Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Promise of the Land

I got this excellent question in the combox for the last post from David (...what a great name!). I thought I should address it here. I won't provide the whole comment--you can read that below--let me just get straight to the question at hand:
"...If the restoration has to be sacramental, how do we reconcile that with God promising to restore Israel's land?"
In other words, in the Old Testament the "return from exile" involved the promise of returning to a geographic location. Isn't a sacramental reading merely spiritualizing the Old Testament?
Well, I will eventually post a long series on that whole question. Actually that's on deck after the series on the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom series. It is a key issue that I know I'm really going to need to address. Suffice it to say, I have thought long and hard about this question and I will address this much more fully in a dissertation and later on this blog. (So stay tuned in the future!)

Here I just want to point out something you see from canonical reading of the Old Testament. Let me start with Israel--hang in there with me.
Consider the fact that in the Old Testament Israel's original vocation was to be a "kingdom of priests" (Exod 19:6). That's what God was ultimately caling them to be. Of course, with the sin of the golden calf, Israel failed to realize that calling. With that sin came a new development. That which was originally intended for all the tribes of Israel--the priesthood--was now given only to the Levites. The Levites thus serve as a kind of model to Israel--they get what Israel was ultimately called to and lost.
Later on, when Moses portions out the land to Israel we note something rather interesting--even rather surprising: every tribe gets a portion of the land except the Levites. Do the Levites get cheated? Does God give them something less because of their righteousness? As Paul might say, "By no means!" Moses explains, "Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him" (Deut 10:9).
The ultimate gift is not the land--it is God Himself.
If the Levites serve as a kind of model to Israel of what was lost as a result of the golden calf, what does this reveal to us? Just something to think about...


David said...

I follow you when you say that the gift is God himself. However, don't the prophets during the exile speak of a literal return to the promised land? If, by this "promised land", we are speaking of the heavenly Jerusalem (which we enter into each mass), then why the promise of the land? I realize that Jesus returned the priesthood to the firstborn, after the order of Melchizedek (Shem) and in that priesthood we offer ourselves completely to God. But doesn't there have to be a bit more to it than that? Otherwise, we would over spiritualize the gospel. I guess I wrestle with the balance between the spiritual and the material. If I need to wait for your upcoming post for the answer, that is fine. I just appreciate what you are doing here in providing a place to dialogue about these issues.

Glory be to God.

JAM said...

Michael, permit me to raise a minor objection, with the caveat that I look forward to reading your fuller explanation.

Yes, the exclusion of the Levites from owning any of the Land seems to indicate that God Himself was the true goal. However, this strikes me as a kind of truism. Why should belonging to God and possessing the land be seen as two mutually exclusive options?

After all, when Israel was still fresh out of the Red Sea, and when God was sharing His vision for them as His "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6), there was still every intention of bringing them into the Land.

So when Israel is finally and fully restored (cf. Rom. 9-11), what would preclude them from being brought into the Land, just as God had intended to do with them back in Ex. 19?

Anonymous said...

Happy Feast of the Ascension!

Which relates to my point.

At the Transfiguration, Moses spoke to Peter, James, and John about the exodus that Jesus was about to undergo.

What exodus was that?

That which I wish we'd actually observe liturgically between Good Friday and Easter Vigil--that which we proclaim in the Apostles Creed:

He descended to the dead. (Sheol, Hades, the Limbo of the Fathers, my really cool icon of "the harrowing of hell")

To preach to the captive spirits and lead them home to the New Promised Land - HEAVEN!

It even sneaks into our Advent, in the eschatological emphasis, in the Veni Veni Emmanuel:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

O Come, thou rod of Jesse's stem
From ev'ry foe deliver them
That trust thy might power to save
And give them vict'ry o'er the grave

O Come, thou key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home,
Make safe the way that leads on high
That we no more have cause to sigh.

O come, thou Dayspring from on hgih,
And cheer us by thy drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadow put to flight.

OK, so this New Promised Land is something perfect that we possess for eternity. Sorta makes possession of a piece of soil during this lifetime seem rather paltry by comparison.

After all, Israel the nation-state isn't really turning out to be a huge liberation, is it?

Why would the ultimate fulfillment of the promise be just the same as the proximate? On everything else, the ultimate fulfillment is always much greater than anything we could conceive.

That isn't overspiritualizing because our souls and bodies will be reunited on the last day and we will live there bodily.

I'm no scholar, that's just my bonehead sensus fidelium. Lex orandi and all that.


Taylor Marshall said...

Great post. I tried to carry out your post with a post of my own.

The only thing I added (which is the key) is that the Levites did receive a "land portion" - that little parcel of the earth where the tabernacle/temple rested. Their portion was Paradise Renewed. Check it out, if you like: