Continuing with the ideas of Dr. Terence E. Fretheim, the first five books of the Bible frame the world-view of followers of Jesus Christ (not to mention Jewish people) by depicting God in certain ways. Last time we covered God as the Creator of a good creation and how that affects humanity’s God-given mission. We continue the discussion with two more aspects of the depiction:
God as Electing God
To paraphrase Dr. Fretheim: Electing is set in universal terms as a basic way in which God chooses to work in the world. God chooses Abel instead of Cain and chooses Noah to save the world. God elects for the purpose of preserving the creation by keeping it alive. God chooses the younger over the older quite frequently (against primogeniture). Even Israel’s election is for the sake of the world. God’s initially exclusive move in choosing Abraham/Israel is for the sake of a maximally inclusive end.
In simple English, God chooses individuals, families, groups and even nations for the purposes of redeeming or preserving the entire creation, human and non-human (Gen. 6:6-8; Deut. 7:7-9 and John 15:16). By choosing people that would not normally be chosen by human leaders (or even their own parents!) God sends the signal that he will not be boxed in by human expectations. He is God. We are not. He proves it by doing the unexpected and even the impossible.
His choices also prove that God does not choose perfect people to do His work in the world. He chooses first, then begins working on both their strengths and weaknesses.
God as Saviour
Again, quoting and/or paraphrasing Dr. Fretheim:
1) God delivers both human beings and animals from the flood. This puts in place from the start a fundamental way in which God chooses to relate to the world as a whole. Given human sinfulness, God chooses to be a savior.
2) Even more, this shows that God is active in saving ways out and about in the creation independent of Israel and the mediation of the community of faith. Generally, God enters into salvific activity especially on behalf of those who are oppressed or otherwise disadvantaged.
3) This salvific activity on behalf of the disadvantaged informs the structures of the law, and to such an extent that God binds Himself to the Torah in acting on their behalf (Exod. 22:21-27).
In simple English: God did not wait until Abraham before saving the world. The God Moses presents to the Israelites already had a proven track record of choosing to save. This remains consistent throughout the Pentateuch in His relationship with Israel’s patriarchs and their descendants in the Promised Land. Israel is not the focus of God’s saving activity. Israel is only the means to a much greater end, as identified in the first 11 chapters of Genesis.
The God of Abraham and Moses has a special place in His heart for the disadvantaged and oppressed. God even binds Himself to the Torah on their behalf to judge the oppresed in ways that He makes clear in the laws he gives to Israel.
Many people nowadays teach that the main point of all of Israel’s laws was to isolate them from other people This is what they think “set them apart” or “holy” means. Nothing could be further from the truth. Deut. 4:6-7 shows that the intent is that other nations would become drawn to this exceedingly wise God by seeing a people obedient to these laws.
If God wanted them isolated, why would He have brought them to a country that was literally at the crossroads of the three known continents, Europe, Africa and Asia? Why would they find themselves at the Eastern focal point of the Mediterranean Sea? No, these laws were intended to be applied by a people who embrace outsiders and love strangers as themselves.
If they enslave and oppress their people, God promises to sell them to foreign nations as oppressed slaves. This is a very consistent message in the Pentateuch.
When it comes to God, here’s an important safety tip: don’t put burdens on the disadvantaged or oppress widows or orphans. Doing so is the easiest way to find yourself in their shoes. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, certainly embraced the point of view of the so-called Old Testament when he tells His detractors the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The God of the Old Testament is also the God of the New Testament – armed with the same desire to save the world with both judgment and mercy.