Archive for the ‘Isaiah 40’ Category

The Fourth Servant Song   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Crucifixion

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART IX

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) lists the Fourth Servant Song as one of three options for the reading from the Old Testament on Good Friday.  Another option is Genesis 22:1-18.  My thoughts on Abraham nearly killing his son, Isaac, are on record at this weblog.  The other option is the Wisdom of Solomon 2:1, 12-24, in which the wicked reject justice.  That reading fits Good Friday perfectly, for, as the Gospel of Luke emphasizes, the crucifixion of Jesus was a perversion of justice.  One may recall that, in the Gospel of Luke, for example, the centurion at the foot of the cross declares Jesus innocent (23:47), not the Son of God (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39).  As I will demonstrate in this post, the applicability of the Fourth Servant Song to Good Friday works thematically, too, but interpretive issues that have nothing to do with Jesus also interest me.

In the original context, the servant in Isaiah 53:13-53:12 is the covenant people during the Babylonian Exile.  The dominant theology in Second Isaiah (chapters 34-35, 40-55) is that the Babylonian Exile was justified yet excessive (40:2; 47:6)–that people had earned that exile.  The theology of Second Isaiah also argues that this suffering was vicarious, on behalf of Gentile nations in the (known) world.  In other words:

Yet the Israelites are still the focus in that these verses offer them a revolutionary theology that explains the hardships of exile:  The people had to endure the exile and the suffering it engendered because that suffering was done in service to God so that God, through their atoning sacrifice, could redeem the nations.

–Susan Ackerman, in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), 1031

Much of the Hebrew Bible, in its final, postexilic form, holds that the Babylonian Exile was divine punishment for persistent, collective, and unrepentant disregard for the moral mandates in the Law of Moses.  This attitude is ubiquitous in the Hebrew prophetic tradition.  I know, for I am working on a project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in historical order (with some exceptions), starting with the Book of Hosea.

Yet Isaiah 53:7-9 contradicts that interpretation.  It rejects even 40:1-3 and 47:6, from within Second Isaiah.  Isaiah 53:7-9, not about Jesus, argues that the Babylonian Exile and its accompanying suffering was unjust and the people were innocent.  The thematic link to the atoning suffering of sinless Jesus is plain to see.

Let us not neglect the theme of the vicarious suffering of the Hebrews in the Babylonian Exile, though.  I can read; the text says that, through the suffering of these exiles, Gentile nations would receive divine forgiveness and the Hebrews would receive a reward–renewal.  I try to wrap my mind around this theology, yet do not know what to make of it.  I wrestle with this theology.

Atonement via vicarious suffering is a topic about which I have written at this weblog.  Reading in the history of Christian theology tells me that three theories of the atonement exist in the writings of Church Fathers.  These theories are, in no particular order:

  1. Penal Substitutionary Atonement,
  2. The Incarnation, and
  3. The Conquest of Satan (the Classic Theory, or Christus Victor).

I come closest to accepting the Classic Theory.  It has the virtue of emphasizing that the resurrection completed the atonement.  In other words, dead Jesus cannot atone for anything; do not stop at Good Friday.  I like the Eastern Orthodox tradition of telling jokes on Easter because the resurrection of Jesus was the best joke God ever pulled on Satan.  The second option strikes me as being part of the atonement, and the first option is barbaric.  I stand with those Christian theologians who favor a generalized atonement.

Whether the question is about the atoning, vicarious suffering of Jewish exiles or about the atoning, vicarious suffering of Jesus, perhaps the best strategy is to accept it, thank God, and live faithfully.  The Eastern Orthodox are correct; we Western Christians frequently try to explain too much we cannot understand.  Atonement is a mystery; we may understand it partially, at best.

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 Vindication and Rejoicing of the Hebrew Exiles, With the Third Servant Song   Leave a comment

Above:  Inconsolable Grief, by Ivan Kramskoi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VIII

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Isaiah 50:1-52:12

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In Second Isaiah, YHWH is the father and Jerusalem is the mother of the covenant community, metaphorically.

The Third Servant Song is Isaiah 50:4-9.  The audience this time is the covenant community–especially those members thereof who have fallen away.  The Third Servant Song occurs in the textual context of divine frustration with Hebrew exiles (50:1-3, 10-11), many of whom remained rebellious.  Reading the Third Servant Song on Christian autopilot identifies the servant as Jesus.  This is overly simplistic and ahistorical.  The servant here speaks the message of God to disheartened Hebrew exiles.  The theology of Isaiah 50:4-9 is that the exiles deserved the Babylonian Exile (40:1-3), but that YHWH was about to vindicate them anyway.

Some of the despairing exiles relied on God and accepted this message.  Others rejected it and, poetically, laid down in pain.  They did not respond favorably and faithfully to God, mighty, strong, and sovereign.  They rejected grace.  They rejected God, in whom judgment and mercy exist in balance.

In Jeremiah (8:11; 27:8-11; 28:1-17), false hopes and prophets of peace and restoration belied the upcoming Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) and its aftermath.  The truth was hard to hear.  Words of comfort were mostly lies.  Those words of comfort that were not lies focused on seemingly distant restoration, eventually.

In contrast, in a different time, words of imminent divine deliverance and consolation seemed, to many, ridiculous.  After so many years of the Babylonian Exile, that response was predictable.

When populations have been poor, oppressed, discriminated against, et cetera, the hope of a better future may seem ridiculous.  Yet there is always a better future with God.  How many people want to embrace that hope?  How many people think they can embrace that hope?  And to what extend is the continued state of poverty, oppression, discrimination, et cetera, a self-fulfilling prophecy?

The answers to the these questions vary according to circumstances, of course.  Machinery of oppression, discrimination, and the maintenance of poverty exists.  Most people over the course of documented time have lacked the agency that proponents of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps assume many people have.  Telling someone without shoes,

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,

is cruel and unrealistic.  Yet other people are fortunate enough to possess agency.  But do they know this?  And do they know how to use that agency most effectively?

Second Isaiah addressed a population, of course.

Above:  Bonny Thomas (1965-2019), Whose Death Broke My Heart and Shattered My Life

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

On the individual level, grief can be as crippling as it is on the collective level.  I know this grief.  I know the grief over the death of dreams and aspirations.  I also know the grief that lingers after someone has died.  I know what life-shattering grief is; I deal with it daily.  I talk to God about it.  I remain broken, and I talk to God about it.  Doing that is what I know to do.  I am broken and shattered, but I am not alone.

We–collectively and individually–are all broken.  The fortunate are less broken that others.  Leaning into the strength and faithfulness of God is the way of healing.

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 Incomparable Sovereign God, with the First Servant Song   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART IV

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Isaiah 40:12-42:17

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YHWH, who ended the Babylonian Exile, was unconquered, incomparable, sovereign, and formidable.  YHWH, the Creator, was the God of the world, not a tribal or national deity.  YHWH was with the Jewish exiles, the Chosen People.  YHWH put the nations on trial, on behalf of justice.

The poor and the needy

Seek water, and there is none;

Their tongue is parched with thirst.

I the LORD will respond to them.

I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

–Isaiah 41:17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Idolatry in the presence of YHWH is futile (41:21-29).

I affirm all of the above while noticing that I have read all of it in various Hebrew prophetic books since I started this long-term project, with the Book of Hosea.  I also recall the Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch 6), one of many tirades against idolatry in Hebrew literature.  Another such tirade awaits me in Isaiah 44:9-20.  These tirades, while mocking idolatry (as they should), frequently mischaracterize idols–the objects themselves–and what idolaters though the objects were.  These tirades after falsely accuse idolaters of believing these figures of wood or metal were gods.  Actually, idolaters believed that divine presences entered idols after complex rituals.

Isaiah 42:1-9 is the First Servant Song.  The servant, we read, will bring justice to the nations.  Who is–was–the servant?  Proposed identities include Jesus (of course), King Cyrus II of the Persian Empire, Second Isaiah, the faithful people within the Hebrew nation, and the Hebrew nation itself.  Isaiah 42:1-4, which borrows from Isaiah 11 and Jeremiah 31:31-36, anticipates an ideal future of justice and ecological harmony.  It also lends itself to identifying the servant as the covenant community (42:6)–Jews, in terms Second Isaiah knew.  I, as one who affirms God’s double covenant, add Christians to the ranks of covenant people.  The task of the covenant people (Jews and Christians) in 2021 is to bring justice to the nations, per Isaiah 42:1-4.  God equips and empowers us to do so.  How many of us accept the mission?

I the LORD, in My grace, have summoned you,

And I have grasped you by the hand.

I created you, and appointed you

A covenant people, a light of nations–

Opening eyes deprived of light,

Rescuing prisoners from confinement,

From the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

–Isaiah 42:6-7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Those words remain as applicable in 2021 as they were circa 540 B.C.E.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS TOLTON, PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN RUDOLPH AHLE AND JOHANN GEORG AHLE, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GRANT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND HYMN WRITER

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Comfort My People   Leave a comment

Above:  Sheep and Shepherd, by Anton Mauve

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART III

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Isaiah 40:1-11

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Isaiah 40 flows thematically from Isaiah 34 and 35.

My soundtrack for Isaiah 40:1-11 comes courtesy of Handel‘s Messiah.  Now that I have gotten that out of the way, I proceed with the rest of this post.

Just as the commissioning of First Isaiah does not open First Isaiah (It occurs in Isaiah 6.), the commissioning of Second Isaiah occurs three chapters in.  Chronology is not the organizing principle in the Book of Isaiah.  Second Isaiah’s commission is to be a comforter, we read.  This contrasts with the mission of Ezekiel, the previous prophet.  One may recall that God called Ezekiel to be a watchman (Ezekiel 2:1-3:11) to a rebellious people who would not listen to him.  The Book of Ezekiel contains oracles of consolation, though.  The expectation in Second Isaiah, however, is that people will listen.

Again, divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.  The time for mercy and deliverance is at hand, we read.

The reference to the royal road in the wilderness (40:3-5) calls back to other passages of scripture.  The Divine Presence, having departed Jerusalem and the Temple (Ezekiel 8-11), will travel with returning exiles, we read.  (See Ezekiel 43:1-5, too.)  The highway in the desert is also a motif in Isaiah 35:8-10.

YHWH is the good shepherd in Isaiah 40:10-11, protecting the sheep from enemies.  One may recall that YHWH is also the good shepherd in Ezekiel 34:11-31; Psalm 23; and Psalm 78.  Perhaps one recalls that Lamentations 3:1-20 depicts YHWH as a bad shepherd, and that this raging voice against YHWH indicates just one opinion in that chapter.

Rage against God is predictable, especially after a terrible event or during a time of crisis and distress.  Many people blame God for doing what God has not done.  God is a convenient scapegoat.  Many people also misunderstand God.  This is predictable, too.  God is so much greater than and different from we mere mortals, after all.  The extent to which we can understand God is limited.  So be it.

The nature of God is the topic of the next post in this series.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 8, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AND AGENT OF NATIONAL HEALING; AND BETTY FORD, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

THE FEAST OF ALBERT RHETT STUART, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF GEORGIA, AND ADVOCATE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF ALICE PAUL, U.S. QUAKER WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF GEORGE NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA BONONCINI AND ANTONIO MARIA BONONCINI, ITALIAN COMPOSERS

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Introduction to Second Isaiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map Showing the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART I

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Isaiah 34-35, 40-55

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The division of the Book of Isaiah into Chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66 is neat and tidy yet inaccurate.  The Book of Isaiah, in its final form, is obviously the work of more than one person.  I suppose that even the most ardent fundamentalist must admit that Isaiah 36:1-39:8 is nearly verbatim from 2 Kings 18:13-20:19.  Or maybe I expect too much of some people.

The division of the Book of Isaiah into at least two Isaiahs is standard in Biblical scholarship.  The notes in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), assume two Isaiahs.  The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), among other sources, assumes three Isaiahs, with the division falling neatly into 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66.  I, however, follow the division of the book found in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003).

“Second Isaiah” (whoever he was what his parents called him) prophesied circa 540 B.C.E., in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Ezekiel had retired from prophesying circa 571 B.C.E.  The Babylonian Exile had been in progress since 597 B.C.E., with the second wave commencing in 586 B.C.E.    But the Babylonian Exile was about to end; the Persians and the Medes were on the march.  They conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.

The oracles of Second Isaiah addressed issues that vexed the Jewish exilic communities.  Were they the Chosen People?  Was God sovereign?  Would the Babylonian Exile end?  The answers to those three questions was affirmative.  Second Isaiah also understood exile as punishment for collective, persistent sins (except in 52:13-53:12) and exile as vicarious suffering on behalf of the nations, to bring those nations to shalom with God.  This second point was revolutionary theology.  Universalism was not unique in Hebrew prophetic literature.  The idea that YHWH was the God of all the nations, not a tribal deity, was already in the proverbial blood stream of Hebrew thought.  Yet ideas have not needed to be unique and original to prove revolutionary, have they?

I propose, O reader that this idea remains revolutionary in certain minds and faith communities in 2021.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN WYCLIFFE AND JAN HUS, REFORMERS OF THE CHURCH

THE FEAST OF GEORGE DUFFIELD, JR., AND HIS SON, SAMUEL DUFFIELD, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTERS AND HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF HENRY THOMAS SMART, ENGLISH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JOSIAH CONDER, ENGLISH JOURNALIST AND CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SON, EUSTACE CONDER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF OLUF HANSON SMEBY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Judith Before Holofernes   Leave a comment

Above:  Holofernes

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART VI

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Judith 10:1-12:20

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Holofernes was like his master, King Nebuchadnezzar II.  He was vain, boastful, and quick to accept flattery.  The general also consumed lies as easily and in great quantities as easily as he drank too much wine.

Judith played the role of the seductress well.  She understood male nature, which she exploited.  In doing so, Judith placed herself in much danger.  She was even sleeping in the tent of Holofernes.  Her undercover (pardon the pun) mission was always perilous.

A few aspects of these three chapters are especially worthy of explanation and elaboration.  

  1. Judith lied when she said her people were so desperate they were about to violate the food laws in the Law of Moses.  She referenced Leviticus 17:10-16 and Numbers 18:8-32.  Yet, at the time of the composition of the Book of Judith, any violation of the Law of Moses for the purpose of preserving human life was acceptable, according to one school of Jewish thought (1 Maccabees 2:29-41).
  2. Ironically, Holofernes told the truth, at least partially.  He said that Judith was renowned throughout the world (11:20-23).  The Book of Judith has long provided inspiration for artists.
  3. Judith was in extreme sexual danger (12:5).  So was Sarah in Genesis 12:10-20 and 20:17.
  4. Judith established her routine of leaving the Assyrian army camp unchallenged each night (12:6-9).  This strategy paid off in 13:11.
  5. Judith had to work quickly.  She had only five days to deliver her people (7:29-32; 8:32-35).
  6. Judith obeyed kosher food laws, even in the Assyrian army camp.  (One may think of Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1, too.)
  7. Judith’s unnamed female maid/servant was loyal and essential.  Judith’s servant was intelligent, unlike the gullible Bagoas, servant of Holofernes. 
  8. In 11:19-23, Judith used language laced with allusions to the prophets and the Book of Psalms.  Verses 19 and 20, for example, echoed Isaiah 40:3-4; 35:8-10; 42:16; 51:11; 56:10-11;; as well as 2 Samuel 7:13; Psalm 89:4; Ezekiel 34:8; Zechariah 10:2 and 13:7.
  9. Ironically, the wisdom at which Holofernes marveled was deception.
  10. The words of Holofernes, “…your God will be my God…” (11:22), an echo of Ruth 1:16, are vague.  Perhaps the character had no idea what he was saying.
  11. Holofernes lusted after Judith (11:16).
  12. The texts depict Judith as a great beauty.  They also describe Assyrian soldiers as drooling over her.  Therein resided part of Judith’s power, which she used to the full extent necessary.

The Book of Judith contains elements of satire and comedy.  The text is rich with irony in many places.  For example, even a boastful fool accidentally tells the truth sometimes.  The intoxicated Holofernes also imagines himself to be in control of the situation.  He has no idea how wrong he is.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF LUKE OF PRAGUE AND JOHN AUGUSTA, MORAVIAN BISHOPS AND HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT KAZIMIERZ TOMASZ SYKULSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF LARS OLSEN SKREFSRUD, HANS PETER BOERRESEN, AND PAUL OLAF BODDING, LUTHERAN MISSIONARIES IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF MARYRS OF EL MOZOTE, EL SALVADOR, DECEMBER 11-12, 1981

THE FEAST OF SAINT SEVERIN OTT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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The Illness and Recovery of King Hezekiah of Judah, with the Embassy of King Merodach-Balaban of Babylonia   1 comment

Above:  King Merodach-Balaban of Babylonia

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART CII

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2 Kings 20:1-19

2 Chronicles 32:24-31

Isaiah 38:1-39:8

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My son, when you are sick do not be negligent,

but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you.

Give up your faults and direct your hands aright,

and cleanse your heart from all sin.

Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and a memorial portion of fine flour,

and pour oil on your offering, as much as you can afford.

And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him;

let him not leave you, for there is need of him.

–Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 38:9-12, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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King Hezekiah of Judah (Reigned 729/715-698/687 B.C.E.)

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The story of the illness and recovery of King Hezekiah, followed by the embassy of King Merodach-balaban of Babylonia should preceded the siege of Jerusalem.  Chronology is what it is.  The threat of King Sennacherib occurred in 701 B.C.E., according to ancient records.  King Merodach-balaban reigned in Babylonia from 721 to 710 B.C.E. and again for nine months in 703 B.C.E.  However, especially, in Isaiah 39, breaking chronology works well thematically.  The prediction of the Babylonian Exile immediately precedes Isaiah 40, with its prediction of the end of that exile.

As interesting as I find scholarly discussions of this material, I know that I ought not to miss the main ideas in the germane text.

  1. The power of prayer, joined with contrition, can lead to the change of a divine decision.
  2. The fates of King Hezekiah, the city of Jerusalem, and the Kingdom of Judah were linked.
  3. Even good King Hezekiah had lapses in judgment.
  4. The Babylonian Exile had become inevitable.  At the time of this prophecy, the Kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Neo-Assyrian Empire.  King Hezekiah was on the throne of Judah when Samaria fell.  Many refugees from the former northern kingdom had fled to Judah.
  5. King Hezekiah seems to have been more concerned with the immediate future than the fate of Judah at the end of the germane texts for this post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIBRORD, APOSTLE TO THE FRISIANS; AND SAINT BONIFACE, APOSTLE TO THE GERMANS

THE FEAST OF ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN CAWOOD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHRISTIAN FREDERICK HAYER, LUTHERAN MISSIONARY IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND INDIA; BARTHOLOMEAUS ZIEGENBALG, JR., LUTHERAN MISSIONARY TO THE TAMILS; AND LUDWIG NOMMENSEN, LUTHERAN MISSIONARY TO SUMATRA AND APOSTLE TO THE BATAK

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The Law of Love   2 comments

Above:  Flowers, after E. T. Fisher, Circa 1884

Publisher = L. Prang and Company

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-12135

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For the First Sunday of Advent, 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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Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,

and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life,

in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;

that in the last day, when he shall come again in his

glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,

we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 105

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Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 50:1-15

Romans 13:8-14

Luke 1:1-17

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Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  They exist in balance in the assigned readings.  Mercy on exiles is the promise in Isaiah 40.  That mercy balances judgment on the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, though.  Judgment and mercy also exist in balance in Psalm 50, in its entirely.  The Incarnation, one must realize, was an occasion of both judgment and mercy; rejecting grace leaves one worse off than one was previously.  As for Romans 13:8-14, actions have consequences.  We judge ourselves, do we not?  Or we help our cases.

He who loves his neighbour has met every requirement of the law….Love cannot wrong a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

–Romans 13:8b, 10, The Revised English Bible (1989)

How often have you or I, O reader, treated someone badly or condoned treating someone badly and felt righteous?  Have we not acted contrary to Romans 13:8-10?  Have we not, perhaps, used the letter of the law while violating the letter of the law?  I refer not to “tough love,” academic rigor, et cetera.  No, I refer to callousness.  I refer to that which is inexcusable, certainly in the context of Judeo-Christian ethics.

Yes, some real-life circumstances present moral quandaries.  Whatever decision one makes, at least one innocent person will suffer, perhaps even die.  We live in an imperfect world.  Yet we can, by grace, do the best we can do.  May that suffice.

On other occasions, however, the decisions are easy.  Sometimes loving our neighbors as we love ourselves is clear-cut and places us in no peril.  Thank God for such circumstances!

Yet, sometimes when the moral choice is unambiguous, loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself places one in physical or legal jeopardy.  This reality pushes back against blind obedience to human authorities sometimes.  In these cases, the higher law (that of God) is the law to follow.  And divine judgment falls on those who perpetuate injustice, as it should.

This Advent and the rest of the year, may we conduct our lives in ways that honor Christ, present in those near, far away, and in places in-between.  May we fulfill the law of God, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF EDWARD KING, BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF FRED B. CRADDOCK, U.S. DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MINISTER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND RENOWNED PREACHER

THE FEAST OF GEOFFREY STUDDERT KENNEDY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HAMPDEN GURNEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF GOD, FOUNDER OF THE BROTHERS HOSPITALLERS OF SAINT JOHN OF GOD

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Waiting for God III   Leave a comment

Above:  Simeon’s Song of Praise, by Aert de Gelder

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For the Second Sunday after Christmas, Year 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ became man that we might become the partakers of the sons of God:

grant, we beseech thee, that being made partakers of the divine nature of thy Son

we may be conformed to his likeness;

who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Isaiah 40:1-11

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Luke 2:25-35

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Waiting can be difficult.

How difficult must waiting for the Babylonian Exile to end have been for many exiles born in a foreign empire?  How difficult must have been waiting for Simeon the priest?  And how great was the day they say that for which they had been waiting!

Each of us waits for at least purpose.  May it be a purpose of which God approves.  If it is, may we never lose heart.  May we always trust in, listen fo, and watch for God.  May we not become so fixated on something that we fail to recognize when God is working.  And may we, if God wills, see that goal of which God approves come to fruition.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF NISIBIS, BISHOP; AND SAINT EPHREM OF EDESSA, “THE HARP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GETULIUS, AMANTIUS, CAERAELIS, AND PRIMITIVUS, MARTYRS AT TIVOLI, 120; AND SAINT SYMPHOROSA OF TIVOLI, MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDERICUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF THOR MARTIN JOHNSON, U.S. MORAVIAN CONDUCTOR AND MUSIC DIRECTOR

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Repentance, Part V   1 comment

Above:  The Preaching of St. John the Baptist, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

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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Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

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The readings, overall, have toned down and become less daunting since the previous Sunday in the Humes lectionary.  Not everything is all puppies and kittens, though.

The readings from the Hebrew Bible flow from the theology that sin led to collective suffering–exile in Isaiah 40 and drought in Psalm 85.  Isaiah 40 announces pardon and the imminent end of the Babylonian Exile.  Psalm 85 prays for both forgiveness and rain.

Apocalyptic expectations are plain in the reading from 2 Peter.  Believing in the return of Jesus Christ is no excuse to drop the ball morally, we read.

The pericope from Mark 1 contains two major themes that jump out at me.  The text, which quotes Isaiah 40 and relates it to the Incarnation, indicates the call to repentance and makes plain that St. John the Baptist modeled humility, but not timidity.

Repentance is a recurring theme throughout the Bible.  Many devout people are aware of their need to change their minds and ways.  Being aware of that necessity is relatively easy.  Then the really difficult elements follow.  Can we see past our cultural blinders and our psychological defense mechanisms?  Are we humble enough to acknowledge our sins?  And, assuming that we can and are, changing our ways is difficult.  We need not rely on our puny, inadequate power, however.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANKLIN CLARK FRY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA AND THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANÇON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, ABBOT, MONK, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-b-humes/

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