Friday, July 29, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 11: The Invisible God...

Last post, we outlined steps to secure Esther in its place in the Jewish and Christian canon.   Lets now move to step 2:
(2) "We must demonstrate that the kind of theology presented in Esther is not foreign to Jewish literature as found in the rest of the Bible, but wholly compatible and consistent with it."
The first part of such a step will be in establishing how God is presented in the rest of the OT.

The OT view of God is unique in literature.  Not any 'God', but a specific God, objectively known by His modus operandi and His personal traits.

The Invisible God...

The first striking thing about the Biblical God is that He is invisible.  From His first interaction with Adam in the book of Genesis, He makes Himself known, not by appearance, but by His voice: 'And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden ...'

In every interaction between God and man, we find God introduced by His voice; He speaks His way into the scene, and his presence and nature is known by His communication.  

Abraham also hears God's voice (Gen 12:1), but he does business through the Priest Melchizedek (Gen 14:18), or must 'see God' and communicate only via God's angels (Gen. 18:1-2, esp. Gen. 22:11). 

Isaac also must discover God's by indirect sign (Gen. 24:66), in fact a fortunate coincidence! (Gen.24:43-44).  

Jacob too must spend the first half of his life as an ignorant agnostic, then encounter God indirectly, by a dream (Gen. 28:16-21).  In passing, Jacob seems to have learned that God is not detectably omnipresent (contra Pantheism), but only choses to reveal Himself via signs and supernatural effects.

Joseph also discovers God via dreams (Gen 37:5), and most importantly, God's actions are revealed to him through Providence, the hidden hand of God, directing fate for a miraculous (i.e., an improbable) outcome (Gen. 45:5-8).

Even Moses is not introduced to God by a direct view:  He sees instead a sign; the burning tree, and hears God's voice only. (Exod. 3:2-6).  Even when Moses seems to 'see God', again, the view and staging is severely limited, and is most strange (Exod. 33:20-23), certainly an exception to any rule one could draw from the O.T. generally.  The people of Israel and indeed the world must experience God indirectly through frightening signs alone (Exod. 13:15, 19:16), and must hear His voice through appointed prophets only (Exod. 7:1, 19:21).

Appearances by Angels are tantalizing but brief and puzzling.  As God's agents, they are treated to all intents and purposes as if one were dealing directly with God (cf. Gen. 32:25-32, Gen. 18:1-16 etc.)   Abraham and Jacob don't quibble about their obvious authority. 

But the prevailing doctrine is not affected by any apparent 'exceptions':
"You cannot see my face: 
For no man shall see me and survive." (Exod. 33:20, cf. Judges 6:22)
Nor has the doctrine changed in any way, long after the coming of the Messiah, in spite of all the miracles and signs surrounding that event:
"No man has seen God at any time." (John 1:18)
Thus there is complete harmony between OT and NT on these crucial points.

The God of Improbability and Impossibility...

Perhaps because of these limitations of human access to the Most High and Living God, we find God compensating by showing His action in history through the improbable and the impossible:

Moses witnesses a tree burning that never actually burns up, remaining unharmed (Exod 3:2).   No explanation is given, and the reader is expected to recognize indeed the impossibility of it, marking the event as God-caused.

Abraham likewise is given a sign with a message, in the birth of Isaac:
"Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Gen 18:14)
 Gideon requests the impossible twice from God for certainty (cf. Gen. 41:32) and he gets a highly improbable (miraculous) answer for his test both times (Judges 6:36-40).

The same teaching is repeated in the NT:
"For with God nothing shall be impossible!" (Luke 1:37)

The examples could be multiplied from both Testaments, but the point is clear:

The Biblical God is a God who reveals Himself through highly improbable and even impossible (miraculous) events.   His hand is the invisible Hand of Providence.   This is precisely the same God who is quietly revealed in the book of Esther (on both counts; invisibility, and improbability).

(to be continued).

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