The Torah’s Vision of Worship – Part II – The Liturgy of the Covenant

See here for outline of this project.

Having established some early themes with respect to creation and worship Balentine moves towards his most substantive account which are those texts revolving around Sinai.  It is helpful to hear his opening remarks about Sinai.

Among the earliest texts of the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Judg 5:5; Ps 68:9) YHWH is identified as ‘the One of Sinai’. . . . God is the One ‘of whom Sinai is characteristic.’  This identification with Sinai suggests two characteristics of God that are especially pertinent for the concerns of the present chapter.

First, the location of Sinai is finally indeterminate; it lies in the wilderness somewhere between Egypt and Canaan.  This elusiveness functions in the Hebraic tradition as a symbol of both YHWH’s freedom and YHWH’s authority.  Like Sinai, YHWH’s domain is beyond the boundaries of Egypt, of Canaan, of any given regime or state, ancient or modern, that may be located on a map.  Like Sinai, YHWH’s authority is not confined by, indeed may stand in opposition to, the sovereignty claimed by any earthly kingdom.

Second, Hebraic tradition identifies Sinai not primarily with an earthly place but with a divine act.  Sinai is the place of God’s salvation:  for Moses and the people who flee from the Egyptians (Exod. 19); for Deborah and Barak who defeat the Canaanites (Judg. 5 ); for Elijah who flees in despair from Jezebel and the putative powers of state-sanctioned Baalism (1 Kings 19).  Hebraic tradition asserts that whenever and wherever people encounter the God of Sinai, they will celebrate the memory of the One who rises up against the enemies of righteousness, nullifying their power and preserving the faithful with love and compassion (119).

This struck me as a highly significant characterization of Sinai worth quoting at length.  Balentine goes on to demonstrate the significance of this chronologically insignificant event stating that the Sinai pericope takes up nearly 40 percent of the Torah (120).  And while traditional historical-critical models would attempt to differentiate the covenant texts (Exod. 19-24) from the worship/liturgical texts (Exod. 25-31, 35-40; Lev 1-27; parts of Num.) Balentine is interested in the theological account that this aggregate vision offers.  He explores this through identifying three features : covenant vocation (Exod. 19-24); covenant as sanctuary building and as world building (Exod. 25-40); and ‘covenant holiness’ (Lev. 1-27).  I will explore each of these three sections in turn.


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