The promises of God disclose the horizons of history– whereby ‘horizon’, as it is aptly put by H.G. Gadamer, is not to be understood as ‘a rigid boundary’, but as ‘a thing towards which we are moving, and which moves along with us’. Israel lived within these moving horizons of promise and experienced reality within the fields of tension they involve. Even when the period of nomadic wanderings ended in Palestine, this mode of experiencing, remembering and expecting reality as history still remains nd characterized this people’s wholly peculiar relation to time. (ToH, 106)
Most of us live in a post-industrial society. Before that, it was (obviously) industrial. And before that, it was agrarian (for me, this fits neatly into three generations: my grandfather was a farmer, my father still works in manufacturing, and I don’t produce much of anything). So it is only natural that we overlay this perspective on our understanding of the Bible. But Moltmann points out that Israel is a nomadic people. So their nomadic religion is a religion of promise. For them, there is no seedtime, and no harvest. There is, however, movement. So their God is inspiring, immigrating, doing, and protecting. Their God is not bound to territory, but rather journeys with them. In their conception God is on the move.
Then, they settled, taking the wilderness God into the cities which they overthrew and occupied. And they themselves became the establishment, the settled, the sedentary. Once they began this shift to agrarian culture, we see the rise of the prophet, who rails against the increasingly settled people and the raises the threat that they might be taken captive by Assyria, Babylon, and Persia, but even more that they would become powers akin to Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. They might be taken captive, but what is even more troubling is that they might collapse under the weight of their own settled inertia.
Which brilliant observation touches on some of the great thinking being done by the Psalters, and in the forthcoming work of Joe Myers. Both of whom are pointing out that we are a post-agrarian culture, and one which is less tied to land and property and place (and factories, jobs, and local communities) than in recent memory. Myers, in particular, cites social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and the like) as examples of this, and coins the term ‘technomads’ to describe the current scene. Indeed, it is a unique experience to check FB messages in the morning and see activity from around the world streaming into my little life while I’ve slept. My ties to what is local loosen, even as my connections to people and communities in far-flung places like London, Paris, Sudan, Syria, Australia, Jordan, and Minnesota are strengthened. It is a new day, indeed. Or maybe an old one.
Which make Moltmann’s 45-year old words (about an ancient people) all the more weighty:
If the promises of God create an interval of tension between their being issued and their coming to pass, and thereby institue freedom for obedience, then importance attaches to the question of directions for the filling out of this interval and of the existence thus constitued in it. This is understandable, since a promise does not announce an inescapable fate, but sets men on a road that leads to another land and another reality. (ToH, 120)
So for nomads, a promise must combine with obedience, and obedience with a change of place and of existence. Nomads understand that they must get up and go to that place toward which the promise points. So we need both obedience and hope to move toward the horizon that opens before the present. The commandments are future, just like the promises. And whether to a literal or virtual destination, we’d best get a move on.