Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grounded Scriptures: our ancestor the land

This is a small point but an important one.
Leviticus, again – sorry to you who are Leviticus-haters – here we have a concluding chapter, where the blessings and are laid out – the blessings as reward for good behavior, curses as recompense for unfaithfulness. Blessings are abundance, fruit, grain, and peace. Curses are enemy armies, pestilence and wild animals, and the wasting and withering of your crops and fruit trees. But even after many curses, the land is given a “sabbatical” to rest, and if the people repent, God’s favor will return:
Lev 26:40-42 But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors, in that they committed treachery against me and, moreover, that they continued hostile to me—so that I, in turn, continued hostile to them and brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then will I remember my covenant with Jacob; I will remember also my covenant with Isaac and also my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.

These fine fellows usually appear in age order: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Num 32:11, Dt 1:8 and throughout Deuteronomy, Kings, Chronicles, Psalm 105:9, I could go on and on). Some people look at this verse in Leviticus and say, ha, isn’t that funny, they reversed the order! Here it’s Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.
Don’t laugh it off. There must actually be a reason for this. In the context of such a land-loving book, it is not enough to command gentle and holy treatment of the land. One must be reminded that God has a long-lasting and important relationship with the land. Here, in reverse order, they begin with the most recent covenant (jacob), move back to his father’s covenant (isaac), and HIS father’s covenant (abraham) – but the relationship older and more important than any of the above is God’s relationship to the land. There is no covenant between the land and God, but the land itself is a kind of covenant, a living, adapting, changing token of the relationship between God and humanity. For a people defined by their ancestors, to put God in the place in a lineage where Abraham’s father should be is a high honor indeed. It’s as if the land itself were their original ancestor, and God’s original partner in the relationship to humanity.

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