The principle that we have been highlighting throughout (and especially in the last post) is something vital to the sound interpretation of scripture. A correct understanding of the imprecatory Psalms, for example, are a great illustration of this. On the one hand, the psalmist calls curse after curse upon God’s enemies. On the other hand, Jesus himself later tells us to bless God’s enemies. Which is it? Should we pray for those who persecute us, or should we try and smash their teeth in?
A pilgrim hermeneutic helps us to make sense of this. For instance, as we read through these sorts of Psalms, we must remember that they are being written by a none other than the theocratic king of Israel (in possession of the land). That is to say, these are the records of kingly prayers, and those that have been prayed under a land/theocratic principle. The king of God’s people always uniquely foreshadows the Great Theocratic King who will ultimately execute God’s vengeance, and do away with his enemies in hell.
For Christians under the New Covenant, however, we must follow the steps of our Master. We must first endure a time suffering and humility, before entering into that final promised-land glory. As was the case with our Master, our kingdom is now not of this world. The pilgrim prayer is therefore to be directed by the earthly (exilic) pilgrim ministry of Jesus, teaching us to love our enemies. Yet at the same time, as those who know that Jesus is indeed the Great King who will once again return in glory, our hearts are not at all disconnected from the prayers of the Psalmist. Quite the opposite. As we read the imprecatory Psalms, our hearts wait for our King to return and for the wicked to be dealt with finally and completely.
Moving on to the next major juncture in our story, we come to the time of exile, a time into which the major prophet Jeremiah was commissioned to speak. Through this exile, God intended that his people (under the Mosaic administration) learn that they–like Adam–had broken the covenant, and were now subject to the weight of its curse. However, unlike the ultimate reality of hell (the curse-sanction of the Adamic covenant), this national and typological curse meant the removal of God’s people from the temple and land, as they were taken into Babylonian captivity.
The trauma of this exile lay primarily in that while according to the Mosaic covenant, they were under a period of theocracy; at the same time they were now being kept from living according to its covenantal arrangement. They had no access to the temple; they were no longer a distinct geo-political people. While it is hard for us to appreciate, this in and of itself made for a time of deep-seated and ongoing trauma for the people of Israel. Indeed this very trauma it is well reflected in Psalm 137:1-6(ESV);
1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
It is in preparation for this difficult time then, that the prophet Jeremiah is called to minister. And the way that he prepares them is very surprising indeed.
In the next post, we will look at what Jeremiah says, and why it is significant.
The goal of the current series of posts is to show the relationship of biblical theology and mission. At this point, we are about halfway through telling the story of scripture – and seeing how it should inform both our missiology, and our philosophy of cultural engagement.
Following on from the previous entry, we are able to see that as Israel finally came into the promised land, their principle of cultural engagement was altered. At a later stage, I will use the catch phrase; “Open hand. Closed hand. Go!” to summarise all that a well-developed New Testament missiology should look like. That is to say, the church is instructed to keep a closed hand on the sacred (theology and holiness); while it opens its hands on issues of contemporary engagement with common culture. However, at this point in the story, note that the very opposite missional philosophy is in play. We could summarise it this way: Israel’s missional model is, with propriety: “Closed hand. Closed hand. Stay”.
As the people of God (at this point in the story) obey in keeping completely separate from the world, and make sure to govern all of life according to a theocratic principle, God would bring great blessing upon the nation. This would indeed serve the purposes of mission. For one thing, it would show forth the glory of God’s theocracy to all the surrounding peoples, in turn bringing them to marvel in awe at the splendour of the foreshadowed kingdom. Here, those such as the Queen of Sheba, would stand truly amazed as they looked upon the people of God, and the place of his dwelling. But, the reality is that this would only be for a brief moment in history. After seeing this glory, the shadows would need to be stripped away in order to yield to the infinitely greater substance.