Archive for the ‘Isaiah 22’ Category

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 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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Divine Judgment Against Elam   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXXIII

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Jeremiah 49:34-39

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Elam (capital = Susa) was east of the Tigris River.  The name of the country derived from one of the children of Shem (Genesis 10:22). Ezra 4:9 mentioned the “men of Susa.”  The Assyrian Empire sacked Susa in 646 B.C.E., and Elamite archers participated in Assyrian attacks on Judah (Isaiah 21:2; 22:6).  King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire expelled Elamite invaders into the Tigris region circa 596 B.C.E.

This oracle provides a date, of a sort.  The oracle originates from very early in the reign (597-586 B.C.E.) of King Zedekiah of Judah.

This oracle, like some others in this set of oracles, concludes on a hopeful note.

Elam passed into the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire then into the Persian Empire, but long remained a rebellious province.  Finally, in 521 B.C.E., King Darius I of the Persian Empire (r. 522-486 B.C.E.) established his winter palace in Susa.

Some of the people in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost were Elamites (Acts 2:9).

The oracle does not list any sin Elamites may have committed.

After the massive devastation, Yahweh will restore the fortune of Elam.  God’s ultimate resolve is the well-being even of Elam.  That well-being can only happen, however, when Yahweh’s throne is firm in the land and all other claimants to the throne have been eliminated.

–Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah:  Exile and Homecoming (1998), 461

After all, God is sovereign.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY FRANCES BLOMFIELD GURNEY, ENGLISH POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EVELYN UNDERHILL, ANGLICAN MYSTIC AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; SAINT AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP, AND SAINTS DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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Introduction to Jeremiah’s Oracles Against the Nations   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXV

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Jeremiah 46:1

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Jeremiah 46-51 consists of oracles against nations:

  1. Egypt (46),
  2. Philistia (47),
  3. Moab (48),
  4. Ammon, Edom, Aram, Arabia, and Elam (49), and
  5. the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (50-51).

Such oracles are staples of Hebrew prophetic literature.  They fill the Book of Nahum (against the Assyrian Empire), the Book of Obadiah (against Edom), Isaiah 13-23, Ezekiel 25-32, and Amos 1:3-2:16.  The oracles in Jeremiah 46-51 are consistent with Jeremiah’s commission:

…a prophet to the nations I appointed you.

–Jeremiah 1:5, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The Book of Jeremiah consists of material from various sources.  Some of these oracles, therefore, come from Jeremiah himself.  Others may come from a later stratum or subsequent strata of composition.  This fits with the process of composing and editing other Hebrew prophetic books as late as after the Babylonian Exile.  So be it.

We read, in the context of a particular scroll from 605 B.C.E.:

Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to his scribe, Baruch, son of Neriah, and wrote on it at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words contained in the scroll, which Jerhoiakim, king of Judah, had burned in the fire, adding many words like them.

–Jeremiah 36:32, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

I wonder how many other authors added

many words like them

elsewhere in the Book of Jeremiah, specifically in in Chapters 46-51.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6:  THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT SPYRIDON OF CYPRUS, BISHOP OF TREMITHUS, CYPRUS; AND HIS CONVERT, SAINT TRYPHILLIUS OF LEUCOSIA, CYPRUS; OPPONENTS OF ARIANISM

THE FEAST OF DAVID ABEEL, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND MISSIONARY TO ASIA

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BENJAMIN SANFORD, U.S. METHODIST THEN CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SIGISMUND VON BIRKEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Divine Judgment on Bad Kings and False Prophets   Leave a comment

Above:  King Zedekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XIV

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Jeremiah 23:1-40

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I like wordplay.  The Hebrew Bible is replete with it.  In Jeremiah 23, for example, puns on the Hebrew root letters resh and ayin move from ro’in (“shepherds,” in verses 1-4) to ra’ah (“evil,” in verses 11, 12, 14, 17, 22), mere’im (“evildoers,” in verse 14), and re’im (“each other,” in verses 27, 30, 35).  Also, in verses 5-6, we find a pun on the name of Zedekiah, the last King of Judah.  “Zedekiah” means “YHWH is justice.'”  The true branch of David’s line, however, will be “The LORD our justice.” we read.  This text tells us that Zedekiah did not live up to his regnal name.

The imagery of kings as shepherds exists in Ezekiel 34, also.

The promise of a messianic royal branch, in reference to an ideal ruler, occurs also in Isaiah 11:1 and Zechariah 3:8.  This promise contradicts facts from the historical record.

As with other parts of the Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 23 contains layers of authorship.  Verses 7-8, repeated nearly verbatim from Jeremiah 16:14-15, probably date to a period after Jeremiah–most likely during or after the Babylonian Exile.

False prophets abounded.  Some prophesied in the name of Baal Peor; they led people astray.  Other prophets claimed to speak on behalf of God; they led people into violations of the covenant.  The people and the false prophets paid a high price.  In more wordplay, massa (“burden”) meant a message from God (also in Deuteronomy 1:12; Jeremiah 17:24, 27; Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 15:1; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Malachi 1:1; Isaiah 22:1; Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1), as well as a judgment from God.  The language of the “burden of the LORD,” as an oracle, was more common in reference to Gentile nations than to Israel and Judah.  In Jeremiah 23, the population that had requested an oracle received a judgment instead.

A difficult and germane question remains unanswered:  Without the benefit of hindsight, how can one discern who is a false prophet?  Each of us may correctly classify some figures as false prophets and wrongly categorize others, based on a belief system.  In hindsight, identifying false prophets is easier than doing so in real time.  If, for example, a self-proclaimed prophet predicts that Jesus will return by a certain date, one may reasonably classify him or her as a false prophet.  One may be certain, however, if that date comes and goes without the Second Coming having occurred.  On a mundane level, someone may offer a pronouncement that may be difficult to evaluate on the true prophet-false prophet scale in real time.  This person may even be a false prophet while imagining himself or herself to be a true prophet.  I accept Jeremiah as a true prophet, with the benefit of hindsight and faith.  Yet I admit that, had I lived when he was prophesying, I may have thought he was crazy.

May rulers be good and prophets be true.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARNABAS THE APOSTLE, COWORKER OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Divine Judgment on Judah, Part I   Leave a comment

Above:  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965

Photographer = Warren K. Leffler

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-49864

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART XIV

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Isaiah 22:1-25; 28:1-29:24; 32:1-20

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In 701 B.C.E., during the reign (727/715-698/687 B.C.E.) of King Hezekiah of Judah, King Sennacherib of Assyria (r. 705-681 B.C.E.) besieged Jerusalem.  That invasion of the Kingdom of Judah failed, by the hand of God (2 Kings 18:13-37; 2 Chronicles 32:1-23; Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-25; Isaiah 29:1-8; Isaiah 30:27-33; Isaiah 36:1-37:38).  In that context, widespread rejoicing ensued in Judah.  Isaiah ben Amoz was not impressed.

What is the matter with you now, that you have gone up,

all of you, to the housetops,

you who were full of noise,

tumultuous city,

exultant town?

–Isaiah 22:1-2a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Or maybe the rejoicing occurred because, in the failure of the Philistine-led revolt against the Assyrian Empire during the reign (722-705 B.C.E.) of Assyrian King Sargon II, Assyrian forces bypassed Jerusalem.  King Hezekiah had wisely not joined that uprising.  Yet Judah remained a vassal of the Assyrian Empire.  Either way, rejoicing was premature.  The Assyrian Empire remained a threat, and Judah was still subject to divine punishment for forsaking the covenant.  Judah still ignored the moral demands for righteousness and justice, in violation of the Law of Moses.  And Judah’s leaders bore the heavy load of responsibility for the kingdom’s predicaments.

An editor repurposed Isaiah 28:1-6, originally about the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, applied that passage to the Kingdom of Judah, and used 28:1-6 as the introduction to a condemnation of Judah.  Apart from one word (“Ephraim”), Isaiah 28:1-6 could be about Judah.  The oracle originally meant for Judah (28:7f) accused the ruling class of that kingdom of having made a covenant with death–not God–death.  Destruction would ensue, but it would not be complete.

The same themes repeat in the portions of scripture I grouped together for this post.  Isaiah 32 concludes with another condemnation of widespread, systemic unrighteousness and injustice, and a vision of how the people will benefit from the rule of a just and righteous government.

On April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Church, New York, New York, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke without equivocation against United States participation in the Vietnam War.  He also offered a moral critique of his country.  The United States of America needed to experience a

moral revolution of values,

King argued.  It was a thing-oriented society; the society needed to value people more highly than money and property, King contended.  King was correct.  He had also read the Hebrew prophets carefully.

King was a modern-day prophet.  He was also as unpopular in his day as many Hebrew prophets were in theirs.  The vision of a society standing humbly before God, recognizing its complete dependence on God, and acknowledging mutuality has remained an unfulfilled dream.

On that depressing note, I conclude this journey through First Isaiah.  Thank you, O reader, for joining me.  My next step on my trek through Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, will be the Book of Zephaniah.  I invite you to join me there, too.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BLANDINA AND HER COMPANIONS, THE MARTYRS OF LYONS, 177

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH HOMBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARGARET ELIZABETH SANGSTER, HYMN WRITER, NOVELIST, AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY, BISHOP, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 1075

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Good and Bad Priorities   1 comment

Pool of Hezekiah

Above:  Pool of Hezekiah, Jerusalem, Palestine, Between 1898 and 1946

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-08508

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The Collect:

Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples

and poured out your life with abundance.

Call us again to your banquet.

Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure,

and transform us into a people or righteousness and peace,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 22:1-8a (Thursday)

Isaiah 22:8b-14 (Friday)

Psalm 23 (Both Days)

1 Peter 5:1-5, 12-14 (Thursday)

James 4:4-10 (Friday)

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At first glance, from a certain point of view, the official actions in Isaiah 22 were reasonable.  Strengthening defenses and securing the water supply at a time of military threat were good ideas.  Yet, according to First Isaiah, they were insufficient:

You counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall.  You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool.  But you did not look to him who did it, or have regard for him who planned it long ago.

–Isaiah 22:10-11, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

And, as the New Testament readings remind us, we must behave toward God and each other humbly if we are to act properly.  This ethic is consistent with the Law of Moses, which teaches that people have responsibilities to and for each other, depend on each other, and rely completely on God.  Rugged individualism is a lie, despite its popularity in many political and cultural sectors.

Among the recurring condemnations of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the Old Testament are:

  1. Idolatry,
  2. Overconfidence in human plans and actions,
  3. Failure to trust God,
  4. Official corruption, and
  5. Economic exploitation of the poor.

Those are timeless condemnations.   The identities of idols change, but idolatry seems to be a human pattern of thinking and acting.  We become enamored of ourselves and pay God too little attention.  Greed for wealth and power lead to corruption, one of the main causes of poverty and related social problems.  And many people either rig the system to create or perpetuate poverty or defend that system, criticizing critics as “Socialists” or other words meant to frighten and distract the oppressed from the real problem.  Yet there is no scarcity in the Kingdom of God, which indicts flawed systems of human origin.

Psalm 23 offers a vision of divine abundance and security.  Enemies are nearby, but safety and plenty are one’s reality:

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

–Verse 6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

More people would enjoy a reality closer to that in this life if more individuals had properly ordered priorities.  We human beings cannot save this world; only God can do that.  Yet we can leave the world a better place than we found it.  We have a responsibility to do that much.  And grace is available to empower us to fulfill our duties.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN BUNYAN, PROTESTANT SPIRITUAL WRITER

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Adapted from This Post:

Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 23, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)

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Human Weaknesses, the Kingdom of God, and Kudzu   1 comment

17546v

Above:  An Abandoned Barn Overwhelmed by Kudzu, 1980

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-17546

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The Collect:

Holy God, our strength and our redeemer,

by your Spirit hold us forever, that through your grace we may

worship you and faithfully serve you,

follow you and joyfully find you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 22:15-25 (Thursday)

Genesis 27:30-38 (Friday)

Psalm 40:1-11 (both days)

Galatians 1:6-12 (Thursday)

Acts 1:1-5 (Friday)

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Blessed are those who have put their trust in the Lord:

who have not turned to the proud,

or to those who stray after false gods.

A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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Shebna was a high-ranking official in the court of the King of Judah.  This royal steward, according to Isaiah, was unworthy of the position he held and of the elaborate tomb he had had built for himself.  The prophet predicted Shebna’s demotion and the promotion of Eliakim to the post of steward.  As the notes on page 826 of The Jewish Study Bible tell me, Isaiah 36:3; Isaiah 37:2; and 2 Kings 18:18 refer to Eliakim as royal steward.  Isaiah also predicted the downfall of Eliakim, who was also vulnerable to human weaknesses and failings.

Human weaknesses and failings were on full display in Genesis 27:30-38.  Certainly Rebecca and Jacob did not emerge from the story pristine in reputation.  And St. Paul the Apostle, a great man of history and of Christianity, struggled with his ego.  He knew many of his weaknesses and failings well.

Fortunately, the success of God’s work on the planet does not depend upon we mere mortals.  Yes, it is better if we cooperate with God, but the Kingdom of God, in one of our Lord and Savior’s parables, is like a mustard tree–a large, generally pesky weed which spreads where it will.  Whenever I ponder that parable I think about the kudzu just an short drive from my home.  The Kingdom of God is like kudzu.  The divine message of Jesus is like kudzu.  I take comfort in that.

Yet we humans, despite our weaknesses and failings, can cooperate with God.  It is better that way.  It is better for us, certainly.  And it is better for those whom God will reach through us.  The transforming experience of cooperating with God will prove worth whatever price it costs us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 5, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF GREGORIO AGLIPAY, PHILIPPINE INDEPENDENT BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/devotion-for-thursday-and-fridaybefore-the-second-sunday-after-epiphany-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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