Zion

With Strings Attached

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WALTER BRUEGGEMANN is a leading authority of Old Testament interpretation and author of more than two dozen books. In this book he seeks to make a contribution to the application of biblical concepts of God’s chosen people and the promised land in the light of the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This book is slim, focused on the social justice issues and the relevance of key readings of Hebrew scripture to this conflict. It is written to be a manual for group discussions, particularly by Christian groups in churches. Brueggemann focuses on three main themes and their roots in scripture: the meaning of the “God’s chosen people,” the donation of the “holy land” to the “chosen people,” and the relation of Zion and Israel.

The “chosen people” are chosen by God as an arbitrary decision, writes Brueggemann, not based on any superiority of that people to others, but only on God’s love for them. It is an unconditional decision by God to choose this people with whom to have a special relationship. Yet this idea evolves in Israel’s history. There develops the theme that the people of Israel will be held especially accountable by God because of this relationship and punished for their iniquities (Amos 3:2). Isaiah suggests that, in a redemptive future, Egypt and Assyria will be chosen alongside Israel as a “blessing in the midst of the earth” (Isaiah 19:24-25).

Later heirs of the biblical tradition reinterpreted the idea of the chosen people to apply to themselves. Some in the Christian church saw itself as inheriting the status of God’s chosen people. Some in the United States regard this nation as a chosen people, occupying a new “promised land.”

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Growing Up Trinitarian

I WAS BROUGHT UP up on stories of my family's emigration to Russia from England in the 1850s and of the three generations we lived there and intermarried. My grandparents fled the upheavals of revolution in 1917, returning to England. Having drunk deeply from the springs of Russian spirituality, it is second nature to me to hear the scriptures with Russian ears. As Eastertide culminates at Pentecost (rounded out in the wonderful coda of Trinity Sunday), I find myself murmuring as a mantra the great injunction of St. Sergius of Radonezh, "Beholding the unity of Holy Trinity, to overcome the hateful disunity of this world!" The doctrine of the Trinity is no mere antiquity, but a beacon pointing to the future that God desires for the world. In the Trinity, "hateful disunity" can be transformed into life-in-communion; our life together as human beings incarnating our identity as ones made into the image and likeness of God. I will find myself doodling on my notepad the provocative claim of the Russian lay theologian Nikolai Fedorov: "Our social program is the dogma of the Trinity."

Taking in again the Trinitarian grammar of our prayer and faith, I will find myself reinvigorated for the task of forging a spirituality that, as a great Anglican priest Alan Ecclestone wrote, "takes its Trinitarian imagery more seriously than ever before, relating the creativity, the humanizing, and the unification of [humankind] in one growing experience of mutual love." This from a man who was a passionate political activist writing from the thick of gritty urban politics, not from an ivory tower.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ May 5 ]
What We Carry Into Zion
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 5:1-9

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