Friday, June 03, 2011

Dominion & Dynasty

The Tanakh is not a random concatenation of texts, but a Text with a discernible structure, a clear beginning, a middle and an ending. Genesis and Chronicles are the beginning and ending, and the middle is carried with a narrative storyline into which many and various poems, much legislation, lists, building instructions, tribal boundary records, reports of visions and prophecies and many small stories have been appropriately placed. The narrative continues until it is interrupted by a substantial block of poetic commentary from the prophet Jeremiah through to the book of Lamentations, after which it resumes with Daniel and concludes with Chronicles.
The narrative ‘bookends’ of this Text, Genesis and Chronicles, are very different…Despite the significant differences, there are striking similarities. Genesis and Chronicles are virtually the only books in the Hebrew Bible saturated with genealogical lists…A key purpose of genealogies in some contexts is to show a divine purpose that moves history to a specific goal. It is easier to see the big picture when a wide-angle lens is used to look at the canon. Genesis begins with Adam, and the storyline quickly progresses through history, using genealogies, until Abraham arrives on the historical scene. The storyline follows Abraham and his descendants, and Genesis closes with Abraham’s grandson predicting that an individual from the family of a great-grandson (Judah) would wield a ruling scepter over all the nations and preside over an astonishingly fertile land (Gen 49:8-12). Chronicles begins with Adam and rapidly moves through history, largely using genealogies until David from the tribe of Judah arrives. And after David there is the explicit hope in a future seed from his line, who will rule according to the oracle of the prophet Nathan (1 Chr 17). Abraham and Sarah are called out of Babylon (Babel) to go to the promised land at the beginning of Israel’s national history in Genesis 12; their distant descendants hear the same call to leave Babylon and return to the promised land in 1 Chronicles 36.
But these two books are not only about genealogy that culminates in a Davidic dynasty; they are about land–geography and dominion. Genesis establishes a domain over which which humans are to realize their humanity. The world was created by the command of God; the garden of Eden becomes the prime habitat of human beings until their exile from it. Humans are expelled from the earth with the judgment of the great deluge. The postdiluvian human community is dispersed across the face of the earth at Babel. And when Abram arrives on the historical scene he is promised a commodity that has been in short supply for human beings: a land to call his own. He never quite gets it, except for a graveyard of his wife. By the end of Genesis his descendants are exiled in Egypt from this land of promise. From this exilic vantage point the aged Joseph’s remarks conclude the book of Genesis: “I am about to die; but God will surely visit (paqad) you and bring up out (ala) of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’” (50:24).
Chronicles also focuses on the land, which Abraham and his immediate descendants did not possess. This focus narrows to Jerusalem and the temple within that land. For example, the heart of Chronicles concerns Jerusalem and the temple under David and Solomon, some twenty chapters [1 Chron 17–2 Chron 7]. The ultimate tragedy is the destruction of the temple and the exile of the people to Babylon. Yet the end of Chronicles, like Genesis, is not exile. The note of promise is a directive from Cyrus for them to return to the land and rebuild the temple [1 Chr 36:23]. Consequently, these two books, which function to introduce and conclude the canon and which have such strikingly similar endings, keep the main storyline in view with two of its important themes–dynasty and dominion–being realized through the Davidic house.
A clearly defined ‘middle’ carries this storyline between the beginning and ending of the canon. The story begun in Genesis flows (at times not so smoothly) from the first couple’s loss of land and exile through to Abraham’s call, Israel’s exile in Egypt, the exodus and the possession of the promised land, followed by the institution of the Davidic dynasty and the loss of land culminating in the exile of Judah. The last narrative note before the interruption of this story is the favour shown to Jehoiachin, the exiled Davidic king in Babylon (2 Kgs 25:27-30). This historical sequence of events from Genesis to Kings is disrupted by a body of poetic literature that functions to provide a pause in the storyline to reflect on the tragedy of the exile, its causes and significance. It is here that a profound dialogue occurs, in which God addresses Israel in the first person through the voice of the prophets and Israel addresses God in the first person through the voices of the psalmists.
Significantly, the first book of this commentary, Jeremiah, indicates that exile is not God’s final word…After this commentary the narrative storyline resumes in Babylon with the vision of Daniel’s son of man, which charts a glorious future for Israel…But the seventy years stands for a much longer span of time–seventy sevens, probably 490 years or a complete period of time…the Danielic clock has started ticking. The command of a foreign king, named ‘Messiah’ in the biblical text, who has ended the rule of Babylon [Isa 45:1], presages the coming of another Messiah (Dan 9:25), who will not only end the world order but also establish a new one–the kingdom of God–in which Jerusalem will be the centre of the earth, a city set on a hill radiating light to the nations (Is 2:1-5; 60:1-22).
From Adam to David. From the creation of the world to the building of the temple, which will give new life to the world and from the divine rule will extend to the ends of the earth. Genealogy and geography, dynasty and dominion. This represents the story of the Tanakh, a story that leaves Israel still in a type of exile, waiting for someone from David’s house to come and build a house to bring about the restoration of all things. This is the overall message, presented in a storyline with commentary, shows that the Tanakh is a book and not a ragbag. To be sure, it consists of many texts, but these find their part in a larger Text. The many stories together constitute a single Story. And this Story is about the reclamation of a lost human dominion over the world through a Davidic dynasty. In short, it is about the coming of the kingdom of God, and it is unfinished.
A significant structural feature of the biblical narrative is typology…typological features emerge naturally when the biblical text is understood as a Text. This is particularly clear for the twin themes of dynasty and dominion. In each case there is movement from the universal to the particular and back to the universal. For example, humanity is called to be the image of God, fails in its task and is replaced by Israel, who is regarded as God’s son. A tribe is singled out within Israel–a family within the tribe–and an individual, David–becomes the focus. And yet David, his sons and their failures, point forwards to a just Davidic king who will bring the benefits of the rule not only to Israel but to all of humanity Similarly, the dominion of Adam begins over all creation, and then the land of Canaan becomes the focus, and next the city of Jerusalem and then temple. And from this particular place, the rule of God extends outwards to Israel and the nations, even to the ends of the earth.
Significantly, the New Testament is structured similarly to the Tanakh: story (Gospels, Acts), commentary (Letters), story (Revelation)…The New Testament story begins with a genealogy, one that comprehends the entire history of Israel (Mt 1:1-17)…the New Testament links the beginning and ending of Tanakh’s story with the life of Jesus…Jesus is a new David, the culmination of Israel’s history, who will bring about an end to the exile. Yet his birth brings light to the Gentiles; a star is seen rising in the east (Mt 2:2), which means the crushing of the enemy’s head (Num 24:17). Thus, when Jesus begins his ministry, he, as the new Adam and the new Israel, succeeds where the old Adam and the old Israel failed (Mt 4:1-11). Hence he recapitulates in his life the history of Adam and Israel.”
He is the descendant of David who, by virtue of his resurrection, sits on the throne of David as the long-expected descendent of the Davidic house (understood as a dynasty) (Lk 1:32; Acts 2:30-35)…But Jesus is also the Davidic house understood as a temple, in which God’s presence is incarnated, a presence that flows out of him like a surging river giving life to all (John 2:19-22; 7:37-39; cf. 47:1-12).”
From the Davidic centre of Jerusalem the growing band of disciples makes its way from Judea to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)…At the end of the New Testament, ‘history’ resumes in Daniel-like fashion with the book of Revelation, which, in its message, captures the vast kaleidoscope of the latter-day visions of the Tanakh in one stunning panoramic vision. There is the Son of Man (Rev 1:13; Dan 7:13), from whose mouth emanates a sharp sword (Rev 1:16; Is 11:4; 49:2), the one among the lampstands (Rev 1:13; Zech 4), the lion from the tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5; Gen 9:9-10) and the root of David (Rev 5:5; Is 11:1).

S. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (IVP 2003), 46-60; 231-34. 


  1. There needs to be a like button on this blog

  2. When I contemplate those lists in light of the genealogies in Matthew's and Luke's Gospel and these Words:

    Rev 19:6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
    Rev 19:7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;
    Rev 19:8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"-- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

    :my heart thrills to high excitement to realize that those listed in those lists have already passed out of here, these present heavens and earth, and, I'm filled with Holy anticipation about my own passing, too!