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Covenant, Torah and Pilgrimage of the Nations to Mount Zion
At a small international gathering in Rome in 1989 Professor Norbert Lohfink gave a lecture entitled The Covenant and Jeremiah's New Covenant in the Christian Canon and in the Hebrew Bible. He concluded that the term "New Covenant" in Jeremiah 31:31 does not refer to a different covenant from that of Sinai, but rather to new divine initiatives after crises in Israel's history. One such crisis was that of the Babylonian exile and Jeremiah's promise of a new covenant began to be fulfilled in the return. One point of continuity in all these initiatives is the link with the Torah. The text does not speak of a new Torah but "Torah in the heart". The New Testament takes up this text of Jeremiah in the context of the Last Supper of Jesus. Rather than concentrate on the question of the relation between the Covenants, Professor Lohfink suggested looking at Torah and the question as to how Christians stand with regard to Torah which is not changed in the New Covenant referred to in the Jeremiah text.
Professor Lohfink continued his study at the Conference in January 1991 as follows:
In some passages in the Hebrew Bible we find a constellation of two "Covenants" that complement each other. In the priestly scriptural tradition God establishes the Noachic covenant for all human beings and animals, and the Covenant with Abraham for Israel. Yet apart from this doubling, the "Covenant" is Israel's prerogative. The "Torah" as well seems to be associated with Israel alone.
Could this be different in relation to the "New Covenant" which, in Jeremiah 31:31-34, is being promised for the "Days that are coming soon"? The text, however, is unequivocal here as well.
See, the days are coming - it is the Lord who speaks - when I will make a new covenant with the House of Judah. (Jer. 31:31).
Also, when speaking of that imminent future, Jeremiah talks of Israel only. There is no mention of the nations. The same is true of the following passages: Jer. 32:37-41; 50:4-5; Ez. 16:59-63; 34:23-31; 37:21-28, passages that deal with a future covenant as well. The main text too, on the pilgrimage of the nations, sounds as if the nations, ascending Mount Zion in "the latter days", were expected only to worship the God of Israel there and to learn to establish peace amongst each other (Is. 2:2-5, Mic. 4:1-4). The latter could well be related to the Noachic theme. A "covenant" is not mentioned.
Wherever the Jewish-Christian dialogue has become theological, it centres, not infrequently, on the word "Covenant". We Christians are often unaware how strange the belief that we take for granted that we are rooted in the "New Covenant" proclaimed by Jeremiah must sound to Jewish ears. For instance, the question arises whether the Jeremiah passage really talks of a "messianic" event rather than of something that quickly found its fulfillment in the history of Israel and can be fulfilled time and again (1). Apart from this question there is the fact that nowhere in any biblical text that promises a pilgrimage of the nations to Mount Zion is there mention of nations being integrated, on Mount Zion, into Israel's Covenant. Whenever, in spite of this, we Christians apply the promise of the Book of Jeremiah to the nations as well, we do this, because the New Testament does it. It applies the New Covenant according to its conviction initiated by Jesus to all who join themselves to Jesus, even though they come from the nations. With the words of Jeremiah 31 it interprets the Lord's supper, which is celebrated by all Christians, not only Judeo-Christians. If in the words of the institution of the Last Supper, one retraces the word "new" historically to Jesus, and if, from the beginning, one views the Last Supper against a horizon of peoples reaching beyond Israel, Jesus himself has already understood this Jeremiah passage in this manner. 1f not, then at least his followers did so.
Theologically speaking, we Christians from the nations could well live with the fact that only with the fulfillment of the promise would its universality have become obvious. Indeed, Christian theologians who have no doubts that the Bible of Israel already expressed itself universally, often say that the New Testament is the first to universalize the Old Testament.
Even then, a theological dialogue with the Jews would be possible. For the Bible of Israel talks of a pilgrimage of nations to Mount Zion, as well as of a "new covenant", and it promises both for the future. Thus, even starting with Israel's bible, one cannot avoid discussing how the two statements correlate and whether they will somehow link. However it seems to me that this dialogue has already started in Israel's bible itself. The Hebrew Bible already deals with the question whether at the eschatological pilgrimage of the nations, all who stream to God on Mount Zion, also receive his Torah and are admitted to his Covenant with Israel. Contrary to all appearances the answer could even be a "yes".
This "yes", however, is not strong; indeed it is scarcely audible. In fact, Scripture barely breathes it. However Scripture does say it. As far as I can see modern biblical science has not yet faced this fact squarely. I want to discuss this in what follows.
Starting from Jer. 31, I take it for granted that Torah and Covenant belong together and that they belong together in the New Covenant as well. Furthermore, I read the Hebrew Bible synchronically in the intertextuality of all the books. Jewish tradition does the same, even though there are some differences. At any rate this approach suggests itself in the context of the Jewish Christian dialogue. After an analysis of the basic passages about the pilgrimage of the nations, I shall follow a certain sequence, which in the end will lead to Psalm 25:14. I do not want to exclude the possibility that there may be other sequences in the Hebrew Bible which could be pursued. With reference to Is. 56:1-7, sometimes mentioned in this connection, I think it is only about individuals joining Israel and the word b' rit only refers to the Sabbath law (cf. Ex. 31:13-17).
The Torah in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4
As the Decalogue occurs twice in the Pentateuch so the text about the Pilgrimage of the Nations to Mount Zion occurs twice in the Prophetical Canon. This indicates its importance. As has already been said, it does not contain the word b'rith. However there is the word Torah, and before that leading to it the verb YRH (teach):
...that he may teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths since "Torah" will go out from Zion, and the word of YHWH from Jerusalem. (Is. 2:3 Mic.4:3).
The picture outlined in the whose text is consistent. God is the one who acts. His teaching (and therefore his "Torah") exists or continues in right judgment and in the word of God that convinces one to act anew. Then the nations act: they end their wars and make future wars impossible through disarmament and by dispensing with military training. The parallelism shows that the Torah is the "Word of YHWH", that is being pronounced now. So at first glance the word "Torah" does not necessarily have to designate Israel's Torah contained in the Pentateuch, especially as (in the majority of cases) the Bible refers to it as Moses' Torah and not God's Torah. We could think of a totally new "teaching" of Zion's God, that eschatologically rearranges the social structure of humanity (2). But has it nothing to do with the Torah given to Israel in its covenant? If, stimulated by the stress on the word Torah through the preceding verb YRH, we look more closely, we do indeed discover a coherence.
The phrase "pilgrimage of nations" starts with the "picture-code" of mountains and hills. The landscape changes. Mount Zion becomes the highest of the mountains, next to which there are only hills that cannot reach up to its height. What does this picture indicate? It does not intend to describe the unchanging reality of the Temple, as is done, for example, in corresponding passages from Mesopotamian temple-consecration texts. Indeed, the proclamation is not valid while the Temple exists. It is only in the future that something will change. Normally the understanding is that Mount Zion will surpass everything else, because it will become the most important, or the only place of oracle in the world. No-one allows for a connection to the social reality of Israel living there. Consequently one has to see the lower hills, whose place in the same verse is quite naturally taken by the nations, as analogous to the temples and oracles of other gods in the wide world, without implying a special connection to the peoples living there. In the anticipated hour of history, the gods of those places of oracle will have become powerless. No longer will any helpful oracles be heard there. The point of departure for the passages on the pilgrimage of nations would, therefore, be the future disappearance of gods everywhere outside Israel. Commencing with Isaiah 40 this is known to be a theme. But is this the view that also determines the text in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4?
In developing its theme this text, without doubt, approaches questions of social decay. Although at first the picture may still be open to various interpretations, a continued reading of the text must show that towering Mount Zion has something to do with peace, which the nations do not find amongst each other, but which they are searching for and then receive from Mount Zion. The question of whether there is a divine presence in the temples of the world does not arise here. This means that the hills in the first picture must have stood for the nations. They stand for realities which are about war or peace, social realities. If, however, the hills are synonymous with the nations, why shouldn't towering Mount Zion stand for the inhabitants of Jerusalem?
Since in this context the word Torah has been emphasized so unequivocally, it becomes evident that the Torah that will be given to the nations from Jerusalem is connected with the Torah of peace that Israel, living on Mount Zion, calls its own. Having arrived at Isaiah 2 or Micah 4, every reader of the Bible is well aware which Torah is being spoken of. The fact that Mount Zion towers over all the other hills because people obey the Torah in Jerusalem, becomes even more evident when one examines the verse that closes the prophetic word. Is. 2:5 invites the "House of Jacob" to walk in YHWH's light. This is the metaphoric language of the sun-god, who is equally the God of justice. The House of Jacob should begin to become a righteous society. This invitation is uttered now, and it is uttered with a view to that which has been promised for the "latter days" (2:2). This is its logic: Now we shall become a just society so that what God will do in the "latter days" may happen. The fact that the mountain, together with YHWH's House, towers over the other hills, depends on the fate of Torah in Israel. It is only when it starts to radiate there that it can enter the world of the nations as Zion's Torah. Here we see clearly, at least in the closing words of this passage of Isaiah, that the Torah of 2:3 is intimately linked to the Torah given to Israel by her God.
In 4:4 Micah comes to a different conclusion about the oracle. He makes the imagery of the peace of the nations explicit in the family context. At the same time verse 5, that follows the closing formula, is less ethos, and more cult focused, than Isaiah 2:5. Its pragmatic climax seems to me to be the exhortation to fidelity and perseverance, as long as what has been promised for the future days does not become visible, because other nations continue to adore their respective gods. This verse is not a key for an interpretation of the preceding verses 1-4. Even if it were, the "We" = Jacob-Israel, would have to be part of the interpretation of the towering Mount Zion, even if only formally with reference to fidelity to the God of Jacob. Israel's steadfast fidelity to YHWH is important, when considering the truth of 4:1-4. At least one cannot say that there has been no allusion at all to "participation of Israel in this event" (pace W. Gross).
All this becomes clearer still through the clues given in the texts preceding our prophetic passage both in Isaiah and in Micah. From 1:21 on, the Book of Isaiah deals with the lost justice of the "City". From 1:24 on, YHWH intervenes to reestablish justice. 1:28-31 describes again the doom of the rebellious. The theme "Zion" is then taken up again in 2:2. This is our text, and it is introduced with the image of the towering Mount Zion. Could one possibly, after such a sequence, interpret this image other than as an image of "Justice"? If this is so, then the Torah emanating from Mount Zion must be connected, right from the beginning, with the Torah by which the inhabitants of the city know how to live justly.
In the Book of Micah the (un)social behavior is its topic from 2:1 on. Everything culminates in 3:9-11a in an accusation against Zion because of its injustice. In 3:12 there follows the sentence: "Zion will become ploughland, and what is more, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, and the "Mountain" of the "Temple" a wooded height". There will be no towering Temple-mount left, crowned by a "House". This is the contrasting-associative "trigger" for the oracle on the "Mountain" of the "House of YHWH" that will tower over all the other mountains "in the latter days". The interjected idea in 3:11b was the statement of paid false prophets, who insisted that YHWH was in the midst of Jerusalem, even if injustice was reigning there. Therefore the social conditions in Jerusalem had long been discussed by the time Micah 4:1-4 was proclaimed. By then it had been stated as an impossibility that YHWH could be in Jerusalem if injustice ruled on Mount Zion. If, according to 4:1-4, in future days, YHWH will without doubt be in Zion's midst, and if, for that same reason, the Mountain will tower so high above the other mountains = nations, then this is unthinkable, unless justice rules there again. The Torah, which the nations are looking for, must have something to do with this justice and also with the Torah of Israel that leads to it.
In conclusion, one can well say that the basic text about the pilgrimage of the nations to Mount Zion promises a Torah to the nations as the fruit of their pilgrimage, and that this Torah has dose connections to Israel's Torah. Nothing more. There is no mention of a covenant. What is being said, however, is already a great deal.
Psalm 25 and the Pilgrimage of the Nations
Now I would like to draw your attention to a statement in which the role of Torah and Covenant at the eschatological pilgrimage of nations to Mount Zion is seen in a completely different way. I am thinking of Psalm 25. In it the expression "Torah" for the nations has been avoided, although there is emphasis on what the expression means. But there is seemingly no problem in this Psalm in allowing them a share in the "Covenant". However before going on to show this in more detail, I have to prove how far Psalm 25 can be read as part of the theme "Pilgrimage of the nations". It does not mention it explicitly. This can be seen to be implicit if the Psalm is read in the context of the adjacent Psalms, although it is not clear if read in isolation. This way of reading the Psalms together is just beginning to be recognized again in more recent research. Here what is decisive is the connection with Psalm 24.
A person reading the Psalter consecutively would already have met the question about the conditions of entry to the sanctuary of Zion in Ps. 15:1. So it would already be familiar on arriving at Ps. 24:3:
Who has the right to climb the mountain of YHWH, who has the right to stand in his holy pace?
As in Ps. 15 the conditions are enumerated in answer. The number, however, is smaller there. In 15:2-5a we find 10 conditions. In 24:4 in one single verse there are only four statements. If one takes the two statements of the first line as one combined condition, then we have only three conditions. The second is:
The one who has not lifted up his voice to what is false.
The opening verse of Ps. 25 corresponds exactly to this condition:
To you YHWH I lift up my voice
This explains, first of all, that by "what is false" in 24:4 we should not understand false declarations, but false gods. Above all, however, by opening in this way, Ps. 25, emerges as a prayer for those people who, according to Ps. 24, have the right to enter the sanctuary of Zion. It was the intention of the redactors of the psalms to show by way of Ps. 25 how these people pray there or could pray there.
The same is true of the psalm that follows. As happens so often, announcement and presentation are ordered in a chiasmus. Psalm 25 is announced by the second condition of admittance of Ps. 24:4. The first condition mentioned there:
"The one whose hands are innocent, whose heart is pure", is taken up again in the next psalm but one (Ps. 26). In its first proclamation we have the petition:
Melt my loins and my heart (26:2).
The meaning of the image is: God is asked to test the most intimate intentions of the praying per-son. There is a new beginning in the Psalm, opening with the sentence:
I wash my hands in innocence! (26:6).
The worshipper in Ps. 26, therefore, is certain that he fulfills the conditions of Ps. 24:4.
A number of other observations show that psalms 25 and 26 are also closely connected with each other. It should be obvious, therefore, that these two psalms, within the intention of the psalm-redaction, ought to clarify, for the meditative reader of the Psalter, what the people, who (according to Ps. 24:5-6) are admitted to the sanctuary of Zion, are expressing in their prayer. However, we have to ask again, and more precisely, who these people are. Therefore, let us turn back to psalm 24! After enumerating the conditions of admission (4) and after a promise of blessing and justification (5), the people we are talking about, are once more characterized (in 24:6):
This is the generation of those who ask of him ( =YHWH) who seek your face, O Jacob!
The reader will recognize a well known wordspan (cf. Deut. 4:29; Jud 6:29; Is. 65:1; Jer. 29:13; Ez. 34:6; Soph. 1:6; Ps. 38:13; 105:4; Job 10:6; Prov. 11:27; 1 Chr. 16:11). Here, however, their objects are not parallel. The second one cuts through the reader's expectation, who (following the first reference) would here expect a name of God. If one does not try to find an answer in the Septuagint, which obviously could not cope with the meaning of this verse, then those, whose admittance to the sanctuary is dealt with here, can only be non-Israelites; in other words, people from the "nations".
For, if they desire to seek "your face, O Jacob" they cannot themselves belong to Jacob = Israel) (3). In Psalm 24 we also find various linguistic similarities referring to the pilgrimage of the nations in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4. We must conclude that in its masoretic form, Ps. 24 speaks of the eschatological pilgrimage of the nations to Mount Zion. It, therefore, commences with an acknowledgment of YHWH the Lord of the whole world, and all its inhabitants (v.1 ff.). This may also be the reason why the only conditions required for admittance are purity of heart and hands and the worship of the one true God. No mention is made, as in Ps. 15, of anything specifically Israelite, as for example the prohibition on asking interest on loans.
It follows from all this that Ps. 25 and Ps. 26 are prayers of people from the nations. They will speak like this when they come to the sanctuary of Zion in the "latter days". Many of the sayings in Ps. 25 might otherwise sound like common or garden images from the later Psalm motifs, but in this light they take on a different color. To a certain extent one has to learn to read the psalm in a new way.
Psalm 25 and the "Covenant" for the Nations
In this Psalm the arrangement of the verses is alphabetical. But this is not the only structure of the psalm, even though well-known interpreters, like Hermann Gunkel, think so. As early as 1932, H. Mςller presented a superb and to this day unsurpassed structural analysis of Ps. 25, which one can accept without hesitation (4). The starting
(4) in ZAW 50, pp. 252-256.
point for reaching a theory is first of all a clearly predominant tripartite division, which appears if one ignores the special verses 1 and 22. Ps. 25:2-7 is a petition; 25:8-15 is more reflective. In 25:16-21 we again have one petition after another. Then one
can easily recognise further divisions with the beginning of the way-theme in 25:4, the new beginning through a question in 25:12, and the conclusion of the sin-theme in 25:19. So we arrive at the following scheme:
Introduction (v. 1)
Front-frame (vv. 2-3) } Petition
CORPUS (vv. 4-19)
Section I (vv. 4-7)
Section II (vv. 8-11) )
} confirmation of faith
Section III (vv. 12-15)
Section IV (vv. 16-19)
Back-frame (vv. 20-21)
Closing (v. 22)
The identity of the sections which result from this can be more clearly recognized from the distribution of key words and their content, as Moller has shown. The whole presents a psalm which has a quantitative balance and a chiastic mirror-image structure.
The opening element determines the whole: a call for help in the face of danger from enemies, based on trust (vv.2-3). But in 25:4 this prayer jumps to another prayer arising from a much deeper need: the prayer for direction in YHWH's way and for forgiveness of the sins of youth (vv.4-7). Once this prayer from the depths has been reached and expressed, it apparently gives the calmness needed to talk with objective reflection about what the prayerful trust actually makes possible. The first of the two sections that speak objectively, if they are not in fact lyrical praise, is about God's dealings (vv.8-11): He introduces the sinners and the poor into his ways. This is why the end of the section can again speak to God: in virtue of the "Name" thus described (which is in fact God's nature) the person praying hopes for the forgiveness of his sins (v.11).
In the mirroring pattern of the psalm, this sets off the second objective-lyrical section which describes the same thing from the perspective of the human being who "fears" YHWH (vv.12-15). Ever deeper forms of blessing will come upon him. At the end of the section the person praying returns again, as in the previous section, to himself: he can hope to be saved (v.15). This sets off the next section which, corresponding to 25:5-7, is once again pure petition (vv.16-19). Here the one praying rises from the depth in which the corresponding verses 4-7 had descended and returns to the concrete need of the moment, the threat from the enemy. The closing element (vv.20-21) continues this prayer in picking up the motif of the opening and again turns it into a prayer on the basis of trust.
So much for a quick analysis of the psalm, although still without any reference to interpretation in terms of the pilgrimage of the nations, which its opening verse indicates by linking it to preceding psalm 24. It remains now to show what new light falls on the statements of the psalm as soon as one reads it as the prayer of someone from the nations or even as the prayer of the nations coming to Zion.
First of all, it is true that Psalm 25 recalls Psalm 24 not only in its first sentence but also in recognizable references in two further places:
25:5 You are the God who saves me. cp. 24:5 He receives justice from the God who saves him.
25:12 Who is this man who fears YHWH? cp. 24:6 This is the generation of those who ask of him. (and probably cp. 24:8, 10 Who is this king of glory?).
But then Ps. 25 goes beyond Ps. 24 in picking up the basic texts of the pilgrimage of the nations to Zion in Is. 2:2-5 and Mie. 4:1-5. Of course one only becomes aware of this when one reads these passages within this framework of interpretation.
After the person praying has in 25:1 proclaimed himself to be one of those who could come from the nations to Zion, he comes immediately to a theme which is the real theme of the texts about the pilgrimage of the nations: enmity in the human world. In Is. 2 that doesn't appear unti) the end of the oracle when it reaches the point of the prophecy (`swords into ploughshares...'). In the opening element of Ps. 25 it is immediately clothed in the traditional forms of Israel's songs of lament and of trust (25:2-3). So we may understand, the nations of Is. 2 may also pray when they come to Zion and turn to the God of Jacob.
But according to Is. 2:3 these nations are conscious that it is not only a question of immediate help in the face of imminent enemy threats, but of fundamental relearning:
He will give us instruction from his knowledge of the way, and we will learn to walk along his paths.
The prayer in Ps. 24:4 stemming from a concrete danger in the face of enemies changes to a corresponding prayer, now widely developed, to be instructed in the ways of YHWH (vv.4-5). The hope that this prayer will be heard is based on the developed confession of faith in verses 8-11 in which the corresponding key words reappear. These indeed determine the third section as well (vv.12-15). In fact, the way in which the theme 'way' is expressed, which even for the Psalms is astonishingly concentrated, only becomes intelligible in the context of the texts about the pilgrimage of the nations.
But a second theme is added in verses 4-7: 'the sins of my youth'. From the briefly glimpsed phrase in 25:2, which remains open and unexplained, habogdim reikam "those who practice betrayal into emptiness", and from 25:1 and 24:4 we have to say: this is to be understood as the worship of other gods practiced before by the nations who come to Zion. A glance at Mic. 4:5 strengthens that impression. For according to that verse, the absence of the pilgrimage of the nations to Zion is caused by the fact that the nations continue to call upon the names of their gods. This theme will also enclose verse 8-11 and it will return once again in verses 16-19 as the penultimate petition, in the mirror position to that in which it first appeared (18 f.).
The two themes of verses 4-7, recognition of the way and forgiveness of sins, coalesce for the person from the nations who is praying at the beginning of the next section 8-11. For it is precisely sinners whom YHWH instructs in the way. It seems as if, in this section the nations are taking over the experience of Israel, to whose sanctuary they come. The Israelites of post exilic times know themselves as the "poor". In the Hodayot from Qumran it can be seen that the description of oneself as "poor" belongs primarily to the teaching about justification of the sinner. And there the word is not yet used of the sinner just after his sin, but it first appears when God justifies him through grace and sets him in a new way. It is similar here (v.9): the sinners are led through judgment as "poor", but that is precisely how they learn God's way. This way is what we today cali `covenane. But here both sides of it are developed: from God's side it is hesed veemet (steadfast love and faithfulness), from Israel's side it is the keeping of berito veedotav (his covenant and his testimonies) (v. 10). So Israel is led on the way of justification from poverty into the convenant. When one knows from Israel's experience that God acts in this way, then one knows God's 'Name'. In virtue of this name, the member of the nations who is praying now also hopes for forgiveness of his sins, for an analagous justification (v.11).
That sparks off the corresponding second objective section (vv.12-15) which now gives a positive description of what the foreigner praying may hope for himself on the basis of Israel's experience of God's 'Name'. This problematic is immediately clearly expressed actually in the form of a question. The person praying describes himself as yere YHWH, one night almost translate as a `God-fearer (v.12). Could this already be a case of the later name given to people from the nations who attached themselves to Israel? B. Duhm in his commentary asked this question as early as 1899. In any case, the text here is not talking about Israelites. For the path which God teaches is 'chosen' by these God-fearing people. But they now have a share in Israel's blessing.
In a clear allusion to a central theme of the Pentateuch, particularly of Deuteronomy it is promised that his seed will take possession of the land (v.13). So in that he is to be compared to Abraham. He himself is granted a share in God's sod, his 'counsel', or in his "mysteries" (which are revealed only to Israel), even in his "covenant" (v.14). This is the passage which sparked off all this research, and below it will be studied in more detail. It creates a climax. A circle is completed for in 25:4 the person praying had prayed for understanding of the way, while here it is a question of understanding of the covenant. All that follows now at the end of the section is the return of the person praying to objective reflection on himself and at the same time the lead-in to the following verse, which is again petition (v.15).
In the section 16-19 the member of the nations who is praying again rises from the depth of being to the concrete need which the pilgrimage of the nations has caused, to the conflict in human society. At the end there is the clear prayer to be saved from the enemy (v.19). And that already gives the key word for the closing element of the inclusio (vv.20-21). It breathes a trusting security. This Ieads to the last point: the member of the nations who is praying, who has entered into the experience of Israel and now lives from it, utters a prayer about the salvation of Israel from danger (v.22). The name "Israel" occurs here for the first and only time in the Psalm. But in what an allusive way, if the Psalm is read as a prayer of people from the nations!
Undoubtedly it is possible to read the Psalm in this way, as has just been demonstrated, even if it was not originally composed with this meaning. But some things suggest that the Psalm really only begins to speak when it is given this interpretation. And so this would be the only text in the whole of the Old Testament in which participation in Israel's "covenant" is promised even to people from the nations for the end of history.
On closer inspection the first thing to be noticed is that the complementary word torah is missing in Ps. 25. Considering the great number of words that referto Is. 2 this is surprising. There the Torah is given to the nations on Zion. In Ps. 25 only yrh, the root of the word torah, is used. But that is precisely why the absence of the word torah should be seen as relevant. As far as the torah is concerned, it is constantly present within Ps. 25 through the image of way and walking. Nevertheless, the person praying is reluctant to ask God for instruction in torah, and that apparently is not thought to be necessary.
Now it is possible to say that the theme of "torah" is already so tied up with the image of the way in Psalm 1 (vv.1,1,2,6), that this image can no longer be heard in the Psalter without at least some reference to Israel's torah. Also, the word (orali is not common. Before Ps. 25 it only occurs once (19:8). The first time the verb yrh Hiphil occurs in the Psalter is in Ps. 25. So, as it is so closely tied up with the image of the way, it may really introduce the idea of the torah of Israel. Nevertheless, the fast remains that in this passage the word itself does not occur. Perhaps one must allow for a hesitancy about imposing the full torah in the form known to Israel on the nations. Just as Ps. 24:4 retreated from the position of Ps. 15:2-5, so there may Nere be a conscious ambiguity about what concrete form the way of God would take for the nations. But whatever direction it may go, it will lead the nations into the "covenant". The word berit, which is used 21 times all together in the Psalter, does not occur before Ps. 25. Here it is found twice, and each time in different and unusual contexts.
In 25:10 it is followed by edotav (testimonies). The only other places one finds this pattern of words are 2 Kings 17:15 and Ps. 132:12. In reference to both occurrences, one can presume that at the time of the Psalter this pattern no longer had any specific reference to a particular literaryinstitutional reality, but simply a reference to the will of YHWH as contained in Israel's Torah. But why was it precisely this unusual word pattern that was chosen? The desire to avoid the word torah cannot be sufficient explanation.
The matter is even more complicated. God's disposition towards those who "keep the covenant and testimonies" is hesed veemet (fidelity and truth). This dose link between these two words and berit veedot is unique.
If one looks for a text in which all four expressions are relatively dose together and have something to do with each other in terms of content, one can only find one example: the chapter about the renewal of the covenant after the sin at Sinai, Ex. 34. Here in forgiving his people, YHWH proclaims himself before Moses as the "El... rich in fidelity and truth", and makes a new covenant, whose ordinances are recorded on the tablets of the Covenant, which are then immediately referred to as the tablets of the edot testimony (Ex. 34:6, 10, 27, 28, 29).
The fact that Ps. 25:10 intends, through its unusual formulation, to bring before the eyes of the reader the scene of the forgiveness and renewal of the covenant at Sinai is confirmed by the very next verse 11. Ex. 34:5-8 is about the revelation of the divine name on which the person praying in Ps. 25:11a is relying. After this revelation Moses asks God for forgiveness. He says: "and forgive our sins" (Ex. 34:9). This is precisely the formula that Ps. 25:11b takes up.
Once this dimension of Ps. 25:10 f. is seen, one can recognize that other word patterns in the whole psalm may perhaps be determined by the same background. In Ex. 33:13, in the conversations in which he argues for God's forgiveness for Israel, Moses asks: "Let me know your ways" that is how the section 4-7 of Ps. 25 begins. The prayer for forgiveness of sins in Ps. 25:6-7 which is built around the word zkr remember, contains several key words which are also important in Ex. 32-34 (cf. Ex. 32:13; 33:19; 34:6,7). Even the talk of the "seed" which will "take possession of the land" which was promised (Ps. 25:13) plays a part in Ex. 32:13; 33:6. But above all: Ps. 25:186 "remove all my sins" is, in the form of a petition, the summary of YHWH's self-description as the merciful forgiver in Ex. 34:7. So the first occurrence of the word berit (covenant) in Ps. 25 is doubtless related to Ex. 34. One can presume that these associations are evoked by the repetition of the word in 25:14, the use of the one word evoking the whole complex.
But first there are linguistic problems with this verse. The usual translation is: "The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them". But that supposes a kind of periphrastic conjugation and neglects the indications of parallelism. If we read the verses as a clear parallelism, both sentences would have to be main clauses. The words introduced with lamed ought to have the same function. This is in fact possible if the second link hodiam ("he gives them understanding") is understood as a relative clause without a relative pronoun. This explanation seems to me to be better than any other. The unexpressed object of knowledge is presumably the "way" of YHWH. In the two descriptions introduced by lamed, the first and the last characterization of the person approaching God in the text of 25:4-14 are brought together: "Give me understanding of your ways" (v.4) and' who fears YHWH" (v.12). I translate "YHWH's assembly is open to those who fear him, and his covenant to those to whom he gives understanding".
Sod is a word which is poetic and became common rather late. It means God's heavenly assembly which is present in the assembled cultic community of Israel. The member of the pilgrim nations on the way to Zion is now assumed into it. It is to be noticed that this community is already constituted in the Book of Exodus. So it is only to be expected that the parallel statement speaks about being assumed into that relationship with God that can be called "covenant" and was founded at Sinai and was renewed in forgiveness.
The faci that Ex. 33-34, the background text, does not deal with the first conclusion of the covenant at Sinai but with its renewal, directs our attention finally to Jer. 31:31-34, the source text for the "new covenant". It is certainly no coincidence that the phrasing "pardon iniquity", which is fairly rare, connects Ex. 34:9 with Jer. 31:34. It occurs only in Ex. 34:9; Num. 14:19; Jer. 31:34; 33:8; 36:3; 50:20; Ps. 25:11; 103:3. In Ex. 34 Israel constantly reads within its Torah of the possibility on offer of the "new covenant". If Ps. 25 now promises the nations future participation in the archetypal events of Ex. 34, it is in conjunction with the promise of a future new covenant for Judah and Israel. In Jer. 31:31-34 under the new covenant, the central theme is of a Torah, taught by God and no longer by humanity, and of a knowledge of YHWH communicated by God and no longer by humanity. Perhaps the prominente of the theme of divine teaching in Ps. 25 indicates that he wishes to remind the meditative reader not only of Ex. 34 but also of the promise of the new covenant.
The promise of Israel's covenant extending also to the nations, which is contained in Ps. 25, is, if I am right, unique in the whole of the Hebrew Bible. It is a strand within a statement which only becomes clear at the level of redactional criticism, with the result that modem biblical interpretation does not yet seem to have noticed it at all. It only carne to light as a result of a great deal of effort in this research. But if the decisive steps on the path to understanding which have been presented have been correct, Ps. 25 could become an important text for future Jewish-Christian conversation.
MILTON SCHWANTES, a Lutheran and a Biblical scholar from Brazil, was invited to respond to Professor Lohfink's paper. He did so in German. Expressing the joy this lecture had given him, he said the question addressed was not a Latin American one. Their question is one of survival, survival of nations and especially of the Indian people. Explaining that the Bible challenges them to reach new conclusions, the speaker showed how Psalm 25 would have been read in the Latin American context with the enemy identified as the oppressor of the poor. He spoke of his experience with the Amara Indians of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador and the challenge of their traditional life for Christianity. He concluded with references to the Psalms of Ascent (120-124) and the texts of Isaiah referred to in Professor Lohrmk's lecture and showed how they would be interpreted in Latin America's different situation.
A SUMMARY OF THE DISCUSSION
A good part of the discussion focussed on what constituted legitimate interpretation of the Biblical text. It was pointed out that to take one line of Ps. 25 as the basis of another version of God's way with humanity opens the door to what Simone Weil called "the free intuition of Christianity". Perhaps the most important question to Prof. Lohfink can be formulated as follows: "It was observed that you began by stating that you could not find that Israel's Covenant was promised to the nations in the Bible. Yet you made a very deep search and a complex study in order to find it there. Why was it so necessary for you to find this promise in the Tenach? The text that expounds the way of God with humanity, according to the Jewish tradition, is Genesis 9, the Covenant with Noah and the Noachide Laws. That is the first Covenant in Rabbinic tradition. Isaiah 56:6 specifies that the people of the nations join the people of Israel when they keep the Sabbath, which stands for all the mitzvoth".
In reply Professor Lohfink expressed his thanks for all the responses of the group. He found everything that was said had relevance for him. His interest in finding the Covenant for the nations in the first part of the Bible (Tenach) was twofold:
a) Although he had suggested (at the 1989 meeting) moving away from discussions about Covenant in favour of Torah, yet Covenant remains part of the dialogue. As an Old Testament scholar involved in exegetical questions, he wants to know what the Bible really says.
b) Christian theologians look at the Covenant in Christ which the New Testament describes in the context of Jeremiah 31:31 (New Covenant text). It took a long time for Professor Lohfink to realise that there was no text explicitly linking the Covenant with the Pilgrimage of the Nations joining Israel. This was a problem. The question for him now is "Was the fulfilment greater than the promise, or have we Christians not read the texts accurately? Have we implied things that are not there? Is this a Christian bias?". Hence this research.
However the real question is not why he was compelled to find the Covenant for the nations in the Bible but what the text really contains. Professor Lohfink stated that he is open to a conclusion that the evidence is not strong enough to bear his findings that his interpretation is motivated by what he wants to find, but he must go on trying to find out what the text says.
A second group of questions focussed on the use of the Psalter and the use of one psalm to interpret another. It was asked if the compilation of Psalms was made according to themes?
Professor Lohfink explained that research into the Psalter today is dominated by the Form Critical School which analyses each Psalm concentrating on genre, setting in life, etc. It seems to discuss, not the text itself, but its reconstruction by modern scholars. Prof. Lohfink maintained the Psalms were known by everyone and were used for meditation. The Psalter is a composition with real connections between the Psalms. Therefore Ps. 24, 25, 26 can be studied in this context. The compilation was not necessarily by themes, sometimes simply by associations. There is also development by one Psalm answering another. The end of one announces the next and everything ends with the Kindgom of GodTHE MEETING'S RESPONSE TO MILTON SCHWANTES
Some malaise (at times expressed with passion) surfaced at what seemed to many to be a manipulation of the biblical text to fit the Latin American situation and serve the purposes of the interpreter. It seemed to some that the historical situations giving rise to the text had been bypassed and contemporary political situations read into it. Such a practice can falsify the prophetical teaching. For example, the prophets were not advocating social revolution but protesting against neglect of the Covenant which resulted in unjust situations of the poor, widows and orphans. Although Hosea uses categories from the cult of Baal and Astarte to talk about God, he does so to turn Canaanite religion on its head and not to promote interchange between Israelite and Canaanite religions. (This was used as justification for a relationship between Indian gods and the God of the Bible).
It was thought necessary to distinguish between criticism of the institution (by the Prophets) and the call for its abolition. To say that sacrifice and justice are mutually exclusive (as the speaker was understood to have said), would mean discarding half the Bible.
More care in interpretation was called for. The Rabbis said "You can't make of Torah a spade to dig out whatever you want". To some extent it was medieval misreadings of the biblical text that led to Christian teaching of contempt for Judaism. There was concern that it could do so again.
* Norbert Lohfink
is a Jesuit, Professor of Old Testament at St. Georgen, Theological Institute in Frankfurt. He has published many books and articles.
(1) Cf. my book Der niemals gekudigte Bund, 1989.