Revelatory Crucicentricity, Part II: Old Testament Call Narratives
This post is the sequel to an earlier article titled: “Revelatory Crucicentricity: 1 Samuel 16 and 1 Kings 19 as Kenotic Patterns.”
In a previous article, I argued that the kenotic tendency of God clearly evidenced in the Incarnation, Passion, and Death of Christ (Phil 2:5-11) is on display in both the selection of David, the youngest of his brothers, to be anointed King of Israel (1 Sam 16) and Elijah’s encounter with God in the still, small voice rather than in violent natural phenomena (1 Kings 19).
The pinnacle of all divine revelation is the crucified Christ. While the crucifixion occurred chronologically after the events depicted in the Old Testament, it has a logical priority in God’s economy of salvation (cf. Rev 13:8). Therefore, the crucified God is the hermeneutic by which all revelation must be interpreted. This is the point articulated by Martin Luther in theses 19-20 of The Heidelberg Disputation: “One is not worthy to be called a theologian who would look at the invisible dimensions of God as if they could be perceived through what has been made…A theologian, rather, would look at the visible backside of God as seen through suffering and the cross….God can only be found in suffering and the cross.”
This is not circularity, but rather a kind of “spiral”: all revelation comes from God while simultaneously pointing back to him. The cross is a revelatory key giving us insight into who God is so that we can decipher the rest of his self-expression. The Old Testament, while a chronological precursor to the Crucifixion event, nevertheless springs from it. The God who died on Golgotha is the same God active in the Old Testament. As a result, Christian readers can expect to find God’s cruciform nature imprinted onto the Scriptures.
One common pattern which demonstrates the crucicentric rhythm of Old Testament revelation is the call narrative. Call narratives are predominantly variations on a theme that begins in Genesis 3. After our primeval parents eat the fruit, they become aware of their nakedness and hastily fashion garments of fig leaves. When God walks through the garden in the cool of the day, they attempt to hide from him. but he calls out to them, “Where are you?” Realizing hiding is futile, Adam responds, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” His answer betrays their transgression. As merciful punishment, God removes them from the Garden, bestowing them with curses. However, in the midst of the maledictions, God provides them a glimmer of hope: “I will put enmity between [the serpent] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The first call narrative epitomizes fallen humanity’s unnatural response to God: resistance and a turn inward toward the self instead of outward toward God. Yet, even in the midst of human incapacity, God provides hope for redemption.
The next major call narrative in the Old Testament occurs in Exodus 3-4 when Moses encounters God in the burning bush. God calls to him from the bush and Moses responds, “Here am I.” God’s call is oriented toward the liberation of his people from slavery in Egypt. But Moses’ initial response is one of self-doubt, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” But God is patient and reassuring, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this morning.” Despite God’s reassurance, Moses continues to resist, asking for God’s name in the event that the Israelites disbelieve him. This is the first time God directly introduces his name to a human in the biblical record: “I Am Who I Am.” Still, Moses remains unconvinced, so God gives him two signs by turning his staff into a snake and making his hand leprous. Yet even with these signs, Moses continues to doubt his own ability to accomplish the task. The genuinely insidious aspect of Moses’ self-doubt comes into view: it is actually doubt in God’s power. “Oh, My Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” God points out the obvious: “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” Even still, Moses resists, insisting that God sends someone else which incurs God’s anger. Finally, Moses relents and follows God’s instruction, but only after significant opposition; he leads the people out of Egypt only after God performs miraculous signs and wonders.
Gideon’s call (Judges 6:11-27) follows a similar pattern. It occurs in the context of Israel’s oppression at the hand of the Midianites. The angel of the Lord comes to Gideon, stating that the Lord is with him and calling him a “mighty man of valor.” The external circumstances cause Gideon to doubt, for “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this befallen us?” God’s answer is to call him to rescue Israel, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” Like Moses, Gideon focuses his doubt on his own inadequacies, “Pray, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Yet, Gideon still requires a sign, which the Lord provides as a flame which springs from a rock to consume meat and unleavened cakes. This sign causes Gideon to yield to God and his obedience becomes the instrument whereby God affects the liberation he promised.
The final two call narratives which reflect revelatory crucicentricity are prophetic: Isaiah and Jeremiah. In Isaiah 6, the prophet is transported to the Throne Room of God where he experiences the awesomeness of heavenly worship. Being in such a holy place turns Isaiah’s attention inward to his own inadequacies, filling him with an angst that requires him to cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” His cry is reflective of the woman who mourns at the feet of Jesus (Luke 7:36-50) who, according to Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, is a model for all who come into the presence of God because she expresses, “I am capable of literally nothing at all, he is absolutely everything.” Isaiah’s cry of despair at his inadequacy provokes a seraph to take a burning coal from the heavenly altar and touch Isaiah’s lips, proclaiming, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin forgiven.” When the Lord then requests a prophetic witness, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah volunteers, “Here am I! Send me.”
And Jeremiah’s call is similar, though without the magnificent setting. When the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah, informing him that he has been chosen by God to be a prophet before he was formed in the womb, he protests, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” This objection is reminiscent of Moses’ resistance in Exodus, as each man points to a factor beyond his control as an impediment to God’s calling. Moses is slow of speech and Jeremiah lacks skill due to his age. Also, like with Moses, God chastises Jeremiah for his excuse, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then, the Lord reaches out and touches his mouth, like what occurred with Isaiah and the coal. This highlights that the words Jeremiah would speak did not originate from within him nor could his effectiveness be reduced to rhetorical genius; rather, God’s power is made manifest in Jeremiah’s ministry.
The various stories of callings in the Old Testament are narrative embodiments of the divine tendency to be made manifest in the moment of human weakness. By revelation God “will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart” (1 Cor 1:19). The Cross is certainly the pinnacle of divine revelation, and it is simultaneously the culmination of a larger revelatory trajectory which shows the perfection of God’s power in the depths of weakness. The Cross may confound the wisdom of the wise, but the reader of the Scriptures should be able to discern a common theme: the God displayed to us at Golgotha is the same God at work in the Old Testament.