God’s mission is renewal of shalom. What will this age of shalom look like? The vision was unveiled over time. First, I will begin with a look at the Old Testament vision of the coming age and then turn to the New Testament vision.
God had promised Abraham that “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) Abraham was then blessed by God through Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, in Genesis 14. Chapter 15 begins with Abraham inquiring of God about how all the things he has promised will come to be since God had not provided Abraham an heir through Sarah. This encounter ends with God making an unusual covenant.
Abraham was instructed by God to sacrifice selected animals and then cut them in half. He was instructed to place the halves on the ground opposite each of other with a space between the halves. This was the traditional covenant or treaty ceremony. The two parties would walk through the gap between the animals symbolizing that if they did not uphold their end of the covenant, then may they become as the sacrificed animals. What is most peculiar is that it is only God who passes between the animals, in essence declaring that God will be faithful to the covenant regardless of how faithful Abraham is to his end of the bargain! The passage ends with a promise of land, later to be Israel.
The biblical narrative progresses on through the lives of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and the migration of Abraham’s descendants into Egypt. Four hundred years later there is the confrontation with the Empire of Egypt and the miraculous deliverance from bondage by God into the land promised to Abraham. The Exodus becomes a central theme for the Hebrews, where God delivers his people from the bondage of their oppressors into shalom in their own land.
Just prior to entering the Promised Land, God made a covenant with the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The structure and elements in the book of Deuteronomy greatly reflects the suzerain-vassal treaties of the era. God spells out what it is expected of the people of Israel and then names the "blessings and curses" in Chapters 27-30.
If Israel obeys God, then Deuteronomy 28:3-6 (NRSV):
3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock. 5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
If Israel disobeys God, then Deututeronomy 28:16-19 (NRSV):
16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.
Deuteronomy 29, almost as if to anticipate the faithlessness that is to come, warns that disobedience will lead to exile and the desolation of the land. But then comes a promise from God which is one of the most remarkable passages in scripture, Deuteronomy 30:
1 When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2 and return to the LORD your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the LORD your God has scattered you. 4 Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will bring you back. 5 The LORD your God will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.
6 Moreover, the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. 7 The LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on the adversaries who took advantage of you. 8 Then you shall again obey the LORD, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, 9 and the LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, 10 when you obey the LORD your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Adherence to God's law would bring shalom. Failure to obey the law would bring dispersion and calamity. Yet, even with dispersion and calamity God promised to eventually bring them back from exile, bring down their enemies, and restore shalom. The nation of Israel rose to great heights under David but soon departed from keeping God’s law. As promised, exile and desolation eventually followed. Even as the calamity began the prophets spoke of restoration to come. They spoke of a messiah who would fulfill Deuteronomy 30. Three of the most awe-inspiring visions of this coming age are found in Isaiah:
Isaiah 9:2-7 (NRSV):
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness --
on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
And, Isaiah 11:1-9 (NRSV):
1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
And, Isaiah 65:17-25 (NRSV)
17 For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD --
and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent -- its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
As the exiles returned to Israel in the Fifth Century B.C.E., it was these visions of the future they clung to. Yet, by the time of Christ more than 400 years later, the promised freedom from oppression, and expected return to greatness and shalom, had not materialized. Where was the one who would lead them in the exodus from their bondage?
The zealots used violent resistance in an effort to force God’s hand in delivering them. The Pharisees and others sought renewed compliance with the law so that God would once again set things aright and return Israel to glory. There was a clear anticipation of a future. There were many cultural narratives that led other nations to prominence but unique to Israel was an expectation of a promised future. It influenced all they did. They waited for one who would throw off their oppressors, gather those who had been dispersed, and restore shalom.