Parables of Intimacy: A Biblical Theology of Eating & Drinking (Part 4)

Just in time for Thanksgiving, I’m finishing a paper on a Biblical Theology of Table Fellowship.  So, for the next 5 days, I will post short excerpts from my paper that help us think about what we do, and the significance of eating and drinking with one another.  Here’s part 4: Table Fellowship in the Writings. (Or go back to read part 1part 2, or part 3)

table fellowship

Table Fellowship in the Writings

A few developments are worth noting in the Writings. Food as a gracious provision takes a central role in these documents. Blomberg notices in the Writings, more than in other OT documents that “food is the utterly gracious gift of God, with which he blesses his faithful followers in particular and all people at times.”[1] He is right to notice increased emphasis, but Blomberg apparently misses this theme in many of the texts I have considered above. Certainly, that food is a gift becomes explicit in the Wisdom literature. Yahweh ‘provides food for those who fear him’ (Ps 111:5), and even offers food and shelter to trees, birds, goats, and lions (104:10-30). The Psalms also portray God’s table and cup in resplendent royal terms. The divine King whose cup can be full of wrath, as depicted in the prophetic writings (Ezek 23:33, Isa 51:17), can also overflow in blessing (Ps 16:5, 23:5, 116:13). MacDonald comments,

The cup of wrath and the overflowing cup of the psalmist are evidence of the view that YHWH provides judgement and vindication at his table. The table is not only the locus of divine judgement, but the public exhibition of it. As was the case with the narratives of judgement at the table, these are no private meals.[2]

And for the Davidic royal family, the public nature of meals required the strictest warnings in Proverbs. Lady Wisdom calls from her bountiful house to the Davidic prince to ‘come, eat of my bread’ (Prov 9:5) where she has bountiful table of meat and bread (9:2). This is contrasted with the Woman Folly who offers ‘stolen water’ and ‘bread eaten in secret’ (9:17), but brings her unwitting guest with her into the grave (9:18). So, the Writings expand upon the seeds laid in the opening chapters of Genesis, which contrast the lavish generosity of Yahweh’s provision with the ultimately unprofitable deceit devised by the serpent. The allegiances established by the table also determine judgment and rewards.

Summary of the Eating and Drinking in the Old Testament

In summary, eating and drinking in the OT carry two significant emphases. First, food and drink illustrate the life-sustaining provision of the Creator to care for the physical and spiritual needs of his creation. Physical provision features prominently in the creation and fall narratives of Genesis and the throughout Wisdom literature, and serving as the foundation for godly hospitality throughout the narrative. The poetic language of the prophets and psalmists employ this reality metaphorically, pointing to our similar spiritual need for sustaining grace outside ourselves. Second, eating and drinking provide opportunities to establish and enhance relational commitments. Meals catalyze fellowship and promote friendship. Because of this, dietary customs and regulations emerge from the biblical narrative, especially in light of the distinct identity of Israel as God’s special possession in the Mosaic covenant. The significant majority of OT references to table fellowship imply exclusivity, while several key passages point to a future reality of extending the borders of the table beyond Jacob’s family.

(continued in part 5)

 

Notes:

[1] Blomberg, Contagious Holiness, 55.

[2] Nathan MacDonald, Not Bread Alone: the Uses of Food in the Old Testament, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 190.

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