Results tagged “Exodus” from Reformation21 Blog

The Climactic Word - Transfigured Hermeneutics 6

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This is the sixth of a ten part treatment of the significance of the Transfiguration for Christian theology and biblical reflection. I am currently exploring the way in which the Transfiguration draws upon associations with the events of the Exodus and Mount Sinai and upon broader Old Testament themes.

At Sinai, the Law of God was given to Israel on tablets of stone. At the Transfiguration, God declares that Jesus is his Son and his Word to the world: 'This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!' Jesus is God's climactic word, the Word that all of the other words anticipated. Although Jesus' identity as God's Son and Word given to the world is the fundamental implication of the gospels and the New Testament in their entirety, it is here, at the Transfiguration, that God's gift of his Son as his revelation to the world is declared in a direct and unmediated word from God himself.

Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, both persons who had spectacular yet fleeting visions of God's glory at Mount Sinai and both persons who had experienced a form of transfiguration by the Glory of God themselves (Moses' shining face and Elijah's ascent in the divine throne chariot in 2 Kings 2). Moses was the one through whom God gave the Law; Elijah was the one through whom God established a remnant prophetic movement. Between them they are the two greatest OT witnesses: some have seen Moses as representing the Law, and Elijah the prophets. They stand for all of the revelation that had come beforehand, revelation that witnesses to and is exceeded by God's gift of his Son.

Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus concerning what he is about to fulfil. Jesus' superiority to them is apparent, especially as they are removed from the scene and God testifies to his Son. Even the most important prophets and mediators of revelation in the Old Testament are surpassed by Jesus.

The words of God's declaration concerning his Son in verse 35 resonate deeply within the world of the Old Testament. Richard Hays observes the presence of Genesis 22 and Isaiah 42:1--'Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights'--in the background of God's declaration at Jesus' Baptism. The Isaiah echo is more prominent in Luke 9, where it is 'amplified into a more explicit allusion' as Jesus is referred to as the 'chosen one'.[1] This designation as the Isaianic Servant presents Jesus as the True Israel, and as God's faithful covenant partner.

In contrast to the divine voice at Jesus' Baptism, the voice here is directed to the disciples, not to Jesus himself. The disciples are instructed to 'hear' Jesus, a probable allusion to Deuteronomy 18:15-19. The promised Prophet like Moses is one that the people must 'hear' (cf. Acts 3:22). Jesus is the One for whom Elijah was preparing the way and he is the great Prophet like Moses that was foretold. His word comes with a glorious finality in the history of redemption, the revelation that will not be surpassed. 'God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son ... the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person' (Heb. 1:1-2).

In Malachi 4:4-6, the final verses of the Old Testament prophets, the coming Day of the LORD is announced and the people are told to remember the 'Law of Moses,' God's servant. It is also promised that 'Elijah' will appear 'before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.' This prophecy is prominent in the context of the Transfiguration account, where Matthew's account records Jesus referring the prophecy concerning Elijah to John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13). As Moses and Elijah are the great witnesses and the ones who will prepare the way for the climactic coming of the LORD himself, their appearance with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration is very fitting.

Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus about his departure--literally his 'Exodus'--that he was about to 'fulfil' in Jerusalem. The use of such a resonant term at this juncture is worthy of attention: Moses and Elijah are not merely referring to Jesus' coming death as an event about to befall him, but to his purposeful and powerful outworking of a new Exodus, in which all previous and anticipatory 'exoduses' will be fulfilled and all the promises of God realized. Jesus' departure--his 'Exodus'--is more than merely his death: it is also his resurrection, ascension, and his deliverance of a great multitude of captives. By his death and resurrection Christ tears open the sea of Death and Hell, allowing all of his people to pass through unscathed, while drowning all of their pursuers behind them.

The literary purpose of the overarching Exodus motif in this passage in Luke, to which I drew attention earlier, should become more apparent now. Luke's use of a mini-exodus pattern in this passage is akin to the composer of the film score who allows the hero's theme to surface in the background, readying the audience for its full expression as the hero achieves his magnificent victory. Luke wants our minds to be on Exodus, so we will understand both what is taking place on the mountain and what Jesus is about to go to Jerusalem to achieve. Jesus' Exodus will be the culmination of redemptive history, the decisive, definitive, and dreadful statement of fundamental themes that had been hitherto only quietly, yet pervasively, intimated.

Within the next post, I will discuss the relationship between the Transfiguration and the parousia.

Notes:

[1] Richard Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014) p. 60.

Transfigured Hermeneutics 3: Transfiguration as Theophany

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This is the third part of a multipart series of posts on the subject of the Transfiguration and its significance for Christian theology and biblical reflection. Within the first couple of posts I explored the literary presentation of the event of the Transfiguration, chiefly as it appears in Luke's gospel. I argued that the Transfiguration is paralleled to the Baptism of Christ and is also framed by an Exodus pattern. Within this Exodus pattern, the analogies between the Transfiguration and Sinai are cast in bolder relief, enabling us to see the mutually illuminating character of the events that occur on the two mountains. It is to this that we will now turn.

In Exodus 33:17-18, Moses asked the LORD to show him his glory. The LORD descended in the cloud, stood with Moses, and then passed before him in 34:5-9, declaring his covenant name. As Meredith Kline has observed, there is both a close interrelationship and a distinction in the Old Testament between the Angel of the LORD and the Spirit-Presence.[1]  The Angel (or Messenger) of the LORD is identified with God and is spoken of as a divine figure, but can also be distinguished from God 'as one who is sent by God on a mission or who himself refers to the Lord in the third person.'[2] The Angel is the divine archetypal prophetic figure--a form of God's self-manifestation--declaring the LORD's will and representing his authority to his people. The Spirit-Presence (or Glory) is the LORD's own majesty and splendour.

There are many accounts of theophanies in the Old Testament. It is important, however, to observe their differing characters. In some theophanies, as in the LORD's appearance to Abraham at Mamre (Genesis 18) or the Man who wrestles with Jacob at Peniel (Genesis 32:22-32), the appearance is of the Angel of the LORD, with apparently no accompanying Glory phenomena. In other cases, such as the pillar of cloud and fire that led the children of Israel out of Egypt and the theophany witnessed by the nation at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 and 20, it is the phenomena of dreadful and awe-inspiring Glory-Presence that is most prominent, a burning radiance shrouded in thick cloud and darkness. Kline writes:
During the earlier period when the kingdom offered in the Abrahamic promises was still abeyant, God appeared as the Angel, apart from the Glory phenomena. But the advent of the age that was prototypal of final judgment and kingdom consummation witnessed a form of theophany appropriate to an age of eschatological fulfillment. God's self-revelation to Israel in this age of exodus triumph and kingdom founding was still a revelation through the Angel, but now the Angel appeared in union with the Spirit-Presence, in the more public and continuous and awesome epiphany of the Glory-cloud.[3]
When the Angel is accompanied by the Glory, it is the Glory-Face of the LORD that is seen. Moses' theophany upon Mount Sinai is of a distinct character from previous theophanies. While the Angel of the LORD laid aside his Glory in previous theophanies, Moses witnessed the Angel in his Glory-form. As Moses saw the Glory-Face of the LORD he was transformed by the sight, his own face bearing a reflected glory so dazzling that the Israelites could not bear to look upon it. To spare the Israelites from the sight, Moses covered his face with a veil, only removing it when he went into the Glory-Presence of the LORD to speak with the LORD again (Exodus 34:29-35).

As I have observed, Luke narrates the Transfiguration of Christ in a manner that accents Exodus themes. The relationship between the Transfiguration and Sinai is found primarily in the theophany, although the contrasts here are as important as the similarities. The most significant of these contrasts is that, while Moses' face is changed as he reflects the LORD's Glory-Face, Jesus' Transfiguration isn't a reflection, but is an unveiling of God's own Glory-Face. This is a point of no small significance: in his Transfiguration, Jesus is implicitly disclosed as the Messenger of the LORD, the archetypal divine prophet, the radiant Image or Face of God, the one witnessed by the people of God in the Old Testament.

Within the next post, I will continue to explore the theme of Christ as divine theophany, focusing upon the treatment of the subject in the gospel of John.

Notes:

[1] Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999), pp. 70-75

[2] Ibid. p. 71

[3] Ibid. pp. 72-73

Transfigured Hermeneutics - Transfiguration and Exodus

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In my previous post, I introduced my exploration of the significance of the event of the Transfiguration. I began by observing the prominence of the event within the narrative structure of the gospels and its various parallels with the event of Jesus' Baptism. In addition to the parallels and interrelations between Baptism and Transfiguration, the gospel accounts of the Transfiguration also echo events at Sinai in the book of Exodus, escalating and developing some of its themes. Within this post, I will explore some of these parallels, preparing the ground for a discussion of the mutually illuminating character of the events that occurred on the two mountains.

Luke's account of the Transfiguration is situated within a broader Exodus pattern in chapter 9. Signs and wonders are performed by Jesus and the Twelve, leading the Pharaoh-like Herod--who, like Joseph's Pharaoh in Genesis 40:20-22, had just celebrated his birthday with an execution (Matthew 14:1-12)--to seek to see Jesus for himself. Jesus then goes out into the wilderness, where he is followed by a multitude (Luke 9:10-11--John 6:1 refers to Jesus crossing a sea to do so).

The feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness is a food miracle with similarities to God's provision of manna for the children of Israel during the Exodus. While within the gospel of Luke the connection is established chiefly by literary framing and echoes, John's gospel makes the connection more apparent within the bread from heaven discourse that follows the miracle. Jesus' delegation of the ordering of the multitude to his disciples is reminiscent of Moses' delegation of the rule of the multitude of the Israelites to the elders in Exodus 18. In Mark 6:40, the people are described as sitting down in ranks, in fifties and hundreds, as if in military array. The numbering of the males and the division of the 5,000 into groups of 50 might also recall the numbering of the people in the wilderness (Numbers 1 and 26) and the departure from Egypt and entrance into the Promised Land in companies of fifty (see the Hebrew of Exodus 13:18 and Joshua 1:14).

While John's gospel situates the feeding of the five thousand upon a mountain (John 6:3), Luke speaks only of a deserted place (Luke 9:12). The 'mountain' comes later in Luke 9, in the account of the Transfiguration. In verse 28, Jesus ascends the mountain, accompanied by Peter, John, and James. In Exodus 24, Moses takes Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy elders with him up Mount Sinai. Like those who accompanied Moses, the disciples see a divine theophany on the mountain (Luke 9:29; cf. Exodus 24:10-11).

After descending from the mountain, Jesus encounters a multitude (v.37), much as Moses encountered the multitude of Israel when he descended Sinai in Exodus 32. Both Jesus and Moses face representatives who have proved faithless in their task during the period of their absence on the mountain. Here the disciples are like Aaron and the demon-possessed child like the people of Israel. Aaron could not restrain the Israelites and the disciples could not restrain the demon. Indeed, although it is not attributed to it, the behaviour of the Israelites in Exodus 32:25 is described in a manner that bears some resemblance to demon possession. The impression is given in both accounts of a rebellion expressed in a violent physical manner.

The demon throws the boy down (v.42) and 'shatters' him (v.39). The same verb is used in the LXX to describe the shattering of the tablets when Moses casts them to the ground at the foot of Sinai (Exodus 32:19). Jesus' response is surprisingly accusatory: 'O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?' The clearest echoes are of the statements of YHWH and Moses concerning the children of Israel in the wilderness (cf. Exodus 16:28; Numbers 14:11, 27). In particular, one is reminded of Deuteronomy 32:20, where Israel is described as a 'perverse generation, children in whom is no faith'.

Although such literary parallels may initially appear no more than decorative, one of their effects is to frame the Mount of Transfiguration and the events that occurred there as a new Sinai, placing in sharper relief the relationship between the two. Among other things, three key events occurred at Mount Sinai: the LORD's glory was revealed to Moses, the plans for the tabernacle were laid out, and the Law was given. On the Mount of Transfiguration, we see analogies to each of these. Within the next post, I will begin to discuss them.

Alastair Roberts did his doctoral studies in Theology in Durham University. He is one of the participants in the Mere Fidelity podcast and is also the contributing editor of the Politics of Scripture series on the Political Theology Today blog. He blogs at Alastair's Adversaria and tweets using @zugzwanged 

Scarcity and Abundance

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In recent decades, Western culture has developed what the business analysts might call a 'scarcity mindset'. 

There are good reasons for this of course. For a long time, we've been behaving like a teenager in a bedroom, consuming non-renewable energy sources, polluting the planet, and degrading the soil from which we then expect another bumper crop. Now we notice that the Chinese and the Indian economies are industrializing, too, and that they see the privilege of prosperity as being able to be as reckless as the West always has been. 

There has been an assumption that growth would always come, that nature would always bounce back, and that the future would take care of itself.

Despite readily available contraception and abortion on demand in many countries, the human race is breeding very successfully, and population growth is rising at an exponential rate. With growth in population has come, not unsurprisingly, a series of wars in which ideology and religion have provided the rhetoric for what is in many ways a struggle for the finite resources of the earth. This has meant, as we have seen in recent weeks, the catastrophic uprooting of millions of people who now seek shelter, food, and security. 

The national anthem of my country, Australia, has a rarely sung second verse which says 'for those who come across the seas, we've boundless plains to share'. But we don't have them, and we won't share them. Those plains are dry as dust. And successive governments have made it clear, we are defending our limited resources of water and our harbor views and our great weather to the hilt, against all comers. 

A scarcity mindset is what you must have if you believe that nature is a closed system, with a renewing power of course, but only a limited one. 

However, a theistic worldview, and in particular the Christian one, has at the heart of reality the three-personed God of Love, whose creative energy made everything from nothing at all by his Word, and who makes a great nation out of the fruitless loins of Abraham, and who gives life even to the dead. His grace abounds; his abundance overflows. He enters into, blesses, and renews the earth. The Old Testament testifies again and again to the renewing power of the divine breath upon the earth. 

The emblematic episode was the Exodus: a feeding in the wilderness, in which God reminded Israel of the title that Abraham had given him when he provided a ram to substitute for Isaac: yhwh yrh, the God who provides. The manna from heaven was not a natural co-incidence. It was miraculous. It wasn't supposed to be there - it exceeded nature's fruitfulness, and enabled survival in the wilderness, where nature was in fact barren. 

The feeding of the five thousand is the New Testament counterpart to the feeding in the Exodus. The 5000 who gathered in the desert ate from two fish and five loaves, and were satisfied. And, in excess of the Exodus miracle, there were twelve baskets of left overs! The miracle was a provision beyond necessity, to excess. 

Of course, as with all the miracles, it's an object lesson. This is a great extraordinary picture of what the world, when God rules it once for all, will look like. And it isn't a world in which things will run out. It's a world in which things overflow, because that's the character of the God who made it. This is the God who made everything from nothing, not with any strain, but by a word; and the God who gives life to dead. This is the God whose artistry fills the heavens at night, and who has filled the earth with so many creatures that we haven't counted them all yet. And this is the God, who, despite our willingness to believe that he has our good in mind, gives us even his own Son to supply what we need. 

There is then, an abundance mentality rather than a scarcity mindset with the God of Jesus Christ. And yet, this is different to the abundance mentality that has got us into this mess. That was a faith not in the God who supplies our need but in the endless bounty of nature. That was not the right response to the gracious abundance of God in the overflow and beauty of the natural order. It was a squandering of the gift, like the prodigal son, being prodigal with the inheritance he demanded from the Father. We now choke on the fumes of that prodigality.

Rather, as the sacrament of the Lord's Supper teaches us, the right human response to the divine graciousness displayed in creation is gratitude - as we hear in Romans 1:18ff, it is lack of gratitude that marred humanity, and set us on our self-destructive path.

A former politician and public commentator who attends my parish, queried me as to whether this mentality of abundance could have any real world application. Could it help a government make policies? Surely the scarcity mindset is at least a sensible one? 

But if we understand the humanizing possibilities of gratitude, then we can see how a Christian witness to governments and policy makers in the face of diminishing resources, and growing populations, might proceed. Thanksgiving honors the gift, and the giver. It cannot be destructive or reckless. It does not presume on more, but it knows that the world as we see it is open to the creative and transformative power of the Lord God. And we know that that includes the hope for the New Heaven and the New Earth, in which God's abundance will flow.


Michael P Jensen is the rector of St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, Sydney, and the author of Martyrdom and Identity: the Self on Trial and Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology