Thursday, March 03, 2016
Fire in the Presence of God
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
- from 2 Peter 3
I discussed those verses previously in talking about the ACTING OUT of the covenant, of covenant MAKING.
I ended the last post of this series with two references to the covenant. One, in the context of “Where I am, there you will be also,” was, “And you know the way where I am going.” The other reference to the covenant was 2 Peter 3: 12, about the disappearance of the heavens and the earth.
Everyone knows that a covenant is an agreement between two parties, much like a contract. What gets missed, however, is that a covenant is between two members of what is to become a newly unified body. As an extension of this lack of understanding of the forming of a BODY in a covenant, we often don’t realize that the Hebrew word used for covenant comes from the Hebrew root meaning “to cut” (reference HERE). In practice, an animal was cut into pieces - apparently, based on GENESIS 15, into halves - and the two halves of the animal were passed between by the two parties of the covenant being “cut.” As discussed previously HERE in this series, this means that ancient covenants were, prior to the dawn of speculative thought and, in this case, prior to the earliest known phonetic alphabets!, ACTED OUT. The cutting up of animals was the acting out of the death of an old body or bodies, the bodies both of the symbolic sacrifice and of the actual or concrete party or parties in the agreement. The shedding of blood was the loss of the flow of life, and the acting out of the covenant, then, was the acting out of a new state of things, of new living. In some cases, such as in EXODUS 24: 8, the parties participating in the acting out of the new living were covered in the life blood of it.
And, as in Leviticus 16: 20-22 and Leviticus 4: 13-21, it is also important that the animal being cut is chosen from the flock of one of the agreeing MEMBERS of the covenant. Just as “technologies are the extensions of man” (previously discussed HERE in the second post of this series), so also are his possessions. This is why, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It is also why we will “receive our inheritance” in the parousia. We are His possessions, so we will be joined to Him fully in life eternal. Anyway, just as the sins of the people are extended to the scapegoat and sacrificial bull when the goat or bull from their flocks is laid upon by the hands of the priest, the life and being of the MEMBERS of the covenant are PRESENT in the sacrificed animal as it is cut. The blood of the animal is theirs, and, as such, what happens to it is an acting out of the fact that the members of the agreement “mean business.” In actuality, the cutting is what gives meaning to the business in the first place.
No wonder a covenantal reading of the scriptures is no longer the primary one. The lens handed up to us by our history makes a covenant nearly impossible to “understand,” precisely because its members don’t intellectually assent to it but, instead, ACT IT OUT. As explored throughout the history portion of this blog series, man and his interpretation of the world and reality has changed quite a bit from the time when covenants were “used” to “seal” agreements. In fact, I put “used” and “seal” in quotes there because - as discussed previously HERE and HERE in this blog series in discussions of pragmatics and literacy - both of those terms, fundamental to our language and its meaning, are at the root of how we, now steeped in our literary vision, act out or lives and our reality. “Use” and “sealed” don’t have much to do with covenant making, though. They do fit well with a complex and intellectually theorized system, both seen and crafted in the mind, written down, and, at a distance from the thought and written theory, applied. It is the acted out covenant, however, which is, historically, as far from us as the ghost from the machine, that ties my whole argument that “heaven both is and will be here” together. And that, at least partially, is precisely because a covenant is between two members of what is to become a newly unified body.
Precisely because of the centrality of the bodily resurrection to the covenant narrative, when he sees the resurrected Jesus, Paul realizes that the last days of the old age of death, exile and bondage – the world as it had been known to him - had already ended, and the first days of the new eternal Kingdom of life and freedom from sin had begun! Because of the death of the God of heaven and earth (of the universe, you might say) on the Cross, the disappearance, the death, of the old heaven and earth, and of the old body, had already begun! The completion of this death or disappearance of the old had been mentioned by Peter in terms of the parousia in 2 Peter 3, which also mentions the judgment of the world and vindication of God’s family promised in Daniel 7.
will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed....the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
I also associate that with the meaning of the burnt offerings of, say, Leviticus 1: 1-17, which occur in the presence of God and so do the work of God. I suspect Peter is making the same association in his latter.
Of course, that burnt offering was a pre-figuring of Christ and his work of atonement, of the formation of a body of people belonging to him.
Notably, that passage from Leviticus 1 also mentions this:
He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
I draw that out, because I mentioned the idea in the blog post above - the importance of the offerings being members of the flock of the one making the offering. I mentioned the idea that possessions are extensions of the self...which is why the Israelite making the offering would lay his hand on the head of said offering. The extending out of his hand onto the head of the offering was an acting out of the fact that his flock was an extension of himself, and that this member of his flock was receiving his sin.
Anyway, the point I'm getting at is, I think Peter is using the imagery of the burnt offering to point to Christ. And, not only to Christ, but to Christ as the presence of God filling all of His creation "as the waters cover the sea." Obviously, all of creation includes the heavens. In other words, I am seeing the relationship between Christ and all of creation as being analogical to the relationship between the Israelite making a burnt offering and the burnt offering itself. As the burnt offering was to the Israelite making it, so all of creation, including heaven, is to Christ in 2 Peter 3: 10-12. As the Israelite's flock was an extension of himself, all of creation is an extension of Christ and belongs to him.
In other words, in 2 Peter 3: 10-12 all of creation becomes a figuring of Christ as a burnt offering.
Of course, none of that would make sense without having a concept of the ACTING OUT of the covenant, which I discussed in the blog post. In other words, this idea of the analogy between Christ and the burnt offering in 2 Peter 3: 10-12 wouldn't make sense if a covenant (and covenant making) is just an intellectual concept to understand.
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