3.72 Pentateuch -- Missing the Point
Every age or culture seems to have its spiritual blindspot, an inability to grasp some basic truth. As we end our study of the Pentateuch, it is perhaps appropriate to underline the fundamental misconception of the modern age about the teachings of these five books.
If there is one theme that resounds repeatedly throughout the declarations of God to all the patriarchs and Moses, it is the intent of God to exalt one people above all the rest of the nations, to make it His footstool on earth, to multiply and prosper this people, and to impact the entire world through them. If God speaks something once and it is true for eternity, what do we say if He says the same thing a dozen times? Now in view of the complexities introduced by subsequent history, there are several possible interpretations of the fulfillment of these promises:
a. the nation-state of Israel is the center of world history today, and God is going to miraculously intervene militarily on her behalf.
b. the Jewish people and their faith have become salt throughout the earth in all places of their dispersion.
c. these promises were later transferred to the "New Israel," the Christian church, which has indeed spread throughout the earth.
d. both Jews and Christians share in the heritage of Abraham.
e. all nations and all peoples are special to God, with valid traditions of their own.
If we are evaluating these alternatives in terms of fidelity to God's revelation in the Pentateuch, the only one of these that is absolutely unequivocally wrong is the last one. And of course this is the near universal view of modern academics, diplomats and others who are involved in international or intercultural relations. Three of the other four positions may be wrong, but they are errors of interpretation and not of rejection. It is the difference between misunderstanding the promise and despising it. Those who respect either the Jews or the Christians have an appreciation for the message of the Pentateuch. They honor God's word to Abraham, and uphold the validity of His promise, even though they differ on the manner of its realization. But those who promote religious relativism today in the religious, academic and political worlds, are the Esaus of our time, for they deny and devalue the Promise of God. Surely the message of the Pentateuch is the opposite of (e) -- in fact, the various religious traditions of man are corrupt, and it is only through the revelation to and through Israel that man can know God.
There is a tightrope here, and as with most tightropes, it is devilishly difficult to walk on. To respect the Pentateuch, it is not necessary to adopt (a) and endorse the nation-state of Israel. Nor is it necessary to choose (c) and think that the Christian churches have borne a consistent faithful witness through the centuries. What we are honoring is the Word and deeds of God to Israel in the Pentateuch, and we are seeking to fit within the subsequent historical outworking of that revelation. This is the kernel of truth, and it is just this kernel that the modern citizen rejects. He believes that the Pentateuch consists of sacred stories of the Israelites, and has no more validity or universality or modern application than holy books of any other nation. This is the divide that separates the secular reader from the spiritual one.
But there is also a word of caution to those who identify themselves with one of the first four interpretations, who count themselves as standing in the heritage of the Pentateuch and its promise. There is at times a tendency among some of these groups to view outsiders, whether people of other religions or those of no settled faith, as neo-Canaanites, as people subject to the imminent wrath of God. This attitude itself violates the message of God to the Israelites. Did He not tell Israel that if they would obey Him faithfully, other nations would be attracted by their example (Deut 4:6)? And did He not command them repeatedly throughout the Exodus to welcome the foreigner and stranger? More than that, He even extended to sojourners the protection of His righteous laws. Surely this is the attitude towards people of other traditions that should be held by all of those who today count themselves inheritors of the Promise of the Pentateuch. For after all, were we not all of us ourselves at one time sojourners in Egypt?