Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel”
eujlogeto;V kuvrioV oJ qeo;V tou:  jIsrahvl

-Luke 1:68a

Sometimes a special name comes with a special title. For instance, Barak Obama gained a special title upon his presidency. Now he signs important documents with the title: “Barak Obama, President of the United States.” Similarly, Israel had a special title for their lord. Since the formation of the covenant Abraham made with his suzerain, a special title accompanied covenant relations. The first development of the covenant title noted in Scripture seems to be in Exodus 3:15. It states:

“God also said to Moses, Say this to the people of Israel, The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Ex 3:15 italics mine)

         Due to reverence for YHWH (hwhy), the divine name, the ancient  Hebrew people would substitute the four consonants of God’s name for ADNY (ynda), the letters that make up the word Adoni. Therefore, while some translations of the Bible include a transliteration of YHWH such as YaHWeH or JeHoVaH, most tend to replace YHWH with LORD in all capital letters. So in Exodus 3:15, the italicized phrase actually reads: “Yahweh, the God of your fathers…”
The formula evolved once more when Moses announced God’s plan of intervention in the case of Israel. In Exodus 4:29-31, Moses and Aaron gathered the people to demonstrate with word and sign that God’s ear had turned to them. And when the people saw God’s redemptive intention, the people believed and worshiped their God. Specifically, they worshiped the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom had interacted and communicated with YHWH. Through the signs and words which Moses and Aaron performed, YHWH newly revealed himself to these, the sons of Israel, and became their covenant God.
Though this covenant relationship between YHWH and Israel in Exodus 4 and 5 was yet young, Israel could expect YHWH to act on their behalf. Conversely, YHWH could set down rules of life and expect Israel to follow them. Once established among them as their lord, YHWH’s next step is to free Israel from their enemies. In Exodus 5:1, Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh and shouted, Thus says the YHWH, the God of Israel (lacy yhla hwhy rma־lk) let My people go!”
This exact phrase became used throughout scripture in situations of covenant obligation, either of YHWH or Israel.  Sometimes the holiness of the people of the covenant was at stake, as is illustrated in Exodus 32:27, Joshua 7:13, and 1Chronicles 15:14; in the covenant renewal ceremony of Joshua 24 (specifically in verse 2); occurrences of divine protection and establishment  as in Joshua 10:24, Judges 11:21, Judges 11:23,  and Isaiah 37:21;  individual protection as in Ruth 2:12, 2 Samuel 12:7  and Isaiah 41:17;  times of unfaithfulness on Israel’s part where they followed baal or other gods as in Joshua 24:23, 1 Kings 15:30, 1 Kings 16:13 (the occurrences are quite numerous in Kings); Times of recounting covenant history as in 1 Samuel 10:18, 1 Chronicles 16:36; In times of Divine judgement such as Psalms 59:5; and remembering covenant promises like in 1 Kings 1:48, 1 Kings 8:15,  and Psalms 106:48; and finally as part of a Divine command for repentance as in Jeremiah 7:3 and Jeremiah 11:3. This list is by no means exhaustive, but the general trend can be noted that the phrase “the LORD the God of Israel” appeared when discussing covenant relations.
The only two times this combination of words is used in the New Testament is in the first chapter of Luke. The first time the phrase is used, though not exact, occurs in the angel Gabriel’s revealing of John the Baptist’s job description. The angel’s words: “…he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God (kai pollouV twn uion israhl epistreyei epi kurion ton qeon autwn).” Here, Luke sets the context of his work squarely within the rebellious idolatry of the people of Israel. The story begins where the Old Testament leaves off, the exile and estrangement from God. Luke never lets this theme disappear, but allows it to run its course straight to the end of Acts. Running victoriously on top of this dark and ominous theme, however, is the story of God’s redemptive plan.
Zechariah’s prophecy that starts in Luke 1:68 is all about covenant relations. He signals this by beginning his prophecy with the phrase "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel (eujlogeto;V kuvrioV oJ qeo;V tou:  jIsrahvl). Now this is Greek, but the common way to translate YHWH in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) is to automatically put in the Greek word for Lord (the equivalent of Adoni), which is “kurios”, so the phrase might be rendered: “Blessed be YHWH the God of Israel.”  No wavering accompanied Zechariah’s faith at this point. Joy replaced his doubts. In a spirit of prophecy, Zechariah invoked YHWH, as did the great men of old- Moses, Joshua, David. YHWH, “The Lord the God of Israel” remembered the covenant after all. Covenant obligations rushed back into view, and after Israel had despaired for several centuries due to their estrangement from YHWH, their God finally came back to revisit His people. With His return came the old loyalties, the promises, and, best of all, the restored Kingdom. YHWH came to establish His Kingdom.

All of this suggests that Zechariah’s understanding of Israel remains nationalistic. Nothing in Zechariah’s words propose a reunderstanding of Israel in a New Testament light. Interestingly, his prophecy sounds like something right out of the Old Testament. 

No comments:

Post a Comment