Archive for the ‘Isaiah 52’ Category

The Commissioning of Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Zechariah from the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo Buonaroti

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART III

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Zechariah 1:1-6

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

King Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes (r. 559-530 B.C.E.) conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  The following year, he issued a decree permitting Jewish exiles to return to their ancestral homeland (Ezra 1:1-4).  The first wave of exiles to return to the ruined homeland (Ezra 1:5-2:70; 1 Esdras 2:8-30; 1 Esdras 5:1-73).  The old, prophetic predictions of the homeland being a verdant paradise of piety and prosperity did not match reality on the ground.  Grief and disappointment ensued.  The land was not as fertile as in the germane prophecies, and the economy was bad.

As of 520 B.C.E., proper worship, as had occurred before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.), had not resumed.  People had set up an altar–most likely in 520 B.C.E. (as 1 Esdras 5:47-55 indicates, not in 538 B.C.E. (as Ezra 3:1-8 indicates).

Construction of the Second Temple began (Ezra 3:10-13; 1 Esdras 5:56-65a).  Yet opposition to that effort caused a pause in construction (Ezra 4:1-23; 1 Esdras 5:65b-73).

Jerusalem, October (prior to October 17), 520 B.C.E.

Zechariah ben Berechiah reported that God had been angry with the previous generation of Judean Jews, and that God urged the current generation to repent.  Zechariah stood in line with the great majority of the Hebrew prophetic tradition to that point, starting with Hosea and Amos–some portion (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) of Second Isaiah excepted.  First Zechariah also stood in line with Ezekiel regarding individual responsibility before God (Ezekiel 3:18-21; 14:12-23; 18:1-32; 33:1-20), contrary to Exodus 20:5b-6 and Deuteronomy 5:9b-10.

Thus said the LORD of Hosts:  Turn back to me–says the LORD of Hosts–and I will turn back to you–said the LORD of Hosts.  Do not be like your fathers.

–Zechariah 1:3b-4a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The personal pronouns are plural, of course.  The message still applies to populations in 2021.  That message also applies to individuals.  I have to turn back to God daily–more than once, daily, in fact.  Perhaps you, O reader, resemble that remark.  If so, I do not judge you.  On what grounds would I judge you?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 10:  THE SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF NATHAN SODERBLOM, SWEDISH ECUMENIST AND ARCHBISHOP OF UPPSULA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DAVID GONSON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1541

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN GUALBERT, FOUNDER OF THE VALLOMBROSAN BENEDICTINES

THE FEAST OF SAINTS THOMAS SPROTT AND THOMAS HUNT, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1600

THE FEAST OF SAINT VALERIU TRAIAN FRENTIU, ROMANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 1952

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Conclusion of Second Isaiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART X

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 54:1-55:13

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The theme of the Babylonian Exile as deserved punishment is dominant in Second Isaiah.  The Fourth Servant Song (52:13-52:12) contradicts that theme, which returns in chapters 54 and 55.  So do the motif of God taking the covenant people back, renewing the covenantal relationship, ending the exile, and renewing Jerusalem (personified as a woman).  The soaring poetry of Isaiah 55 contains certain familiar verses, such as:

But as the heavens are high above the earth,

So are My ways high above your ways

And My plans above your plans.

–Isaiah 55, 9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Notwithstanding the theological whiplash of reading the Fourth Servant Song within the context of Second Isaiah, Second Isaiah concludes on a note of grace and mercy.  One cannot earn grace; is free.  But it is not cheap.  Faithful response to God is proper.  Isaiah 55:6-7 indicates that not everyone will repent of wickedness, and therefore, receive divine pardon.  Despite human faithlessness, though, divine faithfulness holds.  And we mere mortals still reap what we sow.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through Second Isaiah.  I invite you to remain with me as I move along to the Book of Obadiah, just one chapter long.

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

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Fourth Servant Song   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Crucifixion

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART IX

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VIII

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 50:1-52:12

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Introduction to Second Isaiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map Showing the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART I

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 34-35, 40-55

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Judah’s History of Sin: The Not-Safe-For-Work Version   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING EZEKIEL, PART IX

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ezekiel 16:1-63

Ezekiel 20:1-44

Ezekiel 23:1-49

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This project of reading the Book of Ezekiel is part of a larger project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order.  I know already, based on this larger project alone, that the Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  For example, idolatry is, metaphorically, sexual–prostitution and/or adultery.  This metaphorical prostitution is, functionally, pagan temple prostitution, common in the ancient Near East into New Testament times (from Genesis 38:15 to 1 Corinthians 6:15f).  Also, much of the language of this sexual metaphor is Not Safe for Work (NSFW) and replete with shaming.

The Bible is not G-rated.

Ezekiel 16 is not G-rated.  It uses the marital metaphor, also present in Isaiah 8:5-8; Isaiah 49-54; Isaiah 66:7-14; Jeremiah 2-3; Hosea 1-3; Zephaniah 3:14-20.

Robert Alter provides perhaps the most memorable synopsis of Ezekiel 16:

Among the themes of Ezekiel’s prophecies, the most striking expression of neurosis is his troubled relation to the female body.  Real and symbolic bodies become entangled with each other.  In biblical poetry, a nation, and Israel in particular, is quite often represented as a woman.  God’s covenant with Israel–see Jeremiah 1–is imagined as a marriage, and so the bride Israel’s dalliance with pagan gods is figured as adultery or whoring.  This is a common trope in biblical literature, but the way Ezekiel articulates it is both startling and unsettling.

The most vivid instance of this psychological twist in Ezekiel is the extended allegory of whoring Israel in chapter 16.  The allegory here follows the birth of the nation in Canaan–represented with stark physicality in the image of the infant girl naked and wallowing in the blood of afterbirth, then looked after by a solicitous God–to her sexual maturity and her betrayal of God through idolatry.  The focus throughout is on Israel as a female sexual body.  Thus, the prophet notes (as does no other biblical writer) the ripening of the breasts and the sprouting of pubic hair.  The mature personification of the nation is a beautiful woman, her beauty enhanced by the splendid attire God gives her (this is probably a reference to national grandeur and to the Temple).  Yet, insatiably lascivious, she uses her charms to entice strangers to her bed:  “you spilled out your whoring” (given the verb used and the unusual form of the noun, this could be a reference to vaginal secretions) “upon every passerby.”  Israel as a woman is even accused of harboring a special fondness for large phalluses:  “you played the whore with the Egyptians, your big-membered neighbors.”  She is, the prophet says, a whore who asks for no payment for her services.  “You befouled your beauty,” he inveighs, “and spread your legs for every passerby.”  All this concern with female promiscuity is correlative with Ezekiel’s general preoccupation with purity and impurity.

It is of course possible to link each of these sexual details with the allegory of an idolatrous nation betraying its faith.  But such explicitness and such vehemence about sex are unique in the Bible.  The compelling inference is that this was a prophet morbidly fixated on the female body and seething with fervid misogyny.  What happens in the prophecy in chapter 16 is that the metaphor of the lubricious woman takes over the foreground, virtually displacing the allegorical referent.  Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.

The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1051

Corinne L. Carvalho comments:

In Israel, spouses were not equal partners; women were legally and socially subservient to their husbands.  Betrothal and marriage were contractual arrangements by which a woman became the exclusive “property” of her husband, even before the actual marriage.  In practical terms, this meant that her husband was her sole sexual partner from the moment of betrothal.  Since men could have more than one wife, adultery occurred only when it involved a married woman; it was a crime, punishable by death, against the sole property rights of a wronged husband (Lev 18:20; 20:10; Deut 22:22).

Ezekiel 16 plays on these elements of marriage.  God is the one who owns Jerusalem, and Jerusalem owes him her exclusive allegiance and fidelity.  Anything less gives him the legal right to punish her.  Ezekiel 16 uses hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric to achieve a shocking literary effect.  Here, the author utilizes a common metaphor, the city as God’s wife, in ways that border on pornography.  (Modern translations tone down the sexually explicit language of the Hebrew texts.)  It is an image to provoke a response.

–in Daniel Durken, ed., The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 1431

Ezekiel 16 concludes on a sexually graphic metaphor of future restoration (verses 59-63).  After all, to “know” is frequently a euphemism for sexual intimacy.

And I Myself will establish the covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD.

–Ezekiel 16:62, Robert Alter, 2019

Consider the following verse, O reader:

Thus you shall remember and feel shame, and you shall be too abashed to open your mouth again, when I have forgiven you, for all that you did–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 16:63, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I feel too abashed after reading Ezekiel 16.

My library contains a variety of editions and versions of the Bible.  The Children’s Living Bible (1972) is one of these.  The artwork depicts a smiling Jesus holding lost-and-found sheep, smiling at children wearing attire from 1972, and generally smiling.  The volume also includes Ezekiel 16.  I imagine a child reading Ezekiel 16 and asking a horrified parent about the contents of that chapter.  I also imagine that parent’s horror that the tyke was reading a volume that included the term, “son of a bitch” (1 Samuel 20:30).  Just wait for Ezekiel 23!

Ezekiel 20 continues the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  The text dwells on the sabbath.  This suggests that the sabbath had become important, as a substitute for the Temple, during the Babylonian Exile.  The sabbath is foundational in the covenant.  The sabbath is also a sign of a free person in the context of liberation from slavery in Egypt.  And to keep the sabbath is to emulate God, the creator and original keeper of the sabbath.

God, as depicted in Ezekiel 20, is not worthy of emulation, respect, love, and awe:

  1. God, according to 20:9, 14, 22, and 44, acts selfishly, to preserve the divine reputation.
  2. God gave the people “laws that were not good and rules by which they could not live (20:25) then promised to destroy the people as punishment for obeying the bad laws and disobeying the impossible rules (20:26).

Chapter 20 exists in the shadow of Ezekiel 18–about individual moral accountability to God.  The verdict on the people of Judah, in the yet-future context of the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) is damning.

Ezekiel 20 concludes on a note of future restoration, but not for the sake of the covenant people:

Then, O House of Israel, you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for My name’s sake–not in accordance with your evil ways and corrupt acts–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 20:44, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I wonder how many agnostics and atheists grew up devout, with this understanding of God, or one close to it.  That theology may explain their current spiritual status as they properly reject that understanding of God yet go too far and remain out of balance.

Ezekiel 23 returns to the imagery of idolatry as harlotry.  It also returns to the category of Not Safe for Work.  (What was it with Ezekiel and sex?)  Break out the plain brown wrappers again, O reader!  The text speaks of the Babylonian Exile as punishment for persistent, collective, and unrepentant idolatry.

Some G-rated details (There are some.) require explanation:

  1. Samaria, the capital of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, is, metaphorically, Oholeh, “her tent.”  One may recall that, in the theology of the Hebrew Bible, the Presence of God dwelt in a text then in the Temple.  We read of the fall of the Kingdom of Israel and of the causes of that collapse.
  2. Jerusalem, the capital of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, is, metaphorically, Oholibah, “my tent is in her.”
  3. Ezekiel 23 condemns the kingdoms’ foreign alliances.  This is an old Hebrew prophetic theme, albeit one other prophets presented in less graphic terms.

I try to maintain a spiritual and theological equilibrium.  The God of Ezekiel 16, 20, and 23 is a self-absorbed, abusive, and misogynistic monster.  This is not my God-concept.  Neither is the God of my faith anything like a cosmic teddy bear or a warm fuzzy.  No, the God of my faith holds judgment and mercy in balance.  I do not pretend to know where that balance is or where it should be.  The God of my faith also loves all people and models selflessness.  Neither is the God of my faith a misogynist or any kind of -phobe or bad -ist.  The model for the God of my faith is Jesus of Nazareth, God Incarnate.  I read stories of Jesus having harsh words for those who deserved them and compassion for the desperate.  I understand Jesus as being stable, unlike Ezekiel, apparently.

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.

–Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019), 1051

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 8:  THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CORNELIUS HILL, ONEIDA CHIEF AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ARIALDUS OF MILAN, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND MARTYR, 1066

THE FEAST OF HUGH THOMSON KERR, SR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND LITURGIST; AND HIS SON, HUGH THOMSON KERR, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES MOFFATT, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND BIBLE TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GEORGIAN, ABBOT; AND SAINTS EUTHYMIUS OF ATHOS AND GEORGE OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN, ABBOTS AND TRANSLATORS

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Desolation of Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING LAMENTATIONS, PART II

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lamentations 1:1-22

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The book of Lamentations was written, not simply to memorialize the tragic destruction of Jerusalem, but to interpret the meaning of God’s rigorous treatment of his people to the end that they would learn the lessons of the past and retain their faith in him in the face of overwhelming disaster.

–Theophile J. Meek, in The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 6 (1956), 5-6

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The two poetic voices in Lamentations 1 are the Poet (verses 1=10, 17) and Fair Zion (verses 11-16, 18-22).

I unpack the Poet’s section first:

  1. Widows were vulnerable, dependent upon male relatives.  Jerusalem, once like a princess, has become like a widow in verse 1.
  2. The reference to weeping bitterly (or incessantly, depending on translation) in verse 2 indicates intense weeping.
  3. The friends (or lovers, depending on translation) in verse 2 were political allies of Judah who did not come to that kingdom’s aid.  The Hebrew word, literally, “lovers,” indicates idolatry.
  4. Verse 3 compares the Babylonian Exile to slavery in Egypt.  See Genesis 15:13; Exodus 1:11; Deuteronomy 26:6.
  5. Verse 4 overstates the matter; many people remained in Judah after the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.
  6. Verse 5 accepts the Deuteronomic theology of divine retribution for sins.
  7. “Fair Zion” verse 6 conveys the sense of “dear little Zion.”  It is “Daughter of Zion,” literally.
  8. The personification of Jerusalem occurs frequently in Hebrew prophetic literature.  Examples include Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 52:2; Jeremiah 4:31; and Micah 4:8.
  9. Verse 8 reads, in part, “seen her disgraced.”  This is literally, “seen her nakedness,” connoting shame.
  10. Verse 9 uses ritual impurity (regarding menstruation) as a metaphor for moral impurity–idolatry, metaphorically, sexual immorality.
  11. Verse 10 likens the looting of the Temple to rape.

Then Fair Zion speaks:

  1. Verse 12 likens the Fall of Jerusalem to the apocalyptic Day of the LORD.  Other references to the Day of the LORD include Isaiah 13:13; Joel 2:1; Amos 5:8; Obadiah 15.
  2. Jerusalem has nobody to comfort her.  Therefore, she cannot finish mourning.
  3. A line in verse 20 can mean either “I know how wrong I was to disobey” or “How very bitter I am.”
  4. Verse 20 refers to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian army being outside the walls of Jerusalem and plague being inside the city.  (See Ezekiel 7:15.)
  5. Chapter 1 concludes with a prayer for divine retribution against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Maybe Fair Zion will receive some comfort from this divine judgment.  Yet God is silent.

The Book of Lamentations deals with trauma by telling the truth.  This contrasts with the dominant cultural pattern in my homeland, the United States of America–the “United States of Amnesia,” as the late, great Gore Vidal called it.  Certain Right-Wing politicians and private citizens outlaw or try to outlaw the telling of the truth in public schools, sometimes even in public colleges and universities.  Not telling the difficult truth stands in the way of resolving the germane problems and moving forward together into a better future, one that is more just.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL BARNETT, ANGLICAN CANON OF WESTMINSTER, AND SOCIAL REFORMER; AND HIS WIFE, HENRIETTA BARNETT, SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SAINT SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A Solemn Day   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Crucifixion, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For Good Friday, Year 1

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family,

for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed,

and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross;

who now liveth and reigneth wtih thee and the Holy Spirit,

ever One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 161-162

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Psalm 22:1, 4-19

Hebrews 10:19-22 or Revelation 5:6-10

Luke 23:33-46

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I am capable of writing accurate, scholarly, and germane comments about all of the assigned readings.  This time, O reader, I choose not to do so.  No, I encourage you to read the lections aloud, the way most people who have encountered the Bible have done.  I ask you to listen and to let the words sink into your being.  After that, may you follow the leading of the Holy Spirit regarding what to do next.

Shalom.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 2, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES LLOYD BRECK, “THE APOSTLE OF THE WILDERNESS”

THE FEAST OF CARLO CARRETTO, SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN PAYNE AND CUTHBERT MAYNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1582 AND 1577

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BERNARDIN, CARDINAL ARCHBISHOP OF CHICAGO

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIDONIUS APOLLINARIS, SAINT EUSTACE OF LYON, AND HIS DESCENDANTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Sharing With Others   Leave a comment

Above:   The Traditional Site of the Feeding of the Five Thousand

Image Source = Library of Congress

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For Sharing Sunday (the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Years 1 and 2), according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As you have given yourself to us, O God, help us to give ourselves to one another in perfect charity.

Thank you for men and women who work for the welfare of others.

Fill them with energetic love to show friendship and compassion with no strings attached,

so that men may be believe you care; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), 194

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 52:7-10

1 Corinthians 16:1-9

John 6:1-15

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Sharing Sunday” has had different meanings, according to chronology and geography.  In the United States of America, since 1950, it has been the occasion in various denominations for taking an offering for global relief efforts.  The counterpart in The United Methodist Church since 2017 has been UMCOR Sunday.  (“UMCOR” is the abbreviation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.)  The Fourth Sunday in Lent, set aside as One Great Hour of Sharing in 1950, has remained that occasion for the following:

  1. the American Baptist Churches USA,
  2. the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church,
  3. the Church of the Brethren,
  4. the United Church of Christ,
  5. the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),
  6. the Cumberland Presbyterian Church,
  7. the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and
  8. Church World Service.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada observes Presbyterian Sharing Sunday each September.  Presbyterians Sharing is a denominational fund to support domestic and international ministries.

Regardless of when a denomination or congregation gathers funds for relief and related ministries, the assigned readings are appropriate for the occasion:

The setting for Isaiah 52:7-12 is the impending end of the Babylonian Exile.  Those about to depart for a ruined homeland in which they had never lived needed all the help they could get.

St. Paul the Apostle was collecting funds for the church in Jerusalem.  This offering was a gesture of goodwill from mostly Gentile churches in Jerusalem, per Galatians 2:1-10.

One of the enduring lessons of Jesus feeding multitudes (as in the 5000 plus, reported in all four canonical Gospels) has been that no gift is too small in God’s hands.

Many people think that they have nothing–at least of consequence–to offer.  Yet all that we have comes from God.  Nothing that comes from God is inconsequential.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This is post #1950 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Christmas is Just the Beginning   Leave a comment

Above:  The Nativity, by John Singleton Copley

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For Christmas Day, Second Service, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Glory be to thee, O God in the highest, who by the birth of thy beloved Son

has made him to be for us both Word and Sacrament:

grant that we may hear thy Word, receive thy grace,

and be made one with him born for our salvation;

even Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 52:7-10

1 Timothy 3:14-16

John 1:1-18

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

John 1:1-18, the prologue to the Gospel of John, is one of the greatest texts in the Bible.  The prologue establishes the timeless credentials of Jesus and contextualizes the story of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in stunning theological poetry and poetic theology.  Sometimes prose does not suffice; poetry is necessary.  The prologue imitates the second creation (in chronology of writing, although the first in order of arrangement) myth (Genesis 1:1-2:4a), indicating a new creation of a sort.

The world has never been the same since the birth of Jesus.

A most attentive reader might notice that the first readings for the Christmas Day services on the old Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970 are (1) from Isaiah and (2) related to hopelessness and discouragement exiles felt.  That liturgical choice makes sense theologically, given the messianic hopes, born in exile, which the authors of the canonical Gospels linked to Jesus in their compositions.  The canonical Gospels are theological works, each with a thesis.  They are not chronicles, devoid of interpretation.

An early Christian hymn or confession of faith, quoted in 1 Timothy 3:16b, speaks of Jesus:

He was manifested in flesh,

vindicated in spirit,

seen by angels;

he was proclaimed among the nations,

believed in throughout the world,

raised to heavenly glory.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

That is a fine summary, is it not?  It reminds us of some of the events in the life of Jesus and of part of the progress of the early Church.

Christmas is just the beginning.  This is a truth also evident in The Methodist Hymnal (1966), which sets “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” to the same tune, that of the Christmas carol.  Christmas leads to Good Friday, which leads to Easter.

Christmas is just the beginning.  Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF JERUSALEM, BROTHER OF JESUS

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++