The Curse of Exile

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.


Closed Hand, Closed Hand, Stay.

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.

The Land Principle

Giving attention to that which is significant to our mission and cultural engagement, the next major point of the biblical story is that of Israel’s entry into the land of Canaan. As we know, this was the land that was promised to them. Canaan was to be their new home. The act of claiming this land, however, would call for an immediate adjustment to their pilgrim practices of cultural engagement. No longer were they to think of themselves as a pilgrim people. Rather, under their great military leader, Joshua, they were to be viewed as a holy and theocratic army.

It is important to note the biblical story’s progression in connection to the theme we have already started to consider; as soon as this covenant community enter the land (promised to them by God) their paradigm for cultural engagement changes. Where before this issue had been regulated by ‘a pilgrim principle‘, now (as they once again fall under God’s geo-politically dimensioned rule) they are under a theocratic principle–or ‘land principle’.

If not before, the effect of this principle is clearly noted as they receive their commission to drive the Canaanites out of the land, and thereafter, to maintain a complete separation from them. This is, of course, very different to that which we have already observed of the patriarchal community under Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (cf. Joseph in Egypt).

With this change of paradigm noted, in the next post we’ll discuss why it is significant in terms of the greater story, and of course, our own mission as the church.


The Pilgrim Community

Moving to consider Abraham and the early patriarchal community, one of the key things to note is that they do not yet possess the land. Unlike Eden in the past, and unlike Canaan in the future, at this stage there is no geopolitical dimension to God’s rule. Rather, as a pilgrim community, they must share a common world-stage with those who do not believe.

In this regard, what is significant is that while Abraham and the patriarchal community are indeed clearly shown to be religiously distinct, this is not so when it comes to matters of culture. To say it another way, they are religiously distinct, and yet culturally common.

This is further clarified as we read of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Unlike the Mosaic theocracy (where God’s people once again are in possession of a land), at this point the Abrahamic covenant is shown not to contain any instructions relating to Abraham’s activity in the common-grace realm. His place in culture was much as it had been before; both as he continues to involve himself in business with those around him (Gen. 23:16) and even as he is brought to interact with various kings (Gen. 20:17). This type of interaction, however, is very different from what happens in theocracy. Nevertheless, it is a sanctioned approach at this point of the story. Why is it sanctioned? There is a simple reason. God’s people don’t yet possess the land. In the next post we’ll further discuss the importance behind this idea. Stay tuned.



The Promised Seed and the Covenant Community

As the narrative moves forward, we see that the seed of the women is protected. God would stay true to the promise made in Genesis 3:15. This is so even through the great judgement-ordeal of the flood, where (as we know) Noah and his family were kept safe in the ark.

Once these waters of the flood had subsided, we are led quickly once again to idea of common grace (within the the Noahic Covenant). And once again then, the stage is set. God first promised to send a Saviour; now he covenants to preserve a humanity from whom this Saviour would come.

As the story of the seed progresses, it further narrows its focus upon this vital theme of promise and fulfilment. While it is true that God would bring the Saviour from humanity, he later shows that this would occur through a specific race. This takes us to the next important character in the story: Abraham.

At the time of Abraham, we see one of the first clear examples of how the early covenant community are brought to interact with the world around them. As this is of obvious interest to those concerned with mission and cultural engagement, we will explore this further in the next post.

The Fall, the Gospel and the Mission

After discussing God’s theocratic rule in the garden, we come next to Adam’s rebellion. To say the very least, sin changed everything. One of the most important implications of this first transgression was that Adam and Eve brought upon themselves the curse-sanction of the first covenant.

Had it not been for God’s grace, man’s lot from this point was only that of death,  judgement, and eternal punishment. But here, against the backdrop of man’s darkest hour, we are given a powerful glimpse of the gospel.

Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This hope was given just before God exiled his people from the land (Eden), and brought the garden theocracy to a close. While this was the end of the theocracy, however, it was not the end of the story. In fact, the real story only truly begins at this point: a story of which the garden serves as but a prologue.

As already alluded to in Gen 3:15, the biblical narrative continues along in the theme of two rival “seeds”: the seed of the women and the seed of the serpent (the holy and the profane). Neither now live in the theocratic land, but instead find their dwelling on the stage of commonality. This is a crucial point; something that we will spend more time developing in the posts to come; something that becomes vital in developing our biblical missiology.

God’s Theocratic Rule

Starting at the beginning means that we must start with Genesis. More specifically, we must start with the Garden of Eden. For all the things that one might say about this key period, the purpose of this series requires mention of one main (often overlooked) point. Namely, that the time in the Garden was a time of God’s theocratic rule.

This idea is often a bit of a jolt to the system. While the word ‘theocracy’ easily conjures up thoughts of Israel during their time at Mount Sinai, it doesn’t as readily send us to the very beginning. That said, some thought on the matter shows that the idea of theocracy should indeed point us to the Garden.

To be sure, theocracy is an involved state of affairs, but at its core it simply means that their is no distinct line drawn between cult (…and no, I don’t mean ‘cult’ cult. I mean: ‘sphere of religious worship’) and culture. In other words, during a time of theocracy, rather than distinguish between cult and culture, it is all rightly seen under one main kingdom rubric.

This of course, is very different to our current situation. When we as the church, talk about ‘culture’, we are talking about something that is decidedly outside of the ‘sphere of religious worship’; something then that the church has much need to engage with on mission. Once again however, this was not the case in the Garden of Eden. Cult and culture were one. All of life was properly under the banner of the religious sphere. Not to mention that at this point there was no sin present.

The other big issue in the Garden had to do with geography. That is, before the fall, God’s rule over His people had a distinctly geographical dimension to it (the garden itself). Once again, this is a vital component of what theocracy entails. If there isn’t a divinely sanctioned piece of real-estate involved, call it what you will, but it’s not a theocracy. So, while we do indeed find a biblical counterpart to this time during God’s rule over Israel–who lived in Canaan (the Promised Land);  and also a counterpart/fulfilment in God’s final rule over the new heavens and the new earth; it should also be emphasised that during the times in between, things were (or are) very, very different.

So then, before moving forward to further explore this difference, there are two main things to note as we set out on this journey through Scripture: a) that God’s rule in the Garden was a time of theocracy, and b) that God’s rule in the church is not a theocracy.

This is a colossal idea. The implications of which are far reaching for mission and cultural engagement. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Paying careful attention to these first two observations, we’ll move on the next thing in the following post.