Archive for May 2021

Arrogant Assyria and the Repentant Remnant of Israel   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Assyrian Empire and Its Neighbors

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART IX

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Isaiah 10:5-34; 14:24-27; 29:1-34; 30:27-33; 33:1-24

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One of the motifs in Hebrew prophetic literature condemns haughtiness, arrogance, and impiety before God.  This motif applies to the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, both of which neglected the Law of Moses, therefore committed idolatry and practiced institutional social injustice, especially economic injustice and judicial corruption.  This motif also applies to nations outside of the covenant.  They are still accountable to God for violating basic standards of human decency.  If you, O reader, have been following my posts here at BLOGA THEOLOGICA since I started blogging on May 12, 2021, the contexts of this paragraph should be a mere refresher course.

I bring up this motif because we revisit it in Isaiah 10:5-34.

The Assyrian Empire boasted of its cruelty.  This empire, to that time the latest in a line of Mesopotamian empires, followed in a tradition of official, unrepentant cruelty.  Isaiah ben Amoz may have understood the Assyrian Empire to be an instrument of God, for a time, at least.  The perspective of the final draft of First Isaiah did, at least.  And the Assyrian Empire may have been an instrument of God, for a time, at least.  It was certainly never exempt from accountability to God.

The Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians conquered the Assyrian Empire.  Then the Persians and the Medes conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Then Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered the Persian Empire.  Then he died and that vast Macedonian Empire broke up.  Much of Alexander’s realm eventually became part of the Roman Empire.  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

One should not trust excessively in human political structures, which rise and fall.

Divine judgment and mercy remained in balance.  A remnant survived.  Exiles eventually returned to Judea after the Babylonian Exile.

A close reading of Isaiah 10:5-34 reveals layers of authorship, as well as chronological leaping back and forth.  For example, 10:27b-34 and 29:1-34 refer to Assyrian King Sennacherib’s failed invasion of Judah in 701 B.C.E. (See 2 Kings 18:17-19:27; 2 Chronicles 32:1-33; Isaiah 37:8-20.)  Yet 10:20-23 refer to the end of the Babylonian Exile, centuries later.  There is a method to the editorial madness, though; the conclusion of Chapter 10 leads directly into the opening of Chapter 11.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH TO SAINT ELIZABETH

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The Ideal Davidic King, Part I   1 comment

Above:  King Hezekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART VIII

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Isaiah 9:2-7 (Anglican and Protestant)

Isaiah 9:1-6 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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The historical context of Isaiah 9:1-6/9:2-7 (depending on versification) is difficult to specify, given the layers of authorship and the sometimes odd cutting and pasting in the final draft of the Book of Isaiah.  What is the adversity in these verses?  And who is experiencing the adversity?  Perhaps, originally, the reference was to Israelite vassalage and loss of territory to the Assyrian Empire after the Syro-Ephraimite War of 734-732 B.C.E. (Isaiah 8).  Maybe the original context was the Syro-Ephraimite War.  Perhaps that text took on new meaning for Judah as the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian threat bore down upon that kingdom.  Maybe people reinterpreted Isaiah 9:1-6/9:2-7 (depending upon versification) during the Babylonian Exile and again after it.

My historical bias is evident in my methodology.  Before I interpret any text for the present, I want to know first when and where it originated.  Context is crucial.  Is this king Hezekiah, in original context?  Or does this text hail from a later period and refer to the expected messiah, apparently a regnant member of the House of David?

I am not reluctant to argue against thousands of years’ worth of Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible if evidence leads me to play the role of (alleged) heretic.  I affirm that God, who granted me an intellect, intends for me to use it.  And even the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church can be objectively wrong.

What I do not know as I read Isaiah 9:1-6/9:2-7 (depending on versification) outweighs what I do know about this familiar text.  Yet I do know that this text speaks to what God will do through this ideal king.  The text is theocentric.  We should always trust in God and have limited trust in human office holders.  I am neither an anarchist, a cynic, nor an authoritarian.  Some office holders are incompetent and/or objectively dangerous to the common good.  Others are competent.  Some of these are misguided.  Even the most competent and benevolent office holders are only human.  Questioning human authority figures makes sense, therefore.  Questioning them cynically and to the detriment of the common good does not.

God chooses to act through people, not just those in authority.  What has God done through you, O reader?  What is God doing through you?  And what will God do through you?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH TO SAINT ELIZABETH

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Posted May 31, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Isaiah 8, Isaiah 9

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Prophecies During the Syro-Ephraimite War   1 comment

Above:  King Ahaz of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART VII

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Isaiah 7:2-9:1 (Anglican and Protestant)

Isaiah 7:1-8:23 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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The Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.) constitutes the background of Isaiah 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification).  Read 2 Kings 15:27-31; 2 Kings 16:1-19; and 2 Chronicles 28:1-26.  A brief summary of that war follows.

Aram was the chief rival to the Assyrian Empire.  King Rezin of Aram (r. 750-732 B.C.E.) and King Pekah of Israel (r. 735-732 B.C.E.) had formed an anti-Assyrian alliance.  King Ahaz of Judah (r. 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) refused to join this alliance.  Israelite and Aramean forces waged war on Judah and besieged Jerusalem.  They wanted to depose him and replace him with a monarch who would join their alliance.  Ahaz turned to the Assyrian Empire, not God.  The Assyrian Empire conquered parts of Aram and Israel in 732, and reduced those kingdoms to vassalage.  Then, in 722 and 720 B.C.E., respectively, the Assyrian Empire conquered Israel and Aram.

Isaiah 7:16, often reduced to a prophecy of the birth of Jesus and removed from historical context, is most likely a prediction of the birth of the future king Hezekiah, in historical context.  The young woman (an almah) of 7:14 was of marriageable age.  Almah (not “virgin” in Hebrew) became parthenos (“virgin”) in the (Greek) Septuagint.  New Testament writers who quoted the Hebrew Bible quoted it in Greek, not Hebrew.

“Emmanuel” means “God with us.”  God is with us even when we are not with God.  God is with us even when we pretend to be pious, and thereby weary God (7:10-16).

Recognizing subsequent layers of editing in 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification) ought not to obstruct understanding of messages for today in these verses.  King Ahaz, who had allied himself with the Assyrian Empire, became a vassal of the Assyrian monarch, King Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 B.C.E.).  King Ahaz, despite himself, should have trusted in God.  King Ahaz had gravely erred, and he and his subjects suffered because of his faulty judgment.  (The imagery of shaving “the hair of the feet” in 7:20 refers to pubic hair, by the way; “feet” is frequently a euphemism for genitals in the Hebrew Bible.)  The disgrace of the people in the latter verses of Chapter 7 and throughout Chapter 8 will be great.  Yet a remnant would survive and return from the Babylonian Exile.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification).  Divine fidelity to divine promises does not prevent punishment of populations for violations of the covenant.  That divine fidelity does, however, prevent complete destruction of the Hebrew people for violations of the covenant.

I am a Gentile and a Christian.  I know some fundamentalists and Evangelicals who doubt my Christian bona fides, but I am a Christian.  The covenant with the Jews remains in effect, I contend.  I, as a Gentile, come under a separate covenant, one defined by Jesus.  These Old Testament principles about covenant-related responsibilities apply to Christians, also, via Jesus.  We Christians are a branch grafted onto the tree of faith, and the Jews are, as Pope John Paul II called them, our elder siblings in faith.

These chapters also recognize that people benefit from the good decisions of their rulers and suffer from the bad decisions of their rulers.  The emphasis is on the latter, of course.  Leadership matters.  May those who can choose their leaders, do so wisely, in all places and at all times.  And may all leaders decide wisely, whenever and wherever they are.

God is with us.  We can never escape from the presence of God.  Yet are we with God?  We all benefit from grace.  We all depend upon grace.  How many of us also accept the moral responsibilities that accompany grace?  Grace is free yet not cheap.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOAN OF ARC, ROMAN CATHOLIC VISIONARY AND MARTYR, 1430

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, APOSTLE TO THE PYGMIES

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, ENGLISH FEMINIST AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LUKE KIRBY, THOMAS COTTAM, WILLIAM FILBY, AND LAURENCE RICHARDSON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1582

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The Commissioning of Isaiah ben Amoz   Leave a comment

Above:  Isaiah’s Vision

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART VI

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Isaiah 6:1-13

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King Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah died no later than 742 B.C.E. and no earlier than 733 B.C.E., depending on which scholar’s chronology one accepts.

The scene in this familiar portion of scripture is the Temple in Jerusalem.  Certain details are notable; some are important.  “Feet” is a euphemism for genitals in 6:2.  That is interesting, but is it important?  At the time of Isaiah ben Amoz, seraphim were not yet a class of angels in Hebrew angelology.  No, they were serpentine creatures.  A bronze image of a serpent–perhaps the one Moses had made–stood in Jerusalem.  It did so until King Hezekiah ordered its destruction (2 Kings 18:4).  “Seraphim” is the plural form of “seraph” (“to burn”).  This term calls back to the “fiery” serpents who bit Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 21:1-9; Deuteronomy 8:15).  “Seraphim” means “the burning ones.”  That detail matters.

Above:  The Brazen Serpent, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

(Numbers 21:1-9; Deuteronomy 8:15)

The terrified reaction of Isaiah ben Amoz makes sense in this context.  The Hebrew word for “doomed” (Isaiah 6:5) can also mean “struck silent.”  Notice the emphasis on Isaiah’s lips (6:7) and ponder “struck silent,” O reader.  On the other hand, there was a popular belief that seeing God would lead to one’s death (Genesis 32:31; Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:22).

Isaiah 6:1-13 bears evidence of editing after the fact.  Verse 13 seems to come out of nowhere, for example.  Acknowledging this is being intellectually honest.  I favor intellectual honesty.  Yet another aspect of this chapter interests me more.

And [God] replied:  Go and say to this people:

Listen carefully, but do not understand!

Look intently, but do not perceive!

Make the heart of this people sluggish,

dull their ears and close their eyes;

Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,

and their heart understand,

and they turn and be healed.

–Isaiah 6:9-10, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

More than one interpretation of the mission of Isaiah ben Amoz exists.

  1. One interpretation holds that his mission was not to call the people to repentance, and therefore, to stave off divine judgment.  No, the prophet’s mission was to inform the people of their fate.  Yet God will preserve a remnant, we read.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.
  2. An alternative interpretation holds that God predicted that people would not respond favorably to Isaiah’s message.  Sometimes the wording in certain passages of scripture may describe the result as the intention.

So far in this long blogging project through the Hebrew prophetic books, I have gone through the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, each with layers of writing and editing.  So far, I have read God call upon recalcitrant people to repent and go into “no more mercy” mode.

The hard reading of Isaiah 6:9-10 may be the accurate one.  As the heading of a germane note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014) reads:

Repentance is no longer an option.

–779

Isaiah 6:13, added later, softens the blow.

The purification of the lips of Isaiah ben Amoz (6:5-7) is symmetrical to the purification of the people.  And there is hope for renewal, even in a burned stump.

Yet a lack of symmetry exists, too.  Isaiah ben Amoz knew he was unworthy before God.  Isaiah did walk humbly/modestly/completely with God (Micah 6:8).  The people, however, were either oblivious or indifferent to God.  They had trampled the covenant, grounded in the Law of Moses.  Their prosperity (not shared with the poor) was about to fade, and the kingdom was about to go into decline.

One of the recurring themes in the early prophets is, in a few words:

You have made your bed.  Lie down in it.

That is an uncomfortable message to ponder.  It is a message the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) shies away from by assigning only verses 1-8 on Trinity Sunday, Year B.  It is a message the RCL provides the option for omitting by making verses 9-13 optional on the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.

Yet consider a motif from the Book of Amos, O reader:

Thus says the LORD:

For three crimes of ____, and now four–

I will not take it back–

Because they….

–Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Divine patience is not infinite.  Neither is divine judgment.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  I do not pretend to know where judgment gives way to mercy, and mercy to judgment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOAN OF ARC, ROMAN CATHOLIC VISIONARY AND MARTYR, 1430

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, APOSTLE TO THE PYGMIES

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, ENGLISH FEMINIST AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LUKE KIRBY, THOMAS COTTAM, WILLIAM FILBY, AND LAURENCE RICHARDSON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1582

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Divine Rebuke of Israel and Judah   Leave a comment

Above:  Vineyard

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 5:1-30

Isaiah 9:7-20 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Isaiah 9:8-21 (Anglican and Protestant)

Isaiah 10:1-4

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The vineyard, an erotic image in Song of Songs 1:6 and 8:12, was more frequently a metaphor for the people of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Robert Alter’s translation of the beginning of Isaiah 5:1 in The Hebrew Bible (2019) is close to the standard rendering in English:

Let me sing of My beloved

the song of my lover for his vineyard.

The lover is God, and the vineyard is the people of Israel.  The speaker may be a friend of the bridegroom.  Brevard S. Childs, in Isaiah (2001), tells us:

At the outset, the song is not a love song, as often rendered (e.g., RSV), but a song of a beloved one concerning his vineyard that is sung by another.

–45

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) translates the beginning of Isaiah 5:1 as:

Now let me sing of my friend,

my beloved’s song about his vineyard.

I checked Isaiah 5:1 in five French-language translations, too.  The germane terms are mon ami “my friend” and mon bien-aimé (“my beloved”).

The beginning of the translation in the revised Louis Segond translation (1910) is:

Je chanterai à mon bien-aimé

Le cantique de mon bien-aimé sur la vigne.

The beginning of the translation in the Nouvelle Version Segond Revisée (1976) is:

Or donc, je chanterai à mon ami

Le chant de mon bien-aimé sur sa vigne.

The beginning of the translation in La Bible en Français Courant (1997) is:

Laissez-moi chanter quelques couplets au nom de mon ami; c’est la chanson de mon ami et da sa vigne.

The beginning of the translation in La Bible de Jérusalem (2000) is:

Que je chante à mon bien-aimé

le chant de mon ami pour sa vigne.

The beginning of the translation in La Bible du Semeur (2015) is:

Je veux chanter pour mon ami

la chanson de mon bien-aimé au sujet de sa vigne.

The germane note in The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), suggests that the speaker in Isaiah 5:1-2 may be a relative, not a lover, hence the language of friendship in The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) and certain French translations.  The note from R. B. Y. Scott, in The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5 (1956), agrees:

In accordance with the Oriental fondness for grandiloquent language, the words could be used with the weakened sense of “friend”….It is almost inconceivable that Isaiah, of all people, would use an erotic term for Gods even in a parable; moreover, by no stretch of the imagination can the song be called a long song.  It is probably best to take [yadid] and [dod] as synonyms, and to translate:  “Now let me sing on behalf of my friend, my friend’s song about his vineyard.”

–196-197

In verse 3, the speaker changes; God begins to speak.

The bottom line in Isaiah 5:1-7 is that the people of Judah have failed to meet divine expectations; they have neglected the covenant.  They have failed to maintain a society in which divine righteousness and justice defined values and norms.  God, we read, will abandon the vineyard to its fate.

Isaiah 5:8f continues the theme of social injustice.  Sins include grabbing land, being indifferent, and drinking to excess.  The ruling class of Judah, we read, has been indifferent to the covenant.  Therefore, exile awaits the ruling class, and further misery awaits the masses.

Isaiah 5:25-30 may belong after Isaiah 9:7-20/9:8-21 (depending on versification), about judgment on the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  Isaiah 5:25-30 does flow naturally from Isaiah 9:7-20/9:8-21 (depending on versification).

Another editorial oddity is that Isaiah 10:1-4 fits with and may have originally been united with Isaiah 5:8-24.

I, as a history buff, find details of fifth-century B.C.E. editing of sacred texts interesting.  I acknowledge them readily.  These do not distract me (for long) from my main purpose in this series of weblog posts:  to understand and apply the messages of the Hebrew prophets, as those messages are relevant today.  These messages are repetitive.  After blogging my way through the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah already, I recognize the same themes repeating:  The covenant and the Law of Moses require societal, institutionalized justice.  The societal reality in which any given prophet speaks out is inconsistent with that vision, which includes economic justice and excludes idolatry.  Unjust societies will reap what they have sown.  Even Gentiles, not subject to the covenant and the Law of Moses, must obey certain standards, or else.

The message repeats on a playback loop because it must.  Many people continue to be indifferent to the message.  Other people are oblivious to it.  Just check the news, if you dare, O reader, for current evidence.

What does God have to do to get attention?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOAN OF ARC, ROMAN CATHOLIC VISIONARY AND MARTYR, 1430

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, APOSTLE TO THE PYGMIES

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, ENGLISH FEMINIST AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LUKE KIRBY, THOMAS COTTAM, WILLIAM FILBY, AND LAURENCE RICHARDSON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1582

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The Jerusalem of the Future and the Present, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Trees Near the Dead Sea

Image in the Public Domain

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-01756

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART IV

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Isaiah 3:1-4:6

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Deportation and the consequences thereof constitute the backdrop of Isaiah 3:1-4:1.  Attentive readers of the Hebrew Bible may recall that Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian authorities began deportations for Judean elites before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  These deported elites had exploited the poor.  These elites had been arrogant and disregarded social justice.  Yet the societal collapse after deportation of leaders was devastating; it was worse than the widespread social injustice from prior to deportation.

This section of First Isaiah cannot end on that gloomy note, can it?  It does not.  Isaiah 4:2-6, from a later period, promises a new beginning–the purification of Jerusalem.  Who is the promised “branch of the LORD?” in 4:2?  (Other translations include “the LORD’s shoot” and “the radiance of the LORD.”)  The answer(s) to that question vary over time.

  1. The branch/shoot/radiance of YHWH may be the Messiah, a king of the Davidic Dynasty.  If so, the most likely historical figure may be King Hezekiah, probably the promised king in Isaiah 7, too.
  2. Study Bibles I consult disagree with each other whether the “fruit” or “splendor” of the land (4:2) is consistent with royal messianic expectations.  The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), says no.  However, The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), says yes.
  3. The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), and The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) favor this prophecy being one fulfilled in antiquity, within the lifetime of First Isaiah.  The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), does not anticipate the long-term fulfillment of prophecy, either.
  4. Robert Alter, in his three-volume The Hebrew Bible (2019), argues that “the LORD’s shoot” is “the people of Israel to be redeemed after a period of devastation and tribulation that will leave a saving remnant” (Prophets, 634).  The Oxford Study Bible (1992) concurs:  “The plant and the fruit are the survivors of the remnant” (705).
  5. However, The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), identifies the survivors as refugees from the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.

Biblical interpretation can become complicated.  This is especially the case when one reads a text from one period and place and perhaps altered in a subsequent period, to fit new circumstances.  Therefore, all of the above (or some of) the interpretations I have listed may be plausible, in different contexts.

At least one point is not ambiguous, O reader:  divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  Divine forgiveness may not prevent punishment, but grace is the last word for those who repent and return to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PERCY DEARMER, ANGLICAN CANON AND TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONA OF PISA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, LUTHER OF THE SLAVES AND FATHER OF SLOVAK HYMNODY

THE FEAST OF RUBY MIDDLETON FORSYTHE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EPISCOPAL EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY THERESA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF SAINT PETER CLAVER, AND “MOTHER OF AFRICAN MISSIONS;” AND HER SISTER, SAINT URSULA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE URSULINES OF THE AGONIZING HEART OF JESUS (GRAY URSULINES)

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The Jerusalem of the Future and Present, Part I   Leave a comment

Above:  Swords into Plowshares Statue

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART III

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Isaiah 2:1-22

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If Isaiah 2:2-5 seems familiar, O reader, you may be thinking of the nearly identical passage at the beginning of Micah 4.  The Bible quotes itself frequently; that may explain the similarity in texts (Micah 4 and Isaiah 2).  Another theory holds that Micah 4 and Isaiah 2 quoted the same text.  And one may point out that Micah and First Isaiah were contemporaries. Alternatively, Micah 4 and Isaiah may have paraphrased the same source.

The eschatological vision in Isaiah 2:2-5 indicates that Jerusalem will become the seat of God in creation, restored to the divine ideal of primordial harmony of the universe.  The nations, without becoming Jews, will learn from God.  Isaiah 2:2 reads, “all nations,” but Micah 2:2 reads, “many nations.”  One word makes a major difference.

Isaiah 2:2-5 (the vision of future Jerusalem) contrasts with Isaiah 2:6-21 (about divine judgment on a sinful population).  Isaiah 2:6-21, addressed to the (northern) Kingdom of Judah, condemns a variety of offenses, including arrogance, pride, soothsaying, and idolatry.  That pride and arrogance will not stand amid divine punishment, we read.

Verse 22 stands out from the rest of the chapter.  This verse addresses some audience other than verses 6-21.  In French, “you” in 2:6 is tu–singular.  Yet, in French, “you” in 2:22 is vous–plural.  Commentaries on the Book of Isaiah also indicate that “you” in Isaiah 2:22 is plural.  Verse 22 is a late addition.

As for you, stop worrying about mortals,

in whose nostrils is but a breath;

for of what worth are they?

–Isaiah 2:22, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Context is crucial to interpretation.  Given the layers of writing and editing in the final version of Isaiah 2, establishing context can be difficult.  Who are “you?”  They may be the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, but that identification is uncertain.  Also, given the updating of the writings of the early prophets (Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah) through the time after the Babylonian Exile, the identity of the plural “you” in verse 22 may be less important than one may think at first.  After all, the prophecy still speaks clearly, long after its original context has ceased to exist.

Isaiah 2:22 pleads with a population to trust in God, not mortals.  It encourages people to rely on God and to abandon the delusion of human self-reliance.  That delusion is at the heart of arrogance, which Isaiah 2:6-21 denounces.  That delusion contradicts the Law of Moses, which teaches that people rely entirely on God, rely on each other, and are responsible to and for each other.  The delusion of self-reliance belies the reality of mutuality.  Whichever population the “you” of Isaiah 2:22 originally was, that “you” can, functionally, be any population in the modern world.  The reality of 2021 is far from the ideal vision of Isaiah 2:2-5 for a range of reasons, including human arrogance.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PERCY DEARMER, ANGLICAN CANON AND TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONA OF PISA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, LUTHER OF THE SLAVES AND FATHER OF SLOVAK HYMNODY

THE FEAST OF RUBY MIDDLETON FORSYTHE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EPISCOPAL EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY THERESA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF SAINT PETER CLAVER, AND “MOTHER OF AFRICAN MISSIONS;” AND HER SISTER, SAINT URSULA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE URSULINES OF THE AGONIZING HEART OF JESUS (GRAY URSULINES)

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A Collection of Speeches: The Wickedness of Judah, and the Degenerate City   Leave a comment

Above:  Tares

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 1:2-31

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G. H. D. Kilpatrick, author of the exposition on Isaiah 1-39 in The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5 (1956), described Isaiah 1 as

The Heart of Isaiah’s Message.

Kilpatrick began:

Here is a tremendous indictment of an apostate nation.  The charge is the blindness, the insensitivity, the brutish stupidity of a people steeped in sin.  The prophet is against them.  In a sense the chapter is an epitome of Isaiah’s whole message and ministry.  In this series of oracles he proceeds from accusation to judgment, and on to the divine promise of mercy in terms of repentance and obedience.  Throughout the book the changes are rung on these themes.

–165

As I reread this chapter for the umpteenth time, I noticed themes that populated the (contemporary) Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, too.  I noticed these themes readily because I have blogged my way through them before starting First Isaiah.  I noticed legal charges of having abandoned the covenant.  I noticed the allegation of idolatry–prostitution, metaphorically.  I noticed the condemnation of corruption and social justice, especially that of the economic variety.  I noticed the pronouncement that sacred rituals do not protect one from the consequences of impiety.  I noticed the call to repentance and the possibility of forgiveness.

Chronology is not the organizing principle of the Book of Isaiah.  No, the commission of the prophet is in Chapter 6, for example.  Chapter 1 contains short speeches that summarize themes First Isaiah unpacks in subsequent chapters.

The text provides many options for where I may dwell in this post.  I choose verses 27 and 28.  The translation in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible (2019), is close to the standard English-language rendering:

Zion shall be redeemed through justice,

and those who turn back in her, through righteousness.

But the rebels and offenders together are shattered,

and those who forsake the LORD shall perish.

However, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) offers a somewhat different translation:

Zion shall be saved in the judgment;

Her repentant ones, in the retribution.

But rebels and sinners shall be crushed,

And those who forsake the LORD shall perish.

These verses date to either the Babylonian Exile or afterward.  (As I wrote regarding the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, the final versions of early prophetic writings date to the time after the Babylonian Exile.)  Differences in Hebrew meter and the concept of Zion’s slavery relative to the surrounding material point to later origin.  That may or may not prove interesting, but there it is.

I noticed that righteousness and justice are related concepts.  This has long constituted old news to me, but I delighted to see another instance of it in Isaiah 1.

That justice and righteousness are related establishes a high standard.  Many people mistake human vendettas for justice.  Many people mistake torture for justice.  Many people are oblivious to or forget Deuteronomy 32:35, in the voice of God:

Vengeance is mine and recompense,

for the time they lose their footing;

Because the day of their disaster is at hand

and their doom is rushing upon them.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

When we set out to take revenge, we embark on a path we ought to leave alone.  God knows better than we do.

I also noticed the difference between the translations of verse 27.  I noticed that TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) had “judgment” for “justice” and “retribution” for “righteousness.”  Yet the germane note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), read:

Having been punished, Zion will again know justice and faithfulness.  A new name is given to the reformed Jerusalem; c.f. 62:2-4; Ezekiel 48:35.

–769

The promised salvation will stem only from divine justice and righteousness, not the virtue of Israel.  The destruction of rebels and sinners, however, will stem from their lack of virtue.  For the meantime, Zion, as a faith reality, not a political entity, contains the good and the wicked.  Likewise, in the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30), the wheat and the weeds will grow together in the field until the harvest time.  God will judge at the harvest time.  In the meantime, attempting to remove weeds may result in the removal of some wheat, also.

May we–you, O reader, and I–strike a proper balance, by grace.  May we understand correctly the difference between good and evil.  May we understand correctly the difference between that which is sinful and that which is not.  May we understand correctly the difference between justice and injustice.  When appropriate, may we speak out, and do so in the right way.  And may we understand correctly the difference between our tasks and God’s tasks.

If I am going to err, I prefer to do so on the side of kindness, not harshness.  I would rather be too gentle than mean.  I prefer to strike the proper balance in each circumstances, of course.  Yet maybe my Southern training takes over and tells me not to create a needless scene.  I prefer to practice personal diplomacy, even when doing so entails telling white lies.  “No, that dress does not make you look fat,” except it does.  I also know enough to have some idea of what I do not know.  God knows more than I do, and I do not bring people to God by behaving obnoxiously in God’s name.

Nevertheless, as anyone who has read my weblogs sufficiently ought to know, I do not always shy away from writing what I really think.  I am capable of being blunt, too.  There is a time for diplomacy, just as there is a time for bluntness.  Yet there is never any moral justification for not leaving vengeance to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PERCY DEARMER, ANGLICAN CANON AND TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONA OF PISA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, LUTHER OF THE SLAVES AND FATHER OF SLOVAK HYMNODY

THE FEAST OF RUBY MIDDLETON FORSYTHE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EPISCOPAL EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY THERESA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF SAINT PETER CLAVER, AND “MOTHER OF AFRICAN MISSIONS;” AND HER SISTER, SAINT URSULA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE URSULINES OF THE AGONIZING HEART OF JESUS (GRAY URSULINES)

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The Superscription of the Book of Isaiah   1 comment

Above:  Isaiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART I

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Isaiah 1:1

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The Book of Isaiah contains the works of multiple authors writing over a span of centuries, from circa 742/733 B.C.E. to after 537 B.C.E.  The traditional division of the Book of Isaiah (First Isaiah = chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah = chapters 40-55, and Third Isaiah = chapters 56-66) is overly simplistic.  I follow the division from The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003):

  1. First Isaiah = chapters 1-23, 28-33;
  2. Second Isaiah = chapters 34-35, 40-55;
  3. Third Isaiah = chapters 24-27, 56-66; and
  4. A historical appendix verbatim from 2 Kings 18:13-20:19, except for King Hezekiah’s prayer of thanksgiving (Isaiah 38:9-20) = chapters 36-39.

I wrote about Isaiah 36-39 relatively recently, when blogging through the Second Book of Kings.

Isaiah ben Amoz (First Isaiah) was a resident of Jerusalem.  He, an aristocrat, may have been a priest serving at the Temple.  Isaiah’s name meant “the Lord is salvation.”  First Isaiah did not compose all of Isaiah 1-23, 28-33.  Multiple authors contributed to chapters 1-12 alone, for example.

The superscription names four Kings of Judah:

  1. Azariah/Uzziah (r. 785-733 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23);
  2. Jotham (r. 759-743 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:32-38; 2 Chronicles 27:1-9);
  3. Ahaz (r. 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 16:1-20; 2 Chronicles 28:1-27); and
  4. Hezekiah (r. 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 18:1-20:21; 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33; Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-22 and 49:4).

Placing dates from the period of Uzziah through Hezekiah on the Gregorian Calendar and the B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. scale is notoriously difficult.  If one consults five commentaries and study Bibles, one may find as many estimates of any given important date, such as the year in which King Uzziah died  and Isaiah ben Amoz received his prophetic commission from God (Isaiah 6:1).  I prefer to cite dates from The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), as much as possible.  When I consult study Bibles and commentaries, I find a range of years (742-733 B.C.E.) for the death of King Uzziah.

The royal chronology included at least one co-regency, that of Azariah/Uzziah and Jotham.  The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), in the back, holds that the reigns of Azariah/Uzziah and Ahaz may have overlapped.  Other study Bibles I consult indicate that these two reigns did not overlap.

Anyway, Isaiah ben Amoz (First Isaiah) prophesied during perilous times.  The Assyrian Empire loomed in the distance at the beginning of this prophetic career.  Also at the beginning, tensions with the Kingdom of Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel were prominent.  After Assyria conquered Aram then Israel, that empire posed a greater threat to Judah.  Meanwhile, on the domestic front, economic injustice was increasing.  First Isaiah was a contemporary of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, who prophesied regarding those problems, too.

The Books of Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Isaiah have existed in their current forms since after the Babylonian Exile.  This reality has presented many interpretive difficulties for themselves for years.

So be it.  The subsequent editing of texts to address then-current conditions provides a useful model for interpretation.  Despite the historical-critical methodological difficulties inherent in the final versions of these books–First Isaiah, in this case–they continue to address societies and nation-states in the present day.  I acknowledge the historical reality without any fear of offending God as I ask, in the words of a spiritual mentor of mine from the 1990s:

What is really going on here?

Any historical hiccups which may exist will not stand in the way of answering that question.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN H. W. STUCKENBERG, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND ACADEMIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF MENTHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND ARCHDEACON OF AOSTA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN POND PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAS DENCKE, SILESIAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST; AND SIMON PETER AND JOHANN FRIEDRICH PETER, GERMAN-AMERICAN COMPOSERS, EDUCATORS, MUSICIANS, AND MINISTERS

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCAFEE BROWN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, ACTIVIST, AND ECUMENIST

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Announcement of Judgment, with Confidence in God’s Future   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MICAH, PART VII

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Micah 6:1-7:20

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A motif in Hebrew prophetic literature in God making a legal case against a group of people.  That motif recurs at the beginning of Chapter 6.

Another motif in the Hebrew Bible is that God is like what God has done.  In other words, divine deeds reveal God’s character.  Likewise, human deeds reveal human character.  We read reminders of divine deliverance in Micah 6:4-5.  These verses call back to Exodus 1:1-15:21; Numbers 22:1-24:25; and Joshua 3:1-5:12.  God, who is just, expects and demands human justice:

He has told you, O man, what is good,

And what the LORD requires of you:

Only to do justice

And to love goodness,

And to walk modestly with your God.

Then will your name achieve wisdom.

–Micah 6:8-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Not surprisingly, no English-language translation captures the full meaning of the Hebrew text.  For example, to walk humbly or modestly with God is to walk wisely or completely with God.  Doing this–along with loving goodness and doing justice–is more important than ritual sacrifices, even those mandated in the Law of Moses.  This theme occurs also in Hosea 6:4-6.  One may also recall the moral and ethical violations of the Law of Moses condemned throughout the Book of Amos.  Micah 6 and 7 contain condemnations of such sins, too.  The people will reap what they have sown.

To whom can they turn when surrounded by corruption and depravity?  One can turn to and trust God.  In the fullest Biblical and creedal sense, this is what belief in God means.  In the Apostles’ Creed we say:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth….

In the Nicene Creed, we say:

We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen.

Sometimes belief–trust–is individual.  Sometimes it is collective.  So are sin, confession, remorse for sins, repentance, judgment, and mercy.  In Micah 7:7-13, belief–trust–is collective.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance in the case of Jerusalem, personified.  The figure is Jerusalem, at least in the later reading of Micah.  The reference to Assyria (7:12) comes from the time of the prophet.

“Micah” (1:1) is the abbreviated form of “Micaiah,” or “Who is like YHWH?”  That is germane to the final hymn of praise (7:18-20).  It begins:

Who is a God like You….

–Micah 7:18a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born and raised in exile, within the borders of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Imagine that you had heard that the Babylonian Exile will end soon, and that you will have the opportunity to go to the homeland of which you have only heard.  Imagine that you have started to pray:

Who is a God like you, who removes guilt

and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;

Who does not persist in anger forever,

but instead delights in mercy,

And will again have compassion on us,

treading underfoot our iniquities?

You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins;

You will show faithfulness to Jacob, and loyalty to Abraham,

As you have sworn to our ancestors from days of old.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Imagine, O reader, how exuberant you would have been.

As R. B. Y. Scott wrote regarding the Book of Hosea:

[The prophet] speaks of judgment that cannot be averted by superficial professions of repentance; but he speaks more of love undefeated by evil.  The final word remains with mercy.

The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed. (1968), 80

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Book of Micah.  I invite you to join me as I read and write about First Isaiah (Chapters 1-23, 28-33).

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL GERHARDT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATINALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF AMELIA BLOOMER, U.S. SUFFRAGETTE

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHARLES ROPER, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF OTTAWA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LOJZE GROZDE, SLOVENIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1943

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