Sometimes I am just not convinced. I admire and appreciate a new approach. But the author just makes a case that I don’t get.
That is the case with one aspect of G. K. Beale’s argument in The Temple and the Mission of the Church.
He uses a word study approach to claim that many times when the word tent or dwelling is used in the Hebrew Bible it means tabernacle or dwelling of God. After all, writers often use the same words for both. Also, whenever they speak of a garden or use any kind of horticultural language, he thinks it has to be a reference to Eden.
A prime example of this is in Numbers 24:5-6.
How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,
and your dwelling places, O Israel!
6 They are like valleys stretched forth,
like gardens by the river’s side,
like aloes that the Lord has planted,
and like cedar trees beside the waters (NET Bible)..
Beale interprets this passage as a prophecy that Israel will spread out and set up new tabernacles for God–thus bringing God’s glorious presence to more and more of the world. Their mission is to spread the garden of God throughout the world.
First of all, I am not sure that this is really a prophecy in the sense of a prediction. It is one of the oracles of Balaam. (I should do some posts just on the Balaam cycle sometime. It is fascinating and illuminated by a 1967 archeological find in Jordan–see here.)
Beale seems to assume that the oracles come from the time of Moses and predict David’s rise and kingdom. However, the mention of Agag in Numbers 24:7 seems to put it around the time of David. Also W. F. Albright’s contention that Numbers 24:24 is a backwards reminiscence of the Sea People’s attacks seems likely. In the Hebrew Bible prophecy is often a style of communication that makes past or contemporary events look like things long ago predicted. At least that is how many interpret prophecies like Isaiah 40 ff. and Daniel.
But more than that, how did the Deuteronomistic editors, who were committed to the centralization of worship in one Temple, allow tents (plural) to refer to sanctuaries. In other words, the people who edited the Torah would have hated that idea.
It seems to me that the tents and dwellings of Numbers 24:6 refer to the encampment of Israel. It would have included the tabernacle. But is that the main point of the verse? And where does anything in Numbers go beyond the settlement of the Promised Land to make Israel’s mission more universal? Beale relies on the supposed link to the Garden of Eden.
So I am not convinced.
But it would be unfair to say that without acknowledging that Beale has some reasons beyond just assuming that “tent” always means tabernacle. The LXX Greek translation of Numbers has in 24:6 instead of “aloes that the Lord has planted” the phrase “tabernacles that the Lord has pitched.”
For that reason, Beale thinks Hebrews 8:2 alludes to this oracle of Balaam. That verse says that the true sanctuary is one that the Lord, not man, has set up. So the Lord set up or pitched the sanctuary.
This allusion seems to me kind of obscure. The author of Hebrews might have come up with that idea without alluding to the LXX translation of Numbers 24:6. In any case, I get the impression that Beale, a New Testament scholar, started with the New Testament and then found strained parallels in the Hebrew Bible.
That probably sounds more critical than I want it to. I am just saying I would need considerably more than I have been given to accept Numbers 24:5-6 as a vision of Israel spreading God’s garden kingdom throughout the world.
This is one example. There are others. I admit that I am having a hard time following much of Beale’s biblical argument.