is it merely some deterministic aspect of our relationship to God that we are either chosen to barely survive, or doomed to be destroyed? Or does it reflect God’s mercy, as well as God’s justice, that all nations are treated equally, including Israel, with whom God made a covenant?

Perhaps one other thought is helpful here. If Israel, as a result of that covenant, is to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth, then Israel’s continuance is actually a blessing to the world, even today. As long as Israel exists, it means that God’s promises are sure. The fact that Israel still exists indicates God’s desire to bless all creation.

One of the most beautiful expressions of this promised blessing is found in Isaiah 2:1-5. God, through the prophet, describes a beautiful image: In God’s new Kingdom, all the nations will stream to the mountain where God’s temple is established, and there people from all the nations will worship God. Who are these people? They are the ones who have not surrendered to the nationalism or henotheism of the "sinful kingdoms" in which they may find themselves, and have passed through God’s judgment in confidence, as a result of their trust in God alone. It will be a time of peace, a testimony to God’s love and sovereignty over all the nations of the world. This is the hope of the OT, and it is the Christian hope as well.

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