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Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Resurrection of Israel

So there’s a theory I’m working on with regard to the structure of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The theory is that the epistle is, among other things, about the death and resurrection of Israel. Scholars like N. T. Wright, whose commentary I’ve been working slowly through, point out the recurring theme in the Old Testament of Exile and Restoration. We see repeatedly the exile of an individual or groups of individuals, which in time is followed by restoration, if not of those individuals, then of their descendents. Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden, and those who trust in Christ are restored to the Garden (Rev. 22). Joseph was exiled to Egypt, was later joined by his family, and the entire family of Israel was later restored to the land. Abram and Sarai were symbolically exiled to Egypt (Genesis 12), as a type of Israel’s later exile. One may also suggest that the sojourn of Elimelech and his family in Moab (Ruth 1) was an exile, which curiously relates typologically to Abram and Sarai’s sojourn in Egypt, as both families went to other countries as the result of a famine. Israel and Judah, after being brought back from Egypt, suffered exile again in the days of the divided kingdom because of their unfaithfulness. Elijah, symbolizing Israel, was exiled twice (I Kings 17 & 19). David, already anointed to become king, experienced exile as Saul chased him around the wilderness. David himself was exiled a second time, as a result of the rebellion of Absalom. And our Lord suffered exile in different ways, both in his forty days in the wilderness, and in his wanderings around the country prior to his entering Jerusalem.

A closely connected concept to this, I would suggest, is the idea of death and resurrection. Ezekiel makes this connection for us in the vision of the valley of dry bones found in Ezekiel 37. Speaking to Ezekiel, the Lord makes this explicit in verses 11-14. Death, we find, corresponds to exile, and resurrection corresponds to restoration.

Jesus Christ himself bore the sins of the world, and in so doing, specifically bore the sins of Israel. He died and was resurrected, and so was exiled and restored for the salvation of Israel as well as the world.

But here’s where Romans comes in. As I’ve been studying Romans, I was struck by the fact that in the first few verses of the book, Christ’s resurrection from the dead was specifically mentioned, whereas the circumstances of his death were completely absent. The fact that his death was by crucifixion (a point that we make much of in the modern church), along with the fact that his death was propitiatory, was completely left out. Now Paul elsewhere in Romans deals with Christ’s death in more detail (3:25, ch. 5), and so it isn’t as if Paul considers this a secondary matter. But I believe it is reasonable to suggest that Paul is stating the highlights of the epistle in these first few verses, as they read as a summary of his thought on a particular matter.

It was as I was studying ch. 4 that the idea occurred to me. Paul there rehearses the case of Abraham and his faith in God. Abraham believed God in a situation that seemed impossible, and his faith was counted to him as righteousness. In verse 19, Paul says of Abraham, “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.” Abraham and Sarah, as we see, were both well past the normal years of bearing children. Yet look at the language Paul uses to describe this. Abraham was “as good as dead”. Sarah’s womb was barren, that is, dead. Paul seems to be saying here, I would suggest, that in the conception and birth of Isaac, a sort of resurrection, a sort of life from the dead, took place. Resurrection is mentioned in regard to God’s character in verse 17, as Paul speaks of our God, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” That Paul is keeping resurrection in the forefront of his mind is also confirmed by the closing words of the chapter, as he speaks of Abraham’s faith: “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Christ’s resurrection is mentioned twice within the same sentence, as if Paul wanted to make the point clear. God promised Abraham a child, Abraham believed, it was counted to him as righteousness, and God gave him a child. Through that child, Abraham would inherit the world. So how does this correspond to us? Paul does not spell it out fully here, but based on what he says here and later on in the epistle, I think we can determine what he is getting at. Those who have the faith of Abraham are his seed. God promised to Abraham and his seed the world (vs. 13). The summary is that we that have the faith of Abraham are heirs of the world, or, if you will, the cosmos (the Greek word for “world” here is, transliterated, “kosmou”, the genitive form of “kosmos”). And so when the passage is examined carefully, we find, rather than merely justification narrowly conceived, a Postmillenial dominion theology at its finest. It is important to point out, however, that contextually, both in this passage and in Scripture more broadly, this dominion does not come about through sheer power and through the forcing of one’s will upon another. This dominion only comes through death and resurrection, willing exile and restoration. Once again, Joseph leaps to mind.

I am still working my way through the epistle, and so a further explication of my theory will have to wait until later. One other important matter to point out regards the placement of Paul’s discussion of Israel in the letter. Rather than being a mere side note, as if Paul changes topics at the beginning of chapter nine, Paul’s discussion of Israel here is one of the major points of the letter, and belongs at the place Paul puts it according to the flow of the letter. Chapters nine through eleven are built upon the foundation that Paul lays out in all the preceding chapters. And essentially, Paul says this: God has made promises to Israel. Will He raise her from the dead again? Will God bring Israel back from exile once more? Paul essentially says yes, but the form Israel will take in her resurrection and restoration is different from what Israel might expect. Lord willing, I will discuss this at a later time.

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