The Most Controversial Verse in the Bible: Part 2, God is Odd

As I mentioned in the last post, Walter Brueggemann describes Amos 9:7 as imagining "Exodus in the plural." In his essay of that title, Brueggemann offers these observations about "the most controversial verse in the Bible": 

There is to Yahweh, in this imaginative reading [of Amos 9:7], an identifiable core of coherence. Yahweh's self-presentation is everywhere as an exodus God. That is who Yahweh is, and that is what Yahweh does. 'History' is a series of exodus narratives of which Israel's is one, but not the only one.

As I said in yesterday's post, God is an exodus God--that is who God is and what God does. And history, as imagined in Amos 9:7, is a series of exodus events, not just the one we read about in the Bible. Brueggemann continues:

Beyond that powerful mark of coherence as a subject, everything else about Yahweh, in this brief utterance [of Amos 9:7], may take many forms, so that Yahweh may be a character in Philistine history or in Syrian history, surely a treasonable shock to those in the mono-ideology that Amos subverts. Moreover, this action of Yahweh, from what we have in this utterance, did not convert these people to Yahwehism, did not require them to speak Hebrew, and did not submerge their histories as subsets of Israel's history. The liberation wrought by Yahweh left each of these peoples, so much as we know, free to live out and develop their own sense of cultural identity and of freedom. Thus it is fair to imagine that Yahweh, as the exodus God who generated the Philistines, came to be known, if at all, in Philistine modes. And Yahweh, as the exodus God who evoked the Syrians to freedom, came to be known, if at all, in Syrian modes. Beyond the coherent, pervading mark of exodus intentionality, we may as a consequence imagine that Yahweh is enormously pliable and supple as a participant in the histories of many peoples, not all of which are exact replicas of Israel's narrative or subsets of Israel's self-discernment.

Here Brueggemann unpacks the shocking, even "treasonable," implications of what Amos 9:7 imagines. Specifically, if it is true that God effected exoduses for the Philistines and the Syrians, those peoples did not name their exodus God as "Yahweh," nor did they convert to Judaism. The Philistines remained Philistines and the Syrians remained Syrians. The shocking implication here is that Yahweh liberated these peoples under the name of a pagan god, and has been worshipped accordingly. If this is so, as Brueggemann describes, God is "enormously pliable and supple" as God is "a participant in the histories of many peoples, not all of which are exact replicas of Israel's narrative."

I expect you're starting to see why I've described Amos 9:7 as "the most controversial verse in the Bible."

Brueggemann continues his reflections, noting how the imagination of Amos 9:7 pushes back upon our attempts to lock God inside a theological, doctrinal box:

Amos resituates Israel, Yahweh and the nations by asserting that what is true concerning Yahweh cannot be contained or domesticated into Israel's favorite slogans, categories, or claims...

If such a quality in Yahweh's life be embraced it may be that our preferred theological formulations, liturgic inclinations, and cultural assumptions may be incongruous with the oddness of Yahweh, whose liberating intentions may be allied with and attached to many forms of human life other than our own. The mono-propensities that sound most orthodox may be desperate attempts to reduce Yahweh to a safer proportion.

God cannot be "contained or domesticated" by our "preferred theological formulations" which reflect "desperate attempts" to reduce God "to a safer proportion." Because God is odd. 

God is so odd, in fact, that it is treasonous to even imagine it.

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