Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Reflections on the Pentateuch

OK, these are my reflections on the Pentateuch module taught by Hector Morrison. There have been moments during this module when I have been totally inspired, 'revelatory' moments of the total excellence of God's purposes for his creation. I was reflecting on this up on Beinn Mhor yesterday - how the church can easily lose sight of the Big Explanation of the Bible, the meta-narrative from God, defying the postmodern mantras. You cannot truly understand the gospel, without understanding the Pentateuch - it lays the foundation for salvation-history. The themes of Relationship, Posterity and Land in the covenant promises to Abraham are all fulfilled in the New Covenant. Making these rich connections has been inspiring. LaSor says of Genesis 12: 'here at the beginning of redemptive-history, there is a word about it's end'. Alexander says the promises to Abram 'set the agenda for all that follows in the Pentateuch and beyond' (Alexander's book on the Pentateuch - From Paradise to the Promised Land, really is good). If the gospel narrative is understood within the parentheses of the trees of Genesis 2 and Revelation 22, then it speaks to the world in a way that a formulaic gospel never can. For me, there is a flag raised by this for Reformed churches (imho): a church pre-occupied with Systematics runs the risk of losing sight of the narrative.
Anyway, the highlights of the course have been:
  • Exegesis of Genesis 1 to 3. This was fantastic. The class was excellent, but what contributed to the fantastickiness was that I was using Bruce Waltke's commentary on Genesis in parallel. It's a great book: well set-out, accessible and provocative (in a good way). Waltke avoids the ridiculous dogma that often dogs (too many dog-words) attempts at reasonable discussion of the primeval prologue. I found his identification of 'surd evil' in the world before the fall began to answer questions on the nature of life which I had carried with me for a long, long time.
  • The work on the development of the Relationship element of God's promise to Abram. Seeing the special nature of the Decalogue and understanding the structure of the Book of the Covenant was new to me - which is a shame, but I don't think that I have ever heard this preached. I did hear an excellent sermon series on the Decalogue by Steve Tinker at Kensington Chapel, Bristol, but I don't think that set the Decalogue in the wider context of the covenant at Sinai.
  • Material on the Tabernacle. During the lectures on the Tabernacle and Sacrifices, there was one of the most incredible moments of the whole semester as Hector Morrison, with a grand sweep, connected the Tabernacle and Sacrifices to Christ, expecially with relation to the symbolism of the Tabernacle. He drew a huge arrow, representing Christ's work, slicing through the Eastern Entrance, straight through the altar, laver, curtain, incense altar, slicing through the curtain and into the Most Holy Place, then from the footstool of Yahweh and Up and Beyond, into the heavenly realm....whoosh!
  • Tabernacle as Garden. I have never heard presented an overarching metaphor for the Tabernacle that has satisfied me. There's lots of detail there, but what is the Big Idea? The idea that the Tabernacle is a representation of the Garden of Eden is, I would boldly venture (!), the over-riding metaphor. The Eastern entrance, the altar representing the sword, the menora - these all reflect the lost Garden. If this is right, then the Tabernacle not only represents God's establishing of a Garden sanctuary where men and women can again meet with him, but this piece of Holy Land that moves with the people of Israel points forward to the fulfilment of God's purposes in the Kingdom of God and the Return to Eden, when the promised Land becomes an eternal reality, secured by and ruled by the Son of Man.