The matter of the crux: postscript

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After discussing the immediately preceding post with my friend Dwayne, I realized I should have been more explicit about how those (like the author of Ps 44) who came along generations after Deut 28 would have had to re-evaluate the terms of the covenant expressed in Deut 28 and thus re-negotiation faith’s appropriation of such promises. That is, I wonder if Deut 28 represents an immature Israel bent on covenant being all the things that Deut 28 promises, that is, iron-clad guarantees for obedience and, OK, the 1,000 year itch for law-breakers. That’s the sort of world a nation whose identity is newly constituted by its special relationship to God might wish for. But life, not even life chosen by God, is like that. As Israel matured, and as blessing didn’t always follow obedience, the faithful have to think through life yet again, and the result is Ps 44.22. I see passages like Ps 44 as offering a fundamental reassessment of what it means to be Israel, and that clear-cut demarcation in the promises of Deut 28 between blessings that always follow the righteous and misery that will always attends the faithless, are simply no longer the terms in which a faith can survive.

Perhaps we should remember that that Deut 28 very likely takes its final shape in exile among those reflecting on their suffering and the disobedience that landed them in Babylon. But you still get the same ‘clean lines’ (“Had we kept the rules, we’d be back in Israel eating fruit from our own trees. But we sinned, so we’re here in exile, because that’s how things work). Well, not entirely – as Ps 44 points out. This is why I’m tempted to think Ps 44 reflects a post-exilic perspective, when a faithful remnant remains under the heel of misfortune, occupation and suffering. What does faith then mean? We were exiled for our sins, fine. But it’s not the case now that we broke covenant, and we’re suffering. So, why? The answer now (an answer that could not have been the case during exile): “For your sake, O God, we face death all day long.” As I said, what an amazing thing to say at any time before Christ. No wonder Paul doesn’t mind calling Ps 44 to the stand in Rom 8.35-37.

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