Here I’d like to continue the project I began in a previous post entitled A Tale of Two Pentateuchs: Christian Appropriation of Israel’s Imperial Constitution which charts out the trajectories of two divergent frameworks through which we might read Jewish scripture, the one grounded in Christian theology, the other in Israelite theo-politics. In that post I summarized the five books of Moses as they are understood within each hermeneutical system. Broadly speaking there is, on the one hand, the Divine Savior Myth which values Israel’s history and law as a testament to humanity’s need for a savior who will free his people from the internal pollution of sin and its consequence death; and, on the other hand, there is the Great Nation Myth which values Israel’s history and law as a testament to God’s intention to discipline Jacob’s unruly sons into a great and mighty nation through which divine blessing and cursing might flow out to the nations, thus resulting in God’s universal acclaim.
Having left off at the death of Moses outside the land of the promise, we will begin with the great conquest and work our way through to the great expulsion.
The Divine Savior Myth
God’s futile covenant with a feeble Israel cries out for a savior to undo the effects of Adam’s fall.
The Great Nation Myth
The peoples of the earth will come to honor God when they see the blessings he has bestowed upon Israel.
Divine Savior: A faithful commander gives Israel a short-lived reprieve from their temporal frustrations by settling the people in a bountiful land. Joshua’s earthly accomplishments foreshadow the heavenly accomplishments that will be made possible by a future commander who will bear his name.
Great Nation: An Israelite generation that is obedient to God conquers seven Canaanite nations, astounds many others, and bears yet-uncorrupted roots in their new homeland. Territories upon which the tribes might live in peace—farming, grazing, building cities, and making offerings to God—have at last been secured.
Divine Savior: The human heart proves to be perpetually fickle towards God but God sends imperfect leaders to guard the nation from whom the perfect divine savior will one day arise.
Great Nation: With the people now established upon their tribal lands, Israel proves insubordinate, divided, and easily-seduced by the idolatries of the surrounding nations. God raises up regional warlords so as to oppose Israel’s enemies but more permanent institutions (e.g. monarchy, temple, priesthood) will be required for the nation to achieve righteousness and thus theo-political greatness.
Divine Savior: 1-2 Samuel: A sinful people demand a sinful king (i.e. Saul). A sinner-saved-by-faith, a man-after-God’s-own-heart, rises up to replace him and thus becomes a type (and antitype) of the divine king who will issue from his loins to destroy the Devil and his works.
Great Nation: 1 Samuel: In cooperation with God’s prophet, Israel’s first king obtains a degree of peace, unity, and power for his people. Saul’s tragic cultic errors, however, pave the way for a more righteous and thus more powerful successor.
2 Samuel: A crafty king who is beloved by God (i.e. David) subdues his enemies within and without Israel, making possible the creation of a prosperous and ecumenical temple-state in Jerusalem. With God’s fame now bound to David’s name, the myth of a glorious prince who will one day come to judge the people in justice and strike down the fearful pagan nations begins to take shape.
Divine Savior: 1 Kings-2 Kings: Despite the shelter provided by land, temple, prophet, and king, the Israelites are by in large unable to love God and observe his laws. Trusting in earthly protectors, ancestral lineage, and (hypocritical) works of the Law, the people fail to recognize their urgent need for the redemption of their souls. By dismantling the Israelite states piece by piece, God intends to teach his people a most difficult lesson: human beings are totally incapable of attaining justification before the divine law-giver without the intervention of divine mercy.
Great Nation: 1 Kings 1-10: Since Israel is now a great and mighty nation, David’s wise son (i.e. Solomon) builds an illustrious temple so that Jacob and his neighbors might maintain proper access to divine blessing. The Temple now his footstool and mercy seat, God begins to accrue honor from peoples near and far.
1 Kings 11-2 Kings 17: The people of northern Israel reject the king and temple that have come to bear God’s name and assume the worship of Canaanite deities alongside Yahweh. Despite the heroic machinations of Yahwistic prophets and rebels (e.g. Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Jehu) the northern tribes are deported and the Israelite people of Judah (along with some northern refugees) become the sole heirs of the Patriarchal promises.
2 Kings 18-25: The Judahite kings Hezekiah and Josiah launch Deuteronomistic reforms that centralize worship in Jerusalem and as a result reclaim some of Israel’s ancestral lands from the ever-present pagan menace. Yet their noble efforts fail to turn away God’s anger from Judah and, like their northern siblings, the recalcitrant southern people are deported to a strange land. As was the case in Egypt long ago, God’s name is once again invested in an enslaved people, a people without a temple or a state, a people requiring anew the discipline found only in wilderness.