Archive for the ‘Isaiah 30’ 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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Indictment for Apostasy and Call to Repentance   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART III

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Jeremiah 2:1-4:4

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Has any nation changed its gods

Even though they are no-gods?

But My people has exchanged its glory

For what can do no good.

–Jeremiah 2:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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God had liberated the Hebrew slaves from Egypt.  Then the former slaves had quickly started grumbling.  No member of that generation had entered Canaan.  In Canaan, the Hebrews had practiced idolatry.  The practice of idolatry had continued through the time of Jeremiah.  The abandonment of the covenant, with the common good built into it, constituted infidelity to God.  The irony of self-serving religion was that it could “do no good,” as TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) masterfully renders 2:11.

I like the translation of Jeremiah 2:11 in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985).  The wordplay of “no-gods” and “no good” is wonderful.  “Do no good” is not a literal translation, though.  The New Revised Standard Version (1989) uses “does not profit,” not “do no good.”  The germane Hebrew verb is ya’al, or “to confer or gain profit of benefit.”  Ya’al also occurs in Jeremiah 2:8:

The priests never asked themselves, “Where is the LORD?”

The guardians of the Teaching ignored Me,

And the prophets prophesied by Baal

And followed what can do no good.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Ya’al sounds like “Baal,” as in Baal Peor, the Canaanite fertility and storm god.  The connotation of ya’al (profit) is almost entirely negative in the Hebrew Bible, and frequently occurs in the context of idolatry.  This verb occurs 23 times:  1 Samuel 12:21; Job 15:3; Job 21:15; Job 30:13; Job 35:3; Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4; Isaiah 30:5-6; Isaiah 44:9-10; Isaiah 47:12; Isaiah 48:17; Job 57:12; Jeremiah 2:8 and 11; Jeremiah 12:13; Jeremiah 16:19; Jeremiah 23:32; and Habakkuk 2:18.

The metaphor of the covenant as a marriage should be familiar to anyone who has read the Book of Hosea attentively.  That metaphor plays our in this portion of Jeremiah, too.  Idolatry is, metaphorically, infidelity to God.  And this infidelity entails economic injustice, hence the reference to “the blood of the innocent poor” (Jeremiah 2:34).  The metaphor of irreversible divorce (Jeremiah 3:105) draws from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, in which the husband may not take back his wife after she has remarried.  Can the sinful population return to YHWH?  (The Book of Jeremiah, with its layers of composition and authorship, is inconsistent in the answer to this question.)  The people, not YHWH, have broken the relationship.  Yes, we read in this part and other segments of the Book of Jeremiah, the sinful population can return if it will repent, we read.  It can return if it will turn its back to its sins and return to God, we read.  The text mixes metaphors.  The adulterous wife becomes rebellious children.  Yet the call to repent remains.

We know that the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah fell, however.  Knowing this adds melancholy to our understanding of these verses.  Nevertheless, we also know that the Babylonian Exile ended.  That detail should add some joy to the mix as we read Jeremiah 2:1-4:4.

To return to my opening theme, the irony of idolatry in the name of self-serving religion is that it is in vain.  The Law of Moses, with its ethical core, builds up the common good and teaches mutuality.  Whatever affects one person, affects others.  We are all responsible to and for each other as we stand together, completely dependent upon God.  Selfish gain, the sort that enriches some while impoverishing others, works against the common good and harms the one who benefits the one who benefits from that selfish gain.  This selfish gain turns into a liability in the long term.

God longs to heal our afflictions, even the ones we have inflicted on ourselves.  We must turn back toward God, however.  If we refuse to do so, we judge and condemn ourselves.  This truth applies on more than one level.  There is the individual level, of course.  Yet may we not forget that Jeremiah 2:1-4:4 addresses populations, not individuals or one person.  Sin is both collective and individual.  So are forgiveness and restoration.  We may feasibly apply this call to collective repentance to neighborhoods, families, congregations, denominations, societies, nation-states, et cetera.

God is the source of the best stuff, for lack of a better word.  Do we want the best stuff or inferior stuff?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW TALBOT, RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC IN DUBLIN, IRELAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY GIANELLI, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF SAINT ALPHONSUS

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK LUCIAN HOSMER, U.S. UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HUBERT LAFAYETTE SONE AND HIS WIFE, KATIE HELEN JACKSON SONE, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES AND HUMANITARIANS IN CHNA, SINGAPORE, AND MALAYSIA

THE FEAST OF SEATTLE, FIRST NATIONS CHIEF, WAR LEADER, AND DIPLOMAT

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Divine Judgment on Philistia, Phoenicia, Moab, Aram, Ethiopia, and Egypt, with Warnings Against Alliances with Egypt and Ethiopia   3 comments

Above:  Map of the Assyrian Empire

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART XII

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Isaiah 14:28-20:6; 23:1-18; 30:1-26; 31:1-9

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INTRODUCTION

Some of this material may have originated with Isaiah ben Amoz, but other material (if not all of it) came from a later time.  The First Isaiah (Chapters 1-23, 28-33) part of the Book of Isaiah came to exist in its final form of the Babylonian Exile.  The editing of the older material and the addition of old material created a multi-layered collection of texts.

I acknowledge this historical and literary reality without reservation.  I also focus on meanings.  Contexts–especially historical ones–are crucial for establishing a text’s original meaning.  One needs to do this before interpreting a text for today as effectively as possible.  Unfortunately, determining original historical context is not always possible in First Isaiah.  Still, I do the best I can.

If prophetic denunciations of Tyre/Philistia, Moab, and Aram/Damascus (Isaiah 14:28-17:14) seem familiar to you, O reader, you may be thinking of Amos 1:3-5; 1:9-10; and 2:1-3.

PHILISTIA

Isaiah 14:28 establishes a temporal marker:

In the year that King Ahaz died….

As I have written in previous posts in this series of posts about Hebrew prophetic books, establishing a coherent and consistent chronology on the Gregorian Calendar and the B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. scale for the period from King Azariah/Uzziah of Judah and King Hezekiah of Judah is notoriously difficult.  If one consults three study Bibles, one may find three different sets of years for the reign of the same monarch.  Although study Bibles disagree about when King Ahaz began to reign, they agree that he died in or about 715 B.C.E.

Circa 715 B.C.E., Philistine cities, Assyrian vassals, were trying to forge a regional united front against the Assyrian Empire.  That empire had already swallowed up Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel in 720 and 722 .C.E., respectively.  The Kingdom of Judah, under King Hezekiah, did not join this alliance.  Circa 715 B.C.E., the Assyrian Empire was experiencing a period of temporary decline.

Do not rejoice, Philistia, not one of you,

that the rod which struck you is broken;….

–Isaiah 14:29a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The rod was not broken, after all.  The Assyrian Empire had a resurgence of power, and the anti-Assyrian rebellion failed.

Anyway, the snake in Isaiah 29:b is a call back to the seraphim (poisonous snakes) from Numbers 21:1-9 and Deuteronomy 8:15, and alluded to in Isaiah 6:1-13.

Philistia’s hopes of throwing off the Assyrian yoke were in vain.

PHOENICIA (TYRE AND SIDON)

The Phoenicians (who deserve much credit for the alphabet in which I write this post) were seagoing merchants.  In fact, in the Bible, the association between Phoenicians and merchants was so strong that, in some texts, “Phoenicians” may refer to merchants, not ethnic-cultural Phoenicians.  Anyway, many Phoenician merchants were fabulously wealthy.

Isaiah 23:1-18 may be either a prophecy or a text written after the failed Phoenician rebellion against the Assyrian Empire in 701 B.C.E.  The text is, in any case, a mock lament.  The text criticizes Phoenicians for relying on their wealth and being arrogant, not relying on YHWH.  We read the Tyre, supposedly inviolable, fell.  We may legitimately consider this as a warning that Jerusalem, also supposedly inviolable, could fall, too.

It did, in 586. B.C.E.

MOAB

The temporal origin of Isaiah 15:1-16:13 is uncertain.  It may date to a time after Isaiah ben Amoz and refer to mourning after Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian military activity.  A similar text, a dirge for events circa 650 B.C.E., exists in Jeremiah 48.  There are also thematic connections with Numbers 21:27-30.

Moab, to the east of the Dead Sea, was where Jordan is today.  Moab was a traditional enemy of the Jewish people.  The (united) Kingdom of Israel controlled Moab.  The (northern) Kingdom of Israel fought off Moabite resistance to its control until the reign (851-842 B.C.E.) of King Joram (Jehoram) of Israel.  Then Moab regained its independence.  Circa 735 B.C.E., Moab became a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire.  In the middle of the seventh century B.C.E., Moab, as an autonomous state, ceased to exist.  Moab traded Assyrian domination for Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian domination in 609 B.C.E.  The last Moabite king’s reign ended circa 600 B.C.E. (Jeremiah 27:3).

Isaiah 16 encourages the Kings of Judah, part-Moabite (Ruth 1-4), to welcome Moabite refugees.

Isaiah 16 also includes some references that careful, attentive readers of the early prophets (Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah) should find familiar.  Verse 7 refers to raisin cakes offered to false gods (Hosea 3:1).  The royal government of Judah had a divine mandate to act justly, consistent with the Law of Moses (verses 1-5).  We read another condemnation of collective and official “haughtiness, pride, and arrogance” before God (verse 6).  And the remnant of Moab will be “very small and weak,” we read in verse 14.  The Moabite remnant contrasts with the Judean remnant.

E. D. Grohman wrote:

Archaeological exploration has shown that Moab was largely depopulated from ca. the beginning of the sixth century, and in many sites from ca. the eighth century.  From the sixth century on, nomads wandered through the land until political and economic facts made sedentary life possible again in the last centuries B.C.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:  An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, K-Q (1962), 418

ARAM/DAMASCUS

Aram (where Syria is today) was the main rival to the Assyrian Empire during the prophetic careers of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, and during the beginning of the prophetic career of First Isaiah.  After the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.), both the Kingdom of Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel lost territory to the Assyrian Empire and became vassal states of that empire.  The Assyrian Empire conquered Israel in 722 B.C.E. and Aram in 720 B.C.E.

Truly, you have forgotten the God who saves you,

the Rock, your refuge, you have not remembered.

–Isaiah 17:10a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

I will return to that theme before the end of this post.

ETHIOPIA AND EGYPT–REALLY CUSH/NUBIA

Modern place names do not always correspond to ancient place names.  The references to Ethiopia in Isaiah 18:1-7 and 20:1-6 are to Cush (where the Sudan is today).  On maps of the Roman Empire, the label is Nubia.

A Cushite/Nubian dynasty (the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty of Egypt) controlled Egypt at the time, so references to “Ethiopia” included Egypt.  That dynasty had invited the Kingdom of Judah to join its coalition against the Assyrian Empire circa 715 B.C.E.  Egypt/Cush/Nubia had replaced Aram as the main rival to the Assyrian Empire.  Judah, under King Hezekiah, did join this alliance, much to divine disapproval (Isaiah 30:1-5; 31:1-9).  Judean participation in this alliance was apparently an example of rebellion against God (Isaiah 28:14-22; 29:15-26; 30:6-7).  God was prepared to act against the Assyrian Empire, but not yet (Isaiah 18:1-7).

Isaiah 19 refers to the Cushite/Nubian conquest of Egypt and asserts divine sovereignty over Egypt:

The idols of Egypt tremble before him,

the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them.

Verse 1b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The theological-geopolitical agenda in the Egyptian/Cushite/Nubian material was to rely only on God, not on powerful neighbors that did not have Judah’s best interests at heart.  Trusting in God was the only way to maintain independence.  Empires rose and fell, but God would never fall.  And God was waiting to be gracious to Judah (Isaiah 30:18f).

For this said the Lord GOD,

the Holy One of Israel:

By waiting and by calm you shall be saved,

in quiet and trust shall be your strength.

But this you did not will.

–Isaiah 30:15, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

CONCLUSION

These passages reflect a particular geopolitical and historical set of circumstances.  As with the Law of Moses, one ought to be careful not to mistake examples bound by circumstances for timeless principles do exist.

If one expects me to extrapolate these readings into a condemnation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.) or the United Nations (U.N.), for example, I will disappoint such a person.  I live in the United States of America, not equivalent to any ancient kingdom, empire, or city-state.  I do not accept American Exceptionalism either, so I may disappoint another group of readers.  The same rules and moral standards that apply to other nation-states in 2021 also apply to the United States of America.

One timeless principle germane in this post is the imperative of trusting in God more than in people.  This applies both collectively and individually.  God is forever; people have relatively short lifespans.  Nation-states come and go.  Administrations come and go, also.  Even the most capable and benevolent leaders are imperfect.  They can still function as instruments of God, of course.  May they do so.  And may they know that they are “like grass.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST AND MARTYR, 166/167

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, 309

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROBINSON, MARMADUKE STEPHENSON, AND MARY DYER, BRITISH QUAKER MARTYRS IN BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 1659 AND 1660

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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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Trusting in God, Part XI   Leave a comment

Above:  The Widow’s Mite, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity, Year 1

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household, the Church, in continual godliness;

that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities,

and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 223

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Isaiah 30:15-19

Psalm 138

Ephesians 6:10-20

Mark 12:18-44

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The context of Mark 12:18-44 is conflict during Holy Week.  Jesus avoided many verbal traps, resisted challenges to his authority, and bemoaned the Temple System, which devoured the property of widows.  (I advise reading 12:41-44 in the context of 12:38-40 and 13:1-2.)  Jesus also defined the greatest commandment; he used Rabbi Hillel’s summary of the Torah.  The Incarnate Son of God quoting Hillel constituted high regard for that rabbi.

Trust God, we read.  Trusting God saves one from much trouble.  Even when we distrust God, God seeks to show us mercy.  Yes, we will have to contend with the consequences of our bad choices.  Perhaps we will learn from our mistakes, however.  If we do, and if we find our strength in God, we will be free to become our best selves, families, et cetera.  When we love God fully and our neighbors as ourselves, we will leave everybody better off.  That will be wonderful, will it not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, PATRIARCH; AND SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, PATRIARCH AND “FATHER OF ORTHODOXY”

THE FEAST OF CHARLES SILVESTER HORNE, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES FRIEDRICH HASSE, GERMAN-BRITISH MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF JULIA BULKLEY CADY CORY, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURGUNDY, KING; SAINT CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND SAINT CLODOALD, FRANKISH PRINCE AND ABBOT

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Trusting in God, Part VIII   1 comment

Above:  Joseph Reveals His Dream to His Brethren, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 37:1-28 or Isaiah 30:15-25

Psalm 18:16-30

1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Matthew 11:2-19

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Patriarchs in Genesis had dysfunctional families.  Abraham tried to kill his son Isaac, on faith that God had told him to do so.  (Yes, I argue with that story.)  Isaac’s son Jacob, with the help of Jacob’s mother, fooled him and defrauded Esau.  Jacob seemed not to care about the rape of his daughter Dinah and, in a different context, acted in such a way as to foster tension among his sons, most of whom fooled him into thinking that his son Joseph was dead.  With family like that, who needs enemies?

The main idea in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 is that believers ought to conduct themselves in ways that glorify God and distinguish them from unbelievers.  Yet even when holy people do that, they will still receive criticism, for some people thrive on finding faults, even if those faults are imaginary.  It is preferable that the criticisms be baseless; that way they show up the critics.

During the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (reigned 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.), the kingdom entered into a military alliance with Egypt against Assyria.  This was an ill-advised alliance; Egypt was not trustworthy.  The author of Isaiah 30 argued that the alliance indicated a lack of trust in God, who was reliable.  After the announcement of divine wrath followed the prediction of mercy.

Trusting in God liberates one to do as one should and become the person one should be.  One can lay aside the desire for revenge, not to lead a life defined by anger, and value justice instead.  With confidence in God one can avoid foolish decisions that end badly.  One, trusting in God, can find the source of ultimate peace and strength.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/devotion-for-proper-15-year-a-humes/

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Psalms 44-46   1 comment

Above:  Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, D. C., September 2011

Photographer = Carol Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-18674

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POST XVII OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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A recurring theme throughout the Hebrew Bible is that military victory comes not merely through tactics, weaponry, and alliances, but via God.  National strength entails much, including caring effectively for the vulnerable members of society and not exploiting people, themes present in Psalm 45.  If any of this sounds familiar, perhaps that is because one knows the books of the Hebrew prophets and/or has been paying attention to the Book of Psalms.  Scholarly sources suggest a variety of answers regarding the dating of Psalm 44.  Either the dating is impossible to ascertain or the text comes from the exilic period or from the Hasmonean era.  Regardless, Psalm 44 functions well in a variety of settings and periods, after a downturn in national fortunes has occurred.

Psalm 46 works nicely as a counterpart to Psalm 44.  Psalm 46 is a text soldiers recited before going into battle.  That detail is especially interesting, given the politics of the text.  The end of Psalm 46, in many traditional renderings, reads something like:

“Be still, then, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations;

I will be exalted in the earth.”

The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

–Psalm 46:11-12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

However, as J. Clinton McCann, Jr., writing in Volume IV (1996) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, argues, this is a bad translation because:

Contemporary readers almost inevitably hear it as a call to meditation or relaxation, when it should be heard in the light of v.9 as something like “Stop!” or “Throw down your weapons! ”  In other words, “Depend on God instead of yourselves.”

–Page 866

Mitchell J. Dahood, while maintaining that bad translation, anticipates McCann’s interpretation of the meaning of the verse.  Father Dahood’s note on that verse refers to prophetic cautions against ill-advised military alliances, as in Isaiah 30:15, and mentions that God is the master of history.  TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) makes these points plain in the translation of the verse:

Desist!  Realize that I am God!

I dominate the nations;

I dominate the earth.

–Verse 11

God can end all war.  The wish that God will end all military conflict and establish a kingdom of peace and justice on the planet is a natural desire for a soldier, is it not?  Yes, warmongers exist;  most seem to be civilians.  None of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines I have known have not been warmongers.  After all, military personnel pay the highest costs of warfare.

The mandate for a country and its leaders to trust in God comes bound with the command to care effectively for the vulnerable members of society and to resist militarism.  This is a lesson the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., understood well, given his anti-Vietnam War speech of April 4, 1967:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

The textual context for that statement is a call for the transformation of the United States of America from

a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-centered” society

–a call for a moral revolution–

a revolution of values

–a positive revolution, one that recognizes that

War is not the answer

and that neither are hatred and fear to the question of how to defeat Communism.

Enemies and political causes come and go.  Timeless principles, however, remain.  What can be more timeless a principle than trusting in God?  Certainly King’s call for a moral revolution of values remains relevant.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 10, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WALSHAM HOW, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAKEFIELD AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, FRANCES JANE DOUGLAS(S), HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT LAURENCE OF ROME, ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SHERMAN BOOTH, ABOLITIONIST

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Walking With or Fleeing From God   1 comment

Cedars of Lebanon

Above:   Cedars of Lebanon

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-06181

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The Collect:

O God our rock, your word brings life to the whole creation

and salvation from sin and death.

Nourish our faith in your promises, and ground us in your strength,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 30:8-17

Psalm 92:104, 12-15

John 16:1-4a

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Psalm 92 tells us that the upright will flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon.   In John 16, however, we read a prediction of the persecution of Christians because of their fidelity and the infidelity of the persecutors.  That was the reality of certain members of the Church in the late first century C.E., the time of the composition of the Gospel of John.  It remains the reality of many Christians today.

Some people suffer because of their righteousness, but others do for the opposite reason.  In Isaiah 30 the suffering in question is due to the consequences of sins:

Assuredly,

Thus said the Holy One of Israel:

Because you have rejected this word

And have put your trust and reliance

In that which is fraudulent and tortuous….

–30:12, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Despite the reality of the hard-heartedness of the people in Isaiah 30 and their subsequent reaping of the whirlwind,

Truly, the LORD is waiting to show you grace,

Truly, He will arise to pardon you.

For the LORD is a God of justice;

Happy are all who wait for Him.

–30:18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Our decisions matter.  Will we walk with God or pursue a different goal?  How will our actions affect others and ourselves?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 27, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE LINE AND ROGER FILCOCK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BALDOMERUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF GEORGE HERBERT, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTOR THE HERMIT

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-3-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted February 27, 2016 by neatnik2009 in Isaiah 30, John 16, Psalm 92

Tagged with

The Mind of God   1 comment

Hezekiah

Above:  Hezekiah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God our rock, your word brings life to the whole creation from

and salvation from sin and death.

Nourish our faith in your promises, and ground us in your strength,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 25

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 30:8-17

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

John 16:1-4a

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During the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah, probably in 714 or 701 B.C.E., the monarch made diplomatic overtures to Egypt.  He was seeking to make Egypt.  He was seeking to make Egypt an ally, for the Assyrian Empire was threatening Judah.  First Isaiah opposed this geopolitical strategy.  His prophecy argued that an alliance with Egypt would create disgrace for Judah.  Later in Chapter 30, the prophet recorded a prophecy from God.  Depending on human strength is folly, it said, but Judah had chosen that path.  The kingdom would, so to speak, lie down in the bed it had made.

Far be it from me to read the mind of Hezekiah, who died a long time ago.  Perhaps he thought that he was doing the right thing.  I have read historical accounts of U.S. Presidents supporting regimes which victimized their own people, frequently during the Cold War.  But at least the military dictatorships which disappeared peaceful dissidents were not Communist, the State Department insisted.  Morally questionable choices frequently seem like the good–if not the least bad–options in real time.  Yet do not good intentions pave the road to Hell?

John 16:1-4a reflects the experiences of many early Jewish Christians.  Those who expelled Jewish Christians from synagogues did so in the name of God.  Often we mere mortals think that we know the mind of God–even if just slightly–but really have no idea.  We have mistaken human judgment for divine opinions.  The errors skew to the left, to the right, and to points between those two poles.  I make no pretenses of having mastered the divine mind–not even slightly–but I am confident in writing that, if God seems to agree with one all of the time, one is carrying on an internal dialogue with oneself.

The faithful and upright God of Psalm 92 disagrees with many people, especially those who are not righteous.  This does not mean, however, that a righteous person will agree with God all the time.  A righteous person is on the right path, however.  That counts for quite a lot.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 28, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-eighth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted October 28, 2015 by neatnik2009 in Isaiah 30, John 16, Psalm 92

Tagged with ,

Nobility of Character   1 comment

Atlas Scan

Above:  Dougherty, Baker, and Mitchell Counties, Georgia

Image Source = Hammond’s Complete World Atlas (1951)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform

sickness into health and death into life.

Openness to the power of your presence,

and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the world,

through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 30:27-33 (Thursday)

Isaiah 32:1-18 (Friday)

Isaiah 33:1-9 (Saturday)

Psalm 146 (All Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Thursday)

Romans 2:12-16 (Friday)

Matthew 15:21-31 (Saturday)

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Hallelujah!

Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,

for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,

and in that day their thoughts perish.

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help:

whose hope is in the LORD their God;

who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;

who keeps faith forever;

who gives justice to those who are oppressed,

and food to those who hunger.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;

the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

the LORD loves the righteous

and cares for the stranger;

the LORD sustains the orphan and the widow,

but frustrates the way of the wicked.

The LORD shall reign forever,

your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Hallelujah!

–Psalm 146, The Book of Common Worship (1993)

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When I was a graduate student in history at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, my thesis director asked me one day to help a friend and colleague of his who lived on the West Coast.  I was glad to do so.  The simple task entailed conducting some research there in town.  I learned what I could about a notorious law enforcement official (John Doe, for the purpose of this post) in an equally notorious county immediately south of Albany, Georgia, from the 1940s through the 1960s.  My answers came quickly.  Doe, whom his white-washed profile in the county history described as a devoted family man, a faithful Christian, and a deacon of the First Baptist Church in the county seat, was the sort of police officer who gave Southern law enforcement a bad name, especially among African Americans.  The federal government investigated him after he threw acid into the face of an African-American man, in fact.  No charges or disciplinary actions resulted, however, and Doe served locally until he retired and won a seat in the state General Assembly.  His offenses never caught up with him in this life.

A few years ago a student told a story in class.  He had been opening doors at his family’s church.  In the process he opened a closet door and found Ku Klux Klan robes.  Older members of the congregation preferred not to discuss why the robes were there.  I know, however, that the Klan had much support from many churchgoers a century ago and more recently than that.

A composite of the readings from Isaiah and Romans says that, among other things, character matters and becomes evident in one’s actions and inactions.  As we think, so we are and behave.  For example, do we really care for the vulnerable people around us, or do we just claim to do so?  To use other examples, do we profess “family values” while practicing serial infidelity or condemn gambling while playing slot machines?  Few offenses are more objectionable than hypocrisy.

Among my complaints about the Bible is the fact that it almost never mentions one’s tone of voice, a detail which can change the meaning of a statement.  Consider, O reader, the exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-27.  Was he being dismissive of her?  I think not.  The text provides some clues to support my conclusion:

  1. Jesus had entered the region of Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory, voluntarily.
  2. Later our Lord and Savior expressed his compassion for people outside that region via words and deeds.  Surely his compassion knew no ethnic or geographic bounds.

No, I propose that Jesus responded to the Canaanite woman to prompt her to say what she did, and that he found her rebuttal satisfactory.  Then he did as she requested.

Jesus acted compassionately and effectively.  Hebrew prophets condemned judicial corruption and the exploitation of the poor.  One function of the language of the Kingdom of God (in both Testaments) was to call the attention of people to the failings of human economic and political systems.  That function applies to the world today, sadly.

What does it say about your life, O reader?  In Isaiah 32 the standard of nobility is character, especially in the context of helping the poor, the hungry, and the thirsty–the vulnerable in society, more broadly.  Are you noble by that standard?  Do you love your neighbor as you love yourself?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONIFACE OF MAINZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-18-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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