Excerpt from Life with God Spiritual Formation Bible

The panoram­ic view of bib­li­cal his­to­ry helps us under­stand the pro­gres­sive nature of how God has medi­at­ed his pres­ence with indi­vid­u­als and groups over the ages to form an all-inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty of lov­ing per­sons. In turn, a brief overview of bib­li­cal his­to­ry helps us grasp how the divine dra­ma took con­crete forms in each age as peo­ple encoun­tered God. These forms are deter­mined by social con­text, the idio­syn­crasies of indi­vid­ual char­ac­ters, the spe­cif­ic pur­pose of divine action, and the lim­its of human response.

The Peo­ple of God in Indi­vid­ual Com­mu­nion. In the begin­ning God cre­ates the world and places the first humans into the Gar­den of Eden to work and care for it. Here we see Adam and Eve in part­ner­ship encoun­ter­ing God face-to-face. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had tak­en out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Gen 2:22, NIVI). But Adam and Eve dis­obey God’s instruc­tions, are ban­ished from the gar­den (Gen 3:6 – 7), and suf­fer social and phys­i­cal con­se­quences: dom­i­na­tion, alien­ation, tra­vail, suf­fer­ing, and mor­tal­i­ty. For gen­er­a­tions God’s Spir­it con­tin­ues to strive with human beings dur­ing a down­ward spi­ral into immoral­i­ty and polit­i­cal chaos. Final­ly, God destroys every­one except Noah and his fam­i­ly (Gen 6:1 – 7:23).

The Peo­ple of God Become a Fam­i­ly. With God’s appear­ance to Abram (Gen 12:7), God promis­es to work through a nomadic, eth­nic, patri­ar­chal fam­i­ly to bring bless­ing to all peo­ples on earth. But Abra­ham, Isaac, and Jacob all strug­gle with the promise: Abra­ham tries to force its ful­fill­ment, Isaac lies about the iden­ti­ty of his wife, and Jacob tricks his broth­er out of his birthright. Joseph com­pletes the next step in God’s plan as he brings his fam­i­ly from Canaan to the land of Goshen, in the nation of Egypt, where they mul­ti­ply and devel­op into tribes. 

The Peo­ple of God in Exo­dus. But even­tu­al­ly a new king who did not know Joseph” comes to pow­er in Egypt and enslaves the Israelites, whose cry for help rose up to God” (Exod 1:8; 2:23). God hears their groans and responds by send­ing a reluc­tant, tongue-tied Moses to lead Abra­ham’s descen­dants into the Promised Land. Dur­ing their jour­ney, God gives the peo­ple the Mosa­ic law, the taber­na­cle, and the ark of the covenant to remind them of his presence.

The Peo­ple of God in the Promised Land. When the Israelites arrive on the bor­ders of Canaan, Joshua, Moses’ suc­ces­sor, becomes their leader as they enter the Promised Land. Com­mand­ed by God to total­ly elim­i­nate the Canaan­ites, the Israelites dis­obey, set­tling into Canaan and adopt­ing many prac­tices of their neigh­bors. They are obe­di­ent to Mosa­ic law through­out the life­time of Joshua, but after his death its influ­ence dimin­ish­es. When the Israelites begin to do evil in the sight of the Lord (e.g., Judg 2:11; 3:7), the sur­round­ing tribes attack them. Because there is no polit­i­cal enti­ty to uni­fy and pro­tect them, the peo­ple call out to God and he sends some­one to res­cue them. After the cri­sis they are faith­ful to God for a time, but then they fall into dis­obe­di­ence again. They cry out again, are res­cued again, and the cycle repeats. The phrase all the peo­ple did what was right in their own eyes” describes these times (Judg 21:25).

The Peo­ple of God as a Nation. In spite of the Israelites’ many fail­ings, God remains faith­ful to them. When they ask to be ruled by a king, God tells them the con­se­quences of their choice. Even though their request indi­cates that they do not want God as their king, in time Israel is trans­formed into a nation with a monarch. The sec­ond king, David, con­sol­i­dates his pow­er and brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, the polit­i­cal cap­i­tal. Under David’s son Solomon, Israel becomes a cen­ter of com­merce and trade, and the Tem­ple is built. The peo­ple sur­vive the divi­sion of the coun­try into two parts — Israel and Judah — and a suc­ces­sion of cor­rupt rulers. 

Still they con­tin­ue their pat­tern of alter­nate­ly for­sak­ing and return­ing to God. As a con­se­quence, God allows Israel (the North­ern King­dom) and then Judah (the South­ern King­dom) to be con­quered and their rul­ing class tak­en into cap­tiv­i­ty. God’s pres­ence (shek­inah), which had been with the Peo­ple of God since the exo­dus, departs. 

The Peo­ple of God in Tra­vail. Job rep­re­sents human suf­fer­ing for all time. The great­est of all the peo­ple of the east” lives a life of influ­ence and lux­u­ry, but he los­es every­thing, includ­ing the respect of his friends and of his wife, who advis­es him to Curse God, and die” (Job 1:3; 2:9). But through his mis­for­tune and grief, through his doubts and ques­tions, through his pain and suf­fer­ing, he per­se­veres and points us to the way of being faith­ful to God in spite of our circumstances. 

Just as Job rep­re­sents human suf­fer­ing, so Israel becomes a type of the suf­fer­ing ser­vant. This, in time, evolves into a cru­cial part of the Jew­ish mes­sian­ic expec­ta­tion: He was despised and reject­ed by oth­ers; a man of suf­fer­ing. … He was wound­ed for our trans­gres­sions, crushed for our iniq­ui­ties;… He was oppressed, and he was afflict­ed, yet he did not open his mouth; … The right­eous one, my ser­vant, shall make many right­eous, and he shall bear their iniq­ui­ties.… He poured out him­self to death, and was num­bered with the trans­gres­sors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made inter­ces­sion for the trans­gres­sors” (Isa 53:3, 5, 7, 11 – 12).

The Peo­ple of God in Prayer and Wor­ship. Wor­ship of God was for­mal­ized dur­ing the exo­dus with the ark of the covenant and the taber­na­cle. How­ev­er, with the emer­gence of the monar­chy the king estab­lish­es Jerusalem as the cen­ter of wor­ship. The Psalms estab­lish a litur­gi­cal frame­work for pub­lic wor­ship with all the accou­trements — fes­ti­vals, pil­grim­ages, a sac­ri­fi­cial sys­tem, a priest­ly class, and musicians. 

The Peo­ple of God in Dai­ly Life. As the Peo­ple of God are formed, God is able to trans­mit his wis­dom for dai­ly life. In such books as Proverbs, Eccle­si­astes, Song of Solomon, Wis­dom of Solomon, and Sir­ach, moth­ers and fathers, kings, and sages give coun­sel through wise say­ings about sit­u­a­tions faced by ordi­nary peo­ple every day — moral­i­ty, romance, mar­riage, injus­tice, dis­cour­age­ment, lazi­ness, and sex­u­al puri­ty, to name a few. 

The Peo­ple of God in Rebel­lion. Despite the peo­ple’s often extreme unfaith­ful­ness, God nev­er pass­es judg­ment or takes dis­ci­pli­nary action before warn­ing them about the con­se­quences of their actions. God always sends mes­sen­gers, emis­saries, or prophets ris­ing ear­ly and speak­ing” (Jer 35:14,KJV) to warn the Israelites that their aban­don­ment of the law, their whor­ing” after oth­er gods, and their neglect of the poor would bring dis­as­ter upon their heads. From Isa­iah and Hosea, Joel and Amos, Oba­di­ah and Mic­ah, and Nahum and Zepha­ni­ah the peo­ple hear but still reject God’s mes­sage — and as a result suf­fer occu­pa­tion and dom­i­na­tion by for­eign powers.

The Peo­ple of God in Exile. After Assyr­ia over­runs Israel, its lead­ers are deport­ed and its polit­i­cal struc­ture is dis­man­tled. Baby­lon sub­se­quent­ly defeats Assyr­ia and occu­pies Judah, tak­ing its rul­ing class into bondage. Prophets are killed, and many of the peo­ple are deport­ed. Those who remain work the land; Jerusalem and the Tem­ple lie in ruins. The deport­ed mourn and long to return to Jerusalem in hopes of rebuild­ing the Tem­ple. Many begin meet­ing togeth­er in the embry­on­ic synagogue. 

God teach­es his peo­ple to pray and work for the peace of the cities in which they dwell and the peo­ple who oppress them (Jer 29:7). Despite their long­ing and loss, new avenues of seek­ing and find­ing God are found as the peo­ple learn to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land” (Ps 137:4KJV). 

The Peo­ple of God in Restora­tion. After the Per­sians defeat the Baby­lo­ni­ans, the emper­or gives per­mis­sion to the Jew­ish exiles to return to Israel and rebuild the Tem­ple. Many of the exiles make the jour­ney and even­tu­al­ly rebuild the Tem­ple, which becomes the cen­ter of their identity. 

Dur­ing a series of for­eign occu­pa­tions, Jew­ish lead­ers are appoint­ed to polit­i­cal office and the priests gain pow­er as the trustees of reli­gious tra­di­tions and practice. 

Once the Roman Empire con­sol­i­dates its pow­er in the Mediter­ranean world, the gov­er­nor of Judea, Herod, spear­heads the build­ing of yet anoth­er Tem­ple. Now legions of priests, Phar­isees, Sad­ducees, scribes, and a shad­ow gov­ern­ment, the San­hedrin, dic­tate the for­mal expres­sion of Judaism, but the syn­a­gogue dom­i­nates vil­lage reli­gious life. 

The Peo­ple of God with Immanuel. Into this mael­strom of polit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion by oth­er nations, which fueled age-old resent­ments and hos­til­i­ties, Jesus is born in hum­ble cir­cum­stances. His upbring­ing and day-to-day life as a res­i­dent of the Roman Empire are very con­ven­tion­al as he mas­ters his father’s trade, learns Greek, respects his moth­er, attends syn­a­gogue, keeps the Jew­ish fes­ti­vals, and the like. 

Jesus’ min­istry, how­ev­er, breaks sharply with tra­di­tion. His procla­ma­tion that the king­dom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21) breaks upon Jew­ish soci­ety like a tidal wave. Peo­ple respond to their encounter with the Incar­nate Word either by believ­ing and fol­low­ing him or by resist­ing and reject­ing his mes­sage. Jesus’ exe­cu­tion as a com­mon crim­i­nal fol­lowed by his bod­i­ly res­ur­rec­tion intro­duces a rad­i­cal change in the way the Peo­ple of God devel­op. The work of God now goes for­ward with a new inti­ma­cy under the direc­tion of the Holy Spir­it: But the hour is com­ing, and is now here, when the true wor­shipers will wor­ship the Father in spir­it and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to wor­ship him. God is spir­it, and those who wor­ship him must wor­ship in spir­it and truth” (John 4:23 – 24). 

The Peo­ple of God in Mis­sion. Once unleashed on earth, the king­dom of God can­not stand still. It bursts the old wine­skins of eth­nic­i­ty and rit­u­al. Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are all received freely. A com­mon lan­guage, excel­lent roads, and an era of peace (the Pax Romana) open the doors for the grow­ing com­mu­ni­ty to take the mes­sage of the king­dom of God through­out the Roman Empire and beyond. 

The Peo­ple of God in Com­mu­ni­ty. God cre­ates us for com­mu­ni­ty, but inti­ma­cy often leads to con­flict. It was no dif­fer­ent for the ear­ly Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty, which brought togeth­er peo­ple from a mul­ti­tude of back­grounds and eth­nic­i­ties. So for Paul and oth­er lead­ers, the task becomes not only pro­claim­ing that the king­dom of God is here in the per­son of Jesus Christ, but actu­al­iz­ing it in the lives of indi­vid­u­als in the all-inclu­sive, lov­ing com­mu­ni­ty that this mes­sage cre­ates. Because the lead­ers could not be with every com­mu­ni­ty all of the time and God’s pur­pos­es reach far beyond the con­tem­po­rary prob­lems, the­o­log­i­cal instruc­tion, pas­toral care, and train­ing in dis­ci­ple­ship are need­ed. Thus these first lead­ers instruct Chris­tians by writ­ing let­ters to the var­i­ous groups, let­ters that con­tin­ue to instruct us today.

The Peo­ple of God into Eter­ni­ty. The efforts of God to form an all-inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty of lov­ing per­sons on earth comes to ful­fill­ment beyond time in the for­ma­tion of a new heav­en and new earth. Old ways of oppres­sion, alien­ation, tra­vail, suf­fer­ing, and mor­tal­i­ty end, and life eter­nal takes their place. Wor­ship of self gives way to wor­ship of God. And the leaves of the tree are for the heal­ing of the nations.

Noth­ing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his ser­vants will wor­ship him; they will see his face” (Rev 22:2 – 4). To every­one who longs to be part of this lov­ing, nur­tur­ing, all-inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty: The Spir­it and the bride say, Come.’ And let every­one who hears say, Come.’ And let every­one who is thirsty come. Let any­one who wish­es take the water of life as a gift” (Rev 22:17).

Excerpt­ed from the Life with God Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion Bible.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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