Sunday, May 2, 2010

Christopher Wright on I Kings 8:41-43

Christopher Wright preached at Calvary Church this morning and I sat through the first service.  His message was on 1 Kings 8:41-43.  Of this passage Wright says it is "the most remarkable of all the passages with a universal vision in the historical books."  It reads:

"As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people but has come from a distant land because of your name--for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm--when he comes and prays towards the temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the people of the earth may know your name and fear you as do your own people Israel."  (NIV)

Wright made several observations about the passage.  He first pointed out three assumptions that Solomon makes:

1)  It is assumed that people will hear of the reputation of YHWH.
2)  It is assumed that people from afar will be attracted to come and worship Israel's God for themselves.
3)  It is assumed that Israel's God can and will hear the prayers of foreigners.

Next he commented on the remarkable content of the request.  This is a quote from his book The Mission of God which is a good summary of this point in his sermon.
"Though Israelite worshipers rejoiced in the wonderful way their God answered their prayers (or protested vigorously when he apparently failed to), and even recognized it as a mark of their own distinctiveness among the nations (Deut. 4:7), at no time did God ever promise in so many words to do for Israel whatever they might ask of him in prayer (hence the newness of the promise Jesus made to his disciples to this effect).  Yet here Solomon asks exactly that for the 'foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel.'  Solomon asks God to do for foreigners what God had not even promised to do for Israel.  And the consideration with which Solomon seeks to persuade God to do that is equally impressive: so that the knowledge and fear of the Lord should spread to all the peoples of the earth."  (229, Emphasis his) 
It was a good message which I thoroughly enjoyed.  But as I was reading through portions of this book (as I often do during my slow times at a book table) I stumbled across another passage which I thought I would mention. 

Some time ago I read the Bible in 90 days (it was fun but it took a commitment).  I remember reading Isaiah 19:24-25.  I've read the passage before but never felt its full impact.  This time it lept off the page and shook me to the core.  I remember going into work and showing it to my co-workers.  Many of them had a similar reaction as mine--amazement.  Here's how it reads in the NIV:

"In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.  The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance."   

Here's how Wright explains the wonder of this passage:
"The identity of Israel will be merged with that of Egypt and Assyria.  In case the implications of verse 24 was not clear enough, the prophet makes it unambiguous (not to mention scandalous) by applying to Egypt and Assyria descriptions that hitherto could only have been said about Israel.  In fact, the word order in Hebrew is more emphatic and shocking than the NIV translation.  It reads literally: 'Blessed be my people, Egypt[!], and the work of my hands, Assyria[!], and my inheritance, Israel.'  The shock of reading 'Egypt' immediately after 'my people' (instead of the expected Israel) and of putting Israel third on the list is palpable.  Yet there it is.  The archenemies of Israel will be absorbed into the identity, titles and privileges of Israel and share in the Abrahamic blessing of the living God, YWHW."  (493, Emphasis his)
It still blows my mind. It is a wonder of God worthy of much contemplation.  

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Thanks for this report! I hope it was a great book table for you and BBH.