It’s All the Same Story: Paul on the Exodus, the Conquest, and Jesus

violence of Biblical GodIn Acts 13 we read a remarkable sermon of Paul to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia in the synagogue.

“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. [17] The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. [18] And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. [19] And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. [20] All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. [21] Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. [22] And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ [23] Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. [24] Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. [25] And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’

[26] “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. [27] For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. [28] And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. [29] And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. [30] But God raised him from the dead, [31] and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.

The sermon continues, but this section is what drew my attention the other morning.

Paul is constructing a brief, periodized, universal history of God’s dealings with Israel from the time of the Exodus to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God elected Israel and saved them from bondage by his own hand. God led them into the promised land of Canaan. God gave them leaders like the Judges, the Prophets, and the Kings, especially David, whom he chose to supplant Saul. And finally, in fulfillment of all prophecy, he gave them Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah and true Son of David. In his life, trial before Pilate, crucifixion on a tree, and resurrection God has accomplished our salvation in history.

Unlike his argument in Galatians 4:21-31, in this section Paul does not betray any interest in what might be termed allegorical or even typological connections, which only appear in the following verses where he cites several Psalms as having been fulfilled in Christ. For the most part, Paul is dealing with what might be termed a simple, narrative history where events like the Exodus are happening on the same plane as events like Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan, his trial before Pilate, and his post-resurrection appearances before witnesses–the types of events of which Luke sought to make a diligent search and an orderly account in his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4).

And right there, in the middle of this orderly, historical account of God’s gracious dealings with Israel, he says, “And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance” (v. 19). Just as God set Israel free from Egypt by his own hand and delivered the promised land to them just so he destroyed the seven nations in the land of Canaan. The narrative of election, the Exodus, the Davidic Covenant, and the Resurrection is the narrative of the Conquest. And the chief Protagonist and Agent in each event is none other than the One God of Israel.

Now, I know there’s more to say here. As even conservative OT scholars point out, there are all sorts of important narrative tells within the conquest account leading us to see that the destruction was not total, that God is also said to “drive them out”, that much of what we’re dealing with is Ancient Near Eastern rhetorical exaggeration, and so forth. For more on that, see here.

All the same, it’s clear that for Paul not only are, “the narratives of exodus and conquest are inseparable components of Israel’s origin story” (Daniel Hawk, The Violence of the Biblical God, 165), but that they are inseparable components of the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel. Indeed, assuming Paul knows the narratives well (which his letters give us no reason to doubt), then not only does he know that the conquest was carried out by the hand of Joshua and the Israelites, but that doesn’t stop him from ultimately attributing their works to God as their ultimate author.

If we look to the apostles to guide us in approaching the Old Testament in light of the Gospel, then this is one more data point leading us to conclude that we must wrestle with these narratives as historical happenings. And not only as happenings but as divine doings. The works of the same God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Protecting Pigs At the Cost of the Liberating the Oppressed

pigsThere’s often an economic cost to the freedom Jesus brings and the World typically doesn’t like that. I was struck by that reality against as I reflected on the story of the Demoniac Jesus encounters in Gerasa in the area of the Decapolis in Mark 5. In this case, the cost is a side-product of the liberation. For years, this man has been bound and filled with demons who have dehumanized him to the point that he’s living out in by the tombs, talking gibberish, away from his family, normal human community, and alienated from his own mind. When Jesus casts the demons out, they flee into a nearby herd of pigs, driving them mad, and causing them to leap off a cliff and be drowned in the lake.

Of course, various commentators assign different significance to the drowning of the pigs and the fact that the demons identify themselves as “Legion.” Some see an anti-imperial undercurrent, with Jesus posing a threat to the political principalities, drowning them in the sea, much as God drowned the armies of Pharaoh. Others have connected the pigs as a challenge to the gods of Greece–I can’t remember how it worked at this point. Whatever the undercurrent, at the end of the day the herd pigs drown in the sea and apparently this is all the village people can focus on because, instead of rejoicing the grand miracle God had wrought in setting this man free, they beg Jesus to leave the area of the Decapolis.

The Kingdom of God breaks in, disrupts the economic peace of the World, and the World insists the Kingdom see itself out the door again.

Another story that comes to mind is Paul’s liberation of the pythoness in Acts 16. After a couple of days of harassment in the streets by this young women possessed of a demonic spirit, Paul casts out the demon and sets her free. This lands Paul in hot water because the young girls’ slave owners used to make a lot of money through her ability to predict fortunes and so forth. Her bondage and slavery to the demonic powers was a source of material income. Her liberation means they’re out of a meal-ticket. And so they call on the Roman authorities to deal with these disturbers of the peace, have them beaten, and thrown into prison. Again, instead of rejoicing at the newfound freedom of this woman, the loss of economic gain provokes a hostile response to the messengers of the Kingdom of God.

Or once more, when Christianity spreads to the whole city of Ephesus, we read that the idol-makers become worried about the drop in sales (Acts 19). There are so many new worshippers of Jesus who aren’t buying their shiny new, late model gods, that it’s become really bad for business. Under the pretense of piety–worry for the great name of Artemis–the idol-makers stir up a mob and accuse Paul and his companions of slandering the goddess with their preaching of Christ. As people turn from the worship of false idols, without any explicit political or economic organizing, the economic and social order become upset.

Of course, it takes little more than a few seconds thought to think of a half-dozen ways that same dynamic is at work in the world today. Aside from situations of explicit oppression and bondage–situations which are devastatingly all too common–much of our consumeristic culture is dependent on people remaining in various levels of spiritual slavery and bondage.

In other words, somebody is making money off of a generation captive to the idea that personal identity can be achieved or reinforced by getting your hands on the newest, shiniest toys, accessories, iPads, designer jeans, and so forth. Our persistent dissatisfaction with our level of material comfort, our fear of falling behind the Joneses, and our loss of any sense for the virtue of simplicity and the vice of material excess, means someone is getting rich.  (Can we say, “Apple Watch”? Oh, but it’s okay, Christians don’t need to worry about frivolous purchases because now I can use the better version of the Bible app on it.)

Or again, a generation of porn addicts, convinced that the good life is to be found between the sheets of that next sexual conquest, is going to be an easy target for any advertiser who promises you their product will get you there. A large segment of the economy is invested in keeping us sexually aroused, so we will buy what they’re selling. A population that is spiritually bound is economically lucrative. Not to sound like some sort of Marxist theorist, but I think it’s worth asking questions about who stands to gain financially from the currently regnant sexual ideologies presented to us as the liberation of desire from shackles of prudery and repression.

And these are just two examples.

Hear me here: business is not inherently evil, nor do I believe that capitalism as an economic system is either. But the demonic forces at work in the world and in the human heart will inevitably take them (and every other economic structure). corrupt them, and leverage them in such a way that it is in people’s financial interest to see their neighbors, their brothers and sisters, captive to desires and ideologies that do not promote human flourishing. We have an interest in protecting pigs at the cost of liberating the oppressed.

And this is just one more reason that the gospel of Jesus is often opposed so fiercely by the powers that be. When the Kingdom of God breaks in, it liberates us from the idolatries that keep much of the current, sinful structures of economic (and political) reality propped up. When your identity is firmly caught up in Christ’s, and your chief desire is to seek the righteousness of the Kingdom of God, it’s that much harder to make you a shill for or sucker of the kingdoms of this world.

That will make people angry. As people hear the good news of Jesus, walk away from their idols and stop buying into the system, there will rise opposition. There will be fear. There will be slander. There will be accusations. We should count on it.

And yet, there will also be opportunities for witness. I think back to the Demoniac. Though his town asked Jesus to leave the area, the man who had been restored to his senses was set free and given the call to witness to that freedom among his old neighbors–the same ones who were frustrated and scared of Christ. What happened to him?

Well, Mark 7 and 8 records Jesus returning to the Decapolis, only this time, we see that crowds gather for him to heal the sick, the lame, and for him to cast out demons. The crowd is so great that he even has to perform another feeding miracle–the feeding of the 4,000. I don’t want to veer into unbiblical speculation, but it seems possible that as the shock of the loss wore off, and the beauty of the liberation Christ brought into his life was known, the people of the Decapolis began to see something different. Maybe they were that much more prepared to receive with great joy the costly, challenging liberation of Christ.

It may be that in our own day, as more and more of us opt out of idolatries of our neighbors, as church communities live in ways that point to the economy of the Kingdom of God, so to speak, we begin to live concrete lives of witness that not only challenge, but invite our neighbors to discover the King who sets us free.

Soli Deo Gloria