Zeal, the Knowledge of YHWH and Radicalism
“YHWH spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites. Therefore say, “I hereby grant him my covenant of peace. 13It shall be for him and for his descendants after him a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the Israelites.”- Numbers 25: 10-13 NRSV
” I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely. I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. […] They shall no more be plunder for the nations, nor shall the animals of the land devour them; they shall live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid. I will provide for them splendid vegetation, so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the insults of the nations.”- Ezekiel 34:25-26, 28-29
When I was in seminary and taking a class on Ezekiel, one of the questions that haunted the class at the end of the semester is what happened to the language of God’s “Covenant of Peace”? Where did it come from? One of the problems I believes starts with the commentary we depended on, by Katherine Pfisterer Darr, who is rightfully hesitant to explain Ezekiel as a prophet who used the Torah, specifically Deuteronomy (unlike Jeremiah, Paul, and Christ Jesus, for example). I think there was an opportunity missed to talk about Israel’s role in the Ancient Near East, as well as Ezekiel’s role as PRIEST and prophet. The notion of a covenant of peace, as Darr points out, is part of the ANE tradition whereby the gods end their hostilities towards humanity and creation at large. The god’s pledge to be peaceable was signed and sealed with a visible sign. Darr rejects the idea that Ezekiel borrows this idea from any of the Torah writers since he has a theology that deals more with the ritual and ceremonial laws of Israel (a priestly theology if you will). Ezekiel cannot simply be put in a box, I tried that once, and utterly failed.
Ezekiel is more of a hybrid thinker, using the language of the Law and the priesthood. Ezekiel and his disciples were zealous for YHWH, much like Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron (the head of the Priesthood). Phinehas was given a covenant of peace with YHWH because he saw one of his fellow Israelites sinning right in front of the Moses and the congregation, and in the First covenant manner, since blood had to be shed, Phinehas used a spear to sacrifice the man and his lover. Once YHWH saw that one of the priests was concerned, the plague that Israel was suffering ended, but not before thousands had died of the sickness. This plays out as an example of the scapegoat mechanism. A few persons must die for the rest of society to be “saved.” If the spearing and priesthood are the visible sign for Aaron’s family and the covenant of peace, then the destruction of the first Temple (along with the people in it Ezekiel 9 & 10) as well as the raising of Ezekiel’s 2nd temple Ezekiel 39:21 through chapter 48) is the sign of YHWH’s latest covenant of peace with Israel.
When we get to the New Testament, the death of the Son of YHWH, Christ Jesus, is the visible sign of the covenant of peace, that God makes with humanity, creation, and between Jew and Gentile, who are engrafted into the covenant life. The finality of Jesus’ sacrifice is the sacrifice that ends all sacrifices, making all other sacrifices and scapegoating unnecessary.
This makes the old traditional hymn from Black churches, “Showers of Blessing” (inspired by Ezekiel 34) all that more interesting. “There shall be seasons of refeshing, Sent from the Savior above.” Written in the first decade of the 20th century, the peak period when thousands of Negro women and men were victims of lynching, “Showers of Blessing” is a theological interpretation of Ezekiel 34 that protests Jim & Jane Crow Law, and the lynching parties that were its scapegoating mechanism.
- God IS Love: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites, and John Piper (politicaljesus.com)
- On Being Blessed for Turning Thirty (politicaljesus.com)