God appeared frequently to saints of the Old Testament. He came as a smoking oven and flaming torch to Abram (Genesis 15:17), and later as three men before Abraham’s tent by the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18). He showed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), and to Israel in a fiery cloud (Exodus 16:10). When He appeared to Korah, the earth opened and swallowed the rebels, and He appeared to Manoah’s wife with the good news about… Read more

Many Christians today are squeamish about the book of Joshua, not least about things like Rahab’s confession that “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you” (Joshua 2:8). Or the narrator’s claim that “when all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard how the Lord had dried up… Read more

What has Pentecost to do with public life? As Paul would say, much in every way. The Bible does not permit us to confine the work of the Spirit to the inner man or to private experience. Through Isaiah (44:3), the Lord promised to pour out water on the land of Israel and his Spirit upon Israel’s seed. When the Spirit is poured out like water, he turns desolate places to fruitfulness, transforms the dry land into a grove, transfigures… Read more

It’s the season of the Spirit, a time to muse on the politics of Pentecost. When Israel’s prophets predict the future coming of the Spirit, their next thought is almost always about the renewal of creation. According to Joel, the Spirit’s coming will turn Israel into Big Rock Candy Mountain”wine tricklin’ down the mountains, a restoration of a land of milk and honey (Joel 3:18“21). When the Spirit comes, Isaiah writes, “the wilderness becomes a fertile field, and the fertile… Read more

In Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli exposes the ruse of Roman law. Numa, the true founder of Rome, “mistrusted his own authority, lest it should prove insufficient to enable him to introduce new and unaccustomed ordinances in Rome.” And so he claimed that the law came from the gods. All law, Machiavelli argues, arises from a similar mystification. In One and Only Law, a study of Walter Benjamin, James Martel explains that Machiavelli’s unmasking of the origins of law raises questions about… Read more

Pamela Tamarkin Reis (“Seeing Moses Plain,” VT 55 [2005] 207-31) thinks that Moses’ response to Yahweh in Numbers 11 is a model prayer. First, Moses refers to Israel as “this people,” which is “a disdainful, arms-length usage employed frequently in the Bible to distance oneself from and to denigrate the subject of the demonstrative pronoun.” It’s not a gesture of contempt for the people but a way of taking Yahweh’s side against their grumbling: “God is angry at the people, and… Read more

Benjamin Sommer (“Reflecting on Moses,” JBL 18 [1999] 601-624) thinks that Numbers 11 weaves together two sources, with very different descriptions of Moses. In narrative A, Moses is petulant, angry, despises his role as leader of Israel, wishes for death. According to B, he is an exemplary prophet, concerned for Israel’s welfare, humble in response to rivals (Eldad and Medad) and criticism (Aaron and Miriam, ch. 12). He suggests that Calvin harmonizes these two presentations by inserting a missing plot point:… Read more

In a discussion of the Ten Words (Systematic Theology, II) argues that the “second table” applies to all polities. I have doubts about the “second table” notion, and also about the plausibility of separating the last six words from the first four. Still, Jenson has some penetrating things to say about the “second table” as “natural law.” Applied to those who are not part of the narrative of exodus, “the commandments state minimum conditions: no society can subsist in which… Read more

Israel’s sanctuaries were dramatically different from those of other nations. There was no image of Yahweh. The priests maintained Yahweh’s house, but His presence was either invisible or so intense that it was unapproachable. The aniconic worship of Israel was a standing reminder that their God is a different sort of God. What does that mean? What kind of God forbids us to worship Him in images? In Deuteronomy 4, Moses reinforces this commandment by reminding Israel that they didn’t… Read more

During the Second Temple period, the Talmud says, “the temptation for idolatry was slaughtered” (quoted in Haberthal and Margalit, Idolatry, 2). Then the fight returned, with Maimonides. Now, though, idolatry was a contrast-concept to a new conception of God. Halberthal and Margalit summarize: “The central effort of philosophical religion is the attempt to attain a proper metaphysical conception of God. This conception not only is a necessary condition for the worship of God but also constitutes the high point of… Read more

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