Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jerusalem: Righteous City But Also Stubbornly Olympian

Because Yahweh and David freely shared a relationship of love with one another, Jerusalem became more than just another Olympian city. Because David desired it, Yahweh also freely chose in love to make Jerusalem a righteous city and witness to him. Once David’s son Solomon had finished having a temple built, Yahweh freely honored David’s wish by filling that building with his presence.

Solomon, however, proved disloyal to Yahweh. He gave his heart to the Olympian gods. Once Solomon died and his son Rehoboam became king, Yahweh allowed those gods and their human minions to steal most of his people and land and set up their own autonomous kingdom of Israel north of Jerusalem.

Yahweh, however, didn’t take everything from Rehoboam. He allowed Rehoboam to keep control of the people and land of Judah for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel (1 Kings 11:32).

While the unique presence of Yahweh in Jerusalem made it a witness to him, it nonetheless remained thoroughly Olympian as well. It remained, for example, a city of monstrous injustice where innocent blood was shed. Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! (Micah 3:9-10).

So Yahweh didn’t create out of nothing a special holy city unique from all others. He didn’t even adopt the most beautiful and wonderful city then in existence. He instead chose to honor his servant David’s wish and made his home in a conventionally Olympian city; that is, a city full of rebellious powers and of people devoted to them.

The prophet Ezekiel, trying (after 595 BC) to pull the people of Judah back from the brink of self-destruction, spoke in even more severe terms against Jerusalem’s Olympian witness. The city had devoted itself to the Olympian gods to the point that it sacrificed its own sons and daughters to them. You took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. As if your whorings were not enough! You slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering to them (Ezekiel 16:20-21).

To Ezekiel’s dismay, Jerusalem had proven itself even worse, even more Olympian, than Sodom! As I live, says [the lord Yahweh], your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done (Ezekiel 16:48). Somehow Jerusalem had managed to make even Sodom look righteous in comparison. [Y]ou have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed (v. 51). How embarrassing!

Just to be clear, what was it that Sodom had done? [S]he and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me (v. 50).

Jerusalem, however, doesn’t get to be an Olympian city like any other and worse than most.  If it can’t act at all faithful, then its one true god will abandon it to the mercilessness of the false Olympian gods it absurdly adores. For I have set my face against this city for evil and not for good, says the Lord: it shall be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire (Jeremiah 21:10).

Even so, as their faithful god, Yahweh sought to save the people of Jerusalem even as he destroyed the city with which they had so far identified themselves. He sought to preserve any who would draw a distinction between their personal faithfulness to him and their Olympian context. Thus says the Lord: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. Those who stay in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but those who go out and surrender to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have their lives as a prize of war (21:8-9).

Because Yahweh remained the one faithful god, full of steadfast love, he refused to abandon Jerusalem forever. Even as the king of Babylon was preparing to destroy Jerusalem, Yahweh proclaimed through his prophet Jeremiah that he would restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them; they shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it (Jeremiah 33:7-9). He proclaimed that Jerusalem once again would witness to its faithful god through joy, praise, and glory. And Jerusalem would be able to do this solely through Yahweh's steadfast love.

Copyright © 2014 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.