Ch.5: “In All the Scriptures”
What story does Jesus’ work in rescuing humanity and restoring them to their original identity and vocation organically grow out of. The story of Israel grows out the story of the creator and his creation. The Old Testament ends without a clear resolution to the dilemmas and troubles encountered along the way.
Exile is the summary name for these dilemmas and struggles. The big one is the deportation to Babylon in the 6th century b.c. But other smaller “exiles” punctuate the story leading up to this one.
-Abraham goes down to Egypt and gets in difficulty
-Isaac follows suit.
-Jacob has to flee to live with his uncle for fourteen years before coming home.
-Jacob’s family flees a famine to Egypt and stays, enslaved there for 400 years till Exodus.
-David has to flee internal insurrection during his kingship.
-In the divided kingdom, the north is carried off by the Assyrians in 722 b.c. and the south follows suit at the hands of the Babylonians in the early 6th century.
-Even after the return from Babylon and rebuilding of the city and the temple, Israel lives under the heel of foreign oppressors and continue to believe they are still in exile.
This is the story line in which the gospel writers interpret the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Messiah. If we try to read his story as part of another story line we will necessarily misinterpret it as well as the metaphors the New Testament uses to describe his death. We have done this in the west by platonizing the world view, moralizing our understanding of what it means to be human, and paganizing how salvation is accomplished.
The key is to see that the Adam and Eve story deliberately parallels Israel’s story. Each interprets the other. Abraham is a new Adam and his family is to resolve the problems created by sin. The promised land is a new Eden. Thus the land is to be
-a place of life (contrasted with the “death” that comes out the garden).
-a place of God’s presence (as opposed to Eden now forbidden to humanity).
-an advance signpost pointing to something even greater (the whole earth will belong to God and his people and be filled with life and God’s glory).
In both cases the people sin idolatrously and forfeit the life promised to them. This death is symbolized by Adam and Eve’s “exile” from the garden and this is meaning of Israel’s later exile as well. Nevertheless, somehow Israel’s prophets struggled with this reality and managed to hear from God a word of hope which they couched as a new Exodus.
What does sin mean in this story line? Biblical story line tells us Christ died “for our sins in accordance with the Bible.” What does this mean? The normal Greek word for “sin,” hamartia, means missing the mark. But what mark do we miss? Our created purpose to be God’s royal priests, God’s vision for our lives, the vocation to which we have been called. Wright sums it up:
“In the story the Bible is telling, humans were created for a purpose, and Israel was called for a purpose, and the purpose was not simply ‘to keep the rules,’ ‘to be with God,’ or ‘to go to heaven,” as you might suppose from the innumerable books, sermons, hymn, and prayers. Humans were made to be image-bearers, to reflect the praises of creation back to the Creator and to reflect the Creator’s wise and loving stewardship into the world. Israel was called to the royal priesthood, to worship God and reflect his rescuing wisdom into the world.” (99
To treat sin simply as rule or commandment breaking trivializes this fearsome reality. “Don’t drink, smoke, cuss, or chew, or run around with those who do.” No, it’s our refusal to play our parts in God’s plan for creation is what is finally at stake here. This is made clear by the frequent linkage of death with sin. That’s what we’re dealing with.
Exile links up here with sin and death because exile was considered a firm of national death. To undo exile as national death will require both “forgiveness of sins” and a restoration of the life-giving presence of God. A resurrection (Ez.37).
Israel’s default on her calling (to correct what Adam and Eve fouled up) is a “radical deepening of the human plight” since Israel after Abraham and Sarah carry the world’s destiny with them. “Somehow, Israel’s sins must be dealt with so that the project of global restoration – including dealing with the sins of the world in general – can go forward.” (106)
Divine forgiveness and return of the divine presence to Israel, the true return from exile, depends on Jesus’ work on the cross as we will see next.