Friday, November 23, 2007

Tribal Reconstruction, the Prophets and the New Testament

During our OT Prophecy module we've been working through sections of text in both Amos and Hosea. These prophets speak hope to the north, foreseeing reunification of the northern and southern tribes, coupled with a return to the land - tribal reconstruction. For example, Hos 1:11, Amos 9:15. Exilic and post-exilic writings take up a similar theme.

With the disolution of the northern kingdom after the conquest by the Assyrians, how could this be? One temptation is to see these prophecies as solely eschatological, as motifs to be realised in 'spiritual' fulfilments under the New Covenant. Undoubtedly, this component is real. However, we can make the jump too readily. Although events are unclear in a history that the victors write, it seems likely that of those left in the land by the Assyrians, many looked to Jerusalem and travelled there to worship. Can we see a partial fulfilment of the prophecies in this? The very disolution of the northern kingdom (importantly, not the tribes) becomes a means of these prophecies being fulfilled. What we do know is that a significant proportion of those who were settled into the land by the Assyrians took up the worship of Yahweh to become the Samaritan people, worshipping God at Mount Gerizim. Can this be seen as a replaying of the Conquest of Joshua and the accretions of indiginous people at Shechem and other places? Are the Samaritans then the inheritors of the northern tribes semi-apostate identity? And, do the weighty prophetic promises of tribal reconstruction then lie heavily on Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well? His words to her in John 4 speak of the the prophetic Davidic king who re-unites the people, not at Jerusalem or Gerizim. And do Jesus' words in Acts 1 also then answer the words of the prophets on tribal reunification?
You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.
Asking questions is so much easier than answering them! Stephen Ricks, in his essay in Israel's Apostasy and Restoration (ed. Gileadi), entitled The Prophetic Literality of Tribal Reconstruction sees a pattern in the pre-exilic, exilic and post-exilic prophets reflections on tribal reconstruction:

  1. a reunification of northern and southern tribes, coupled with a return to the land;
  2. a Davidic king to rule over Yahweh's people;
  3. the land rebuilt, with a restored temple at its centre; and
  4. a covenant that is new and everlasting would be made with a transformed Israel.
If we immediately jump to a spiritual, New Covenant eschatological interpretation of these, we will miss so much of the outworking of God's purposes in history and the background to the gospel narratives. Nevertheless, as Ricks concludes, ultimately
Its realization belongs to a 'redeemed people' (to borrow RK Harrison's remark on Jeremiah's restoration vision) in the messianic age.