Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Holy Oath

If you want to understand the Bible, then you have to get to the correct starting point. If you start wrong, then your hermeneutics will be a disaster. This is a big part of the problem with 20th Century Lutheran exegesis. Some may have read Fuehrbringers "Hermeneutical rules." If you have read them, then you know that you could assign that as your penance for Lent.

It is not that Fuehrbringer wasn't sincere. He may have had good motives for writing the hermeneutical rules. The problem is that he started in the wrong spot. Fuehrbringer was trying to give us rules so we knew where we could *not* go in hermeneutics. In other words, among other things, he is telling us what in the Old Testament is a prophecy of Christ and what isn't. Well, I am sorry Dr. Fuehrbringer, but I recall Jesus saying that "Moses and the Prophets speak concerning me." I don't think He said that only some of it prophecies of Jesus. Good intentions, wrong starting place. Where should we start in hermeneutics? We start with Jesus and His cross. That is the interpretive lens which then examines the whole of scripture.

One place that may not seem Christological at first is the oath that Abraham's servant takes. Genesis 24 tells us that Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things--a statement of God's love and mercy to His people. We are then told, "So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, 'Please put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear byh the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.'"

It is rather comical to think of German Lutherans ever being comfortable with this practice. Why? It is up close and personal. The servant is placing his hand on the inner thigh just under Abraham's groin. The Hebrew is "Yarek" and the Greek is "maron." This is the seat of the fruit of Abraham's offspring. Why would this action be a part of the oath (and the action itself is a part of the oath! )? It goes back to Genesis 12:1-3 where God promises to Abraham that he will become a great nation. The descendants as much as the sand on the seashore are situated right there inside that inner thigh where the servant places his hand. There's a twist, of course. What makes his "yarek" so significant isn't that there will be countless "sons of Abraham." What makes this "yarek" so important is the one, singular Divine seed who is the Messiah who shall come from the inner thigh of Abraham.

There is more to it than that, of course. Jacob seeks a similar oath just before his death. Moses records for us, "When the time for Israel (Jacob) to die drew near, he called his son Joseph an said to him, 'Please, if I have found favor in your sight, place now your hand under my thigh(yarek) and deal with me in kindness and faithfulness. Please do not bury me in Egypt, but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.' And he said, 'I will do as you have said.' He said, 'swear to me.' So he swore to him. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed"(Genesis 47:29-31).

This time it is Jacob's "yarek" and it is in reference to Jacob's being buried with his fathers, ie. Abraham and Isaac. It is important that Jacob says, "do not bury me in Egypt." Egypt, like all other pagan lands, is the haunt of Satan. The land of the fathers is the closest thing to the Garden of Eden. God, in the Old Testament, localized salvation. He attached the promise of the seed to the land of Canaan. "And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared to him"(Genesis 12:7). Abraham was later buried in the land of Canaan by Mamre, which would later be the land which God would bring His people Israel into. Joseph promised on oath to bury his father there as well (Genesis 49:29-33).

Joseph's placing of his hand on Jacob's inner thigh was another recognition of the Messianic seed, which now dwelt within Jacob's loins. Jacob, wanting to be buried with his fathers was the recognition of the connection between God's promise that Abraham would have descendants like the sand on the shore and the holy land which God would give. (Why this land is connected with the promise cannot be dealt with here.)

The question then arises as to how we can know that this hand on the thigh is Messianic and not just some cultural practice. How do we know this is Messianic? Well, if we start at the correct place, hermeneutically speaking, then we start with Jesus and work backwards. The book of Revelation gives us the clue as to the hand on the inner thigh. What is the significance? Revelation 19 records for us a vision that St. John has of Jesus: And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. He eyes were asa a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God"(Revelation 19:11-13).

What a picture, but it is what comes next that is definitive in our study of this topic. "And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS"(Revelation 19:16). If one reads that section too quickly or without the hermeneutical lens pointed toward the Old Testament, then it will be missed. The same word is used for thigh that is used in the Septuagint for "yarek," "maron." St. John sees the answer. He gives us the interpretive lens for the Old Testament. On the inner thigh of Jesus in glory, on the same place that Abraham's servant and Joseph place their hands on the Patriarchs, rest the words "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. There, in the loins of the partiarchs, where the future and offspring of promise rested was the KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. The humanity, the flesh of the Son of God was resting until the appointed time of His coming through the womb of a virgin, so that God would save mankind and truly bring forth the sons of Abraham through faith and a new rest with the fathers would be found within Jesus Himself.

For, all of Abraham's descendants by faith rest within the "yarek" the divine thigh of Jesus, the church which is fruitful and produces offspring through the blood of Christ and through His Holy and precious preachment--the hermeneutical lens that brings life to the Scriptures and to the souls of the faithful.

Sorry to disappoint, Ludwig, but all I need is to look at Christ and His cross and then His divine scriptures come to life and point me to the way of salvation.

+Fr. Chadius