Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The book of joshua

Sometimes, no make that all the time, I think we're bound to be surprised by what God has in store for us. Just when you think God is finished with His work, it may turn out that God was only just beginning.

My friend and associate in crimes against orthodoxy, Marauder, has recently been posting links to me, and I was considering it might be kind to post links back, but I was in the middle of this series, you know? Still, I suppose he's theoretically boosting my traffic, and I sort of owed him one or two links, especially after a butt-kissing post such as this, so I gotta send a shout-out back and return the favor. (We'll see how he likes being linked to me when I do an upcoming post I've been working on in the back of my mind on the subject of pedophilia.)

How does this all relate to God and new beginnings? Bear with me, it comes together eventually. Marauder talks about the nature of Satan as modern Christendom sees him/it, and muses as to whether it's really an accurate reflection of the spiritual reality. The view has definitely spilled over into mainstream society, where we live with an understanding of Satan as this powerful being who opposes God and all forms of goodness. You know the guy: wears a red suit, carries a pitchfork, has a fondness for heavy metal music? Of course, that image is all crap, but various parts of it are widely accepted as true in various degrees, and that's not even the parts cribbed from Milton's Paradise Lost.

Actually, there are Biblical bases for a lot of these ideas, although they're few and far between. The fact is that orthodox Jews, modern Christians, and mainstream society each have their own understandings as to the nature of Satan, and it may very well be that all of them are off the mark. The Bible says so little about Satan and his nature that it's really an educated guess on our part, whatever we may think of this being. What is true however is that Satan was still created by God, and therefore, one may assume He has a purpose in mind for him. The Bible actually teaches that Satan is to be treated with respect, and that's in the New Testament!

Jude 8-9 says, "In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' " This is a weird verse for various reasons, most of which I won't go into now, but one of which I was specifically wanting to address, as it directly relates to my previous essay on spiritual/Biblical authority.

"The body of Moses"? What is this about? Assuming this story is an actual event, one might assume it took place right after the end of the book of Deuteronomy. Just as you thought Moses' story was over, it turns out there's another chapter to be told. Moses drops dead in Moab, and instead of simply returning to dust as the way of all men, apparently conflict ensues, and spiritual powers are fighting for control of whatever it is he's left behind. This may be symbolic and literal on many levels.

Have you ever thought about the transition from Moses to Joshua? I have considered the fact many times that Moses (if he indeed wrote the Torah, but we'll not go back to that question) was the first person to write a book that was meant to be the Holy Word of the God of Israel. Pretty much from day one--and we can go back to Deuteronomy 6 for this--this was writing that was considered deeply important from the moment it was written. Here's the Law of God; keep it and revere it!

Then comes Joshua, who is also writing Scripture (supposedly the author of the book bearing his name, although doubted for many of the same reasons people doubt the authorship of Deuteronomy), but does he think of it that way? He's got to fill the sandals of Moses. Do you think he thought his writings were deserving of being put in the same volume as the great prophet Moses? There were probably moments, especially during the early days of his leadership, that he might have thought that Moses was the be-all and end-all of God's involvement with Israel.

So on a certain level, and as a certain person once suggested to me concerning the passage in Jude, there was a possibility, even in the very day its writing was completed, of a "disputing... about the body of Moses", that is, not just his physical body, but his life's work. With Moses gone, what happens to the nation he created, and the books that he had written? Every time God wraps up a chapter in history, surely there must be a temptation to think that it's all done. God's finished giving the Law, the Israelites must have thought, so we've got all we need. Indeed, there have been those, including the "Saducees" in the New Testament, that have felt that the Torah is God's Word, complete and final. And they disputed with Jesus about it.

Now as Christians, we have the blessing of hindsight to even a greater degree than they did, knowing that not only was there more to come after the Law, but more to come after the Writings and the Prophets. Scripture was about to be opened again in their very day, and was to be written about events that unfolded in their presence. Why? Because God had sent another Joshua, whose name in Greek is of course rendered "Jesus".

Who was Jesus? It's a fascinating thing to me that the very person who opened up the idea to me that the "body of Moses" might refer to the Torah made another implication far more startling, and one that many mainstream Christians would consider blasphemous: that the "archangel Michael" was Jesus Himself. You may or may not be aware that this is a belief held dearly by Jehovah's Witnesses, among other out-of-the-mainstream Christian groups: that Jesus was not an incarnation of God, but rather an incarnation of the Archangel Michael.

It fascinates me because I wonder if indeed this is technically heresy. After all, what is an "archangel"? It's not a term that the Bible uses too often. (In fact, it's only used in one other verse, at which time it is more closely and clearly associated with Jesus than in Jude.) An "angel" is, once again contrary to popular culture, simply a "messenger". That's what the word in both the original Hebrew and Greek means. It follows that an "archangel" (literally "ruling messenger") would be a high-level messenger, and indeed, who is a more important messenger in history than Jesus Himself, at least as far as the Christian mindset is concerned? And the name Michael? It's understood to be Hebrew for "Who is like unto God?" I think any Christian would have a ready and obvious answer to that question. (Or is it possibly wrong that it's rendered as a question in the first place?)

At the death of Moses, there's a danger. The danger is that with the end of the giving of the Law, we close the book of God's truth, and consequently close our minds. "Here are the rules, now you're on your own. -God." Don't question, don't grow, don't seek deeper understanding and maturity. But God sent Joshua to take them forward into the Promised Land, where Moses could not take them. Likewise, our New Testament Joshua takes us to a place that Moses could not. The old book is closed, but a new book opens. The Law has guided you all the way to the border of the Promised Land, and now Jesus takes your hand and carries you across the Jordan in into the full blessing of God.

I think Christians know this, but they may miss a deeper implication of the history that the Bible presents to us. Once the children of Israel became slaves in Egypt, it wasn't yet over. Once Moses finished his farewell address and died in Moab, it wasn't over. Once they crossed into Canaan, and subsequently crossed into idolatry and paganism, it wasn't over. Once a dynasty was established for King David, it wasn't over. Once they were taken away into exile and lost their land, it wasn't over. Every event in the Old Testament that seemed like a moment when things could have either settled into stability or degraded into utter destruction, it wasn't the end, but just another chapter of God's plan. Do we have the audacity to think that's no longer the way things work?

When Jesus hung on the cross, he famously said, "It is finished." What exactly was finished? Theologically, we understand that it was His payment for our sins that was finished, but the story was not finished. It wasn't the end of the chapter, the chapter was not the end of the book, and after each of the four Gospels come to a close, there are still over 20 books left in the Bible to tell us the story of God and how He is working it out for our benefit. For those of us who believe that the book of Revelation is a description mainly of events that come in the future, we're not even out of the Bible yet in our own lives!

This is the lesson of both the first and last Joshua: that the book is never closed. So many people would be offended by the questions raised in Marauder's short piece on the nature of Satan, but really, is there anything that contradicts what God has told us? Throughout history, times have passed in which people were ostracized or even killed for simply asking questions. But whatever you may think of the nature of Jesus/Joshua and the devil/Satan, the two share something in common that conservative voices don't often like to hear: the purpose of suggesting that there is something more to life and to God than that which we already know. One leads to truth, and the other to deception, but indeed, both of them lead.


marauder said...

At least as far as traditional Christian angelology goes, there's a good reason the Jehovah's Witness view of Christ-as-archangel is considered heretical.

The Nicean Council in the fourth century A.D. affirmed the belief that Jesus is co-eternal and equal with God, eternally begotten of the Father, begotten not created, et cetera, et cetera. This wasn't a belief that they forced upon the church; rather, it was a belief that had been central to the church's beliefs about Jesus since the beginning, including the statements attributed to Jesus himself in the gospel of John.

There are, I think, exactly four places in the New Testament where the Greek -- I believe the word is "archae" -- is sufficiently ambiguous to be rendered as describing Jesus as "the first of God's creations" or as "over God's creations." To this orthodox Christians can add John the Evangelist's statement "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," as well as a good many other places where Jesus identifies himself as one with the Father.

I'm not aware of any such longstanding traditions equating Jesus with the archangel. The angels themselves are regarded as a lower order of created beings, through whom God chooses at times to act. (If an angel comes in God's name, I believe that is considered the same as if God himself had spoken; similarly to the school behind the Johannine epistles claiming his mantle, or the school of Paul laying claim to write pastoral epistles in his name.)

The Watchtower for its part mistranslates John 1:1 to say "the Word was a God," mendaciously inserting the indefinite article; and elsewhere mistranslates the Wisdom passage in Proverbs 8, changing Wisdom from a she to an it, claiming it as a foreshadowing of Christ to claim that Christ was the first of God's created works.

Brucker said...

Well, I definitely want to be clear that I am in no way advocating that Jesus was a "creation" of God. What I am suggesting is that the "archangel" is possibly just a Biblical code-word for God the Son, an eternal and co-equal part of the Trinity.

The manner in which the JW's believe Jesus to be Michael is indeed heretical to mainstream understanding. Yet at the same time, there is something interesting as to the nature of angels that I have discused here before: Where in the Bible does it say that angels were "created"? It's something that we often take as an automatic assumption that nonetheless has neither Scriptural nor logical basis.

BTW, I've never seen "mendaciously" used in that manner; I quite like it for some reason.

marauder said...

Possibly, though from what I read just the other night, the book of Enoch discusses the archangels, seven of them by name. Though the book isn't canon in Western Protestant churches, the Ethiopian church recognizes it as such -- there's that whole canon thing again -- and the author of Jude also regarded it highly enough as a prophetic text that he quoted it in his own epistle.

No, I don't believe it explains where they came from either, but it depicts all seven archangels as separate entities, apart from God and in some cases in dispute with him over the issue of the Nephilim. (The book notes that Enoch took the side of the angels who had fathered the Nephilim, which point I found interesting, given Enoch's appearance and attitudes in the third book in "His Dark Materials.")

In any event, you're right, the Bible never says where the angels came from explicitly, though I seem to remember Paul (?) talking about God as the creator of all that is seen and unseen. And John the Evangelist describes Jesus as the Logos through whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made that was made. "All things" could refer to the angels, since they are separate from God.

I recall AoG doctrine holds that the Angel of the Lord, often seen in the Tanakh, is a christophany.

But I'm blathering now. I suppose I should go find a respectable book on angelology and read it.

Glad you liked my use of "mendaciously." I was taken with it too.

Good night.

Brucker said...

John 1:3 says "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." My question (and though I think I posed it in the linked post, but I'll risk repeating) is this: Who says angels were "made"?

Theologians and philosophers repeatedly suggest that there must be an uncreated source for all that is created, but if we posit the existence of a single being (i.e. God) that was not created, then doesn't that open the possibility of more than one uncreated being? It's one of my philosophical pet peeves that this idea of a "first cause" is supposed to be obvious and clear, and I completely don't get it. (This guy fails to adequately explain it to me.)

marauder said...

Yet if God is the creator of all that is seen and unseen, wouldn't that include angels? I would think so, though certainly the idea of other, lesser uncreated beings is an interesting one; i.e., the existence of lesser gods who come under the reign of the greater one.

Sort of the thing Pullman played with in "His Dark Materials," where the Authority was simply the first being to gain intelligence, and on that basis claimed pre-eminence.