Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Significance of Eschatological Torah according to the Old Testament

In my post entitled “The Importance of the Old Testament Concept of Eschatological Torah for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law” I listed six Old Testament texts that speak of eschatological torah. I also suggested that the concept of eschatological torah is a key idea for understanding Paul’s teaching on the law. But before doing a post or two more specifically on the idea of eschatological torah in Paul, we need to understand what the Old Testament actually teaches concerning eschatological torah.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 needs to be read together with Deut 30:1-10. This passage is a Mosaic prophecy that concerns the time after the exile of Israel (Deut 30:1), when God would circumcise the hearts of his people Israel (Deut 30:6), moving them to keep torah (Deut 30:2, 6, 8, 10). As they returned to the way of obedience to torah, the promised covenant blessings would flow (Deut 30:3-7, 9). Deuteronomy 30:1-14 says in effect that Israel keeping torah is necessary for the fullness of the blessing of life to be experienced. Furthermore, because keeping torah is essential to salvation under the terms of the covenant, God will actually ensure that (in the end) Israel will turn to keep covenant with him.

But the new covenant is not just about Israel keeping torah. Isaiah 2:1-4 and the parallel passage in Mic 4:1-4 prophesy of how Gentiles would seek God in Jerusalem with the express purpose of learning torah in order that they might obey it (Isa 2:2-3). As a result of the nations learning torah, there would be universal peace (Isa 2:4).

Isaiah 42:1-4 speaks of how the coastlands (which is a synecdoche for the nations) wait for the torah of the Spirit-filled Servant of God (Isa 42:1), the one who would bring justice to the nations (Isa 42:2, 4). A similar idea is put forward in Isa 51:4-5. Salvation for Israel and the nations is connected with torah going out to the peoples like a light shining in the darkness.

The heart of the new covenant, according to the famous prophecy of Jer 31:31-33, is Yahweh’s writing of torah on the hearts of his people. Torah is not abandoned in the crossover from the old covenant to the new. Rather, what we get is a more comprehensive internalization of torah in the hearts of God’s people. No longer is torah written on the hearts of merely a small minority of Israelites; instead, all Israel will be regenerate and able to respond positively to God as a result. With torah written on their hearts, they will naturally keep covenant with God. Since the heart is the control center of the human psyche, if torah is written on the heart, obedience naturally follows.

It needs to be recognized that the work of God writing torah on the hearts of his people is not merely a by-product of salvation, but an essential part of the process of salvation. For, without the internalization of torah, Israel will not be able to keep covenant with God; and if Israel does not keep covenant with God, then the promise of the blessing of life will not be realized. This is evident in the use of the modal perfect verb והייתי (and I will be) in v. 33. God being Israel’s God in a positive and experiential way, and Israel being truly God’s people (i.e., a people consecrated and obedient to God), is sequential to torah being in Israel’s heart. There is a causal connection here. The fruition of the covenant blessing of full communion between God and his people (v. 33: “and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”) is conditional upon Israel having torah in the heart. The blessings of the new covenant cannot come without God’s people being moved to keep torah.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 speaks of this necessary covenant obedience as the product of a new heart and a new spirit. God would remove the lifeless, unresponsive heart of stone from his people, and provide them with a living, beating, responsive heart of flesh. This regeneration is associated with God sending his Spirit to dwell in the hearts of his people, such that they would be caused to walk in God’s statutes and to do God’s judgments. In other words, the Spirit would be given to God’s people to empower them to keep torah, so that the blessings of the covenant might be realized. This is clear by virtue of the string of modal perfect clauses in Ezek 36:28-30 that speak of the realization of the blessings of the covenant. The blessings of Ezek 36:28-30 are conditional upon the regeneration of God’s people in Ezek 36:26-27.

To summarize what we have seen above, the Old Testament views torah as lying at the heart of God’s new covenant purposes. Far from being something merely negative, the Old Testament views torah as being the key to life. Torah is so important that the Spirit-filled Servant of God will teach eschatological torah to Israel and the nations. Likewise, doing torah is so important in God’s plan of salvation that God will conduct a Spiritual heart circumcision and transplant on his people to enable them to do torah. As far as Moses, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were concerned, there is no salvation apart from obedience to torah. But whenever Paul is interpreted as saying that divine law is impotent to save, it seems to me that we are effectively suggesting that these Old Testament heavyweights got it wrong about torah and its role in the divine economy of salvation. When Paul spoke negatively about the law, was he talking about law in general, or was his focus more specifically on the primarily negative role of the Mosaic law in God’s plan of redemption? My suggestion to the world of Pauline scholarship is that Paul needs to be interpreted in a manner that is more consistent with what the Old Testament prophets have prophesied.

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