Israel as a Necessary 
Theme in Biblical Theology

Dr. Mark R. Saucy

Dr. Mark Saucy, in his chapter Israel as a Necessary Theme in Biblical Theology, begins by stating, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). His chapter describes the seven major acts in the biblical story, which focus on key threshold moments from Genesis to the Book of Revelation. Saucy’s overview illustrates how Israel is a crucial part of the entire biblical story and weaves the story of God’s plan for the Jewish people, the land of Israel, and the future of Israel together with His heart for the nations of the world. Once again, and within the context of creating a biblical theology of Israel and the Jewish people, Saucy emphasizes the role of the Jewish people as God’s prophetic and Messianic light to sinful humanity. 

De-emphasizing the role of Israel and the Jewish people as God’s means of reaching the nations takes away from the power and comprehensiveness of the biblical story of redemption that “blesses” the world.

 

Introduction

“…for salvation is from the Jews.”

—Jesus to the woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria”

The words of the Savior to the Samaritan woman frame the two-fold task of this chapter. First is the task of telling Scripture’s story of salvation. Among the academic disciplines, biblical theology is best poised for this task in its commission to investigate Scripture’s diverse themes to “get to the theological heart of the Bible,” as Elmer Martens has put it.1 Unfortunately, and to some extent ironically, the early practice of biblical theology was dominated by study of the thematic elements of Scripture with presuppositions antithetical to the possibility of a unified whole. For many in the field, Scripture’s diversity ended up as evidence against the possibility of a coherent whole.2 Still, the Church that biblical theology ideally must serve needs its story too, and numerous recent works have attempted to bring the themes of Scripture to service of the whole.3

To this lively chorus this essay takes its place, but in distinction to the other accounts recently offered—and this is now to the second task of this chapter—I will highlight the necessary place of the Land and People of Israel to the Bible’s story. Of course the notion of “necessary” for any topic entails a bold claim, but as I hope to show, it is a claim warranted for Israel as the story of Scripture is told. Without the Land and People of Israel that prepares us for Christ or the nationed people that Christ will one day rule with all nations, one struggles with a reduced view of salvation that would be unrecognizable to the Jew who uttered those words and the Samaritan woman who heard them that day at the well of Jacob.

The story that follows will come in a series of acts, like the true drama that it is. The different acts offered indeed paint with a broad brush in the face of Scripture’s rich, multi-textured story, but the brevity demanded of us will serve to encourage focus upon threshold moments of the story’s development. This can also be an asset. The first act from the book of beginnings, Genesis, will get us started.

Act I: Genesis

As the original audience of Genesis, Israel has a connection to the Bible’s story that begins in Genesis chapter one. According to recent observation, literary conventions of Israel’s Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context not only fund the way Genesis narrates the world’s beginning; they also find concrete parallel in the nation God formed at the Exodus. For examples, the Garden of Eden as conveying the essence of ANE temples with Adam, the human, as a priest figure strikes clear chord with Israel’s own internal temple-cult and her larger function as a “kingdom of priests” to the world.4 Likewise, the Sabbath-rest that crowns the world’s narrative in Genesis finds practical and concrete expression in the Sabbath and Jubilee rhythms of Israelite society. The result for this is that rightly seen by Okoye: Israel’s history is the world’s history en breve.5

The Israel-formed telling of the world’s story leads us in other directions for Genesis as well. Three themes in particular bear noting not only as to how they frame the beginnings of the story, but how they are perfected in Israel’s story.

1. A Divine Story

“In the beginning God…”—these words open the Bible’s story and immediately address the Who-question so important to ancient Israel’s context.6 Who is the God that created the world? What is he like? And, most importantly, how does he relate to his world? All are questions central to the developing fabric of Scripture story. When the story ends in Revelation, knowledge of this creating God will be face-to-face knowledge (Rev. 22:4). Along the way, however, this triune God’s identity and presence with this creation is revealed in important dimensions in the story of Israel’s Land and People. Some of this story the world has already seen and some it still needs to.

2. A Kingdom Story

Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure in Scripture’s story, was a proclaimer of the reign of God. His practice in this must not be seen as bound only to his first century Judean environs. Rather, as Paul’s Second Adam-doctrine shows us (Rom. 5 and 1 Cor. 15), the God-man who proclaimed and performed the kingdom punctuates a storyline that long-preceded him. Indeed, the Psalter, which is Israel’s commentary to the Torah, reveals the royal identity of the God who created the world (Ps. 95:1–3). Moreover this Creator-King crowned his creation with an image of himself commissioned to “be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue and rule” the earth as his vice regent (Gen. 1:28).7 The movements of the Bible’s unfolding story are the movements of a King’s story with his kingdom.8 That kingdom is material; it subdues its adversaries; and it orders every aspect of its subjects’ existence—as the People and Land of Israel must show the world.

3. A Human Story

The human role naturally enters through the kingdom dimensions of the story. At the outset it is a contentious role as the Creator-King-God calls his creation to be the means of overcoming the Adversary—the Antagonist of the story. Whether already in the background in the context of Genesis 1:2,9 or soon to come on stage (Gen. 3:1ff.), this Evil One is destined to be finally subdued by human beings (Gen. 1:28; 2:15).10 Of course, the Bible’s script will show in the next ACT the failure of the First Adam in this calling, but shadows of a Second Adam who will crush the Antagonist soon appear (Gen. 3:15). Human subduing of sin, not mere annihilation of it, is the end to which the plot points for history. The Land and People of Israel will enrich the world in fulfillment of this human role.

Read the full chapter and more. You will be able to interact with each contributor’s insight into the unfolding of God’s plan for Israel and how the Church should view the events in the Middle East.

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End Notes

1. Elmer Martens, “Tackling Old Testament Theology,” JETS 20 (1977), 123, cited in Paul R. House, “Biblical Theology and the Wholeness of Scripture,” Biblical Theology (ed. Scott J. Hafemann; Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2002): 267–279.
2. See Edward W. Kink III and Darian R. Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).

3. For example: William Dumbrell, The Search for Order (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1994); and specific to our topic—C. Marvin Pate, J. Scott Duvall, J. Daniel Hays et al. The Story of Israel (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004).
4. G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission (NSBT 17; Downers Grove: IVP, 2004); and John Sailhammer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, IL: Zondervan, 1992).
5. James Chukwuma Okoye, Israel and the Nations (ASMS 39; Maryknoll, NY: Orbis 2006), 24–34; and Roy E. Ciampa, “The History of Redemption,” in Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House (eds.) Central Themes in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 259–263.
6. Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 194–203.
7. Dan J. McCartney, “Ecce Homo: The Coming of the Kingdom As the Restoration of Human Viceregency,” WTJ 56 (1994), 1–21.
8. Waltke, OT Theology, 143–169.
9. Ibid., 181–183.
10. Erich Sauer, The King of the Earth (London: Paternoster, 1962), 92–100.

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