Friday, May 27, 2011

The Throne of David and the Return from Exile

"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

Luke 1:31-33

Zechariah and Elizabeth experienced the power of the God of creation to carry out His plans and fulfill His promises. Elizabeth’s body produced offspring at a time when the effects of decay had already conquered her fertility. An earlier post said that an earlier post that Elizabeth’s victory was to foreshadow God’s plan for the nation of Israel.

Important to consider, however, are God’s powers to reverse life. This sounds obvious, but part of a proper human humility before God is to recognize both His power to bring life and His power to take life—power to build and power to destroy. We tend to think of God’s works of deliverance in Egypt for Israel, the “signs and wonders”, as beautiful signposts of God’s saving ability. However the connotation of “signs and wonders” is just as negative as it is positive.  In the context of the exodus, the “signs and wonders” were given as proofs of God’s covenant faithfulness towards Israel, as well as His kingly power over all nations as the one true God. This was done by abasing the pharaoh and his country with the “signs and wonders”, thereby proving to them God’s glory. In Egypt, these consisted of great demonstrations of mastery over different parts of the land, culminating in the ability to directly take the lives of the firstborn sons of the Egyptians.

If these “signs and wonders” on behalf of Israel do not bring about the correct fear of God that leads to obedience, God promised to redirect these atrocities back at Israel herself. The curses of Deuteronomy 28 predicted various dooms for the disobedient nation, including infertility of the womb, soil and animals (v. 18), disease (v. 22), death in battle (v. 25), and boils that won’t heal (v. 35). Eventually the nation will become overrun with foreigners who oppress it, eventually leading to a seige and causing even women to eat the afterbirth and the child of her labor (v. 57). Not only will the Lord bring the diseases poured upon Egypt, but also every sickness not recorded in the book of the Law (v. 61). And all this will climax with expulsion from the land (63, 64). But Deuteronomy promises that God will be so deliberate with the expulsion that Israel will be “scattered among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other”.

The important connection here in Deuteronomy is not just the disobedience of Israel, but the connection between the decay of life and expulsion from the land. These two concepts, bound together, reflect a continuous Old Testament prophetic theme regarding the nation’s theo-political status. This connection is most potently recognizable in Ezekiel 37, between verses 1-14 where Ezekiel was commanded to prophecy to dry bones until they regain flesh and breath and life. Why were they dead? God had poured his anger on the nation, bringing about all the judgments promised in Deuteronomy and culminated them in dispersing Israel among the nations. In the previous chapter, Ezekiel revealed God’s message:

 “Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity.
So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries.”
Ezekiel 36:17-19

God’s wrath against the nation brought upon it pestilence, trouble, and death, ultimately leading to the exile. Precisely at this point, God introduced the concept of a resuscitation of life from death in Ezekiel 37:1-14, where God intricately tied death and decay with exile, and conversely life and renewal with return from exile. After the initial pericope discussing the reviving of the bones, God commanded Ezekiel in Ez 37:15-28 to pick up two sticks and write on one “For Judah” and on the other “For Joseph”. The first stick was symbolic of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and the other, the lost ten tribes. God continued, saying: “And join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. (vs 17)” He explained that this gesture referred to His plan to gather the scattered tribes of Israel from all nations, and making them one nation in the land. Central to all of this, God promised an end to the divided monarchy between northern and southern Israel, and instead announced the reestablishment of the Davidic line (v. 24). Finally, God declared that He would once again return to the land and dwell with the people (v. 27).

The connection between death and exile and life and return from exile is easily perceived. This is the logic behind 1st century Jewish eschatology. While the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin had returned from Babylon, the other ten tribes, as prophesied, were spread to the “four winds” (Zechariah 2:6). The ingathering and reformation of all twelve tribes remained paramount in the writings of at least Isaiah (Is 11:10-16), Jeremiah (Jer 23:5-8) and Ezekiel (Ez 37:15-28). Integral to the prophetic hope of a unified Israel lies the messianic hope, that one day the throne of David would be filled.

Mary heard the announcement from the angel Gabriel that her son would “reign over the house of Jacob forever” and that “His Kingdom would have no end” (Luke 1:33). The hope of a restored Israel under a god sent messiah was as impossible as a dead man coming back to life. But as the angel reminded Mary: “nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37)” 

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