Thursday, December 07, 2017

This land is mine

i) The late great Jewish tenor Richard Tucker make a stirring recording of "The Exodus Song":

Depending on your viewpoint, that's political propaganda. Since I'm not Jewish, and I wasn't raised in the Middle East, I can't identify with the song at a personal level. I don't have that emotional attachment to the geography.  

Although Trump's decision to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem is mainly of geopolitical significance, it reignites familiar hermeneutical debates about the future status of Israel in Bible prophecy. Gary Burge wrote a predictable complaint about Trump's decision in The Atlantic. 

ii) This is a perennial issue in theology. It raises deep and difficult questions about the hermeneutics of prophecy, continuities and discontinuities between the old covenant and  new covenants, God's fidelity to his promises, &c. 

I'm not a Zionist, but I'm not opposed to Zionism. I'm noncommittal. That's because I think long-range prophecies are often rather obscure ahead of time. We only see how the pieces fall into place in retrospect. I consider Zionism to be a viable option. Time will tell. 

iii) It's been a while since I've read standard expositions of Dispensationalism. And I'm not sure what the current state of Dispensationalism is. For instance, it's odd that Dallas Theological Seminary hasn't published any next-generation commentaries on Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. In fairness, Buist Fanning is slated to publish a commentary on Revelation, while Eugene Merrill did publish a fine commentary on Zechariah several years ago.

As I recall, one of the lynchpins of classical Dispensationalism goes like this: the OT is chockfull of prophecies about Israel. These are about Israel in the sense that they are worded in terms of Palestinian sites and a Jewish people-group. And the prophecies are often tied to Yahweh's past dealings with that people and place. 

By contrast, OT prophecies have far less to say about the future of the gentiles. There are some striking oracles and promises, but few compared to what-all is said about Israel. 

That raises something of a conundrum: where is the church in OT prophecy? How could the OT be silent on something as important and definitive as the church? That's a "mystery".

In classical Dispensationalism, when the OT talks about Israel, that's what it means. Israel (i.e. that place and people-group) is the intended referent. The language is what it appears to be. 

And there's certainly nothing outlandish about that assumption. However, it may not be quite that simple.

iv) Israel was always a mixed multitude. Abraham's household included circumcised foreigners. And the Exodus generation included many individuals who weren't direct descendants of Jacob (Exod 12:38). So the core identity was never purely or merely ethnic.

v) An obvious reason the OT has so much to say about Israel and comparatively little about gentiles is because it is generally written to Jews. It talks about them because so much of what it says is addressed to and for that particular audience. It says less about outsiders, in part because that's not the regular audience. The only gentiles who'd even be privy to OT prophecy were gentiles in the geographical ambit of ancient Israel. So the sample audience selects for the sample content. 

vi) In addition, OT prophecy may focus on the Mideast because that was the known-world to the original audience. You're not going to have prophecies about places and people-groups in far-flung regions of the globe because that would be unintelligible to the original audience. 

But that raises the question of whether the geographical locus is to some degree a stand-in for future developments, which might be far more expansive. 

vii) Apropos (iii), on one view, OT prophecies ostensibly about Israel are exclusively to Israel. They are only about Israel. 

At the opposite extreme is the view that Israel is a placeholder for the church. On that view, prophecies ostensively about Israel are exclusively about the church. They are only about the church–in contrast to Israel.

One problem with that identification is the Exodus, where God delivers a people-group in covenant fidelity to promises he made to Abraham and the patriarchs. That's based on generational continuity. So you can't just swap that out and swap in a different people-group.

viii) Another interpretation is to view Israel as inclusive of Israel, but not exclusive to Israel. It might be inclusive of believing gentiles. Gentiles who share the messianic faith of Abraham, David, and the prophets. 

And that's a throwback to the multi-ethnic composition of Abraham's household, as well as the multi-ethnic composition of Exodus-generation (iv)–who had a shared faith and history with the patriarchs. 

ix) Apropos (viii), Israel, in OT prophecy, may refer, not to Jews in general, but to believing Jews. Messianic Jews. A Jewish remnant throughout the course of sacred history. 

Their lives may be intertwined with other Jews, just as Christian congregations generally consist of families, not all of whom are believers. 

x) I once had a conversation with Meredith Kline. Even though he had a Jewish background, he was an ardent opponent of Zionism. His objection to me on that day is that God couldn't give the Jews that land in perpetuity because geological cycles change the complexion of the land over time. Eventually, the landmarks are gone. 

No comments:

Post a Comment