Over the past few years I have fallen in love with the Pentateuch. I now see it as some of the richest theology in all of Scripture. So when I saw this book from P & R Publishing, its title and evocative cover had me hooked in no time flat. Waiting for the Land: The Story Line of the Pentateuch by Arie C. Leder did not disappoint. Instead old insights were crystallized and new gems were discovered as I paged through this wonderful book.
My copy of this book is so dog-eared and underlined that for a long time I’ve hesitated to write this review. I know I won’t be able to say everything I want to about this book, or share every insight that I gained through reading it. I almost want to read the book again right now, as I prepare to finish this review!
What Leder does in this book is to look at the Pentateuch as a whole, and to find the big picture behind it. He analyzes each part and applies the insights of a variety of scholars, yet maintains an evangelical approach throughout. He unpacks the power of narrative and then provides detailed analyses of the structure of each of the Pentateuch’s five books. He argues that the Pentateuch is the ultimate cliff-hanger. The final editors of the Pentateuch know the ultimate ending (as recorded in Joshua), yet they deny the reader the benefit of seeing the end. Like Moses, we are left on a hill overlooking the promised land. And this is an intentional part of the book. Israel is “waiting for the land”, and this waiting continues down to today. Leder argues, and I agree, that this waiting shaped Israel’s experience of the land itself, and shapes how the church views its own wilderness pilgrimage.
The narrative structure of the Pentateuch
The narrative problem of the Pentateuch, as expressed by Arie Leder, is that Israel refused Divine Instruction and was thus exiled. Therefore, the message of the Pentateuch as we find it in its canonical form, speaks directly to the Jewish people post-exile. The structure of the Pentateuch is one gigantic chiasm. Genesis stands opposed to Deuteronomy, each dealing with the separation of Israel from the nations, blessing, seeing the land (but not permanently dwelling in it) and promises concerning descendants and the land. Exodus and Numbers both detail Israel’s desert journeys, describe apostasy and plagues, have a role for magicians (Pharaoh’s magicians and Balaam), and discuss the first-born and Levites’ dedication to God. Then Leviticus is the crux, dealing with sacrifices, cleanliness and holiness. The center of Leviticus is the Day of Atonement, and since all of the Pentateuch is about how to live life in God’s presence in the land of promise, it is interesting to note how central a redemptive sacrifice is to it all.
Central to the Pentateuch is the role of fellowship with God, and building projects. God builds the world to be the place of fellowship, but this is marred by sin. Then mankind rebels and builds a tower for their own fellowship apart from God’s presence. Ironically the Israelites are forced to build the towers of Egypt, but end up voluntarily building a tabernacle for the LORD. This tabernacle allows God to dwell in Israel, albeit with barriers to separate His holiness from their sin. God is the one who undoes what man had done: God initiates this building project, and ultimately no temple will be needed as God will finally dwell with his people (of all ethnicities) in the new Jerusalem, where the Lamb is the temple.
Divine presence and the promised land
Leder argues that the Divine presence is the defining characteristic of the promised land, and that all too often this is forgotten in discussions of the nature of the promised land. The church is to be viewed as God’s desert people today, as Hebrews 3 and 4 intimate. Leder explains:
Israel’s desert transition from Egypt to Sinai defines how believers at all stages of sanctification wait for the land: not in triumphal transformation of the desert, but in the regular testing of a rebellious heart and the experience of God’s surprising provision of daily sustenance. (p. 198-199)
Israel foreshadows the body of Christ as the temple of God, in which each member is a living, priestly stone (1 Peter 2:5, 9; cf. Ex. 19:5). (p. 201)
The desert is not only an historico-geographical reality but also a theological reality, one that teaches Israel not to think of herself as a landed people, for no earthly soil can produce the fruit of righteousness. (p. 203)
…Jesus completes the desert journey for his people. With his ascension he brings them into the intimate presence of God (Heb. 10:19), from where he pours out the Holy Spirit to indwell the body of Christ, the church, God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19) on earth. Thus indwelt, the church of Jesus Christ awaits a promised future: not land to cultivate, but rest from her work just as God rested from his (Heb. 4:6-11), a full rest in God’s presence for all who have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 21). (p. 204)
Separated from earthly cultures and ethnicities, and in transition to the heavenly city, God’s people will suffer a constant uprooting from the soils of their past and will be eager for enduring instruction in righteous cultivation of the fruit that produces holy distraction from the world and its interests. (p. 205)
I could go on offering quote after quote, but you’ll have to get the book and read it for yourself.
Some may take issue with supposed “replacement theology” here. But such is not the case. He sees the church as the ultimate fulfillment of believing Israel, not a replacement of it. Furthermore, the argument is directly tied to and springs from the text itself. Since the Pentateuch itself was concerned with the presence of God more so than mere land, the New Testament’s claims about God’s presence and the church are rightly seen as an outgrowth of this native OT concern. Even if you disagree with some of Leder’s theology, studying this book will prove immensely rewarding as time and again he focuses us on the power of the text.
I devoured this book and I expect you will too. It’s written in an accessible and clear way, with many helpful charts and diagrams. You will be blown away by the connections Leder finds throughout the Pentateuch, so you’ll want to take notes. Perhaps after reading this book, you too will fall in love with the Pentateuch anew.
Author Info: Arie C. Leder is Martin J. Wyngaarden Senior Professor of Old Testament Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher for review. The reviewer was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.