In a long list detailing who gets what following the Israelites’ conquest throughout Canaan, there is an unexpected piece of information. “Only to the tribe of Levi he did not give an inheritance; the offerings by fire to the LORD, the God of Israel, are their inheritance, as He spoke to him” (Joshua 13:14). It would be hard, for me, to not feel like I got the short end of the stick. Did you hear all of the lands Judah received? The Simeonites received a part of Judah’s territory “for the share of the sons of Judah was too large for them” (19:19). But the Levites get nothing except the task of preparing burnt offerings on behalf of all the other Israelites.
Or maybe they’ve received everything. The sacrificial system is so unknown to most of us that we might not quite grasp the gravity of what it means for the Levites to receive “the offerings by fire to the LORD.” Thankfully, the author of Joshua clarifies the point a few paragraphs later: “But to the tribe of Levi, Moses did not give an inheritance; the LORD, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as He had promised to them” (Joshua 13:33). The call to make burnt offerings is not simply an inherited career; somehow, the call to make burnt offerings is God’s way of offering Godself to the Levites. In a way, the sentence is antithetical. Did God give them nothing for an inheritance? Or did God give them the ground of all being? Continue reading
One of my favorite classes at Duke was “Old Testament in the New Testament” with J. Ross Wagner. The question “How should Christians read the Old Testament?” has always intrigued me. We cannot simply seek the “original” meaning because Jesus seems to recast the original meaning. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus recasts the original meanings of several laws, saying “you have heard it said…but I tell you…” But then again, I recognized the importance of upholding the Jewish tradition that give the stories, poems, and laws their context. The class gave me an opportunity to reflect on the many ways New Testament writers engage with the Old Testament.
Gary A. Anderson’s new book, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in Service of Biblical Exegesis (kindly provided for review by the folks at Baker Academic), is asking a related, but slightly different, question. How can Christian doctrine, Anderson’s question could be formulated, “play a key role in uncovering a text’s meaning” (p. xi)? Having this question as a starting point is dangerous for the modern “biblical scholar,” as Anderson readily admits. The divisions between “theologian” and “biblical scholar,” and even “Old Testament scholar” and “New Testament scholar” are deep in the academic study of the Christian religion and its relevant texts. Anderson, following the lead of folks like Brevard Childs, makes a concerted effort to raise the valleys, if you will, between these fields of study. And I must say that he has offered the church an incredible example of how the worlds of biblical exegesis, theology, and historical theology work better when they are married than when they are divorced. Continue reading