Saturday, 15 August 2009

Ransoming Israel with Egypt?

In our Church Bible Study group we are working through one of the Lifebuilder Bible Studies, namely Hazel Offner's Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Tonight we're doing "peace" and the text we've been allocated in Isa 43:1-7.

One of the ethically challenging elements of this passage is the idea that God gives certain nations (in this case, both concrete names are given, Egypt, Cush, and Seba are named, as well as general categories, "mankind" [אָדָם] peoples) in exchange for one: Israel.

How can that be fair? Watts and Westermann don't really deal with the issue. Childs seems to avoid the ethical implications by focusing on the theological thought being expressed: "The theological thought expressed turns on the high cost required for Israel's deliverance and the value of Israel in God's sight." In my opinion, the most interesting response is that of Blenkinsopp:
The idea of redemption and of Yahveh as Israel's redeemer (go'el) derives from the obligation in ancient customary law to buy back the freedom of a kinsman in indentured service, usually as a result of unpaid debts. The practice provided a ready analogy for the belief that Yahveh had, so to speak, bailed Israel out of Egypt, though the party to whom the payment was made remains unclear. (The problem persisted in the Christian appropriation of this language in the doctrine of redemption by satisfaction: paying a price, but to whom?).
Jesus = "the heathen nations"?

Blenkinsopp goes on to say:
Here we find the curious idea that Israel will be redeemed once again not by monetary payment (cf. 52:3) but by handing over, presumably to Cyrus, Egypt, Ethiopia (Sudan), and Seba (probably in the Horn of Africa) ... .
This piqued my curiosity, but I didn't follow it further until I started working through the questions our Bible study guide set us. And lo and behold, here is question 6:
How do verses 3-4 foreshadow what God eventually does for his people?
This is brought to a sharper point in question 7:
Look at verses 5-7. What would it be like to have God act on your behalf in this way?
Finally, question 8:
If you knew nothing about God except what you learned from this passage, what would you find him to be like?
Wow. How would you answer these questions? I have no idea what the folks are going to say tonight.

(For a related post, see my post on נשׂא עון - bearing sin).