Tuesday, December 7, 2010

All the Way to Heaven: Tracking God's Rest and Christ's Ensign with Jonathan Edwards

Those who have returned to Year A likely heard from Isaiah 11 last Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent. This morning I was surprised to find a lengthy entry (No. 503), a real tour-de-force, in Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 15: Notes on Scripture, ed. Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), wherein the Awakener ranges abroad from Isaiah 11:10 ("And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek. And his rest shall be glorious") to the epistle text (Hebrews 4:1-11) for the Third Sunday of Advent in Year D

Edwards tracks the intertwined themes of the Lord's "(en)sign" or "banner" [Heb. Nissi] and the Lord's "rest" through the marching formation of the army of Israel under four ensigns (see Num 2), through the battle with Amalek (Ex. 17:15), through the central ensign of the ark as it led Israel in procession (Num 10:33) and eventually across the Jordan into Canaan (Josh 3:3-4). 

Likewise, the pillars of fire and cloud are visible symbols not only of the locus of the presence of God with or upon the ark (Num 9:15-23), they are also traditional signs of God's glory. So, when Edwards views these texts by way of Isaiah's phrase, "HIS REST SHALL BE GLORY," he ushers in a slew of texts, especially psalms, canticles, and prophetic oracles, that essentially conflate God's (en)sign, ark, banner, tent, tabernacle, temple, mountain, etc., with the rod of Jesse, the cross of Christ, etc., all of which signify, in one way or another, the "rest" of God. In addition to the aforementioned texts, his citations include (in the following order): Jer 17:3; Ps 132:8, 13-14; 1Chron 28:2; 2Sam 7:6; Isa 66:1 and 57:15; Ezek 20:6, 15; Dan 11:16, 45; Pss 48:2; 50:2; 1Chron 22:5; Pss 29:2; 96:6; Jer 17:12; and finally, Heb 4:9. 

The entry is too long to reproduce in full, but among the highlights (with respect to his comments on Hebrews 4) are these:

"Here 'tis remarkable that ... the Apostle seems to suppose that what is called 'God's rest,' or 'Christ's rest,' in the promises of the Old Testament, is so called not only because it was a rest of God's providing and promising, but because it was his personally" (p. 603; emphasis mine).

"All these things show plainly that here is an allusion to God's salvation of Israel of old, when they were brought out of Egypt, and led through the wilderness to Canaan under Christ as their ensign, manifested by those types and symbols of his presence: Moses' rod, the tabernacle and ark, and especially the cloud of glory above them; and that the rod of Jesse, here spoken of, is that person there exhibited in those types [and] symbols. And they all manifestly show that the Messiah was to work out another redemption far greater than that of Egypt, of both Gentiles and Jews, and gather both into one great congregation, and lead 'em to another and far more glorious rest than that of Canaan, Jerusalem, and the temple, even in their greatest glory in Solomon's time, and a rest which should be his own land, and his own dwelling place, and temple, which his people should partake with him in his rest, happiness, and glory. And so that, as the Apostle says, there 'remains a rest to the people of God' (Heb 4:9), besides that which Joshua brought Israel into, and that heaven is that rest" (pp. 604-5; emphasis mine).

It is amazing what emerges when one simply lays hold of a phrase like: "His rest shall be glorious," with almost algebraic certainty and then follows it with a sort of transitive exegetical logic. But that is what the Awakeners were known for: an extraordinarily thorough biblical literacy worn like a pair of seven-league boots.

No comments: