Monday, July 25, 2011

Tsedeq Righteousness in Hosea

The noun צדק occurs two times in the book of Hosea, which compares with one instance each of the noun צדקה and the adjective צדיק.

The first occurance of צדק in Hosea is in Hos 2:19 [2:21 MT]. At the time of Israel’s eschatological restoration, the Baals will have been removed from Israel (Hos 2:16–17); and there will be a covenant with creation, resulting in universal peace (Hos 2:18). For Israel, who is portrayed in Hos 2 as an unfaithful wife who has been banished by her husband, it is highly significant that Yahweh promised to one day take her back. This receiving back is pictured in Hos 2:19–20 as a betrothal. The three-fold use of ארש (betroth) makes this promise emphatic: “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness (צדק) and in justice (משפט), in kindness (חסד) and in mercy (רחמים). I will betroth you to me in faithfulness (אמונה). And you shall know Yahweh” (Hos 2:19–20).

A betrothal is a pledge to marry. ארש has connotations of a payment made, because betrothals involved the exchange of gifts. A gift would be given to the bride’s family and also to the bride. The Hebrew idiom is to betroth (ארש) someone to (ל) oneself with (ב) some kind of gift. In 2 Sam 3:14, David, for example, had to remind Saul of the agreed betrothal gift by saying that he had betrothed (ארש) Michal to (ל) himself with (ב) one hundred Philistine foreskins: ארשתי לי במאה ערלות פלשתים I have betrothed (her) to myself with one hundred foreskins of the Philistines.

Noting that the idiom ארש ב is used in Hos 2:19 [2:21 MT], we have to say that in the proposition I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, both righteousness and justice are portrayed metaphorically as being gifts from the bridegroom to his future wife. This suggests that, as part of God’s plan, Israel would come to possess righteousness and justice for herself. It is true that righteousness, justice, kindness, mercy, and faithfulness are all attributes of God. It is also true that these attributes of God would be revealed in God accomplishing Israel’s echatological restoration. But the idiom ארש ב suggests that, by receiving the gifts given to her by God, Israel herself would come to possess these things. In this way, Israel would come to reflect these attributes of her husband.

The pairing of צדק in Hos 2:19 [2:21 MT] with משפט—which indicates behavior that is in accordance with the legal judgments pronounced by God in his role as King—suggests that צדק should be understood in this verse in the active sense of right behavior. This pairing of צדק and משפט is similar, therefore, to the pairing of צדקה and משפט in Gen 18:19.

The second instance of צדק in the book of Hosea is found in Hos 10:12: “Sow for yourselves righteousness (צדקה); reap kindness; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek Yahweh, until he comes and rains righteousness (צדק) upon you.” Hosea 10 is an oracle of indictment and judgment that is directed primarily against the northern kingdom of Israel. Israel was indicted for having plowed iniquity and for having reaped injustice (Hos 10:13). Continuing in this way would bring the curses of the covenant down against Israel, so God called out to Israel through the prophet Hosea for them to sow צדקה instead. They were to do this in the hope that as they returned to God, so too God would return to them (as per Deut 30:1–3; Zech 1:3). In effect, Hos 10:12 is a command from God for all Israel to repent and to start walking in the way of righteousness as a precondition for Yahweh coming and raining צדק upon them. צדק here, therefore, is probably to be understood in the more global sense of a righteous status before God plus the blessing that flows from such status.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Promise Not Received: The Meaning of Hebrews 11:39–40

The list of heroes of the faith in Heb 11 makes explicit reference to sixteen individual heroes of the faith. In Heb 11:4–31 there are ten individuals mentioned: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab. These all receive a least a line or two from the author illustrating their faith. Then in Heb 11:32 another six individuals are named: Gideon, Barak, Sampson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. However the exploits of the faith of these believers are not explored. But Heb 11 does not just list individuals: the people of Israel are implied in v. 29 and v. 30, and the prophets are mentioned in v. 32.

In real life these heroes had their ups and downs. Commended for their faith, at times this faith was not as strong as it could have been. Yet despite their weaknesses
through faith they conquered kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some, not accepting release, were tortured, in order that they might attain a better resurrection. Others experienced mocking and flogging, and even chains and prison. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in sheep skins, in goat skins, destitute, afflicted, mistreated … wandering about in deserts and mountains and caves and the crevices of the earth (Heb 11:33–38).
Through faith these heroes of faith experienced a mixture of things: victory as well as suffering. Through faith some “obtained promises” in the sense that they saw the fulfillment of some of God’s promises to them. Yet it is clear from Heb 11:39 that none of them experienced “the promise.”

But what is meant by the promise at this point? The phrase the promise (allowing for different grammatical case) also occurs in Heb 11:9, whereas the plural form the promises appears in Heb 11:13, 17. All of these have an Abrahamic connection. Abraham was promised nationhood (Gen 12:2), fame (Gen 12:2), blessing (Gen 12:2), land (Gen 12:7), and offspring (Gen 12:7). All in all, this would seem to be the promise of life in the heavenly land, the eternal city of God (Heb 11:10, 16).

The use of the phrase the promise elsewhere in Hebrews also supports the idea that the promise in Heb 11:39 is the promise of eternal life. Hebrews 4:1 speaks of the promise of entering an eschatological Sabbath rest. In Heb 6:15, 17 the promise is the promise of blessing and many offspring that God made to Abraham (and specifically the promise in Gen 22:17). The idea of the new covenant legally established on “better promises” (Heb 8:6), and talk of “the promise of eternal inheritance” in Heb 9:15, strengthens the idea of the promise in Heb 11:39 as being related to the promises of the eternal (i.e., the new) covenant. This is the promise which is the object of the Christian’s hope (Heb 10:23), which centers on entering into the presence of God in the heavenly temple (Heb 10:19–20). It is the promise that is fulfilled for believers after endurance in doing the will of God until “the coming one” comes (Heb 11:36–37). According to Heb 12:26, it is the promise of Hag 2:6 concerning the unshakeable eschatological kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem (see Heb 12:22, 27–28).

We can conclude, therefore, that the ancient heroes of faith saw the fulfillment of some of God’s promises; but despite their faith testifying that they were people of faith, “they did not receive the promise” of eternal life realized in their lifetime (Heb 11:39). Faith is prepared to accept that there may be no reward for the faithful in this world, but that if this is the case, then the reward will definitely come in full in the heavenly country (Heb 11:6, 13–16).

In the plan of God, “God foresaw something better for us” (Heb 11:40), i.e., God had in mind that the full realization of his promise of blessing and life would be experienced by us, the new covenant believers. Hebrews 11:40 acknowledges that God’s plan of salvation is worked out in stages that lead to an eschatological climax. Believers under the old covenant by definition could not receive the fullness of blessing and salvation, because the fullness of blessing and salvation is something that was going to be achieved as part of the new covenant. It is for this reason that the ancient heroes of faith did not receive in full the promise of eternal life in their lifetime, “lest they be perfected without us” (Heb 11:40).

Through faith, and ultimately by way of resurrection, old covenant believers and new covenant believers alike will experience together the reward of faith, the fullness of the blessing of eternal life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Echoes of Saul in the Samuel Narrative of 1 Samuel

Saul is not identified by name in the book of Samuel until 1 Sam 9:2, but there are echoes of Saul in the Samuel narrative in 1 Sam 1–8. The name שאול Saul looks like a Qal passive participle form of the root שאל, and means asked for. In 1 Sam 1–8 there are seven verbal uses of the root שאל along with effectively three uses of the noun שאלה. This usage of the שאל root in 1 Sam 1–8 seems to be a deliberate attempt on the part of the narrator to pre-empt the appearance of Saul, who is an important character in the book, and significantly Samuel’s replacement as leader over Israel.

The first appearance of the שאל root in the book of Samuel occurs in 1 Sam 1:17. After understanding the reason for Hannah’s silent prayer, Eli responded by saying to her: “Go in peace, for the God of Israel will grant your request (שלתך) which you have asked (שאלת) him” (1 Sam 1:17). שלתך (which occurs in the Leningrad text) is a form of the noun שלה. This is a variant form of שאלה that emerges because of the quiescing of the alef. However שאלתך can be found in a large number of other Masoretic texts at this point.

This double use of the שאל root in 1 Sam 1:17 would possibly be unremarkable except for the appearance of the same root in 1 Sam 1:20 in connection with Samuel’s name. After giving birth to her son, “she called his name Samuel, ‘because I have asked for him (שאלתיו) from Yahweh.’” Strangely, Samuel’s name is explained in the narrative using the שאל root, even though the word Samuel is not derived from this root. Samuel presumably means something like his name is God. The effect of linking Samuel with the שאל root is to set up an analogy between Hannah’s asking for a son, and Israel’s asking for a king. Perhaps there is also a hint here that Samuel is the true Saul, the kind of leader that Israel should have been seeking all along.

After weaning the child, Hannah brought him to Eli in fulfillment of her vow to the Lord (see 1 Sam 1:11). She re-introduced herself to Eli by saying: “I prayed for this child, and Yahweh granted me my request (שאלתי) which I asked (שאלתי) of him, and so I have loaned (השאלתהו) him to Yahweh. All of the days that he exists, he is loaned (שאול, i.e., Saul) to Yahweh” (1 Sam 1:27). Once again, the narrator (through the language of Hannah) is deliberately toying with the name of Saul. In being loaned or given to Yahweh, Samuel is literally Saul to Yahweh. How can Samuel be as Saul to Yahweh? This not only reflects the fact that Samuel was given to Hannah through her petition, but presumably Samuel is also Saul to Yahweh in the sense that Samuel is a model of the kind of leader that Israel needs, the kind that Israel should have been looking to Yahweh to receive.

The connection between Samuel and שאל is further highlighted in 1 Sam 2:20. Every time Elkanah went to worship Yahweh in Shiloh, Hannah had the opportunity to visit her son; and on each occasion Eli would bless Elkanah, saying: “May Yahweh establish a seed for you from this woman in return for the request (השאלה) that one asked (שאל) of Yahweh” (1 Sam 2:20). In effect, therefore, every time Elkanah went up to Shiloh, the “Saul-like” status of Samuel was proclaimed.

The final use of the שאל root in the Samuel narrative appropriately occurs at the end of the narrative, shortly before the introduction to Saul in 1 Sam 9. The elders of Israel asked Samuel for a king to judge them (1 Sam 8:5–6). This request was both a rejection the kingship of Yahweh over Israel, as well as a rejection of Samuel’s leadership (1 Sam 8:6–7). God asked Samuel to acquiesce in the people’s desire for a king, but there was great danger for the people in having a king like the nations. Samuel’s warning in this regard is introduced in 1 Sam 8:10 with the following words: “Samuel told all the words of Yahweh to the people who had asked (השאלים) him for a king.” In asking for a king like the nations, Israel had rejected the godly Saul (i.e., Samuel) for a Saul of their own imagination.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Faith of Abraham in Hebrews 11

The biblical concept of emunah (אמונה) or faith (as it is explained in the Old Testament) basically means saying amen (אמן) to the word of God. Faith is an acceptance of divine revelation. Faith says yes to whatever God says, whether that word be command, promise, or warning. The concept of faith in Hebrews is consistent with this definition, but the core component of faith for the author of Hebrews is directed to God’s promise. For the author of Hebrews, faith is not mainly an eschatological concept in the sense that it is viewed as operating primarily in the eschatological age à la Paul. Rather, in Hebrews, faith is a necessary historical constant that applies throughout salvation history, but which nevertheless possesses a very strong eschatological orientation whereby the faithful look to God for salvation and reward at the time of the realization of God’s promise at Christ’s second coming (Heb 10:35-39; 11:6). I have discussed this previously in my post “The Concept of Faith in Hebrews.”

This eschatological orientation is linked by the author of Hebrews in with the concept of realization. This is particularly evident in the author’s discussion of faith in Heb 11. A number of times in this chapter, faith is spoken of as being that which believes that God can make something either out of what is not or what is not yet. “Faith is the substance of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (Heb 11:1). By saying that faith is the substance of what is hoped for, the author means that faith believes that what is hoped for (which emerges a response to God’s promise) will one day be realized. Likewise the idea that faith is the proof of what is not seen. Here the reality of what God has promised is viewed as being not seen, i.e., before the realization of the eschatological elements of God’s promises, we do not yet experience what will ultimately be. But faith takes what is not yet seen as certain one day to be seen. Faith is the conviction that the future will be as God has said it will be. This actually means that faith can only exist so long as God has not yet brought about the things that he has promised. By definition faith can only flourish in a hostile environment, where what God has promised has not yet come true (at least in totality).

The kind of faith that accepts that the ultimate realization of what currently is not yet is the same kind of faith that belives in a Creator God. As the author to the Hebrews writes: “by faith we discern that the world has been formed by the word of God, so that what is seen has come into being not from things visible” (Heb 11:3). Faith accepts the idea that God can create something out of nothing, that God can make the invisible visible.

The clearest example of a person with the kind of faith that believes in the ultimate realization of what is currently unrealized (at least according to the literary structure of Heb 11) is Abraham. “By faith Abraham obeyed when was called to go forth to the place that he was going to receive as an inheritance” (Heb 11:8). God’s words to Abraham in Gen 12:1–3 contained command and promise. Abraham accepted both. Accepting the reality of a promised land, Abraham accepted the reality of need to set out according to God’s command. The link between faith and obedience is very strong in Heb 11:8. Faith and obedience necessarily go together. This obedience on Abraham’s part is all the more remarkable, given that “he went forth not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8). But for faith to be faith there cannot currently be full knowledge. For faith to be faith, there must remain an element of mystery.

Faith by definition can only operate in an environment where what has been promised has not yet been realized, and often this means that faith will be lived out in an environment where virtually the opposite of what God has promised is our current reality. This too is something that Abraham experienced. “By faith [Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise as in an alien land” (Heb 11:9). Canaan was the promised land, but when Abraham arrived there it was already possessed by others (see Gen 12:6). Abraham’s land by deed of promise was currently the Cannanites land by deed of possession. Yet Abraham believed that one day all of that would be his. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were fellow heirs of God’s promise regarding the land; but the fact of the unrealized nature of the full reality of God’s promise meant that Abraham and his son and grandson lived in the land as nomads “in tents” (Heb 11:9). In the midst of this time of promise not yet fulfilled Abraham looked forward in expectation at “the city that has foundations [i.e., a city that is stable and endures] whose builder and creator is God” (Heb 11:10). In other words, the current unrealized aspects of God’s promise made Abraham look to the future for an eternal and eschatological realization of what had been promised.

The idea of faith as involving the belief that God can make the invisible visible and the impossible possible is seen in the birth of Isaac to the elderly Sarah and Abraham. Despite her inclination to disbelieve (see Gen 18:12), “by faith” Sarah “considered faithful him who had promised” (Heb 11:11). “So also from one man, and he moreover as good as dead, [descendants] were born, like the stars of heaven for multitude, and like the innumerable sand of the seashore” (Heb 11:12). Elderly Sarah and Abraham’s infertility was an important component of the “hostile environment” in which faith by definition must exist.

But the testing of Abraham’s faith did not stop with the problem of siring an heir. The testing of his faith reached its climax when God ordered him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice (see Gen 22:1–2). In calling for Abraham to do this, God was in effect telling Abraham to end the life of the one through whom the promise would be realized. It was akin to destroying the promise. Despite this, “by faith Abraham offered up Isaac … his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your seed be called’” (Heb 11:17–18). Abraham’s reasoning at that time must have been: Even though God has called upon me to destroy the promise by sacrificing my son, if he is the one through whom the promise will be fulfilled, then God will have to raise him from the dead. Hence, the words of the author in Heb 11:19 that Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead.” The faith that believes that God has the power to make the nonexistent existent, the invisible visible, and the unrealized realized is the same kind of faith that believes that God has the power to make the dead live. Faith believes in the possibility, indeed the future reality, of resurrection.