If we would trace out the Old Testament’s peculiarly ambiguous, unemphatic and yet widely broadcast observations on ‘revelation’ and turn them to good account for dogmatics, then it is not advisable to set out from the assumption that every man’s existence, threatened as it is by chaos and transience, leads him to ask after ‘revelation’, nor yet to start with the question how the hidden God, the Origin and the Absolute, becomes manifest to men estranged from him. Rather, it is essential to let the Old Testament itself not only provide the answers, but also pose the problem of revelation, before we draw systematic conclusions. If this is to be attempted in the following pages, it is of course impossible to enter into questions of a detailed exegesis. But it will have to be a case of clarifying and defining the concepts employed in exegesis. In so doing we shall often come upon religious-historical ideas, and shall also have to employ such ideas. That, however, is not intended to imply any general religious-historical presuppositions. Our task is not to take the various religious ideas and forms of belief and subsume them under a general concept of religion. But the contours of what is meant by promise and hope stand out most clearly in face of other religions and forms of belief which are grappled with and contested, and for that reason they can best be illumined in comparison and contrast.
I. Epiphany Religions and Faith in Terms of Promise
If we ask for a summary statement of the conclusions emerging from the study of the history of religion in Israel and the surrounding oriental world, then the Old Testament materials appear from this standpoint to be ‘syncretistic documents’. ‘Israel achieved a syncretism between the religion of the nomad and of the Canaanite peasant. It is through this syncretism that it became what it was in classical times.’(V. Maag, ‘Malkût Jhwh’, VT Sppl. VII (Congress Volume: Oxford 1959), 1960, p. 137) The term ‘syncretism’ here calls for further clarification. It certainly cannot mean an easy blend of disparate elements nor yet, of course, an alliance between hostile brethren against a third, common enemy, as was originally the case with the Cretans. It cannot even mean mere intermixture, but is intended to express the process of struggle between two mutually incompatible forms of faith. It is a struggle which is kindled in various historic situations by various matters about which conflict arises and, precisely from the various tensions, we are enabled to recognize the peculiarity of the contending parties. The exact nature of the two opposing sides cannot at any point be defined in spatial or temporal, and indeed hardly even in clearcut ideological terms. And yet the process of struggle is apparent at every point, both in Israel’s conflict with its neighbors and also within the empirical Israel itself. It can be seen specially clearly in specific historic situations. It can also be latent for centuries and obscured to the point of being unrecognizable. While the ‘peculiar religious position’ of Israel can consequently hardly be stated in terms of a unique ‘religion of Israel’, it certainly does emerge in the fact that such a process of tense struggle pervades its whole history.
The definition of these tendencies of tension in general terms of the history of culture and of religion has to my mind been most clearly stated by Victor Maag, following Martin Buber and others. He sees the tension in the fact that in the Israel of Palestine the vectoral and kinetic elements of the old nomad religion and the static elements of the peasant religion of Canaan meet each other. ‘Nomadic religion is a religion of promise. The nomad does not live within the cycle of seed-time and harvest, but in the world of migration.(Ibid., p. 140.) ‘This inspiring, guiding, protecting God of the nomads differs quite fundamentally in various respects from the gods of the agrarian peoples. The gods of the nations are locally bound. The transmigration God of the nomads, however, is not bound territorially and locally. He journeys along with them, is himself on the move.’(Ibid., pp. 139f.) The result of this is a different understanding of existence: ‘Here existence is felt as history. This God leads men to a future which is not mere repetition and confirmation of the present, but is the goal of the events that are now taking place. The goal gives meaning to the journey and its distresses; and today’s decision to trust in the call of God is a decision pregnant with future. This is the essence of promise in the light of transmigration.’(Ibid. p. 140.)
No doubt Maag’s view of the nomad religion of promise in contrast to the mythical and magical religion of peasant culture contains typical ideal elements, but it does make intelligible the tension in which Israel found itself and — what is still more important — it gives significance to the question how and by what means it came about that when Israel passed from the nomadic and semi-nomadic life to the settled life of Canaan it did not, like all peoples and tribes on crossing this first cultural frontier of human life, abandon the nomad religion and the God of promise in favor of the epiphany gods that sanctify land, life and culture, but was able to take the occupation of the land and the fact of building and dwelling in the land and incorporate them in the original religion of promise as a new experience of history. The peculiar thing about the Israel of history appears to lie neither in its nomadic origin, which it had in common with others, nor in the occupation of the land and the transition to agricultural and municipal life, which it likewise had in common with others, but in the fact which causes this process of conflict and is manifested in various situations — the fact that the Israelite tribes took the wilderness God of promise with them from the wilderness along with the corresponding understanding of existence and the world, retained them in the land amid the totally new experiences of agrarian life, and endeavored to undergo and to master the new experiences in the land in the light of the God of promise.
The process of conflict which this entailed is seen very clearly in the relationship to God, and here in turn in the ideas of the appearing and revealing of God. The oldest usage, and one presumably common to the whole orient, is found where the deity ‘discloses himself’.(R. Rendtorff, ‘Die Offenbarungsvorxtellungen im Alten Israel, in Offenbarung als Geschichte, 1951, pp. 23f.) The Niphal of ra’ah is a terminus technicus for such hierophanies. These are originally bound to a specific place, which is then honored in the cultus as a place of the divine epiphany. In Exodus 3.2 we find an expression of this kind: ‘And the mal’ak Jahwe appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush.’ The land of oriental culture is full to the brim of such appearances through which places are sanctified to become places of the cultus. Stones, waters, trees, groves, mountains, etc., can become the bearers of hierophanies. There arise cult legends which provide the etiology of such sacred places and rituals which bestow divine hallowing on the land round about and on those who dwell on it and cultivate it. Such places of the cultus are gateways, as it were, through which the gods come to hallow the land, and the men who dwell upon it experience the sanctifying of their cultivation of the land. Men thus ‘live as close as possible to the gods’ (M. Eliade).(M. Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion, ET by W.R. Trask, 1961, pp. 24 ff., 91 ff.) In the cultus at the place of the hierophany their culture is secured against chaos by being anchored in the original sacred event of the cosmogony, or by being connected with the sacred center of the world. Constructive enterprise and residential life is sanctified and protected by means of mythical, magical and ritual relationships of correspondence with the eternal, the original, the holy, and the cosmic order.
In corresponding ways time, whose passage discloses the horrors of chaos, is ordered and sanctified by means of sacred festivals which celebrate the epiphany, the arrival of the gods, and so make men ‘contemporaries of the gods’. Time the destroyer is regenerated by means of periodic return to the time of the first beginning. To the sanctification conferred at the places of epiphany upon the area in which man lives and builds, menaced as it is by chaos, there corresponds the sanctification of time in the cyclic recurrence of the epiphany of the gods in times of festival.(W. F. Otto, Die Gestalt und das Sein, 1955, p. 255 ‘The festival always means the return of a world hour at which the most ancient, most venerable and most glorious state is here again; a return of the golden age in which our ancestors had such close intercourse with the gods and the spirits. This is the point of festive exaltation which, wherever there are real festivals, is different from all other gravity and all other joy.’)
Whether men polytheistically worship a number of local deities, or pantheistically find all times and places full of the divine (Thales: ),(On the fundamental significance of this statement for the religion and philosophy pf ancient Greece, cf. W. Jaeger, Die Theologie der frühen griechischen Denker, 1953, pp. 31ff.) whether the invisible, the original divine world, becomes epiphanous through a series of intermediate authorities, whether princes set up as , or teachers and miracle-workers as , or whether this divine, absolute eternal Origin is conceived as becoming epiphanous through itself — all this makes no essential difference here, but is a continuation and sublimation of this epiphany religion which revolves around the . This epiphany religion forms the presupposition and the abiding foundation of the natural theology of Greek philosophy of religion, and of oriental philosophies of religion. It gives rise to what is here the decisive question of the ‘self-disclosing’, ‘appearing’, ‘revealing’ of the divine. It is here important to see that these epiphanies have their point in themselves, in their coming about. For where they come about, there comes the hallowing of place, of time and of men in that act in which man’s ever-threatened culture is granted correspondence with, and participation in, the eternal divine cosmos. The threat to human existence from the forces of chaos and of annihilation is overcome through the epiphany of the eternal present. Man’s being comes into congruence with eternal being, understands itself in correspondence and participation as protected by the presence of the eternal.
Now the striking thing is, that Israel was but little concerned to understand the essential meaning of the ‘appearances’ of Yahweh in terms of such hallowing of places and times, but for Israel the ‘appearing’ of God is immediately linked up with the uttering of a word of divine promise.(R. Rendtorfl op. ,At., p. 24. Likewise also W. Zimmerli, ‘‘Offenbarung” im Alten Testament’, EvTh 22, 1962, p. 16: ‘The sacredness of a place is supposed to be legitimized through the account of the appearing of the deity at this place. Then, however, we find in the Old Testament a development in which it is increasingly only the mainstay of the that remains — less and less weight attaches to the sensually perceptible appearing of Yahweh, but instead the divine word of promise is brought out ever more fully as the real content of the scenes of revelation. The emphasis is shifted away from the sensually perceptible appearance, the manifestation of Yahweh, on to the announcement of his action.’) Where Yahweh ‘appears’, it is manifestly not in the first instance a question of cultivating the place and time of his appearance. The point of the appearances to particular men in particular situations lies in the promise. The promise, however, points away from the appearances in which it is uttered, into the as yet unrealized future which it announces. The point of the appearance then lies not in itself, but in the promise which becomes audible in it, and in the future to which it points. In the various strata of the tradition of such appearances of promise, the concomitant circumstances of epiphany then actually take second place in Israel’s faith to the call and the pointer to the future. With that, the concept of revelation found in the epiphany religions is transformed. It is subordinated to the event of promise. Revelation is understood from the standpoint of the promise contained in the revelation. Here Yahweh’s revelation manifestly does not serve to bring the ever-threatened present into congruence with his eternity. On the contrary, its effect is that the hearers of the promise become incongruous with the reality around them, as they strike out in hope towards the promised new future. The result is not the religious sanctioning of the present, but a break-away from the present towards the future. If the mythical and magical cults of the epiphany religions have the purpose of annihilating the terrors of history by anchoring life in the original sacred event, and if in tendency they are ‘anti-historical’ (M. Eliade),(M. Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, ET by W.R. Trask, 1955, p. 152.) then the God who gives his promises in the event of promise is one who makes possible for the very first time the feeling for history in the category of the future, and consequently has a ‘historicizing’ effect.(G. von Rad, Theologie des Alten Testamentes II, 1960, p. 117 [ET by D.M.G. Stalker: Old Testament Theology, 1965, p. 104]) This tendency to run counter to the mythical world by understanding epiphany and revelation from the standpoint of the event of promise is manifestly the reason why the words for ‘revelation’ are employed in the Old Testament so ambiguously and unsystematically. Yahweh is not in this sense an ‘apparitional God’. The sense and purpose of his ‘appearances’ lies not in themselves, but in the promise and its future.
The effects of the struggle in the history of Israel between faith in terms of promise and religion in terms of epiphany have been brought out by Old Testament research at many points. Where the bands of Israel enter the land, they receive the land and the new experiences of settled life as ‘fulfillment of the promise’, as realization of the pledge given in the wilderness by the God of promise who had caused their fathers to journey into it. Life amid the fullness and increase of their own people is likewise understood in the light of the promise. Thus the assurance of their own existence is attained through historic remembrance of the previous promise of the God who guided their nomad fathers, and the gift of land and people is seen as the visibly maintained faithfulness of Yahweh. This is an essentially different assurance of existence from what Israel found in the land and fertility cults of Palestine. Land and life are not brought into congruence with the gods by means of an epiphany religion, but are understood as a piece of history in the vast course of the history of promise.(W. Zimmerli, ‘Verheissung und Erfüllung’ EvTh 12, 1952, pp. 39ff.)
The cyclic annual festivals of nature religion which Israel found waiting for it and duly took over, are subjected to an important ‘historicizing’. They are interpreted in terms of the historic data of the history of promise.(G. von Rad, op. cit., pp. 117ff. [ET pp. 104ff.])
The mythical and magical rituals which establish the above-mentioned relationship of correspondence between threatened human existence and the protecting divine being are ‘futurized’, i.e. they are interpreted in terms of the future of the divine promise. V. Maag has pointed this out in the case of the rituals of the kingdom cult of Jerusalem.(‘V. Maag, op. cit., p. 150: ‘When the ritual of Jerusalem spoke of the king who would bring world peace, then the heart of the former nomad still heard this in the categories of expectation and understood it in the same way as the ancestral promises. Thus what was by origin a magical formula became a divine promise for the future.’ His observation on p. 114 is also interesting: ‘What order is in this world, was settled by the cosmogonic gods once for all at the start. The myth and ritual of the New Year festival provide the most forceful sanction conceivable for what has positive existence and validity in state and society. This static positivism knows no new horizons towards which a people could be led, no God who is on the way to letting men see what they have never yet seen. . . . To a positivism of this kind, however, Yahweh never really submitted, even though court and temple circles naturally also tried to impose it on him.’) What by their origin were magical formulae are integrated into the divine promise for the future. The expression ‘eschatology’ which is employed at this point for the new sense in which the mythical and magical formulae are re-interpreted, is rightly a disputed term, since it normally means the ‘last’ things and not merely ‘future’ things. For that reason it will be better to refer to the basic character of a religion of promise. In this we could find the continuing source and driving force of such re-interpretations in these stages of the history of Israel. As it is impossible to find the source of ‘eschatology’ in the empty heart that has experienced disappointment with cult and ritual, so it is equally impossible to speak of eschatology of the nomads. But it might well be that the faith which lives in terms of promise could prove to be the primum movens which enabled Israel, or at least specific circles in the empirical Israel, to master the situations of the land settlement and later to master the situations of world history. The whole force of promise, and of faith in terms of promise, is essentially to keep men on the move in a tense inadaequatio rei et intellectus as long as the promissio which governs the intellectus has not yet found its answer in reality. It is in promise, which keeps the hoping mind in a ‘not yet’ which transcends all experience and history, that we find the ground for the breakdown of the mythical and magical relations of correspondence, for the ‘historicizing’ of the nature festivals in terms of the data of the history of promise, and for the futurizing of their content in terms of the future of the promise. It is from promise that there arises that element of unrest which allows of no coming to terms with a present that is unfulfilled. Under the guiding star of promise this reality is not experienced as a divinely stabilized cosmos, but as history in terms of moving on, leaving things behind and striking out towards new horizons as yet unseen. The real question now is whether and how experiences of a new kind in the occupation of the land and later in the conflicts of world history are mastered by faith in the promise, how they are incorporated into the promise that transcends every present, and how the promise is expounded and unraveled in these experiences.
2. The Word of Promise
If in the word promise we have before us a key-word of Israel’s ‘religion of expectation’, then it must now be explained what we have to understand by ‘promise’ and more specifically by the ‘promise of (the guide-) God’.(For the expression ‘guide-God’ cf. M. Buber, Konigtum Gottes, 2nd ed., 1936, p. xi, The Prophetic Faith, ET by C. Witton Davies, 1949, p. 10.)
(a) A promise is a declaration which announces the coming of a reality that does not yet exist. Thus promise sets man’s heart on a future history in which the fulfilling of the promise is to be expected. If it is a case of a divine promise, then that indicates that the expected future does not have to develop within the framework of the possibilities inherent in the present, but arises from that which is possible to the God of the promise. This can also be something which by the standard of present experience appears impossible.(‘For what follows cf. the definitions of promise by W. Zimmerli, ‘Verheissung und Erfullung’, EvTh 12, 1952, pp. 38 ff.)
(b) The promise binds man to the future and gives him a sense for history. It does not give him a sense for world history in general, nor yet for the historic character of human existence as such, but it binds him to its own peculiar history. Its future is not the vague goal of possible change, nor the hope aroused by the idea of possible change; it is not openness towards coming events as such. The future which it discloses is made possible and determined by the promised fulfillment. It is in the first instance always a question here of Buber’s ‘hopes of history’. The promise takes man up into its own history in hope and obedience, and in so doing stamps his existence with a historic character of a specific kind.
(c) The history which is initiated and determined by promise does not consist in cyclic recurrence, but has a definite trend towards the promised and outstanding fulfillment. This irreversible direction is not determined by the urge of vague forces or by the emergence of laws of its own, but by the word of direction that points us to the free power and the faithfulness of God. It is not evolution, progress and advance that separate time into yesterday and tomorrow, but the word of promise cuts into events and divides reality into one reality which is passing and can be left behind, and another which must be expected and sought. The meaning of past and the meaning of future comes to light in the word of promise.
(d) If the word is a word of promise, then that means that this word has not yet found a reality congruous with it, but that on the contrary it stands in contradiction to the reality open to experience now and heretofore. It is only for that reason that the word of promise can give rise to the doubt that measures the word by the standard of given reality. And it is only for that reason that this word can give rise to the faith that measures present reality by the standard of the word. ‘Future’ is here a designation of that reality in which the word of promise finds its counterpart, its answer and its fulfillment, in which it discovers or creates a reality which accords with it and in which it comes to rest.
(e) The word of promise therefore always creates an interval of tension between the uttering and the redeeming of the promise. In so doing it provides man with a peculiar area of freedom to obey or disobey, to be hopeful or resigned. The promise institutes this period and obviously stands in correspondence with what happens in it. This, as W. Zimmerli has illuminatingly pointed out, distinguishes the promise from the prophecies of a Cassandra and differentiates the resulting expectation of history from belief in fate.(W. Zimmerli)
(f) If the promise is not regarded abstractly apart from the God who promises, but its fulfillment is entrusted directly to God in his freedom and faithfulness, then there can be no burning interest in constructing a hard and fast juridical system of historic necessities according to a schema of promise and fulfillment — neither by demonstrating the functioning of such a schema in the past nor by making calculations for the future. Rather, the fulfillments can very well contain an element of newness and surprise over against the promise as it was received. That is why the promise also does not fall to pieces along with the historical circumstances or the historical thought forms in which it was received, but can transform itself — by interpretation — without losing its character of certainty, of expectation and of movement. If they are God’s promises, then God must also be regarded as the subject of their fulfillment.
(g) The peculiar character of the Old Testament promises can be seen in the fact that the promises were not liquidated by the history of Israel — neither by disappointment nor by fulfillment — but that on the contrary Israel’s experience of history gave them a constantly new and wider interpretation. This aspect comes to light when we ask how it came about that the tribes of Israel did not proceed to change their gods on the occupation of the promised land, but the wilderness God of promise remained their God in Canaan. Actually, the ancestral promises are fulfilled in the occupation of the land and the multiplication of the people, and the wilderness God of promise makes himself superfluous to the extent that his promises pass into fulfillment. The settled life to which they have attained in the land has little more to do with the God of promise on the journey through the wilderness. For the mastering of the agrarian culture the local gods are to hand. It could of course be said that the ancestral promises regarding the land have now been fulfilled and liquidated but that, for example, the promises of guidance and protection for the hosts of Israel in the holy wars continue and are still live issues. But it could also be said that the God who is recognized in his promises remains superior to any fulfillment that can be experienced, because in every fulfillment the promise, and what is still contained in it, does not yet become wholly congruent with reality and thus there always remains an overspill. The fulfillments in the occupation of the land do not fulfil the promise in the sense that they liquidate it like a cheque that is cashed and lock it away among the documents of a glorious past. The ‘fulfillments’ are taken as expositions, confirmations and expansions of the promise. The greater the fulfillments become, the greater the promise obviously also becomes in the memory of the expositor at the various levels of the tradition in which it is handed down. There is no trace here of what could be called the ‘melancholy of fulfillment’. This peculiar fact of the promise that goes on beyond experiences of fulfillment could also be illustrated by the traces the promise leaves in the hopes and desires of men. It is ultimately not the delays in the fulfillment and in the parousia that bring men disappointment. ‘Disappointing experiences’ of this kind are superficial and trite and come of regarding the promise in legalistic abstraction apart from the God who promises. On the contrary, it is every experience of fulfillment which, to the extent that we reflect on it as an experience behind us, ultimately contains a disappointment. Man’s hopes and longings and desires, once awakened by specific promises, stretch further than any fulfillment that can be conceived or experienced. However limited the promises may be, once we have caught in them a Whiff of the future, we remain restless and urgent, seeking and searching beyond all experiences of fulfillment, and the latter leave us an aftertaste of sadness. The ‘not yet’ of expectation surpasses every fulfillment that is already taking place now. Hence every reality in which a fulfillment is already taking place now, becomes the confirmation, exposition and liberation of a greater hope. If we would use this as a help towards understanding the ‘expanding and broadening history of promise’,(G. von Rad, ‘Typologische Auslegung des Alten Testamentes’, EvTh 12, 1952, pp. 25 f.) if we ask the reason for the abiding overplus of promise as compared with history, then we must again abandon every abstract schema -of promise and fulfillment. We must then have recourse to the theological interpretation of this process: the reason for the overplus of promise and for the fact that it constantly overspills history lies in the inexhaustibility of the God of promise, who never exhausts himself in any historic reality but comes ‘to rest’ only in a reality that wholly corresponds to him.(G. von Rad, ‘Es ist noch eine Ruhe vorhanden dem Volke Gottes’ (1933) in Ges. Studien zum Alten Testament (Theologische Bücherci 8), pp. 101 ff. (ET ‘There Remains Still a Rest for the People of God’, The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays, 1966, pp. 94 ff.).
3. The Experience of History
Beneath the star of the promise of God it becomes possible to experience reality as ‘history’. The stage for what can be experienced, remembered and expected as ‘history’ is set and filled, revealed and fashioned, by promise.
The promises of God disclose the horizons of history — whereby ‘horizon’, as it is aptly put by H. G. Gadamer, is not to be understood as ‘a rigid boundary’, but as ‘a thing towards which we are moving, and which moves along with us’.(H.G. Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 1960, pp. 231 f., 286 ff.) Israel lived within these moving horizons of promise and experienced reality within the fields of tension they involve. Even when the period of nomadic wanderings ended in Palestine, this mode of experiencing, remembering and expecting reality as history still remained and characterized this people’s wholly peculiar relation to time. The realm of Palestinian culture did not turn time for them into a figure of cyclic recurrence, but on the contrary, a historic experience of time repeatedly asserted itself prevailingly over an unhistoric experience of space and turned the occupied areas (bewohnte Raüme) of the land into temporal periods (Zeiträume) of an all-embracing history.
What could here be experienced as ‘history’ in the potential changes of reality always reached as far as the promises of God stretched men’s memories and expectations. ‘Israel’s history existed only in so far as God accompanied her, and it is only this time-span which can properly be described as her history.’(G. von Rad, Theologie des Alten Testamentes II, 1960, p. 120 [ET p. 106]) This fact of God’s accompanying his people, however, was always seen within the area of tension between a manifest promise on the one hand and the expected redeeming of this promise on the other. It was within the span of this tension that history became of interest to Israel. ‘Only where Yahweh had revealed himself in his word and acts did history exist for Israel.’(G. von Rad, ‘Offene Fragen im Umkreis einer Theologie des Alten Testamentes’, TLZ 88, 1963, col. 409.) This means, however, that the experience of reality as history was made possible for Israel by the fact that God was revealed to Israel in his promises and that Israel saw the revealing of God again and again in the uttering of his promises.
Now, if events are thus experienced within the horizon of remembered and expected promises, then they are experienced as truly ‘historic’ events. They do not then have only the accidental, individual and relative character which we normally ascribed to historic events, but then they have always at the same time also an unfinished and provisional character that points forwards. Not only words of promise, but also the events themselves, in so far as they are experienced as ‘historic’ events within the horizon of promise and hope, bear the mask of something that is still outstanding, not yet finalized, not yet realized. ‘Here everything is in motion, the accounts never balance, and fulfillment unexpectedly gives rise in turn to another promise of something greater still. Here nothing has its ultimate meaning in itself, but is always an earnest of something still greater.’(G. von Rad, ‘Typologische Auslegung’, op. cit., p. 29. cf. also p. 30: ‘Thus in the presentation of a fact there is very often something that transcends what actually happened.’) The overspill of promise means that the facts of history can never be regarded as processes complete in themselves which have had their day and can manifest their own truth by themselves. They must be understood as stages on a road that goes further and elements in a process that continues. Hence the events that are ‘historically’ remembered in this way do not yet have their ultimate truth in themselves, but receive it only from the goal that has been promised by God and is to be expected from him. Then, however, the events that are thus experienced as ‘historic’ events give a foretaste of the promised future. The overspill of promise means that they have always a provisional character. They contain the note of ‘provisio’, i.e. they intimate and point forward to something which does not yet exist in its fullness in themselves. Hence the history that is thus experienced and transmitted forces every new present to analysis and to interpretation. Events that have been experienced in this way ‘must’ be passed on, because in them something is seen which is determinative also for future generations. They cast their shadow, or shed their light, on the way ahead. On the other hand they may also be freely interpreted and actualized by each new present, since they are never so firmly established that we could restrict ourselves merely to ascertaining what they once were.(On this point cf. H. W. Wolff, ‘Das Geschichtsverständnis der alttestamentlichen Prophetie’, EvTh 20, 1960, pp. 258 ff., and G. von Rad’s comment in ‘Offene Fragen’, op. cit., pp. 413f.)
The ancient historic traditions give expression to experiences which Israel had of its God and his promises. But if these promises reach out into that future which is still ahead of the present, then the historic narratives concerned cannot merely narrate experiences of the past. Rather, the whole narrative and representation of this past will lead us to open ourselves and our present to that same future. The reality of history (Wirklichkeit der Geschickte) is narrated within the horizon of the history of the working (Wirkungsgeschichte) of God’s promises. The stories of Israelite history — the histories of the patriarchs, of the wilderness, of David — are treated as themes pregnant with future. Even where the historic tradition passes over into legendary tradition, the peculiarly Israelite tradition is still dominated by the hopes and expectations kindled by Yahweh’s promises. Since the history that was once experienced contains an element that transcends history in its pastness and is pregnant with future, and to the extent that this is so, two things follow: first, this history must again and again be recalled and brought to mind in the present, and secondly, it must be so expounded to the present that the latter can derive from history an understanding of itself and its future path and can also find its own place in the history of the working of God’s promises.
The peculiarity of Israelite accounts of history as ‘historiography conditioned by faith in the promise’(W. Zimmerli, ‘Verheissung und Erfullung’, op. cit., p. 50.) is particularly outstanding in comparison with the accounts of history in other peoples and other religions. ‘In the Greek and Roman mythologies, the past is re-presented as an everlasting foundation. In the Hebrew and Christian view of history the past is a promise to the future; consequently, the interpretation of the past becomes a prophecy in reverse.’(K. Löwith, Meaning in History, 1949, p. 6.)
The history of Israel shows again and again that the promises to which Israel owes its existence prove amid all the upheavals of history to be a continuum in which Israel was able to recognize the faithfulness of its God.(H. W. Wolff, ‘Das Kerygma des Jahwisten’, EvTh 24, 1964, p. 97.) It could perhaps be said that the promises enter into fulfillment in events, yet are not completely resolved in any event, but there remains an overspill that points to the future. That is why reality, as it comes and is awaited and as it passes and is left behind, is experienced as history, and not as a cosmic and ever-recurring constant. It is experienced not in the epiphany of the eternal present, but in expectation of the manifestation and fulfillment of a promised future. That is why the present itself, too, is not the present of the Absolute — a present with which and in which we could abide — but is, so to speak, the advancing front line of time as directed purposefully towards its goal in the moving horizon of promise. If the promise of God is the condition on which it becomes possible to have historic experience of reality, then the language of historic facts is the language of promise — otherwise events can be called neither ‘historic’ nor ‘eloquent’. The promises of God initiate history for Israel and retain the control in all historic experiences.
Where we abstract from the process of promise, historic events are robbed of the outlook that makes them ‘historic’. Where the promises lose their power and significance as initiators of history, there the events of history are rounded off, as it were, to become facts of the past, processes complete in themselves. They are then treated and presented in the light of other outlooks. Where God’s revelation is no longer seen in promise and mission, we can, for example, reflect upon the eternal, immortal and absolute being of the Deity. Then historic events belong within the sphere of transience. They are then no longer provisional events that point to the future of promise, but transient and relative events that reflect the eternal intransience of the Deity. Then there can in principle be ‘nothing new under the sun’. A history of such facts can then be contemplated as a succession of completed processes, a series of images of eternal ideas. In what they have been, we then seek to discover eternal Being. In their coherent working we then seek to discover eternal laws. We have then, however, to look around for other conditions for the possibility of perceiving reality as history. Yet here the question constantly arises, whether this other picture of history and the designations derived from it are really adequate to the understanding of history in a historic sense and can stand theological and philosophical comparison with Israel’s experience of history, conditioned as it was by faith in the promise and determined by hope.
The very use of the term ‘fact’, ‘divine fact of history’, is incapable of expressing what Israel experienced in history. For this term implies a concept of being, of absoluteness, of immutability and finality, which refuses to be combined with promise, hope and future, and therefore also with ‘history’.(The use of the expression ‘divine fact of history’ in G. von Rad’s Theologie des Alten Testamentes is at many points unclear and allows manifold interpretations. If according to vol. I, p. 112 (ET p. 106) the ‘faith of Israel is fundamentally grounded in a theological view of history’, i.e. ‘it knows itself founded on facts of history and knows itself fashioned and refashioned by facts in which it saw the hand of Jahweh at work’, then it is surely, as von Rad himself goes on to emphasize, the ‘faith of Israel’ for which these ‘facts’ are pregnant with future because of the divine promises in which they are interwoven — it is not such an understanding of the facts as results from critical historical examination. If according to vol. II, p. 157 (ET p. 504) the ‘historic acts by which Jahweh founded the community are absolute’, then this surely means that because they have the character of promise they overreach their temporal transience and move into the future — it does not mean absoluteness in the sense of intransience.)
Now it has also been observed that very many of the prophets’ words about the future, especially their political predictions, did not come to pass in the way they were originally meant, and that history has thus outrun, and thereby antiquated, many words of promise. And this has been made a reason for no longer understanding history from the standpoint of promise but seeing in history a reality which overreaches these words of promise. ‘History has outrun the words.’(W. Pannenberg, Offenbarung als Geschichte, postscript to the 2nd ed., p. 132.) Is it possible where the Old Testament is concerned to speak in principle of ‘history’s remaining short of the promise’,(W. Zimmerli, ‘”Offenbarung” im Alten Testament’, EvTh 22, 1962, p. 31.) and thus of expectations which again and again transcend the new situations of history and make them ‘historic’, or does ‘history outrun the promises’ and does the consciousness of Israel already show some indication of a view of history that no longer has promise, hope and mission for the future as the condition that makes it possible?
Now it is certain that apart from the promises that fell by the way in the course of history, there are also and above all others to which Israel owed its existence as ‘Israel’ in a theological and a historic sense, in the constant recalling of which and the ever new embracing and interpretation of which Israel consequently found its identity and continuity. These include not only the ‘basic promises’ of Exodus and the Sinaitic covenant — ‘I am the Lord thy God’(Thus F. Baumgartel, Verheissung, 1952, p. 133.) — but for example also the promises to Abraham.(H. W. Wolff, ‘Das Kerygma des Jahwisten’, op. cit., pp. 95 ff.) It cannot be said that mummified formulae of promise were capable of mastering new experiences of history, neither can it be said that some kind of numinous history as it ran mysteriously on rendered the promises obsolete. The process of word and history surely went on in such a way that men were neither concerned to discover from history the formal confirmation of the ancient promises, nor yet to take the promises merely as interpretations of history. Rather, the really new experiences, such as the occupation of Canaan and then later on the collapse of the kingdom, could be taken as explications of the traditional promises by means of new acts of Yahweh, and the new events could be understood in the light of the attested promise of Yahweh’s faithfulness. Thus we find promise and history in a process of transformation, in which the traditional accounts of the promises took their place in the mastering of the new experiences of history, while the new experiences of history were understood as transformations arid expositions of the promises. The result of these processes of transformation, however, was never the emergence of views of history that were no longer based on promises and no longer bound to them. Never did men reflect on the overwhelming power of history and the powerlessness of the out-dated promises, and abandon the rest of the future to other powers than the God of promise. The tension of promise and fulfillment was not left behind by the simple progress of Israel’s history, but was much more strongly creative of Israel’s historic progress. As a result of those experiences of history for which the old election traditions were no match, the tension was actually heightened in the prophets. Only, this tension which has its origin in promise and its goal in fulfillment must not be represented in too schematic a form. Between promise and fulfillment there is a whole variety of intermediate links and processes, such as exposition, development, validation, assertion, renewal, etc. Between promise and fulfillment stretches the process of the history of the working of the word — an event of tradition, in which the promise is transmitted to coming generations in interpreted and actualized form, and every new present is exposed to the promised future in hope and obedience. This event of tradition, which creates continuity amid the changes of history, cannot already be taken in itself as a profounder concept of history. The process of tradition, in which we recall history and undergo new historic experiences, is understandable only in the light of the tradendum or object to be transmitted — viz., the promise and the future prospect it implies for events.
4. Revelation and Knowledge of God
How does God become knowable, if his revelations are essentially promises which open up new, historic and eschatological horizons for the future? How have we to understand the revelation of God, if election, covenant, promise and mission belong not merely accidentally but essentially to the event of revelation?
For W. Zimmerli,’ revelation means ‘self-presentation’, ‘self-representation’ and ‘self-disclosure’ of God. This, he finds, is indicated by the recurring formula, ‘And they shall know that I am Yahweh.(Gottes Offenbarung, p. 16.) In the strangely awkward formulation of this statement about the knowledge of God, the place of the object is taken by a noun clause in which Yahweh’s ‘I’ appears as subject. This means that knowledge of God is related not to a predicable object (he — Yahweh), but manifestly to an event of revelation in which Yahweh remains the subject even of the process of knowing. Zimmerli accordingly calls the stereotype phrase ‘ani rahaeh’ a ‘formula of self-presentation’ and finds in it the standard view of revelation in the Old Testament.
But (s) how does he understand and interpret the exegetical findings in regard to this constantly recurring formula? This self-disclosure of Yahweh is a ‘word of revelation in which the “I” discloses itself in its “I” -character(“Offenbarung” im AT’, op. cit., p. 22.)‘Self-presentation’ means emergence in the unmistakably unique “I” mystery expressed in the proper name.(Ibid., p. 21.) ‘A hitherto unnamed person emerges from his unknownness by making it possible to know and name him by his own name. The emphasis lies on the naming of Yahweh’s proper name, which contains within it the whole fullness and glory of him who here names himself’(Gottes “Offenbarung”, p.11) In the proper name declared by his own self lies the guarantee that the ‘I’ is this unmistakably individual person.(“Offenbarung” im AT’, op. cit., p. 21.) The declaring of the name is — as also in profane analogies: ‘I am Joseph’, ‘I am David’ — not a predicative statement but an act of self-disclosure, ‘a thoroughly personal event’.(Gottes Offenbarung, p. 124.) It is ‘God proclaiming himself’ in his name as subject.(Ibid., p. 126.)
(2) With this personalistic understanding of the self-revelation of God, what is the meaning of ‘history’? History is then a ‘creaturely tool in the free hand of God’,(“Offenbarung” im AT’, op. cit., p. 28.) the ‘place of the knowledge of God’,( Ibid., p. 29.) the ‘place where the truth of his word of revelation becomes knowable in its execution’.(Gottes Offenbarung, p. 22.) Events, where Yahweh appoints speakers to proclaim the name of Yahweh over them, can become ‘address in bodily form’ to man. Then they become events which seek to be heard in our own day as a summons In the name of Yahweh and to be answered in obedience.(‘”Offenbarung” im AT’, op. cit., pp. 28f.) History is then ‘a penultimate thing’ and has only a ‘subservient function’ as compared with the personal self-demonstration of Yahweh.(Ibid., p.29.)
(3) What is then the goal of the promises of God? If his self-revelation is understood in such personal terms, then the things announced in the promises obviously lose their importance. ‘Rather, this formula (viz., the formula of self-presentation) brings out how completely the material content is swallowed up by the sole emergence of the “I”.(Ibid., p. 21.) ‘Yahweh himself is the future of which the prophets speak. (‘Verheissung und Erfullung’, EvTh 12, 1952, p. 44.) ‘Everything that Yahweh has to tell his people and to announce to them appears as a development of the basic declaration: I am Yahweh.’ (Gottes Offenbarung, p. 20.) The history of the promise then serves towards ever profounder knowledge of God on man’s part.
Here several questions arise. With these personalistic descriptions of the revelation of God, which doubtless bring out the indisputable lordship of God even in the process of knowing, is it possible to avoid a transcendental misunderstanding of the self-revelation of God?
If the words of promise are the real content of the Old Testament scenes of revelation, can we then turn things the other way round and make the personal epiphany of Yahweh as Subject the real content of the scenes that constitute the history of the promise? If the revelation of God is understood In such a personal way, why must the self-presentation of Yahweh find its explication in the word of promise? But if promise is constitutive for the revealing of Yahweh, does the formula of self-presentation not then contain more than merely a self-disclosing of the mystery of a person — namely, a pledge of faithfulness which points to events to come?(Gottes Offenbarung, p. 32 cf. also pp. 100 ff.) Then, however, the history instituted by the promise of Yahweh and by his oath of faithfulness would not be in itself indifferent — the mere place and material for the knowledge of God. Then the name of Yahweh would not merely disclose the secret of his person, but would at the same time also be a name of pilgrimage and a name of promise, which shows what can be relied upon in the darkness of the future. All this Zimmerli says as well,(‘”Offenbarung” im AT’, op. cit., p. 59: ‘God thereby enters into, and speaks from within, this history whose further future is made visible in the promises that then follow.’ Gottes Offenbarung, pp. 100f.: ‘Rather, the announcing of the name leads on immediately to Yahweh’s promise that it is his will to have historic dealings with Israel. Consequently if we would know Yahweh in his name, then it is not a matter of hearing secret things from the dark background of this name, but of paying attention to the historic acts towards Israel (Yahweh, ‘your God”) of the one who thus reveals himself in his name.’) but the personalistic descriptions of the self-revelation of God seem to stand in a certain tension with the recognized theological significance of the promise. Revelation of Yahweh surely stands not only at the beginning of the history of promise, with the result that the promises and commandments are given in his ‘name’, but there is revelation also in that future to which the promises point and towards which the commandments set us on the way. There, however, it is not only the personal name of Yahweh that wrn be revealed, but his divinity and glory will be revealed in all lands, so that the ancient promise ‘I am Yahweh’ will be fulfilled in the ‘kabod Yahweh’, the glory of God, that fulfils all things. But then the things announced in the promises become identical with the fact that the one and only divinity of God is glorified in all things. That ‘Yahweh himself’ is the future of which the prophets speak, would then have to mean that the whole creation is made good and comes to its own in his all-embracing lordship, his peace and his righteousness as an event that is really to be expected. This, however, can hardly be stated in terms of a personalistic, or indeed transcendental, concept of revelation.
In objection to Zimmerli’s view of revelation R. Rendtorff has pointed Out that Zimmerli himself says of Exodus 3 ‘By pointing back to things already known, or to earlier events, God presents himself as the one who is known.(Offenbarung als, Geschichte, p. 33.) It is not an unknown God who emerges from his unknownness in naming his name, but ‘the same’ who was with the fathers. Hence for Rendtorff the real God-revealing factor lies in the reference back to previous and already known history. ‘The God who here speaks is he who has hitherto already given repeated proof of his power.(Ibid.) ‘Thus men’s eyes are directed towards coming events; but by being combined with the reference back to the previous action of the God of their fathers, the event which is expected in the future is given its place in the whole history of this God hitherto.(Ibid., pp. 33 f.) Thus for Rendtorff it is from the complex of the history wrought by him that God becomes manifest, knowable and predicable. Through his historic acts he is known to anyone who looks at events themselves with open eyes. The ‘events themselves’ can and should produce knowledge of Yahweh in those who see them. Hence the formula ‘I am Yahweh’ especially when attention is paid to the active verbs which are always combined with is in the subordinate clauses, cannot be taken merely as a formula of personal self-presentation, but is rather a pregnant expression for Yahweh’s claim to power as manifested in events. ‘Yahweh’ would accordingly be not a proper name that reveals the mystery of his ‘I’, but a divine predicate that is arrived at from the experience of history and is synonymous with ‘the mighty one’. It is not the name that is the object of knowledge, but the claim to power contained in it. Yahweh is revealed through his acts in history. ‘The aim of this whole history is thus to bring about knowledge of Yahweh, knowledge of the fact that he alone is God and has power.(Ibid., p. 36.) Our question as to the full self-revelation of God is answered in the Old Testament by the expression ‘kabod Yaweh’. The glory of Yahweh is revealed in historic acts to which Israel looks back. The prophets expect it to be ushered in by a future event. Then all peoples will themselves know the glory of Yahweh.
Here history has not merely the function of serving the personal encounter with God, but history ‘itself’ is revealing. Yahweh is recognizable as ‘the mighty one’ in the mirror of his historic acts. The historic connection between God’s new action and his action hitherto makes God’s divinity recognizable. If, however, history itself is understood in this way as indirect self-revelation of God, then the place of the cosmos as a theophany is obviously taken by history as a theophany.(Cf. pp. 77f.) This leads perforce to the idea that the one God can be indirectly known in the unity of universal history as seen from its end. But now, in the Old Testament practice of referring back new revelations of God to things already known, it is not a case of arguing back from effect to cause or from the act to the doer, but it is a question of recognizing again that God is the same God all the way from promise to fulfillment: ‘Ye shall know that I, Yahweh, have spoken it, and performed it’ (Ezek. 37.54). The promise that was given is remembered where the faithfulness of Yahweh is revealed in the event. So also the future kabod Yahweh, which will reveal the divinity of God to all peoples, is no event without a witness, but Israel is appointed ‘for a witness to the peoples’ (Isa. 55.4). It is not that consummated history reveals God, but God’s universal revelation in the coming of the fullness of his glory brings history to its consummation. Despite these objections, however, we must hold fast to Rendtorff’s extension of Zimmerli’s concept of revelation: ‘God himself’ cannot merely mean God in person, God in the mystery of his ‘I’, but must always also mean God as God and Lord, God in the mystery of his lordship. Where God himself is revealed, there his lordship and his power are revealed, and his lordship and power are revealed where his promises of blessing, peace and righteousness are fulfilled by him himself. To know ‘I am Yahweh’ and to know his glory which comes to pass, are one and the same thing.
If we are prepared to understand divine revelation and the knowledge of God within the horizon of history as the sphere of promise, then we shall be able to reach the following conclusions:
1. God reveals himself as ‘God’ where he shows himself as the same and is thus known as the same. He becomes identifiable where he identifies himself with himself in the historic act of his faithfulness. The presupposition for the knowledge of God is the revealing of God by God. To that extent God remains Subject and Lord even of the process of man’s knowing. Man’s knowing is responsible knowing. But if the revelations of God are promises, then God ‘himself’ is revealed where he ‘keeps covenant and faithfulness for ever’ (Ps. 146.6). Where God, in his faithfulness to a promise he has given, stands to that which he has promised to be, he becomes manifest and knowable as the selfsame Self. ‘God himself’ cannot then be understood as reflection on his transcendent ‘I-ness’, but must be understood as his selfsame-ness in historic faithfulness to his promises. If God confesses to his covenant and promises in adopting, confirming, renewing, continuing and fulfilling them, then God confesses to God, then he confesses to himself. In proving his faithfulness in history, he reveals himself. For the essence and the identity of the God of promise lies not in his absoluteness over and beyond history, but in the constancy of his freely chosen relation to his creatures, in the constancy of his electing mercy and faithfulness. Hence knowledge of God comes about not in view of a transcendent Super-Ego, nor yet in view of the course of an obscure history, but in view of the historic action of God within the horizon of the promises of God. God reveals himself in his name, which discloses the mystery of his Person to the extent that it discloses the mystery of his faithfulness. The name of God is a name of promise, which promises his presence on the road on which we are set by promise and calling. The name of God and the promises contained in the name of God are therefore not only formulae of self-presentation, but they also tell us something ‘about’ God, for in them he gives surety for his future. They tell us who he will be. They tell us that he will be found on the road his promises point to the future, and where he will be found on that road. That is why the revelation of God and the corresponding knowledge of God are always bound up with the recounting and recalling of history and with prophetic expectation. These two things are not merely developments of his self-revelation, but are obviously a constitutive part of the revelation of his faithfulness and sameness and uniqueness.
Martin Buber has declared: ‘It may be claimed to be a fundamental principle of the history of religion that experience of God begins with the experience of a single phenomenon, but knowledge of God begins with the identification of two, i.e. cognition begins with re-cognition.’(M. Buber, Königtum Gottes, 2nd ed. 1936, p. xliii.) This is to my mind a specifically Old Testament thought. To know God means to re-cognize him. But to re-cognize him is to know him in his historic faithfulness to his promises, to know him therein as the selfsame Self and therefore to know himself. The identifying of two experiences is possible only where there is self-identification, or the revelation of historic faithfulness, because this God guarantees his promises by his name.
2. If knowledge of God is a re-cognizing of God, because revelation of God means that God confesses to God in historic faithfulness to his promises, then it can hardly be said that the historic complex of particular historic events ‘itself’ reveals God. But the history of promise, i.e. the history initiated by promise and covenant and expected as a result of them, does reveal the faithfulness of God to the extent that in it he keeps faith with his promises and thereby remains true to himself. It would again be taking over the Greek concept of knowledge, if we were to say that knowledge of God would always be possible only a posteriori on the ground of fulfilled promises if it is in the historic issue that the God of promise proves himself to be the God who gives a successful issue to his prophets. God is not first known at the end of history, but in the midst of history while it is in the making, remains open and depends on the play of the promises. That is why this knowledge must constantly remain mindful of the promises that have been issued and of the past exercise of God’s faithfulness, and at the same time be a peculiarly hopeful knowledge. It must be a knowledge that does not merely reflect past history — as a mental picture of completed facts of history — but it must be an interested knowledge, a practical knowledge, a knowledge that is upheld by confidence in the promised faithfulness of God. To know God is to suffer God, says an old adage. But to suffer means to be changed and transformed. Knowledge of God is then aii anticipatory knowledge of the future of God, a knowledge of the faithfulness of God which is upheld by the hopes that are called to life by his promises. Knowledge of God is then a knowledge that draws us onwards — not upwards — into situations that are not yet finalized but still outstanding. It is a knowledge not of the looks of past history, but of the outlooks involved in the past promises and past faithfulness of God. Knowledge of God will then anticipate the promised future of God in constant remembrance of the past emergence of God’s election, his covenant, his promises and his faithfulness. It is a knowledge that oversteps our bounds and moves within the horizon of remembrance and expectation opened up by the promise, for to know about God is always at the same time to know ourselves called in history by God.
Just as the promises are not descriptive words for existing reality, but dynamic words about acts of faithfulness to be awaited from God, so knowledge of God cannot consist in a résumé of the language of completed facts. The truth of the promise lies not in any demonstrable correspondence with the reality which was or which is. It lies not in the adaequatio rei et intellectus. The promise here proves its truth, on the contrary, in the specific inadaequatio intellectus et rei in which it places the hearer. It stands in a demonstrable contradiction to the historic reality.( Over against Deut. 18.21f. and Jer. 28.9, which see the criterion of true prophecy in the ‘coming to pass of the word’, do we not find a different criterion in Jer. 23.22 and 29: ‘Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?’) It has not yet found its answer, and therefore draws the mind to the future, to obedient and creative expectation, and brings it into opposition to the existing reality which has not the truth in it. It thus provokes a peculiar incongruence with being, in the consciousness of hoping and trusting. It does not glorify reality in the spirit, but is out for its transformation. Hence it does not give rise to powers of accommodation, but sets loose powers that are critical of being. It transcends reality not by rising to an unreal realm of dreams, but by pressing forwards to the future of a new reality.
3. The guarantee of the promise’s congruity with reality lies in the credibility and faithfulness of him who gives it. Yet this argument would remain abstract, and would fail to do justice to the character of the promise as the word in which God promises himself and confronts man as ‘I Yahweh’, if it disregarded the fact that promises effectually strain towards a real, future event of fulfillment. This future to which the promise points can be expressed by a theological personalism only as the personal future of God ‘himself’. Our hope in the promises of God, however, is not hope in God himself or in God as such, but it hopes that his future faithfulness will bring it also the fullness of what has been promised. To be sure, it can be said that our hope is hope in the coming of the faithfulness of God, that it expects the promised future from the coming of God himself and not apart from him. Yet it would surely be an abstraction which would not do justice to the Old Testament hope, if we were to describe this hope as spes purissima in Deum purissimum.(‘Luther, WA 5, p. 166: Adeo scil. omnia a nobis aufferenda sunt, ut nec optima dei dona, idest ipsa merita, reliqua sint, in quibus si,st, is quibus fidamus, ut sit spes purissisma in purissimum deum: tunc demum homo vere purus et sanctus est (‘For so completely have we to renounce all things that not even the best gifts of God, i.e. not even his merits, remain to be objects of our faith, that our hope be purely hope purely in God: only then is a man truly pure and holy’).’ Hope, where it holds to the promises, hopes that the coming of God will bring it also ‘this and that’ — namely, his redeeming and restoring lordship in all things. It does not merely hope personally ‘in him’, but has also substantial hopes of his lordship, his peace and his righteousness on earth. Otherwise hope itself could unobtrusively change into a kind of fulfillment and there would be nothing more in which our hopes could be fulfilled.
An understanding of the promise must combine both the personalistic and the historic and substantial concepts of truth. Hope’s assurance springs from the credibility and faithfulness of the God of promise. Hope’s knowledge recalls the faithfulness of this God in history and anticipates the real fulfillment in a multitude of pre-conceptions, not to say realistic utopias — yet all this without prejudice to the freedom of the God who promises. An assurance of hope without such knowledge would be vague adventuring. A knowledge without such assurance would be historical speculation.
The God who is present in his promises is for the human spirit an ob-ject (Gegen-stand) in the sense that he stands opposed to (entgegen-steht)(The play here on the German words Gegenstand and entgegenstehen is to some extent contained also in the English word ‘object’, which by derivation means ‘lying before’ or ‘lying opposite’. Translator) the human spirit until a reality is created and becomes knowable which wholly accords with his promises and can be called ‘very good’. Hence it is not our experiences which make faith and hope, but it is faith and hope that make experiences and bring the human spirit to an ever new and restless transcending of itself.
5. Promise and Law
If the promises of God create an interval of tension between their being issued and their coming to pass, and thereby institute freedom for obedience, then importance attaches to the question of directions for the filling out of this interval and of the existence thus constituted in it. This is understandable, since a promise does not announce an inescapable fate, but sets men on a road that leads to another land and another reality. If we again take our cue from the theme of nomadic life, then we can say that originally promise is combined with obedience, and obedience with a change of place and a change of existence. It is necessary to arise and go to the place to which the promise points, if one would have part in its fulfillment. Promise and command, the pointing of the goal and the pointing of the way, therefore belong immediately together.
In this context the judicial character of promise will also have to be taken into account. Promise is the one side of the covenant in which God’s association with the people of his choice is grounded. To this extent promise founds upon election, and election always means being called into the history of promise. Whoever receives the promises, God enters into covenant with him and he with God. In the covenant, God in his freedom binds himself to be faithful to the promise he has given; and if this covenant extends to a future in which fulfillments are to ensue, then it cannot be regarded as a historical fact, but is to be understood as a historic event which points beyond itself to the future that is announced. The covenant will have to be understood as a history-making event which opens up specific possibilities of history. The covenant must be understood as a ‘historic process’ or, as Jacques Ellul calls it on the basis of parallels in law, a ‘contract requiring adherence’ which is not exhausted in a single transaction, but whose effects continue until the promised fulfillment.(J. Ellul, The Theological Foundation of Law, ET by M. Weiser, 1961, p. 50.) To this extent the promise of the covenant and the injunctions of the covenant have an abiding and guiding significance until the fulfillment.
The obedience which the injunctions demand springs of firm confidence, and is a natural consequence of the promises. To ‘keep’ the covenant which God has founded means both to ‘keep’ the words of the promise and ‘to keep his commandments’. We ‘keep’ the commandments by obedience. We ‘keep’ the promises when ‘with all our heart and all our strength’ we trust and hope in them and do not doubt. All the commandments are explications of the one commandment, to love God and to cleave to him (Deut. 6.5), and this one commandment is but the reverse side of the promise. It commands (gebietet) what the promise offers (bietet). Hence not only disobedience is punished by not experiencing the fulfillment, but so also is resignation, weariness, departure from the living hope. Despondency and despair are sin — indeed they are the origin of all sins.(Despair and despondency are merely the reverse side of that superbia in which Luther saw the origin of all sins. On this point cf. the fine treatise by J. Pieper, Über die Hoffung, 1949, pp. 51 ff. and K. Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2, § 65: ‘The Sloth and Misery of Man’.) Hence vice versa the commandments are ‘easy’ to fulfil in the power that comes of hoping in God and waiting upon him. The commandments of the covenant, which point our hopes in the promise to the path of physical obedience, are nothing else but the ethical reverse of the promise itself. The promised life here appears as the life that is commanded. Hence the demands for obedience and the demands for hope are alike related to that horizon which opens up before the present in the light of the historic datum of the covenant, and which makes the present the front-line for the onset of the promised new life. In this conjunction with the promises of the covenant, the commandments all have a paracletic and parenetic significance, but they are not legal conditions or what theologians commonly call ‘law’.(On this paragraph cf. G. von Rad, Theologie des Alten Testamentes II, pp. 402 ff.; ‘Das Gestz’ [ET pp. 388 ff..: ‘The Law’]) If the commandments are the ethical side of the promise and obedience is the fruit of hope, then the commandments are just as little rigid norms as the promises are, but they go along with the promise, producing history and transforming themselves on the path through the ages towards the fulfillment. They are not abstract norms of ideal orders that always exist and reflect their images in time, but they are a real foreshadowing of the historic prospects extended to specific men by the historic datum of the covenant. The commandments have accordingly just as much a future tenor as the promises. Their goal is the reality of that human dignity which is vouchsafed to men through fellowship with the God of promise.
It is therefore plain that theological reflection on the law can begin at the point where the promise itself is rendered questionable by non-realization or by delay in its fulfillment. The theological reflection which separates the law from its future can arise in the vacuum created by the postponement of the promise, and on the basis of historic experiences which contradict the promised future. The non-realization of promises upon which we had depended, the distress that arises when the protection and guidance of the God of promise fail to come, makes the following theological reflections possible:
(a) God lies. They were his promise and his covenant, but he has not kept them. ‘Wilt thou indeed be unto me as a deceitful brook, as waters that fail?’ (Jer. 15.18, RV).
(b) God is faithful. He does not deny himself. What he says comes to pass. Therefore if it does not come to pass, it was not the promise of God, but the lie of false prophets. History itself proves them to be false prophets. Reflections of this kind were manifestly often brought forward even against the charismatic leaders of Israel.
(c) The reflection turns against the sorely tried, or even already disappointed man himself. The reason for the withholding of the fulfillment, for the distance and absence of God and for his judgment, lies in man, whether because he has departed from the hope in the God of the promise and fallen into idolatry (the golden calf) or the worship of other gods, or because of his disobedience to the injunctions of the commandments. Then the hidden uncleanness and sin must be searched out and purification and atonement sought, in order to establish the promise once more.
This last reflection, however, turns the promise into an object and regards it in abstraction from the God who promises. It becomes an object whose power can be manipulated by means of repentance and the rites of the cultus. Whereas in essence a divine promise itself contains the power of its fulfillment in the faithfulness and might of the God who promises, in reflection in the vacuum caused by its delay there arises a peculiar conditionalizing of the promise. Its fulfillment is made to depend on obedience, and obedience is understood as a conditio sine qua non and as a return achievement on man’s part. Perfect obedience to the promise and its injunctions must bring its fulfillment, while every imperfection gives further cause for delay. Here we have a reversal of subjects which is often subtle and from the historical standpoint calls for very careful differentiation: if obedience is a consequence of the promise that incites us to arise and set off towards a definite goal and entrusts the fulfillment to the power of the God who promises, so now vice versa the fulfillment can be regarded as the consequence of human obedience. Here the obedience of man need not as yet be understood as the efficient cause of the fulfillment, but can also be taken merely as the occasion for the fulfillment by God himself. But this means that the power of the promise to attain to fulfillment lies no longer in the faithfulness of God himself, but in the obedience of man.
In the Old Testament, too, such reflections are not unknown. It is plain that they already arise very early. They arise at every point where in the absence of the promised salvation, in misfortune and god-forsakenness, the people begin to raise the questions of why and wherefore and how long. These questions become acute in popular complaint, and the attempted answers are given on the basis of the covenant and of divine justice. Is it conceivable that this last reflection dominates the rabbinical teaching of late Judaism? Could it possibly be that the Torah theology of late Judaism has a formative influence in what New Testament scholars often describe as ‘delay of the parousia’? In modern Jewish theology the reversing of the subjects is plainly the ground of its remarkable proximity to German idealism, to activistic messianism and to the Russian ‘husbandmen of God’. Then ‘the redemption of the world is left to the power of our conversion. God has no wish for any other means of perfecting his creation than by our help. He will not reveal his kingdom until we have laid its foundations.’(‘M. Buber, Gog und Magog, 1949, p. 297. H.-J. Kraus, ‘Gespräch mit M. Buber’, EvTh 12, 1952, pp. 76 ff. Combined with this is also another thought — that Yahweh mysteriously requires the action of Israel as his son. Cf. L. Baeck, Das Wesen des Judentums, 2nd ed. 1959, pp. 132 ff.; C. Cohen, Relgion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums, 2nd ed. 1929, pp. 140, 172, 233, 431.)
One could call this ‘the promise in the form of the law’. Then it would have to be pointed out in this context that while Paul’s controversy with the Judaism of the Torah and with Jewish Christians is certainly on the question of the law, yet its concern is surely the promise (Gal. 3.15 ff.). Promise in the form of gospel, or promise in the form of law — that is the question. And it could well be that ‘promise in the form of gospel’ brings to light once more the original meaning of the law as being the injunctions that are bound up with the promise.
6. Promise in the Eschatology of the Prophets
(‘For what follows cf. M. Buber, The Prophetic Faith, ET 1949; T. C. Vriezen, ‘Prophecy and Eschatology’, VT Suppl. I (Congress Volume: Copenhagen 1953), 1953. pp. 199–229; H. W. Wolff, ‘Das Geschichtsverständnis der alttestamentlichen Prophetic’, EvTh 20. 1960, pp. 218-235; G. von Rad, Theologie des Alten Testamentes II, pp. 125 ff.: ‘Die Eschatologisierung des Geschichtsdenkens durch die Propheten’ (ET pp. 112 ff.: ‘History related to Eschatology: Israel’s Ideas about Time and History, and the Prophetic Eschatology’); O. Plöger, Theokratie und Eschatologie, 1959; D. Rössler, Gesetz und Geschichte,, 1960; K. Koch, ‘Spätisraelitisches Geschichtsdenken am Beispiel des Buches Daniel’, Historische Zeitschrift, 1961, vol. 193, pp. 1–32.)
Since the rediscovery of the eschatological character of the words of the Bible witnesses, the concept ‘eschatology’ has become hazy. Whereas in orthodox dogmatics it referred to the last, often unrelated and supplementary, article ‘de novissimis’, in dogmatics and exegesis today it has acquired various senses and means, according to the particular material to which it is applied, simply ‘future’, or ‘extending beyond the present’, or ‘last age’, or ‘transcendent’, or ‘directed towards a final goal’, or ‘finally valid’. Among Old Testament scholars the terminological dispute narrows down to the question whether hopes within history can already be called eschatological, or whether the term should be reserved for prophecies which speak of the end of history as such, and thus of events which lie outside the realm of history.(G. von Rad, op. cit., p. 528 (ET p. 114) in the form of a question to G. Hölscher, S. Mowinckel and G. Fobrer.) Can a distinction be made between historic eschatologies and cosmic eschatologies, between eschatologies within history and transcendental eschatologies? Does the eschaton mean merely ‘future’, or is it applied to the absolute future as opposed to history?
It is hardly possible to expound specific complexes of ideas as ‘eschatological schemata’. It is also scarcely possible to establish the points at which we can say, ‘Here prophetic promise ends, and there eschatology begins.’ But it can be said in the first instance that those promises and expectations are eschatological which are directed towards a historic future in the sense of the ultimate horizon. Now, the concept ‘horizon’, as meaning a boundary of expectation which moves along with us and invites us to press further ahead, already fits in with the general concept of promise. ‘Israel’s faith in God has a future content.( Cf. also O. Procksch, Theologie des Alten Testamentes, 1950, p. 582. Cf. also M. Buber, op. cit., p. 8.) And it is quite true that picturing the future in terms of the threat of judgment and the promise of salvation is not a specific characteristic of the prophets of classical times, but that it could rather be said, on the contrary, that classical prophecy is a specific characteristic of Israelite belief in the promise.(‘Cf. here the new questions in the study of the prophets R. Bach, Dis Aufforderung zur Flutch und Kampf im alttestamentlichen Prophetenspruch, 1962; R. Rendtorff, ‘Erwägungen zur Frühgeschichte des Prophetentums in Israel’, ZTK 59, 1962, pp. 145 ff.) ‘This faith that looks to the future took over various themes in order to make plain what the future of God meant in various particular circumstances.’(Jepsen, Art. ‘Eschatologie’ in RGG3 II, col. 661.) That presupposes faith in the God of promise, who is the God who will be, and cannot be psychologically explained on the basis of disappointment with the cultic who is subsequently ‘eschatologized.’(Thus e.g. M. Buber, Königtum Gottes, 2nd ed. 1936, p. x, and S. Mowinckel, Psalmenstudien II, p. 324. On this, G. von Rad, op. cit., p. 130 (ET p. 116): ‘If we hold by what the prophets say, it will not do to put the “experience of disillusionment” at the head as the evocative factor proper.)
This would mean, however, that the eschatology of the prophets grew up on the soil of Israel’s faith in the promise, and that in prophetic eschatology faith in the promise is wrestling with new experiences of God, of judgment and of history and thereby undergoing new, profound changes. In the prophets, despite all the newness of their message, the God who confronts Israel with his claims is no other than the Deus spei, the God of hope.
What part of the promised future is the ultimate future, what part of the historic novum is the novum ultimum, is determined by the perspective in which the viewer sees the time that is now void but will then be filled. The ideas of time are first determined by the expectations. Here it is quite possible for the eschatological perspectives to expand, and for that which appeared to one generation as ‘ultimate’ to be seen by a later generation as within history and surpassable. The ideas of ‘end’ and ‘goal’ all depend on what a thing is supposed to be the end of and for what it is supposed to be the goal. What is here regarded as ‘time’ is then concrete time as seen in the processes of historic and expected changes. To that extent the sense of time and the ideas of time also change along with the expectations, The abstract scientific concept of time, which has categorically determined modern thinking since Kant, must not be applied here until we have tested its eschatological scope — which in Kant’s case means its transcendental scope.
But when and how do hopes for history become hopes that are to be called ‘eschatological’? When does a promise become an eschatological promise? Is it demonstrable and conceivable that the historic, moving horizon of promise can reach ultimate bounds?
The concept ‘eschatology’ is here. intended to mark the peculiarity of the prophets as distinct from those who had earlier spoken for the religion of Yahweh and also as distinct from later apocalyptic writers.
From the standpoint of the history of religion, the ‘mastering’ of agrarian culture in Israel’s occupation of Canaan has been described as the first decisive frontier crossed by the tribes of Israel. In this ‘opening up of the realm of sedentary experience by Yahwism’,’ the latter itself underwent considerable expansion. The ‘mastering’ of those great experiences in the world history of the seventh and sixth centuries, in which Israel perished as a nation and yet survived itself in the religious sphere,a could be called the second major frontier. On this frontier, too, faith in the promise undergoes tremendous expansion: in the message of the classical prophets, which is closely bound up with these experiences of history and of judgment, it develops into the prophetic eschatology.
The message of these prophets arises in the shadow of the increasing menace from Assyria, Babylon and Persia, the gathering storm of destruction that broods over the national, political and Palestinian life of Israel in both kingdoms. The prophets see before them the annihilation of Israel’s existence and of the whole history of promise and fulfillment thus far vouchsafed to Israel by its God. They interpret this history of collapse as Yahweh’s judgment on his apostate people. This means that the new historic action of Yahweh in the history of the nations, which for Israel becomes the history of its destruction, is seen by them as being on the same level as, and even competing with, the historic acts of Yahweh in their own past as remembered in the cultus and the festivals. This new, and as yet dark and unfathomable action of Yahweh will even go the length of outreaching and replacing his past action upon his people. In the historic judgment on Israel, Yahweh not only annuls the debts of Israel, but he annuls also the institutions of his own covenant in his unfathomable freedom to adopt new ways.
‘The message of the prophets has to be termed eschatological wherever it regards the old historic bases of salvation as null and void,’ says G. von Rad in his new view of the matter, ‘but we ought then to go on and limit the term. It should not be applied to cases where Israel gave a general expression of her faith in her future, or, as does happen, in the future of her sacred institutions. The prophetic teaching is only eschatological when the prophets expelled Israel from the safety of the old saving actions and suddenly shifted the basis of salvation to a future action of God.’(G. von Rad, op. cit., pp. 131f. [ET p. 118]). This allows no recognition to the psychological explanation of ‘eschatology’ as given by Mowinckel and Buber following the example of Albert Schweitzer. It was not that the ‘disappointments of history’ in regard to promises in which they had believed, and which depended on the land, the cultus and the temple, caused men to give eschatological form to their hopes for history. What did cause them to do this was experiences which were understood as judgments of Yahweh, and indeed not merely as judgment upon what by the standard of the ancient covenant ordinances was a disobedient people, but also as judgment on the history of Yahweh’s relationship with this people hitherto. How far, amid the breakdown of what has hitherto been and the breaking in of new, hitherto unknown action on God’s part, does the message of the prophets become ‘eschatological’? This surely cannot lie merely in the break-away from the ‘future of the Yahweh who has come’, which up to that point had also been known, to the ‘future of the Yahweh who is to come’, which up to that point had not been known.
The threat that the history of the attacking peoples will bring Yahweh’s judgment upon Israel marks a quite decisive universalizing of the divine action. The experience of being crushed between the great world powers is understood as a judgment of Yahweh. Yet even as early as Amos this threat of judgment is universal: God judges all wrong, including that among the peoples who do not know his law. Consequently the God who uses the nations to judge his apostate people is also their Lord and will also be their Judge. For if he appoints the nations to execute judgment on Israel, then he is obviously their God and Lord. If he uses these nations to judge Israel according to his law, then he will also judge these nations according to his law, given though it is in the first instance only to Israel. As a result of their onslaught upon Israel, and because according to the message of the prophets Israel must take this onslaught as a judgment of its God, the nations are involved in the fate of Israel and come within the range of Yahweh’s working in judgment and in blessing. On its political deathbed Israel brings the nations, as it were, into the hands of its God and into his future. By this very means Yahweh’s threats and promises for the future are set free from their restriction to the one specific people and its particular future in history, and become eschatological. The moving horizon of the assurances for the future given by the God of promise, once it is extended to embrace ‘all peoples’, then reaches the utmost bounds of human reality as such, and becomes universal and so also eschatological. The horizon of the coming God thereby attains a non plus ultra.
However widely it extends to embrace all peoples, and however deeply it goes to the roots of earthly existence, the prophets’ message of judgment nevertheless points once more to a different future, to a day of Yahweh, which will arise out of the night of judgment. This judgment certainly means the annihilation of the people and of the history to which this people owes its existence, but it does not mean the annihilation of Yahweh’s faithfulness to himself. It can therefore be conceived as a judgment that paves the way for something finally new, and as annihilation for the sake of greater perfection. Thus there arise visions of the end, of the unheard-of new salvation that is on the way, of the new covenant, of the coming glory of Yahweh in his sovereignty over all the earth — and all this, too, not only for Israel, but so to speak for all the peoples that have participated in the judgment upon Israel and have thus been involved in the history of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel. It is only through the above-mentioned universalizing of the judgment that the coming salvation of Yahweh first becomes eschatological in its breadth and unrestrictedness.
How is this conceived? To begin with, ‘the new thing’ whose coming is foretold is conceived in analogy to the previous saving acts of God in the history of the fulfilling of his promises in his people’s past — as the occupation of a new land, as the setting up of a new David and a new Zion, as a new exodus, as a new covenant. That is to say, it is conceived as a ‘renewal’ and return of what is past and lost, so that beginning and end correspond to each other.(G. von Rad, op. cit. II, p. 131 [ET p. 117]; H.W. Wolff, op. cit., pp. 224 f.) But these are analogies which seek to interpret the wholly non-analogous. It cannot be a question merely of the restitution of the good old days, for new and unheard-of things have already been done by Yahweh. The judgement has become universal, and therefore the nations — in the first instance those participating in the judgment, then, pars pro toto, through them ‘all peoples’ — are taken up into the new, coming acts of God. Already in the judgment Yahweh glorifies himself upon them. How much more will he glorify himself upon them when his new saving acts in Israel come to light. ‘Salvation has become universal, even if it is Israelite and even if it is received via Israel.’(T.C. Vriezen, An Outline of Old Testament Theology, ET, 1958, p. 360). To be sure these visions of salvation, which are to be called ‘eschatological’ in virtue of the fact that in their unrestrictedness they break through all spatial and racial limitations and extend to the utmost bounds of human reality in ‘all peoples’, are Israelo-centric eschatologies. This is already implied in the fact that they are expressed in the form of analogy to the past saving history of Yahweh’s relationship with his people and on the ground of the basic experience of judgment in the history that is concentrated upon Israel. Yet the extension to all peoples of the threat of judgment and of the promise of salvation in itself already involves what T. C. Vriezen calls the ‘missionary task of Israel’ — the task of being a light to the Gentiles and a witness for Yahweh in his controversy with the gods of the nations. But the more the new saving action of God that is to come outstrips all analogies from the history of Israel’s dealings with its God in past experience and tradition, and the more the judgment that begins with Israel moves on through the history of the nations, the more clearly there appear the first signs of a universal eschatology of mankind. Here, however, we have presumably already the beginning of what must be called apocalyptic.
Thus we can speak of a real ‘eschatology’ only at the points where, in the limitations and perspectives of history, the horizon of the promised future embraces in the eschaton the proton of the whole creation, where the horizon of the God who announces himself and is on his way extends to all peoples, for there is nothing that can be conceived as wider in extent than that.
Along with this universalizing, however, there goes also an intensification of the promise up to the limits of existence as such. What the ancient faith in the promise expected from the nearness and then from the presence of the God of promise was guidance, preservation, protection, blessing, fullness of life, etc., and these expectations were given content from the concrete experience of deprivations, of being abandoned to hunger, thirst, wretchedness and the oppression and menace of their enemies. That is, the expectations receive their content in the mind’s eye from the contrary experiences that were endured under the absence and hiddenness of the God of promise. The positive content of the ideas is all supplied by negation of the negative. In the same way the visionary ideas of the prophetic promises receive their content from the negative experiences of Yahweh’s judgment. This means, however, that the visions of the promised glorifying of Yahweh develop in the light of the new experiences of judgment. Yahweh’s coming glory shows itself in overcoming the experienced judgment and turning it to blessing. If this were to be expressed in theological terms, we should have to say: it shows itself in the overcoming of God by God — of the judging, annihilating God by the saving, life-giving God, of the wrath of God by his goodness. If we would illustrate it by the people concerned, then the coming new action of Yahweh must be exemplifiable in the overcoming of the experiences of judgment, in the overcoming of hunger and poverty, of humiliation and offence, of international wars and polytheism, and finally of a god-forsaken death. These conquests of the experienced negative aspects of existence that are understood as judgments of Yahweh are all summed up in the content of the expectation that is bound up with the coming fullness of the glory of Yahweh. The content of the expectation in the ‘predictions’ is thus supplied on the one hand by recollections and analogies from the history of the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises in the good old days of his people’s past whose return is hoped for — while on the other hand it is provided by negation of the negative elements in the new experiences of judgment. To this end, ideas of international peace, etc., can then also be taken over from other peoples, so far as they can be given eschatological form.
But in the message of the prophets there still remains at first one boundary — death. As long as death is felt to be the natural boundary of life, God remains a God of the living. But if death — or at least early death — is experienced as exclusion from the promise of fullness and consummation of life, and thus as an effect of judgment, then the hope of the overcoming of God’s judgment by his life-creating glory must be exemplified also in relation to this boundary. Hence on the periphery of the prophetic message death appears as a suffering of divine judgment, and the messianic salvation in which the judgment is annulled is exemplified in a conquest of dying and of death. Yahweh remains a God of the living. The suffering endured at the ultimate boundary of life does not lead to the adoption of Egyptian ideas of a Beyond. But if the death-boundary is understood as a judgment of Yahweh, then his power extends also beyond death. The dead, too, can be recognized as included within the realm of his promise and glory, and even death itself is seen as a transformable possibility in his hand and no longer as a fixed reality that sets a limit to his working. Thus the term ‘eschatological’ would now have to be used for a promise whose horizon of expectation surmounts and overcomes all experiences of the total judgment of God in life and death. Only when the horizon of expectation extends beyond what is felt to be the final boundary of existence, i.e. beyond the bounds of death, does it reach an eschaton, a non plus ultra, a novum ultimum.
The universalizing of the promise finds its eschaton in the promise of Yahweh’s lordship over all peoples.
The intensification of the promise finds its approach to the eschatological in the negation of death.
Now of course it must be noted that these limits of the eschatological, as they have here been terminologically defined, are nowhere so plain and clear-cut in the classical prophets. The latter stand in the midst of the history of their people and in the transition from the breakdown of the old to the breaking in of the new. History for them does not stand still as in the apocalyptic visions of the end. They do not, like the apocalyptic sects, stand in unworldly detachment over against the ‘world’, the nations and the people of Israel, so that they could give themselves over to contemplating the worldliness of the world and its future fate. On the contrary, here everything is still in flux and the history whose future they announce is still mobile. They know that they themselves and their message are a factor in the movement of the history of God. Thus they certainly speak of ‘history’ as the ‘work of Yahweh’ or the ‘plan of Yahweh’ (Isa. 28.29), and also of the ‘whole work of Yahweh’ (Isa. 10.12). Yet that is not a history surveyed apocalyptically from the standpoint of the end at which all things stand still, but it is a future announced from the midst of the process of history. When they speak of Yahweh’s plan, they are not thinking of insight into the divine determination of the world, but mean the constancy of his historic faithfulness. They see judgment and history in the light of the freedom of Yahweh, not as immutable fate. Hence the plans of Yahweh can be ‘repented of’ by Yahweh, and the proclamation of them leads the present into decisions which have an influence on the future of the divine action also. As distinct from any fatalistic apocalyptic view of history, the mobility of history as the prophets see it, and as they stand in it with their own witness, can therefore be called ‘a purposeful conversation of the Lord of the future with Israel’.(H.W. Wolff, op. cit., p. 231.) It could thus be said that while the prophetic message in its breadth and in its existential depth does reach the utmost bounds of reality and thereby become eschatological, yet these bounds are not predetermined but are themselves flexible.
7. The Historifying of the Cosmos in Apocalyptic Eschatology
It is difficult to explain the phenomenon of late Jewish apocalyptic and its contents.(‘Cf. the completely divergent verdicts of G. von Rad, op. cit. II, pp. 354 ff (ET pp. 301 ff.) on the one hand, and on the other hand of K. Koch, op. cit., and W. Pannenberg, Offenberg als Geschichte, 1961, pp. 103 ff.) Have we here to do with a legitimate continuation of the prophetic message, or with a falling away from the prophetic faith in the promise? Is it a case of the intrusion of the dualistic world-picture of Iranianism or, if this is so, had an inward openness for it already been prepared by the message of the prophets?
It can be said in the first instance that the futuristic and eschatological outlook is common to both the prophets and the apocalyptists. Then, however, distinctions will at once have to be made.
(a) Apocalyptic cherishes a religious, deterministic view of history. The temporal sequence of the aeons is settled from the start and history gradually unfolds a plan of Yahweh’s. In the prophets, however, there is no trace of the idea that the eschata have been firmly determined since the beginning of time.
(b) In apocalyptic the factor standing over against the God who acts in history is the ‘world’ that lies under the power of evil. In the prophets, however, we have ‘Israel and the nations’.
(c) The apocalyptic expectation is no longer directed towards a consummation of the creation through the overcoming of evil by good, but towards the separation of good and evil and hence the replacement of the ‘world that lies under the power of evil’ by the coming ‘world of righteousness’. This shows a fatalistic dualism which is not yet so found in the prophets.
(d) The judgment is not seen as something which in the freedom of God can be recalled and which can be averted, if it may be, by repentance, but as an immutable fate that is assuredly coming, as a fatum irreparabile.
(e) The prophets stood in the midst of the people of Israel and thus also in the midst of its history. The apocalyptists stand in the post-exilic congregation of the righteous of Yahweh.(O. Ploger, op. cit., pp. 63 ff.)
(f) The prophets in their predictions quite openly took their stand in their own historic present. From that standpoint they unfold their historic perspectives. The apocalyptist, however, veils his own place in history.
In short, the question arises whether apocalyptic thinking does not ultimately show signs of non-historic thinking. Does the apocalyptic division of world history into periods according to the plan of Yahweh not merely interpret in terms of universal history earlier, foreign schemata of a cosmological kind? Apocalyptic as the ‘science of the highest’ has such an encyclopedic character, just like the esoteric apocalyptic of the pietistic theology of saving history in the seventeenth and eighteenth Christian centuries.
On the other hand, it has been pointed out with good reason how firmly the apocalyptic picture of history is rooted in the historic thinking of Israel and bound up with the prophetic eschatology. In this context Daniel becomes the executor of the testament of the prophets with his first ‘sketch of world history in terms of universal history’.(K. Koch, op. cit., p. 31.)
This contradictory impression arises from the fact that in the eschatology of the prophets the horizon of the promise, both in its breadth and in its depth, reaches the limits of what can be described as cosmic finitude. When, however, the moving historic horizon of the historic hopes reaches these eschata, then there arises the possibility of abandoning the point of perspective in history and reading the course of world history backwards from the end now contemplated, as if universal history were a universum, a predetermined cosmos of history. Numerical speculations from ancient cosmology are introduced in order to provide an order for the periods of world history corresponding to the spatial order. The world empires are fixed. The eschaton becomes a fatum. Then the place of election, which determines the ground of obedience and hope, is taken by providence which determines events. The place of the promise which is trusted in hope contrary to all apparent hope is taken by the end drama. The place of the eschaton which is brought about by God in his freedom is taken by a historic finale that comes about in the course of time. The place of the faithfulness of God to which, in his freedom, the fulfillment of the promised future is entrusted is taken by the plan of God which is firmly established from the beginning of time and gradually disclosed by history. In place of a historic theology we have a theology of history and in place of a historic eschatology comes an eschatological contemplation of history. Like the eighteenth-century theology of saving history, apocalyptic contains perceptible traces of the distant God of deism. On the other hand it must not be overlooked that in the speculative apocalypses there is also always a note of exhortation to be found. It is the exhortation to persevere in the faith of the righteous: he who endures to the end will be saved. It follows that faith and unbelief, good and evil, election and reprobation, righteous and unrighteous are firmly established, and what matters is to abide by what we are. This again is wholly in harmony with the place of apocalyptic in the life of those who form a community apart.
What is the result of thus comparing the eschatology of the prophets with the historic hopes of early Israel on the one hand and with cosmological apocalyptic on the other? In asking this, we are now asking about the systematic consequences for the outline of eschatology as such.
In the first instance we find an extreme contradiction in the theological evaluation of apocalyptic. G. von Rad holds that the characteristic apocalyptic division of world history into periods from the standpoint of the world consummation is ‘simply the interpretation and actualization of earlier cosmological schemata found in myth’.(G. von Rad, op. cit. II, p. 321 [ET p. 308]). K. Koch and W. Pannenberg see it as the first attempt to provide a sketch of world history on the basis of the prophetic eschatology. Both verdicts have their ground in the recognition of the fact that apocalyptic applies cosmological patterns to history, with the result that either ‘history’ comes to a standstill or else ‘history’ becomes intelligible as a summary representation of reality in its totality.
But now, when we consider the relation between eschatology and cosmology in apocalyptic, there arises still a third possible interpretation and a third possible theological evaluation. The application of cosmological patterns to history as determined by the eschaton naturally does have the effects noted by von Rad and Koch. Yet the peculiarity and the theological significance of apocalyptic could lie contrariwise in the fact that what we have here is not by any means a cosmological interpretation of eschatological history, but an eschatological and historic interpretation of the cosmos. It might well be that the existing cosmic bounds of reality, which the moving historic horizon of the promise reaches in eschatology, are not regarded as fixed and predetermined things, but are themselves found to be in motion. It might well be that once the promise becomes eschatological it breaks the bounds even of that which etiology had hitherto considered to be creation and cosmos, with the result that the eschaton would not be a repetition of the beginning, nor a return from the condition of estrangement and the world of sin to the state of original purity, but is ultimately wider than the beginning ever was. Then it would not be the case that eschatology becomes cosmological in apocalyptic,, and is thereby stabilized, but vice versa cosmology would become eschatological and the cosmos would be taken up in terms of history into the process of the eschaton. This would then be the other side of the struggle in apocalyptic between eschatology and cosmology — a side which has hitherto remained unnoticed, because theology was interested only in eschatology but not in cosmology. If, as we might say, in the message of the prophets the Israelite ‘hope for history’ was struggling with the experiences of world history, and if in this struggle world history was understood as a function of the eschatological future of Yahweh, so it is also in apocalyptic: historic eschatology is here struggling with cosmology and in this struggle makes the cosmos understandable as a historic process of aeons in apocalyptic perspective. Then it would not by any means be the case that in the apocalyptic outlook the history that is motivated by our hopes for history is brought to a standstill, but on the contrary, the now universal hope for history would here be setting the cosmos in motion. In a struggle of this kind eschatology naturally suffers serious losses. Yet we must not look only at these, but must also see what is gained in them. The ‘universe’ is no longer, as in pagan cosmology, a thing to be interpreted in astro-mythical or pantheistic or mechanistic terms as the sum total of the world and of our satisfaction with it. Instead, it splits into aeons in the apocalyptic process — into a world that is coming and one that is passing away. The totum of apocalyptic means a different thing from the universe of cosmology. The whole world is now involved in God’s eschatological process of history, not only the world of men and nations. The conversion of man in the prophetic message then finds its correlate in the conversion of the whole cosmos, of which apocalyptic speaks. The prophetic revolution among the nations expands to become the cosmic revolution of all things. Not only the martyrs are included in the eschatological suffering of the Servant of God, but the whole creation is included in the suffering of the last days. The suffering becomes universal and destroys the all-sufficiency of the cosmos, just as the eschatological joy will then resound in a ‘new heaven and a new earth’. In other words, while apocalyptic does conceive its eschatology in cosmological terms, yet that is not the end of eschatology, but the beginning of an eschatological cosmology or an eschatological ontology for which being becomes historic and the cosmos opens itself to the apocalyptic process. This historifying of the world in the category of the universal eschatological future is of tremendous importance for theology, for indeed it makes eschatology the universal horizon of all theology as such. Without apocalyptic a theological eschatology remains bogged down in the ethnic history of men or the existential history of the individual. The New Testament did not close the window which apocalyptic had opened for it towards the wide vistas of the cosmos and beyond the limitations of the given cosmic reality.