Theological Substructures

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On reading the Bible with its theological-literary devices.

The authors of the Bible didn’t write their books with chapters and numbers in the text. These were invented along the way to help us divide the books into manageable chunks. I think there’s a better way to read the text: based on the sub-structure created by the author themselves that reflect their theology.

To start, a reminder of the symbolism of the seven day Creation week:

A. Day One shows the creation of light, the Spirit of God hovering over the deep, and God speaking
B. Day Two is the creation of the firmament barrier between God and man; the necessity of mediators
C. Day Three is the separation of land and sea; the separation of Jew (land) and Gentile (sea)
D. Day Four is the creation of stars, sun, and moon, symbols of leaders
C’. Day Five is the creation of the hosts of the air (righteous) and land (unrighteous) and the first command
B’. Day Six is the creation of Adam and helpful land animals
A’. Day Seven is the day of Sabbath judgment, either good or bad

Heptameous structures usually follow the structure of the creation week. David A. Dorsey posits that Isaiah is divided into seven sections (rather than the erroneous divisions only between 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66). That one can be found in his book The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. I want to put forward and develop a system developed by James Jordan in the book of Ezekiel:

A. Day One: The presence of God; God taking the world into his hands; God speaking (1-7)
B. Day Two: The judgment of the mediators of the firmament (8-13)
C. Day Three: Arboreal Symbols of Judgment (14-19)
D. Day Four: City and Land to be Destroyed (20-23)
C’. Swarms of Nations to Fall Simultaneously (24-33:20)
B’. New Adam and New Eden (33:21-39:29)
A’. New Sabbath for God’s People (40-48)

There are two important points to remember about Chiasms: the middle point, in this case D, is the center of the book. The book hinges on this point to begin a backwards trek to where the book started (A back to A’). The second point is that two sections at the same point on the chiasm reflect each other (A is related to A’, A’ fleshes out details from A).

So, for Ezekiel, the judgment of the land and the destruction of the City are the central themes of his prophetic message. This is illustrated by looking at the C portions: the arboreal imagery of useless vines and eagles describes the land people and host of the air people of God (C) while the swarming nations of 24-33:20 are the watery hosts of chaos and disorder (C’). We then go out one point in the chiasm further to ask why this judgment has fallen. It is because those responsible for wedding Israel to Yahweh and acting as mediator between them have failed in their task (B). Yahweh’s answer to this is to resurrect the dry bones of his nation and wage war against Magog, king of Gog in the final eschatological battle (B’). The defeat of Gog and Magog usher in the final Sabbath of God’s people, a rest (A’). This is all predicated on the God who speaks to Ezekiel, making him an ember of fire who copies the movements of God’s chariot wheels (A).

Now that I’ve explained a little on the big picture side, how do the individual days of creation illuminate the book’s individual points? Finding a seven day creation sequence in a book is not just an added bonus: these seven slots fill out and teach us about the passages therein.

A side example: Deuteronomy is a sermon on the Ten Words. Starting with chapter 6, Moses preaches on the Ten Words he learned in Exodus 20 and meditated on for years. He dutifully arranges the laws he learned by Word, so we learn more about the function of laws. The commands to exterminate the Canaanites in chapters 7 and 20 fall into sections where Moses is preaching on the First Word and the Sixth Word. That means that Israel’s faithfulness in wiping out the seven, anti-creative Canaanite people is related to their faithfulness to the First Word, their submission to Yahweh alone, and to the Sixth Word, their devotion to their Heavenly Father.

With that in mind, we will look at each section and briefly touch on how these sections are expanding by knowing where they fall into the days of Creation.

A. God speaks to Ezekiel from his glorious chariot that only moves in right angles. When God speaks, we should be immediately drawn to the first time that he spoke and created. God speaks to a chaotic people, signaling a new creation (or decreation event). God appears in a stormy wind that is similar to the breath (ru’ach of God). Fire flashes forth continually: this is a well-lit event. Ezekiel is set as a watchman for Israel, an incarnated version of the Lampstand from the temple (compare to Ephesus in Revelation 2; another first day slot where God threatens to remove their influence as a lampstand).
B. We learn that the problem is that the priests are a failure. When the priests fail, what happens? Well, in the second day slot, we learn that they fail to cross the firmament divide between God and man. The role of the priest is to obey God’s every command down to the letter, wed his people, and cleanse them so that he can show them pure and blameless before the Lord when he comes to take Israel as his Bride. They have failed, causing God to stop dwelling among them.
C. The judgment is pictured in terms of plants. Plants were created both to teach us about the righteous and the unrighteous (Psalm 1) and to be cultivated to produce wine and bread. Section three starts with a world-wide judgment remniscent of the Flood of Noah’s time (14:12-23). Noah then became a wine-keeper, and we see a useless vine grow out of the flood (15:1-8) compared to the good vineyard that Noah grew.
D. The destruction of the land and city sitting the fourth day slot shows us the dimming of the stars in Heaven. In Numbers, Israel is pictured as a moving celestial body, stars marching across the wilderness. The stars have found a resting place, but they are to be removed from the sky.
C’. The nations are a swarming creature who disobeyed God’s commands. Day Five has the first command, so it is implicitly the place with the first curse. The nations fail to follow God’s command and are cursed. They are judged in appropriate symbolism like Israel was judged in correct symbolism.
B’. Israel’s resurrection is pictured as a new Adam event. God cuts a covenant of peace with them (34:24-31); their enemies are judged (35); good news is preached to the mountains of Israel (where temples are built, 36); the Spirit dwells among the people and breath is breathed into dust (36-37) and they will again dwell with God as God dwelt with man in the temple.
A’. A new Sabbath is imagined in the new temple. This new temple is an entire city that the nations can look into through the twelve windows and see the way that God dwells with his people.

Finding the seven days of Creation is tough, but I think it’s worth it to see how Genesis speaks to Ezekiel and how Ezekiel views his prophecy as a message of new creation. Sometimes it is good to be handed a single section of Scripture and have it explained to you. The more you reflect on the seven day structure in one place, the easier it may be to find it in a different place. The Spirit of God inspired these sections, so the Spirit can also help illuminate them.

BONUS:

Ezekiel 21 is a reflection on Isaiah 34.

For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom, upon the people I have devoted to destruction. The Lord has a sword; it is sated with blood; it is gorged with fat, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams. For the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah, a great slaughter in the land of Edom. Wild oxen shall fall with them, and young steers with the mighty bulls. Their land shall drink its fill of blood, and their soil shall be gorged with fat.

The difference is that rather than being pointed at the nations as it is in Isaiah, Ezekiel sees God’s lightning sword pointed at Jerusalem. This is because the nation of Israel has become an unfaithful people, a Bride who has turned away from her husband as a whore. The passage in Isaiah 34 is based on the Song of Moses:

“‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift up my hand to heaven and swear, As I live forever, if I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand takes hold on judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and will repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh—with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired heads of the enemy.’

The symbolism is expanded on in Ezekiel’s prophecy: Israel’s apostasy is now made even more deep: Yahweh sharpens his sword only against those who hate him and those who are adversarial to him. Israel’s apostasy to foreign idols is a complete rejection of Yahweh and is an example of the nation positing themselves as Yahweh’s enemy. The sacrificial language of Isaiah is a reflection of Deuteronomy 7, where herem warfare is an example of Levitical sacrifice. Yahweh’s slaughter of the nations in Isaiah 34 as a sacrifice is now turned to Israel. Israel will be put to the sword and set to fire (cf. Leviticus 1) that they may ascend to Yahweh as smoke that he may devour them. After Israel has died and ascended to Yahweh, he will cause his breath to fill their bones and bring them to life. Israel must die before she can be resurrected as people who have replaced their stone hearts with the hearts of the Spirit.

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