Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Building a Theology of the Land #3: Beginning with Matthew
First up? Matthew 5:5…

Before I begin, I must insist that any Christian theology of the Land find its roots in Genesis 1: God is involved with and concerned for his creation, and the Land of Israel must be correlated with God’s original intent for all Creation (much could be said, for instance, about the relationships between Eden and the Promised Land, and moving forward, to the New Heavens/New Earth in the prophets). After all, the promise of Land is part of a Story that is cosmic, not local. It began with the Creation of all things, and promises to end with the renewal of all things. God has not abandoned his Creation, as Paul teaches in Romans 8…but now I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to Matthew!

Matthew 5:5 is a citation from Psalm 37 (cf. Qumran, where this is treated as messianic). Most of you already know that the Greek word which appears here in Matthew 5:5 ge can mean Land, Earth, earth, land, or region. This is roughly the same semantic range as the Hebrew word erets used in Psalm 37. Jesus is treating the Land as an eschatological gift for those who follow him; but lexically speaking this could be a reference to the Earth.

Note that in Psalm 37, four references to inheriting the Land all speak to Matthew’s apparent interests, as if Matt 5:5 (and in some ways, the Beatitudes or even the Sermon on the Mount on the whole) were explicating this Psalm. The meek (37.11), the blessed, but not the cursed (37.22, compare Matt 23 and the curses there!), the righteous (v 29), those pursuing the way of the Lord who will be exalted by him (37.34; Matt 3:3, 7.13-14; compare again Matt 23:12) all find a home in Matthew. There are many other connections between Matthew and this Psalm, some no doubt due to their common concern for wisdom and law. In a nutshell, however, Matthew 5.5 and Psalm 37 and Qumran (and the Didache, but this stems from Matthew) are all concerned about the expected reversal, when the wealthy and wicked, the oppressive rulers who cut short God's desired prosperity and peace in the Land are removed, and righteousness rules. And all encourage patience in light of the future Great Reversal, and, it would seem, non-violence.

But does this promise in Matthew 5.5 apply to Israel’s land, the whole earth, or what? Does it apply to Jesus’ Jewish disciples, or does Matthew expect it to apply more broadly? I’ll make some additional notes on “land” in Matthew in part four in the next day or two.


Blogger Rick said...

Yes... it could ALL could be consider a theology of Land, and it may have been for the writers of the stories we find in scripture.

How we received outr land and how we lost our land. How God has blessed; how we have lost the blessing.

That little piece of land was extremely fertile and well traveled
one could see what the powers to the north and south wanted it and how the poor folks in the middle were oppressed as a result.


2:02 PM, February 24, 2006  
Blogger J. B. Hood said...


yes, it is interesting. I have to confess I gave this relatively little thought until late--probably because I live in urban, land-less America. But I think it's pretty important to think through the biblical content on this, and apply liberally.

4:58 PM, February 24, 2006  

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