The Main Problem of the Pentateuch: Exile from God’s Presence

More from Arie Leder’s book Waiting for the Land: The Story Line of the Pentateuch:

[L]ooking at the entire biblical narrative, we note that Adam and Eve’s refusal of divine instruction and consequent exile from the garden of Eden and God’s presence, defines the narrative problem or deficit which initiates a series of events, complications, and conflicts between the Creator and humanity that come to a certain resolution with God’s selection of Abraham and the promise of land, progeny, and blessing.  This selection itself begins another series of events, complications, and conflicts which concludes with Israel’s waiting to enter the Promised Land (Genesis-Deuteronomy).  Continuing with the Former Prophets: Israel’s entry into the land initiates yet another sequence of events, complications, and conflicts that concludes with the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah’s exile (Joshua-Kings).  Genesis-Kings begins and ends with an exile; at the end of Kings, Israel is waiting for the land, again.  In her exile Israel suffers the same consequences that Adam and Eve did: expulsion from the presence of God (2 Kings 17:18, 20, 23); 23:27; 24:3, 20), not from the land.  Life is not a matter of being rooted in a particular soil, but in the presence of God.  Thus, the narrative problem defined at the beginning of Genesis has not been resolved, not at the end of Deuteronomy, nor at the end of Kings; it has merely been restated.  Not even the narratives addressed to the post-exilic community, Ezra-Nehemiah, declare a resolution; only a repetition of the old problems: intermarriage, Sabbath breaking, and defilement of the temple (Neh. 13).  Not even a return to the land solves the problem of Israel’s exile from the presence of God.  Post-exilic Israel continues her waiting, but now with the burden of a shameful and sorrowful memory of one constant: her defilement of God’s presence.

Pgs. 24-25

It seems that by minimizing the importance of Genesis 1-3 for the great themes of the biblical story, or by focusing on limited details from those texts, critics have cut out a central theme in the Pentateuch and indeed, the whole of the OT.  Humans are estranged from God’s presence and something must be done to restore them.  Even the temple and the land ultimately disappoint.  Something more must happen; God’s presence in our midst must be secured in a better way.  And in Christ, the one who dwelt among us, we find just that.

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA