R. Kendall Soulen in The God of Israel and Christian Theology gives us some biblical interpretation worth pondering.
To restate something I have already covered, he says that the theme of creation is blessing. God created us to spread his blessing. But this blessing takes a particular form in the family descended from Abraham.
The pivotal verse is Genesis 12 :3 where God says to Abraham either “in you all the families or the earth shall be blessed” or “by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”
Soulen connects blessing with God’s ultimate intention for humankind. The idea of Genesis, according to him, is that God will bring about his intention for all people through mutual blessing that needs to include Israel as a particular people with a divinely given role.
In a very intriguing way, he brings out how Genesis lets Egypt stand for the families of the earth in the Joseph story. It is through Joseph that Egypt finds blessing. This is explicit in the statement in Genesis 39:5 :
“From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field (NRSV).
But it is also there in the overall story of how Joseph, through his interpretation of dreams and leadership skills, saves Egypt from the worst effects of a famine. But Egypt also blesses Israel in the process.
Genesis 12:3 also said that those who cursed Abraham would suffer curse themselves.
This idea plays out in Exodus, where Egypt oppresses Israel, Pharaoh’s heart hardens, and God curses the land with plagues.
Soulen understands Pharaoh hardening his heart as closing himself off from the offered blessing. The whole human race has this option of opening itself to the blessing of God offered through Israel–or closing itself off.
In the Bible Israel itself hardens its heart and faces the curse of God. I think of how Amos opens with oracles against the nations but works up to devastating oracles against Judah and Israel as well.
Soulen takes a canonical approach here. The Bible coheres in working out the implications of the promise to Abraham.
My approach is sometimes historical-critical. That is, I tend to look for how the total story does not always hold together and was assembled from divergent sources.
I wonder what this says about the openness of God’s blessing. For instance, it seems likely that tribes like Dan and Asher were not really related to the patriarchs. They came into Israel by covenant rather than family relationship.
Also the very important tribe of Judah, seems like a late amalgamation of Kenites, Calebites, and remnants of Simeon, Levi, and Reuben. Again, this shows an openness or potentiality for the expansion of Israel.
Finally, a historical-critical approach might take seriously that even the name of God was received by Israel from Shasu, Midianite, or Kenite sources. Thus, the people of YHWH are in principle open to input from the whole world.
Now modernist theology took historical-critical methods and eliminated the supernatural from history. Israel naturally evolved according to natural principles. This elimination of the supernatural endangered the whole idea of a revealed religion.
However, I believe it is possible to take the historical openness of Israel seriously, while keeping to Soulen’s emphasis on the particularity of God’s action in history. The canonical approach does not need to deny the historical-critical method. It just focuses on the text as we have it.
I will next consider the openness that Karl Rahner thought was built into creation, and Soulen’s use of the idea. What Rahner called “the supernatural existential” might help overcome some of these dilemmas.