Archive for the ‘Isaiah 21’ Category

Religious Decline and Hope of Recovery   Leave a comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART II

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Malachi 1:2-3:12

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As I wrote in Reading Malachi, Part I, the dating of the Book of Malachi is vague–perhaps prior to 445 B.C.E., when the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah began (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9)–or perhaps not.   Clear, however, are the sense of spiritual crisis and the religious decline in the Book of Malachi.

Consider 1:2-5, O reader.  We read divine assurance of love for the people.  We may assume safely that the population (much of it, anyway) needed this assurance.  The proof of divine love for Jews in Judea in Malachi 1:2-5 is their continued existence in their ancestral homeland.  The contrast with their ancient foe and cousin people, the Edomites, is stark.

I have read and blogged about divine judgment on the people of Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Obadiah; and Isaiah 34:5-17.

The designated portion of the Book of Malachi continues with the condemnations of priests and the population.  We read of priests offering defiled food as sacrifices.  We read that God objected strongly to such disrespect, and preferred no ritual sacrifices to the offerings of blemished animals.  (See Exodus 12:5; Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 10; Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 22:22).  We read that God was really angry:

And now, O priests, this charge is for you:  Unless you obey and unless you lay it to heart, and do dishonor to My name–said the LORD of blessings into curses.  (Indeed, I have turned them into curses, because you do not lay it to heart.)  I will put your seed under a ban, and I will strew dung upon your faces, the dung of your festal sacrifices, and you shall be carried out to its [heap].

–Malachi 2:1-3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Furthermore, we read that (much of) the population of Israel has failed to keep the covenant, too.  We read that God objected to Jewish men divorcing Jewish wives to marry foreign women.  One may recall that this was also an issue in Ezra 10.  As prior to the Babylonian Exile, idolatry is in play.  Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Deuteronomy 12:31 permit divorce, but Malachi 2:16 begins:

For I detest divorce….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Context is crucial; statements never arise in a vaccum.

Malachi 3:5 specifies offenses:

But [first] I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me:  Who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause] of the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the LORD of Hosts.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Faithless members of the Chosen People remain “children of Jacob,” we read.  And God (as in Zechariah 1:3) expects them to express remorse for their sins and to repent:

Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you–said the LORD of Hosts.

–Malachi 3:7b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The text continues by explaining another way (other than not committing the previously listed sins) the people could return to God:  to support the Levites (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21-31; Nehemiah 13:10-13).  The text challenges the people to respond faithfully and generously to the extravagant and generosity of God.

Malachi 3:11 mentions locusts in the present tense.  This clue does not reveal as much as one may guess.  Does Malachi 3:11 date the Book of Malachi approximately contemporary with the Book of Joel, whenever that was?  The case for this is tenuous and circumstantial.  One may recall that swarms of locusts were a frequent threat in the region.  Malachi 3:11 may tell us one reason many people were not paying their tithes, though.

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 exists within a context, of course.  Taking it out of context distorts its meaning.  Recall Malachi 2:17, O reader.  We read there that people have been wearying God by saying:

“All who do evil are good in the sight of the LORD, and in them He delights,” or else, “Where is the God of justice?”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 rebuts that wearying statements and that wearying question.

Trusting in God liberates.  It liberates populations and individuals.  It liberates them to become their best possible selves in God, who is extravagantly generous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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The People’s Lament and God’s Response   Leave a comment

Above:  Valley of Hinnom

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 63:1-66:24

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Isaiah 63:1-6 depicts God as a warrior taking vengeance on Edom (Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Obadiah; Isaiah 34:5-17).  For more about Edom, follow the links.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance, as in the previous section.

Most of Isaiah 63 and 64 consist of a grand tour of Biblical history, in the form of a lament in the voice of Third Isaiah.  It is a recounting of divine faithfulness, human faithlessness, and divine punishment.  Third Isaiah’s questions of why God has allowed terrible events to occur and not prevented them stand the test of time.  One may ask them, for example, about millennia of anti-Semitic violence, especially the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, Isaiah 64 concludes on a combination of trust and uneasiness.  This makes sense, too.

The divine response, at the beginning of Isaiah 65, is consistent with Covenantal Nomism.  Those who disregarded the mandates of the covenant consistently and unrepentantly dropped out of the covenant and condemned themselves.  God will punish sins, we read.  We also read that God will also regard faithful servants.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

In the new divine order (65:1-66:24), circumstances will be idyllic and the relationship between God and the faithful population will be close.  The process of getting to that goal is underway, we read.  The old prophecies of heaven on earth will come to pass, we read.  And Jews and Gentiles will recognize the glory of God, we read.  Yet not all will be puppies and kittens, we read:

As they go out they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me, where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is not quenched.  All mankind will view them with horror.

–Isaiah 66:24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Isaiah 66:24 refers, literally, to Gehenna, in the Valley of Hinnom, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Commentaries tell me that, when Jewish Biblical authors (perhaps including Third Isaiah) sought a properly terrifying metaphor for Hell, they used the Jerusalem garbage dump, where corpses of criminals either burned or decomposed, without receiving burial.  Yet, in Isaiah 66:24 (perhaps of later origin than 66:22-23, the bodies of those who rebel against God will neither burn nor decompose.

Regardless of when someone composed 66:24, as well as whether 66:23 originally ended the chapter, I push back against the desire to end the Book of Isaiah on an upbeat note.  I read that, in Jewish practice (as in The Jewish Study Bible), people reprint 66:23 after 66:24, to have an upbeat ending:

And new moon after new moon,

And sabbath after sabbath,

All flesh shall come to worship Me

–said the LORD.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet 66:23-24, taken together, balance divine judgment and mercy.  Brevard S. Childs, conceding the possibility of the later composition of 66:24, argues that 66:24 fits the theme of

the division between the righteous and the wicked.

Isaiah (2001), 542

This division exists elsewhere in Third Isaiah, too.

In spite of God’s new heavens and death, the exaltation of Zion, and the entrance of the nations to the worship of God, there remain those outside the realm of God’s salvation.

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 542

They remain outside the realm of God’s salvation because they have condemned themselves.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey though Third Isaiah.  I invite you to remain by my side, so to speak, as I move along next to the Book of Joel.  This journey through the Hebrew prophetic books is much closer to its conclusion than to its beginning.  Nevertheless, much to learn remains.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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The End of Days   Leave a comment

Above:  Ahriman (from Zoroastrianism)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 24:1-27:13

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Babylon is not mentioned even once.  Rather, the eschatological focus of these chapters has raised their sights to the ultimate purpose of God in portraying the cosmological judgment of the world and its final glorious restoration.  Moreover, the redemption of Israel is depicted as emerging from the ashes of the polluted and decaying world.  Not just a remnant is redeemed , but the chapter recounts the salvation of all peoples who share in the celebration of God’s new order when death is banished forever (25:8).

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 173

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INTRODUCTION

Isaiah 24-27 constitutes the Isaiah Apocalypse.  They also constitute an early and not full-blown example of Biblical apocalyptic literature.  Some books I read inform me that the Jewish apocalyptic form emerged in the wake of the fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire–in the late sixth century (early 500s) B.C.E., to be precise.  These books also teach that full-blown Jewish apocalypses emerged only in the second century (100s) B.C.E., as in the case of Daniel 7-12.

Isaiah 24, in vivid language, depicts the divine destruction of the natural order and the social order.  I recommend the translation by Robert Alter, in particular.  Regardless of the translation, we read that people have violated the moral mandates embedded in the Law of Moses:

And the earth is tainted beneath its dwellers,

for they transgressed teachings, flouted law, broke the eternal covenant.

Therefore has a curse consumed the earth,

and all its dwellers are mired in guilt.

Therefore earth’s dwellers turn pale,

and all but a few humans remain.

–Isaiah 24:5-6, in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019)

The timeframe is sometime in the future, relative to both Third Isaiah and 2021.  in this vision, high socio-economic status provides no protection against God’s creative destruction.

Within the Book of Isaiah, in its final form, chapters 24-27 follow oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23) and precede more oracles against nations (chapters 28-33).  This relative placement is purposeful.

SWALLOWING UP DEATH FOREVER

Returning to the Isaiah Apocalypse, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God entails the defeat of the enemies of God’s people, the celebration of an eschatological banquet, and the swallowing up of death forever (See 1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 7:7-17).  The divine swallowing up of death echoes the swallowing up of Mot (the Canaanite god of death) in mythology.

Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 refer to divine victory over death.  Given the temporal origin of the Isaiah Apocalypse, is this a metaphor for the divine vindication of the downtrodden, likened to the dead?  Such language, in Book of Daniel (100s B.C.E.) and the Revelation of John (late 100s C.E.), refers to the afterlife.  The operative question regarding Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19, however, is if the author knew about and affirmed the resurrection of the dead.  We know that Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the dry bones) is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile.  But what about Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19?  Even the Jewish commentaries I consult do not arrive at a conclusion.

I understand why.  The Isaiah Apocalypses comes from a time when Jewish theology was changing, under the influence of Zoroastrianism.  Satan was moving away from being God’s employee–loyalty tester (Job 1-2) and otherwise faithful angel (Numbers 22:22-40)–and becoming a free agent and the chief rebel.   The theology of Ahriman, the main figure of evil in Zoroastrianism, was influencing this change in Jewish theology.  Jewish ideas of the afterlife were also changing under Zoroastrian influence.  Sheol was passing away.  Reward and punishment in the afterlife were becoming part of Jewish theology.  By the second century (100s) B.C.E., belief in individual resurrection of the dead was unambiguous (Daniel 12:2-3, 12).

I do not know what Third Isaiah believed regarding the resurrection of the dead.  I suppose that he could have affirmed that doctrine.  The historical context and the symbolic language of the apocalypse combine to confuse the matter.  So be it; I, as an Episcopalian, am comfortable with a degree of ambiguity.

DIVINE JUDGMENT ON ENEMIES OF THE COVENANT PEOPLE

Isaiah 25:9-12 singles out Moab, in contrast to the usual practice of not naming enemies in chapters 24-27.  One may recall material condemning Moab in Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 15:1-16:13; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Ezekiel 25:8-11.

In the divine order, the formerly oppressed rejoice in their victory over those who had oppressed them.  Oppression has no place in the divine order.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 24-27.  Divine deliverance of the oppressors is frequently catastrophic for the oppressors.  And the contrast between the fates of the enemies of God (27:11) and the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem (27:13) is stark.  As Brevard S. Childs offers:

In sum, the modern theology of religious universalism, characterized by unlimited inclusivity, is far removed from the biblical proclamation of God’s salvation (cf. Seitz, 192),

Isaiah (2001), 186

GOD’S VINEYARD

Neither do apostasy and idolatry have any place in the divine order.  And all the Jewish exiles will return to their ancestral homeland.  Also, the message of God will fill the earth:

In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall bud and flower,

and the face of the world shall fill with bounty.

–Isaiah 27:6, Robert Alter (2019)

The face of the world will be God’s productive vineyard, figuratively.  The people and kingdom of God, figuratively, are a vineyard in the Old and New Testament.  (See Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19).

CONCLUSION

Despite ambiguities in the texts, I am unambiguous on two germane points:

  1. Apocalyptic literature offers good news:  God will win in the end.  Therefore, faithful people should remain faithful.
  2. Apocalyptic literature calls the powers and leaders to account.  It tells them that they fall short of divine standards when they oppress populations and maintain social injustice.  It damns structures and institutions of social inequality.  It condemns societies that accept the unjust status quo.

Regardless of–or because of–certain ambiguities in the Isaiah Apocalypse, chapters 24-27 speak to the world in 2021.  Some vagueness in prophecy prevents it from becoming dated and disproven, after all.  And structural inequality remains rife and politically defended, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Divine Judgment Against Edom, Part II   2 comments

Above:  Icon of Obadiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING OBADIAH, PART II

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Obadiah 1b-21

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For the sake of succinctness, I will not repeat all I have written about Edom in posts based on the following passages:

  1. Amos 1:11-12;
  2. Isaiah 21:11-12;
  3. Jeremiah 49:7-22;
  4. Ezekiel 25:12-14; 35:1-15; and
  5. Isaiah 34:5-17.

I provide links to those posts instead.

Consider these words from a prophet after Obadiah’s time, whenever Obadiah’s time was, O reader:

I have shown you [Israel], love, says the LORD.  But you ask, “How have you shown love to us?”  Is not Esau Jacob’s brother? the LORD answers.  Jacob I love, but Esau I hate, and I have reduced his hill-country to a waste, and his ancestral land to desert pastures.  When Edom says, “We are beaten down, but let us rebuild our ruined homes,” these are the words of the LORD of Hosts:  If they rebuild, I shall pull down.  They will be called a country of wickedness, a people with whom the LORD is angry for ever.  Your own eyes will see it, and you yourselves will say, “The LORD’s greatness reaches beyond the confines of Israel.”

–Malachi 1:2-5, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Edom not only rejoiced at the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.), but moved into former Judean territory afterward.  These points came up in Obadiah 12-14.  The sentence of judgment followed:

You will be treated as you have treated others;

your deeds will recoil on your own head.

–Obadiah 15b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Turnabout seems to be fair play in divine justice.

Obadiah 17-21 contrasts the restoration of the Jews to the fate of the Edomites.  Historical evidence indicates that many Edomites assimilated with the Nabateans and that others became Idumeans.  Historical evidence indicates the existence of survivors (contra Obadiah 18).  Yet hyperbole is a rhetorical device, so one can may legitimately abstain from being overly critical of the line about there being no Moabite survivors in Obadiah 18.

The book concludes:

…and dominion will belong to the LORD.

–Obadiah 21b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

This element is commonplace in visions of restored Israel/Judah in its homeland after the Babylonian Exile.  In a broad sense, dominion always belongs to God; God is always sovereign.  One may recall C. H. Dodd‘s theology of Realized Eschatology:  The Kingdom of God does not come; it is.  Certain events, from a human, temporal perspective, make it more evident than it was.  One may also recall that, in the New Testament, the Kingdom of God is both present-tense and future-tense; it is partially realized (at least from a human, temporal perspective), with the fully-realized version yet to come (at least from a human, temporal perspective).

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the brief Book of Obadiah.  I invite you to remain by my side, figuratively, as I continue to the composite work of Haggai-First Zechariah.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MYLES HORTON, “FATHER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS EUMENIOUS AND PARTHENIOS OF KOUDOUMAS, MONKS AND FOUNDERS OF KOUDOMAS MONASTERY, CRETE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF DAMASCUS, SYRIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1860

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS SPIRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF RUED LANGGAARD, DANISH COMPOSER

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The Superscription of the Book of Obadiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Obadiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING OBADIAH, PART I

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Obadiah 1a

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The prophecy of Obadiah.

–Obadiah 1a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Book of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible, consists of twenty-one verses in one chapter.  It contains divine oracles of divine judgment against the nation of Edom.  The Book of Obadiah is also one of the two Hebrew prophetic books omitted from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL); the other one is Nahum, about God taking out the Assyrian Empire.  The shortest book in the Hebrew Bible is also absent from the Roman Catholic lectionaries for Masses on weekdays, Sundays, and major feast days.

Since I have started this project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order (with some exceptions), I have read the material regarding Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; and Isaiah 34:5-17.

Dating the Book of Obadiah is difficult.  Comparing eight commentaries and study Bibles, I detect no consensus about when Obadiah (“servant of YHWH”) prophesied in Jerusalem.  Robert Alter (2019) proposes that Obadiah prophesied during the final years of the Kingdom of Judah.  Five sources published between 1992 and 2015 insist that the book dates to after the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (1956), favors composition after the Babylonian Exile.  The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), states that Obadiah prophesied either during or after the Babylonian Exile.

We know almost nothing about Obadiah.  Even his name is common; the Hebrew Bible refers to twelve Obadiahs.  If we add “Obed” (a variant) to the list, we arrive at eighteen Obadiahs/Obeds.  Composition in Jerusalem after the fall of the Kingdom of Judah to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire is feasible.  History tells us that the conquerors did not deport everyone.  The text indicates that Obadiah received religious training and read other Hebrew prophetic books.  Commentaries point to similarities to Jeremiah 40; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Joel 1:15; Joel 2:5, 32; Joel 3:3, 17; and Amos 9:12.  Of course, some of these similarities may be due to later prophets having read the Book of Obadiah.  Obadiah also seems to have been one of those men called to prophesy for a brief period of time.

Anger against Edom marks the Book of Obadiah.  This makes sense, given the persistent hostility between the Jews and the Edomites.  This hostility is also evident in Malachi 1:2-5, from after the Babylonian Exile.  Consistent with this hostility and echoing Isaiah 34-35 (or the other way around), the Book of Obadiah pronounces divine doom on Edom and a bright future for the Jews.

For more on that point, read the next post in this series, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MYLES HORTON, “FATHER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS EUMENIOUS AND PARTHENIOS OF KOUDOUMAS, MONKS AND FOUNDERS OF KOUDOMAS MONASTERY, CRETE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF DAMASCUS, SYRIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1860

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS SPIRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF RUED LANGGAARD, DANISH COMPOSER

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Divine Judgment Against the Nations (Especially Edom), With the Return of the Redeemed Exiles to Zion   3 comments

Above:  Map Showing the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 34-35

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The Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  I recall, recently, reading Ezekiel 25-32, in which YHWH denounced various Gentile nations for opposing the Jewish people.  I read that same theme in Isaiah 34.  The chapter opens by addressing the nations and peoples of the (known) world.

For the LORD is angry at all the nations,

Furious at all their host;….

–Isaiah 34:2a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

In the fifth verse, however, the focus narrows to Edom, that frequently hostile cousin people of the Hebrews.

I have already read the oracles of divine judgment against Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; and Ezekiel 35:1-15.

The oracles against Edom in the Book of Obadiah awaits me, after I complete my blogging through Second Isaiah.

For it is the LORD’s day of retribution,

The year of vindication for Zion’s cause.

–Isaiah 34:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Isaiah 34 and 35 contrast the fates of Edom and the Hebrew exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  We read of the destruction of Edom (which happened).  We also read of the renewal and return of Hebrew exiles.  We read of the impending end of the Babylonian Exile.  We read of a reverse exodus, an exodus from Babylon:

And a highway shall appear there,

which shall be called the Sacred Way.

No one unclean shall pass along it,

But it shall be for them.

No traveler, not ever fools, shall go astray.

No lion shall be there,

No ferocious beast shall set foot on it–

These shall not be found there.

But the redeemed shall walk it.

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,

And come with shouting to Zion,

Crowned with joy everlasting.

They shall attain joy and gladness,

While sorrow and sighing flee.

–Isaiah 35:8-10, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Second Isaiah introduces the themes of the end the Babylonian Exile, the return to the homeland, and the restoration of the covenant relationship with YHWH.  These themes, not unique to Second Isaiah, permeate other portions of Hebrew prophetic literature, too.  And they are on the forefront of Second Isaiah.

I also notice the presence of the themes of exile and exodus.  Walter Brueggemann writes that exile and exodus are the two major themes in the Hebrew Bible.

Just as the Hebrew prophetic literature is repetitive, so must I be.  I come to this point by a reading project that has taken me through, in order:

  1. Hosea,
  2. Amos,
  3. Micah,
  4. First Isaiah (1-23, 28-33),
  5. Zephaniah,
  6. Nahum,
  7. Habakkuk,
  8. Jeremiah,
  9. Lamentations, and
  10. Ezekiel.

I am not parachuting into Isaiah 34 and 35.  I do not pretend to know what that balance is or where it should be.  I will not get too big for my theological britches, at least not in that matter.

Neither am I a fundamentalist.  I acknowledge that Second Isaiah and other prophets projected their attitudes onto God some of the time.  As Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel wrote, prophets were people, not microphones.  I admit that I project my attitudes onto God.  I confess that I need to know that I do this, and to stop doing that, as much as possible.

I also acknowledge that divine mercy upon and deliverance of the oppressed may be catastrophic for the oppressors and their allies.  One may describe this in several ways, including divine judgment and karma.  As the Bible teaches, people will reap what they have sown.

Nevertheless, I take no pleasure in the fate of Edom.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS RALPH MILNER, ROGER DICKINSON, AND LAWRENCE HUMPHREY, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 1591

THE FEAST OF FRANCES FLORENTINE HAGEN, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HEDDA OF WESSEX, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF LEO SOWERBY, EPISCOPAL COMPOSER AND “DEAN OF CHURCH MUSIC”

THE FEAST OF THOMAS HELMORE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND ARRANGER AND COMPOSER OF HYMN TUNES

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Divine Judgment Against Moab, Edom, and Philistia   6 comments

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART XII

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Ezekiel 25:8-17

Ezekiel 35:1-15

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The oracles against these nations–enemies of Judah and allies of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire–cited these nations’ rejoicing over the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.

I have covered the backgrounds of these nations already:

  1. Moab–Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 15:1-16:13; Jeremiah 48:1-47;
  2. Edom–Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; and
  3. Philistia–Amos 1:6-8; Isaiah 14:28-32; Jeremiah 49:1-7.

The oracles against Edom in Isaiah 34 and the Book of Obadiah await me, in due time.

The first oracle against Moab (Ezekiel 25:8-11) predates the Fall of Jerusalem.  The second oracle against Moab (Ezekiel 35:1-15) postdates the Fall of Jerusalem.

And you shall know that I am the LORD,

repeats, following ominous oracles.  God, who reserves the right of revenge, speaks in these oracles.

Another important aspect of Ezekiel 35:1-15 is the reference to Mount Seir.  Deuteronomy 33:2 and Judges 5:4 speak of a tradition of divine self-revelation from Mount Seir.  Here, God condemns Moabite ambitions to overrun former Hebrew lands, and announces that Mount Seir will become, by the divine hand,

an utter waste.

–Ezekiel 35:7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Contrary to the widespread belief that Nation A’s military defeat to Nation B indicated the triumph of Nation B’s gods over those of Nation A, YHWH remained undefeated.  YHWH remained sovereign.  YHWH remained formidable.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN OLAF WALLIN, ARCHBISHOP OF UPPSALA, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GENNERO MARIA SARNELLI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO THE VULNERABLE AND EXPLOITED PEOPLE OF NAPLES

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH LONAS, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF PAUL HANLY FURFEY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, SOCIOLOGIST, AND SOCIAL RADICAL

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP POWEL, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1646

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Divine Judgment Against Ammon, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART XI

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Ezekiel 21:28-32 (Anglican and Protestant)

Ezekiel 21:33-37 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Ezekiel 25:1-7

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Oracles of divine judgment against nations are staples of Hebrew prophetic literature.  For example, they populate Isaiah 13-23; Jeremiah 46-51; Amos 1:3-2:3; and Ezekiel 25-32.

Since I began this long-term project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, I have read the material regarding Ammon in Amos 1:13-15; Jeremiah 49:1-16; and Ezekiel 21:28-32/21:33-37 (depending on versification).

Ammon was east of the River Jordan, and bordered the territory of the tribe of Gad (Joshua 13:8-10).  Ammon’s capital was Rabbath-Amman (modern-day Amman, Jordan).  Sometimes the Hebrews and the Ammonites were foes (Judges 3:13; Amos 1:13-15; Zephaniah 2:8; Judges 10:6-12:7; 1 Samuel 11; 2 Samuel 10; 2 Samuel 12:26-31).  Sometimes they were allies (Jeremiah 27:3).  After the Fall of Jerusalem, the Ammonites supported Ishmael, the Davidic claimant who rebelled against Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:7-41:18).  Before that, however, Ammon had occupied the territory of the tribe of Gad after the Fall of Samaria (722 B.C.E.).

Ammon, as a province of the Assyrian Empire, had a native ruler most of the time in the seventh century B.C.E.  During the Assyrian civil war that started in 652 B.C.E., some of the remote peoples rebelled.  They endangered the security of Ammon and other Assyrian vassals.  With the fall of Nineveh (612 B.C.E.), Ammon briefly regained independence.  Ammon allied with the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire against common foes, those pesky Arab tribes and the Kingdom of Judah.  The alliance quickly turned into Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian domination of Ammon.

The Ammonite rebellion against their Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian overlords informed the material in Ezekiel 21.  The Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians struck Judah first then came back around for Ammon.  After the failed Ammonite rebellion, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire instituted mass deportations of Ammonites and, for a time, ended sedentary settlement in Ammon.  Ammon became the abode of nomads until the Persian period.

Ezekiel 25:1-7 is consistent with this history.  The text of the oracle condemns Ammon for opposing Judah and siding with the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The fitting punishment, we read, is to fall to that empire, too.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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The Superscription of the Book of Ezekiel   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART I

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Ezekiel 1:1-3

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In 597 B.C.E., Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian forces invaded Judah.  King Jehoiachin‘s brief reign ended.  His uncle Mattaniah came to the throne as King Zedekiah.  Jehoiachin and many others–members of the Judean elite–became exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The first wave of the Babylonian Exile had begun.

Ezekiel ben Buzi was one of these captives and exiles.  Ezekiel, a priest in the community beside the Chebar Canal (next to the city of Nippur, southeast of the city of Babylon), received his commission as a prophet on the fifth day of Tammuz (on the Gregorian Calendar, in June), 593 B.C.E.  He prophesied until 571 B.C.E.

Robert Alter describes Ezekiel as

surely the strangest of all the prophets

and as

an extreme case.

The Hebrew Bible, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1049

The prophet, whose name meant, “God strengthens,” was, by modern standards, misogynistic, as in Chapters 16 and 23.  He was not unique–certainly not in the company of Biblical authors.  According to Alter, especially in the context of Chapter 16:

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.  The states of disturbance exhibited in his writing led him to a series of remarkable visionary experiences, at least several of which would be deeply inscribed in the Western imagination, engendering profound experiences in later poetry and in mystical literature.  At the same time, there is much in these visions that reminds us of the dangerous dark side of prophecy.  To announce authoritatively that the words one speaks are the words of God is an audacious act.  Inevitably, what is reported as divine speech reaches us through the refracting prism of the prophet’s sensibility and psychology, and the words and images represented as God’s urgent message may be sometimes distorted in eerie ways.

–1051-1052

Biblical scholars from a variety of times, theological orientations, and geographical origins have commented on Ezekiel’s pathological psychology.  The prophet may not have been well-adjusted.  “Touched by the gods” has been an expression for a long time, and for a good reason.

However much one accepts that much or most of the Book of Ezekiel comes from the prophet, a textual difficulty remains.  The book includes evidence of subsequent editing after the Babylonian Exile.  Any given passage, in its final form, may have more to do with Ezra or some other editor than with Ezekiel.  Or that passage may be entirely from Ezeki8el.  Or the editorial touch may be light.

I acknowledge these matters as I commit to my primary purpose in this Hebrew prophetic reading project:  to read these passages in context and to ponder what they say to the world today.  The ancient message, grounded in particular circumstances, continues to speak.

“The hand of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:3) symbolizes divine power.

The Book of Ezekiel breaks down into three sections:

  1. Chapters 1-24, in their original form, date to between the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  This section divides into two subsections.  Chapters 1-11 contain visions of divine presence and departure.  Chapters 12-24 offer a rationale for and anticipate the destruction of Jerusalem.
  2. Chapters 25-32 contain oracles against the nations.  The arrangement of these oracles is not chronological.  Such a collection of oracles is also a feature of other prophetic writings, as in Amos 1:3-2:3; Isaiah 13:1-23:19; Jeremiah 46:1-51:64.
  3. Chapters 33-48 contain oracles from after the Fall of Jerusalem.  This section breaks down into two subsections.  Chapters 33-39 offer a rationale for and anticipate the transformation of the LORD’s people.  Chapters 40-48 contain visions of the LORD’s return to the Second Temple (not yet built; dedicated in 516 B.C.E.) in a transformed land.

Tova Ganzel wrote, in the introduction to the Book of Ezekiel, in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014):

Because of the central themes of the Temple, acts of leadership, sins of the people, and divine theophanies appear in both the predestruction and postdestruction oracles (1.3, 13-15, 22-24; 8.2-3; 10.11, 22-23; 40.1-2; 43.1-5), Ezekiel’s oracles merit both sequential and topical study.

–1034

I will study the Book of Ezekiel in a combination of sequential and topical organization of posts.

Major lectionaries ignore most of the Book of Ezekiel.  The Roman Catholic lectionaries for weekdays, Sundays, and major feast days omit Chapters 3-8, 11, 13-15, 19-23, 25-27, 29-42, 44-46, and 48 entirely. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) lists the Book of Ezekiel only five times:

  1. 34:11-16, 20-24 for Christ the King Sunday, Year A;
  2. 36:24-27 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C;
  3. 37:1-14 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C; the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A; and (as an alternative reading), for the Day of Pentecost, Year B.

I understand the benefits and limitations of lectionaries.  Any lectionary–even a narrow, one-year cycle with two readings and a Psalm each Sunday–is superior to ministers focusing on their favorite passages of scripture Sunday after Sunday.  The orderly reading of scripture in communal worship has virtues.  Lectionaries also help people to read the Bible in conversation with itself.  Nevertheless, the parts of the Book of Ezekiel that even three-year cycles overlook are worth hearing and reading, in private, alone, in a study group, and in the context of worship.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 7:  THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH AUGUSTUS SEISS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF ALFRED RAMSEY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CHARLES COFFIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HANS ADOLF BRORSON, DANISH LUTHERAN BISHOP, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN SPARROW-SIMPSON, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND PATRISTICS SCHOLAR

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The Punishment of Zion   Leave a comment

Above:  Lamentations

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART V

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Lamentation 4:1-22

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The main bright ray of hope in the Book of Lamentations is in Chapter 3.  Theological whiplash continues as the readings revert to…lamentations.  Chapter 4 describes the siege of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.. as well as the suffering and degradation of the city’s residents at the time.

Some points require explanation:

  1. In verse 1, gems and gold represent people.  They are precious yet discarded.
  2. Jackals (verse 3) had a reputation as despicable scavengers.
  3. Ostriches (verse 3) were supposedly cruel and neglectful parents (Job 39:13-18).
  4. Starving children were too weak to cry in verse 4.  (Ezekiel 3:16; Psalm 137:6; Job 29:10)
  5. The inhabitants of Sodom died quickly (Genesis 19:24-25), but the inhabitants of Jerusalem suffered a long agony.
  6. Coral and sapphire were colors associated with vigor in verses 7-8.  Those colors have disappeared.
  7. Fire represented divine wrath (Lamentations 2:3 and 4:11; Deuteronomy 32:22; Isaiah 10:17; Jeremiah 17:27).  There was also the literal fire that destroyed Jerusalem, of course.
  8. Contrary to popular belief (Psalms 46 and 48), Mount Zion was not inviolable.  The belief that God would not let Mount Zion fall came from foreigners (Lamentations 4:12).
  9. Shedding blood (verses 13 and 14), in this case, referred to committing idolatry (Ezekiel 22:1-5; Psalm 106:37-40).  The people most closely associated with purity were the most impure.  Those once among the most respected in society had become as impure as lepers (verse 15).
  10. The Poet spoke in verses 1-16 and 21-22.  The Community spoke in verses 17-20.
  11. The tone in verse 21 is ironic.  Edom comes in for condemnation here and in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Obadiah; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; and Ezekiel 35:1-15.
  12. Verse 22 offers a glimmer of hope.  The Babylonian Exile will end, we read.  Justice will prevail because punishes sins, we read.

I ponder the idea of a world in which justice prevails because God punishes sins.  I think about the world as it is and perceive that it bears little resemblance to God’s ideal world.  The disparity between reality and the ideal is discouraging.  Were I more poetic, and if I had the desire to compose a set of lamentations for the world and United States of America in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DALBERG ACTON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER, AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, AND ADVOCATE FOR PEACE

THE FEAST OF MICHEL-RICHARD DELALANDE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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