Sunday, November 27, 2011

Disappointed, Yet Delivered

At church this morning, one of the prayers stood out to me. It said:

“Today we light the Candle of Hope. The people of Israel hoped in God’s promises and were disappointed. Again and again God delivered Israel from its enemies. We too have the same experience of salvation. That is why we believe in God’s promise to send Jesus forever upon the earth.”

If God delivered Israel from her enemies on a continual basis, why was she disappointed? Is the point of this prayer that the Kingdom of God is already and not yet? Israel experienced deliverance, but she still lived in an insecure world, and the prophets therefore predicted a time of lasting peace, prosperity, and spiritual transformation under a Davidic king, or (arguably in the case of Second-Third Isaiah) apart from the institution of the Davidic monarchy and the Zadokite priesthood. Similarly, according to Christianity, those who believe in Christ are forgiven, experience redemption and transformation, and enter the Kingdom of God, yet the world is still a broken place, plagued with sin and disease.

Or is the point of the prayer that God continually showed his love and faithfulness to Israel when he delivered her from her enemies, but God’s promise to bless the nations through Abraham’s seed was thwarted by Israel’s habitual sin—-and yet the promise was fulfilled when God sent Jesus Christ, Abraham’s seed? But sin and death still remain, and, while Christianity has arguably blessed people from many nations, the world is still a broken place. And so, even though people have been delivered by Christ’s first Advent, Christians hope for the full redemption that will come in the second Advent.

I suppose I could ask somebody what the prayer means, but my hunch is that this prayer was taken from a book. Plus, it’s fun to speculate on the basis of the ambiguity of language!


  1. "God’s promise to bless the nations through Abraham’s seed was thwarted by Israel’s habitual sin"

    This looks like the sort of thing Tom Wright is prone to say - he even uses the term 'roadblock'. I don't find it cogent. Surely, there was never any promise nor chance that the nations would be blessed through ethnic Jews as such. There is no thwarting. The blessing was always promised as going to be through Christ.

  2. Hi Davey! Wright was the inspiration for that statement. I had qualms while writing it, because it sort of makes Christ out to be God's Plan B, but I couldn't think of another way to convey that thought----except perhaps I could have said that God set up ethnic Israel to fail to set the stage for Christ to fulfill the promises.

    On the blessing, I agree with you that such was Paul's thought----that Christ was the promised seed. I'd hesitate to say that the authors of the Hebrew Bible saw things that way, though, since Abraham's seed in Genesis is often collective, and there is a motif in the Hebrew Bible of the nations being blessed on account of Israel, as nations observe the wisdom of God's ways in Israel's laws, or know the LORD through God's interactions with Israel. Here's a post I wrote a while back that you may find interesting. It's talking about an article by one of my Hebrew Union College colleagues, and he's an evangelical:

  3. Hi James,

    "set up ethnic Israel to fail to set the stage"

    So, the history of Israel was some kind of 'stage-setting' for Christ! I don't see what that thought is supposed to be. But, Wright seems to me to think it is more than that, and that without Israel Christ's doing's cannot be understood, even depending on the history of Israel in some sort of tight logical sense. I don't see that.

    "I'd hesitate to say that the authors of the Hebrew Bible saw things that way"

    Well, Wright, as Paul commentator, seems to me to say even Paul saw things 'the authors of the Hebrew Bible' way, and that seems to me just wrong. But, what significance is there supposed to be in saying 'the authors' saw Torah (in effect) as the blessing? Ok, practical significance in that that would be a reason for them opposing Christian justification by faith without Torah, but what significance is there for Christian theology - in that if people (Old Testament type Jews, and even Christian Jews advocating necessity of Torah) get their theology wrong, they just get it wrong? Further, as far as Wright's arguments go, he says the 'authors' thought they had to have faith, or they thought that (if that's different?) they depended on God's grace, and were doing Torah from gratitude, or on the belief that it was the natural response to God's grace to live as He wanted, and was a good way for people to live. So, Torah even for the 'authors' wasn't the whole of the blessing, nor the most significant.

    Thanks for your reference.

    "Perhaps the whole idea of the nations being blessed and blessing themselves in Genesis was to highlight the importance of Abraham and his seed: they would have such an influence on the world, that nations would be blessed or cursed through them. How God treats the nations would be based on how the nations treated Israel"

    Interesting ideas here, needs expansion, I reckon! So, if nations are nice to Israel, they benefit - even if otherwise they don't behave themselves?! And, what implications for Christian's understanding Christ has it?

  4. Hi Davey. This is probably a big question, but what would you say that the purpose of Israel and the Torah was? I think that the standard Lutheran answer----and this has been absorbed by the Old Perspective, and some advocates of the New Perspective (such as Wright)----is that God gave the Torah to Israel so that she'd fail to keep it, and that would set the stage for Christ.

    "Interesting ideas here, needs expansion, I reckon! So, if nations are nice to Israel, they benefit - even if otherwise they don't behave themselves?! And, what implications for Christian's understanding Christ has it?"

    I'd say that's how my friends article portrayed that promise, and you see it in Genesis: nations that are nice to Israel are blessed, whereas nations that are not nice to Israel are cursed. But, looking at the broader Hebrew Bible, perhaps there is an ethical dimension to the nations being blessed: they learn God's ways, they worship God, etc. Does that entail them keeping Torah, in the eyes of authors of the Hebrew Bible? I'm not sure. One reason I'm reading these books is to find ideas on that question. I think Donaldson's view was that Judaism believed the Gentiles only had to become Noachides, rather than observing the entire Torah.

  5. Thanks, James.

    I'd rather do without the 'Israel failing so that things would be set up' idea.

    Why not the minimalist idea, that Israel was simply a nation God mustered together and gave some pre-knowledge to of his saving plans for the whole world, a further instalment of which came with Christ (and the actual saving action), and more with Paul's interpretations. God gave the Old Testament nation of Israel temporal benefits the Gentiles didn't have, and penalties - part of the mustering. Torah bound the nation together and gave some helpful instruction till the further information came. Regarding spiritual benefits, the gift of the Spirit, then, would not be exclusive to the New Testament, but the faithful of Israel would also have had the Spirit in the Old Testament, though the activities of the Spirit became more evident in some ways in the New Testament - the 'giving' of the Spirit would mean not the first presence of the Spirit, but special activity.

    So, that there was an Israel just means that God didn't leave humans in the dark that he was going to do something to save them. It was not part of a logically necessary sequence without which salvation couldn't be effected, as it looks to me Wright wants to portray it.

  6. Good thoughts. They put Israel and the Torah in a positive light.

  7. Oh, and on the second question ...! It looks like there was a variety of opinion among the Jews, the trick is to find God's view on things, if it has been made available! My own inclination is to guess that whatever Gentiles thought about God, or Life the Universe and Everything, even those having no contact with Jews, if, in effect, they were godly, they also would have the spiritual benefit of salvation (indeed the same indwelling Spirit I think Old Testament faithful Jews and then Christians were vouchsafed) even though their propositional knowledge of 'spiritual' things might be none existent.

  8. I guess my question then would be: If Gentiles could have been righteous before Christ came, why would Christ have had to come? I think I have bits and pieces of how evangelicals have answered that in my mind----people were believing in the Christ who was to come, rather than looking back at the Christ who came----but I'm interested to see what you say.

  9. Gentiles, and Jews, can only be righteous because of Christ. Before Christ came benefits are anticipatory. Knowledge of God and Christ is not necessarily propositional, and not necessarily that experiential either. There must be some difference, though: some disposition of heart, I suppose, that will also affect behaviour to some extent at least.


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