Eric Enlow of the Handong University Law School in South Korea sent along these thoughts in response to my musings on Psalm 87, posted here a few weeks ago. The remainder of this post is from Eric.
Your interpretation of Psalm 87 as reflecting a hidden ancient history reminds me of Amos 9, which seems to show some significant parallels.
Ps 87:4 “I will record Rahab (1) and Babylon (2?) among those who acknowledge me– Philistia (3) too, and Tyre, along with Cush (4) –and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”
Am 9:7 “Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites (4)?” declares the LORD. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt (1), the Philistines (3) from Caphtor and the Arameans (2?) from Kir?
I am not sure about the association of Babylon and Arameans. But, since Abraham was an Aramean, there would seem to be some connection with the region, although the exodus from Kir finds them in a very different location. I have never thought of Psalm 87 in the way you interpret it as concerning the past, reading it instead as a prophecy about a future where these kingdoms would acknowledge God and, in this sense, be born in Zion. That is, they would recognize that they owed their power and identity to the work of the God of Zion; they were born through his power working from there.
Now, Amos 9 indicates to me that their own national histories contain Exodus-like events, without the eternal eschatological significance, but nevertheless the same as Israel’s Exodus up to the point of covenant at Sinai. If this is right, then even if Psalm 87 refers to the future, it could rely on the past “exodus”-lite past history of these nations being acknowledged.
In any case, accepting either reading, this seems to problematize efforts by those who disfavor providential readings of national histories by arguing that God’s relation with the nation of Israel is absolutely unique. There are such strong similarities between Israel’s history of exodus and the exoduses of other nations that God in Amos 9 wants to draw Israel’s attention to it.
The right distinction between the histories might be like the one that Calvin draws between the special grace given to Saul and the grace given to David. Saul was truly transformed by God’s grace in a special way to deliver the people from perils. Saul ought to have responded to this grace with humility and obedience, but did not as David did. If we urge nations not to see the kind of special graces that God has shown in their histories and recognize them as providing special grounds for humility and obedience, are we urging them to be like Saul?
As watchful as people are against America seeing itself as an eschatological agent, it seems to me that there is an at least equal danger in a country’s not responding, Saul-like, to the special graces that have been given to it. Now, it is of course possible that America or any other given nation has not received a special grace. But Amos 9 and Psalm 87 mean, at least, that this cannot be asserted a priori. There are nations that are similar to Israel in being born in Zion and delivered by God. Of course, the histories of Daniel and many others are sufficient to prove this too, but Amos 9 seems to capture the point of comparison with Israel in a special way. Indeed, once the comparison with Israel is made, the ultimate point of Amos 9 also becomes relevant, namely that there are many nations in which God’s special grace works and so Israel should not view itself as established because of its past. This applies a fortiori to gentile nations. If, so to speak, the natural branches are cut off, how much more the grafted ones. Ergo noli sapere altum, sed time. This is the proper corrective given to Israel and Gentiles, not denying special national graces.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 5:04 am
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