Archive for the ‘Isaiah 6’ Category

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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Divine Judgment on Judah, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Zephaniah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING ZEPHANIAH, PART II

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Zephaniah 1:2-2:3

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Certain ambiguities exist in the Hebrew text.  These give rise to competing scholarly and theological interpretations.  Yet the text is clear about other matters:  God was mad, idolatry continued to be rampant and intolerable, divine judgment on the people and the royal family was on the way, social injustice (especially economic injustice) was ubiquitous and still intolerable to God, and there was still no time to repent.  This last point contrasts with First Isaiah (Isaiah 6), in which the time to repent had passed.  Overall, the imagery of Zephaniah 1:2-2:3, set in the context of the Day of the LORD, should be familiar to one who has recently read Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah recently.

Certain details require explanation:

  1. Milcom (1:5) was the chief deity of the Ammonite pantheon (1 Kings 11:5, 7, 33; 2 Kings 23:13).
  2. The alternative translation to “Milcom” is “Malcam,” or “their king.”  This may be a human monarch, YHWH, or a false god.
  3. “The king’s sons” (1:8) refers to the royal family, the House of David.  Those responsible for leading the people astray bear greater accountability before God.
  4. Idolatry is apparent in 1:4-6, 8-9.
  5. People are foolish and sinful to commit fraud, exploit others, and be complacent.
  6. Another theme from earlier in Hebrew prophetic literature repeats:  Circumstances may seem good and pleasant.  The kingdom may be faring relatively well.  Nevertheless, the circumstances are about to get very bad.
  7. 1:14-16 is the basis of the Latin Dies Irae, formerly part of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass.
  8. The imagery of the Day of the LORD is vivid.  The powerful language addresses a situation of long-term, collective, and unrepentant violation of the Law of Moses, despite many messengers of God having called for repentance.  Divine patience is not infinite.  Neither is divine judgment.

Seek the LORD,

all you humble of the land,

who have observed his law;

Seek justice,

seek humility;

Perhaps you will be sheltered

on the day of the LORD’s anger.

–Zephaniah 2:3, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That “perhaps” is ominous.

The Hebrew text in 2:1-3 is somewhat ambiguous and, in scholarly terms, corrupt.  Therefore, an exegetical debate about the identity of the “shameless nation” (2:1) is robust; the text is vague.  2:1-3 sits between a section condemning Judah and a section condemning foreign nations.  Also, the Hebrew word translated as “shameless” can also mean “not desiring God” or “not desired by God.”  Circumstantially, the position of The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), that Judah is the addressed nation makes sense to me.  Yet other study Bibles I consult interpret 2:1-3 to apply to foreign nations instead.

This ambiguity does not disturb me.  Even if I err in interpreting 2:1-3 to have applied to Judah, my ultimate point remains unaltered.  These texts, in the Hebrew language, indicate editing that has created confusion about historical interpretation.  I acknowledge this reality; I do not ignore or seek vainly to reconcile the irreconcilable.  Yet I remain focused on the text’s meanings for today.  When is too late to repent?  And why might not repentance shelter people from the wrath of God?

Certainly, one person’s actions affect other people.  Also, membership in a society means that one suffers and benefits based on what other members of that society do or do not do.  This may seem unfair.  It may even be unfair.

Stating the obvious may answer a question partially.  Such a partial answer may prove unsatisfactory.  So be it.  I wrestle with the two questions I asked:

  1. When is too late to repent?
  2. Why might not repentance shelter people from the wrath of God.

Certainty is antithetical to faith.  I, as an Episcopalian, welcome doubt, my old friend, and greet questions warmly.  I affirm that “I don’t know,” is frequently the best and most honest answer.  Faith is about walking humbly with God, not knowing the answers.  My model of faith is Jewish, not Muslim.  Jews get to wrestle and argue with God; Muslims submit to God.

I agree that repentance should shield one from the wrath of God.  It does not always do so, however.  I also argue that no time should be too late for repentance.  I disagree with Isaiah 6 in so doing.

God calls people and peoples into a positive relationship with each other and Him.  God does not call us to shut down our minds.  No, God calls us to bring ourselves to the relationship.  God calls us to trust Him, acknowledge our complete dependence on Him, and take care of each other.  Trusting does not entail a lack of arguments and misunderstandings.  We can know of God what God has revealed.  The fullness of God, however, is a glorious mystery.  The proper response includes awe.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN XXIII, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN GOTTFRIED GEISLER AND JOHANN CHRISTIAN GEISLER, SILESIAN MORAVIAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSER; AND JOHANNES HERBST, GERMAN-AMERICAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER AND COMPOSER

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

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

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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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The Commissioning of Isaiah ben Amoz   Leave a comment

Above:  Isaiah’s Vision

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART VI

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Isaiah 6:1-13

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King Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah died no later than 742 B.C.E. and no earlier than 733 B.C.E., depending on which scholar’s chronology one accepts.

The scene in this familiar portion of scripture is the Temple in Jerusalem.  Certain details are notable; some are important.  “Feet” is a euphemism for genitals in 6:2.  That is interesting, but is it important?  At the time of Isaiah ben Amoz, seraphim were not yet a class of angels in Hebrew angelology.  No, they were serpentine creatures.  A bronze image of a serpent–perhaps the one Moses had made–stood in Jerusalem.  It did so until King Hezekiah ordered its destruction (2 Kings 18:4).  “Seraphim” is the plural form of “seraph” (“to burn”).  This term calls back to the “fiery” serpents who bit Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 21:1-9; Deuteronomy 8:15).  “Seraphim” means “the burning ones.”  That detail matters.

Above:  The Brazen Serpent, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

(Numbers 21:1-9; Deuteronomy 8:15)

The terrified reaction of Isaiah ben Amoz makes sense in this context.  The Hebrew word for “doomed” (Isaiah 6:5) can also mean “struck silent.”  Notice the emphasis on Isaiah’s lips (6:7) and ponder “struck silent,” O reader.  On the other hand, there was a popular belief that seeing God would lead to one’s death (Genesis 32:31; Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:22).

Isaiah 6:1-13 bears evidence of editing after the fact.  Verse 13 seems to come out of nowhere, for example.  Acknowledging this is being intellectually honest.  I favor intellectual honesty.  Yet another aspect of this chapter interests me more.

And [God] replied:  Go and say to this people:

Listen carefully, but do not understand!

Look intently, but do not perceive!

Make the heart of this people sluggish,

dull their ears and close their eyes;

Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,

and their heart understand,

and they turn and be healed.

–Isaiah 6:9-10, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

More than one interpretation of the mission of Isaiah ben Amoz exists.

  1. One interpretation holds that his mission was not to call the people to repentance, and therefore, to stave off divine judgment.  No, the prophet’s mission was to inform the people of their fate.  Yet God will preserve a remnant, we read.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.
  2. An alternative interpretation holds that God predicted that people would not respond favorably to Isaiah’s message.  Sometimes the wording in certain passages of scripture may describe the result as the intention.

So far in this long blogging project through the Hebrew prophetic books, I have gone through the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, each with layers of writing and editing.  So far, I have read God call upon recalcitrant people to repent and go into “no more mercy” mode.

The hard reading of Isaiah 6:9-10 may be the accurate one.  As the heading of a germane note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014) reads:

Repentance is no longer an option.

–779

Isaiah 6:13, added later, softens the blow.

The purification of the lips of Isaiah ben Amoz (6:5-7) is symmetrical to the purification of the people.  And there is hope for renewal, even in a burned stump.

Yet a lack of symmetry exists, too.  Isaiah ben Amoz knew he was unworthy before God.  Isaiah did walk humbly/modestly/completely with God (Micah 6:8).  The people, however, were either oblivious or indifferent to God.  They had trampled the covenant, grounded in the Law of Moses.  Their prosperity (not shared with the poor) was about to fade, and the kingdom was about to go into decline.

One of the recurring themes in the early prophets is, in a few words:

You have made your bed.  Lie down in it.

That is an uncomfortable message to ponder.  It is a message the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) shies away from by assigning only verses 1-8 on Trinity Sunday, Year B.  It is a message the RCL provides the option for omitting by making verses 9-13 optional on the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.

Yet consider a motif from the Book of Amos, O reader:

Thus says the LORD:

For three crimes of ____, and now four–

I will not take it back–

Because they….

–Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Divine patience is not infinite.  Neither is divine judgment.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  I do not pretend to know where judgment gives way to mercy, and mercy to judgment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOAN OF ARC, ROMAN CATHOLIC VISIONARY AND MARTYR, 1430

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, APOSTLE TO THE PYGMIES

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, ENGLISH FEMINIST AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LUKE KIRBY, THOMAS COTTAM, WILLIAM FILBY, AND LAURENCE RICHARDSON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1582

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A Collection of Speeches: The Wickedness of Judah, and the Degenerate City   Leave a comment

Above:  Tares

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 1:2-31

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G. H. D. Kilpatrick, author of the exposition on Isaiah 1-39 in The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5 (1956), described Isaiah 1 as

The Heart of Isaiah’s Message.

Kilpatrick began:

Here is a tremendous indictment of an apostate nation.  The charge is the blindness, the insensitivity, the brutish stupidity of a people steeped in sin.  The prophet is against them.  In a sense the chapter is an epitome of Isaiah’s whole message and ministry.  In this series of oracles he proceeds from accusation to judgment, and on to the divine promise of mercy in terms of repentance and obedience.  Throughout the book the changes are rung on these themes.

–165

As I reread this chapter for the umpteenth time, I noticed themes that populated the (contemporary) Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, too.  I noticed these themes readily because I have blogged my way through them before starting First Isaiah.  I noticed legal charges of having abandoned the covenant.  I noticed the allegation of idolatry–prostitution, metaphorically.  I noticed the condemnation of corruption and social justice, especially that of the economic variety.  I noticed the pronouncement that sacred rituals do not protect one from the consequences of impiety.  I noticed the call to repentance and the possibility of forgiveness.

Chronology is not the organizing principle of the Book of Isaiah.  No, the commission of the prophet is in Chapter 6, for example.  Chapter 1 contains short speeches that summarize themes First Isaiah unpacks in subsequent chapters.

The text provides many options for where I may dwell in this post.  I choose verses 27 and 28.  The translation in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible (2019), is close to the standard English-language rendering:

Zion shall be redeemed through justice,

and those who turn back in her, through righteousness.

But the rebels and offenders together are shattered,

and those who forsake the LORD shall perish.

However, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) offers a somewhat different translation:

Zion shall be saved in the judgment;

Her repentant ones, in the retribution.

But rebels and sinners shall be crushed,

And those who forsake the LORD shall perish.

These verses date to either the Babylonian Exile or afterward.  (As I wrote regarding the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, the final versions of early prophetic writings date to the time after the Babylonian Exile.)  Differences in Hebrew meter and the concept of Zion’s slavery relative to the surrounding material point to later origin.  That may or may not prove interesting, but there it is.

I noticed that righteousness and justice are related concepts.  This has long constituted old news to me, but I delighted to see another instance of it in Isaiah 1.

That justice and righteousness are related establishes a high standard.  Many people mistake human vendettas for justice.  Many people mistake torture for justice.  Many people are oblivious to or forget Deuteronomy 32:35, in the voice of God:

Vengeance is mine and recompense,

for the time they lose their footing;

Because the day of their disaster is at hand

and their doom is rushing upon them.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

When we set out to take revenge, we embark on a path we ought to leave alone.  God knows better than we do.

I also noticed the difference between the translations of verse 27.  I noticed that TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) had “judgment” for “justice” and “retribution” for “righteousness.”  Yet the germane note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), read:

Having been punished, Zion will again know justice and faithfulness.  A new name is given to the reformed Jerusalem; c.f. 62:2-4; Ezekiel 48:35.

–769

The promised salvation will stem only from divine justice and righteousness, not the virtue of Israel.  The destruction of rebels and sinners, however, will stem from their lack of virtue.  For the meantime, Zion, as a faith reality, not a political entity, contains the good and the wicked.  Likewise, in the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30), the wheat and the weeds will grow together in the field until the harvest time.  God will judge at the harvest time.  In the meantime, attempting to remove weeds may result in the removal of some wheat, also.

May we–you, O reader, and I–strike a proper balance, by grace.  May we understand correctly the difference between good and evil.  May we understand correctly the difference between that which is sinful and that which is not.  May we understand correctly the difference between justice and injustice.  When appropriate, may we speak out, and do so in the right way.  And may we understand correctly the difference between our tasks and God’s tasks.

If I am going to err, I prefer to do so on the side of kindness, not harshness.  I would rather be too gentle than mean.  I prefer to strike the proper balance in each circumstances, of course.  Yet maybe my Southern training takes over and tells me not to create a needless scene.  I prefer to practice personal diplomacy, even when doing so entails telling white lies.  “No, that dress does not make you look fat,” except it does.  I also know enough to have some idea of what I do not know.  God knows more than I do, and I do not bring people to God by behaving obnoxiously in God’s name.

Nevertheless, as anyone who has read my weblogs sufficiently ought to know, I do not always shy away from writing what I really think.  I am capable of being blunt, too.  There is a time for diplomacy, just as there is a time for bluntness.  Yet there is never any moral justification for not leaving vengeance to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PERCY DEARMER, ANGLICAN CANON AND TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONA OF PISA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, LUTHER OF THE SLAVES AND FATHER OF SLOVAK HYMNODY

THE FEAST OF RUBY MIDDLETON FORSYTHE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EPISCOPAL EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY THERESA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF SAINT PETER CLAVER, AND “MOTHER OF AFRICAN MISSIONS;” AND HER SISTER, SAINT URSULA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE URSULINES OF THE AGONIZING HEART OF JESUS (GRAY URSULINES)

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The Superscription of the Book of Isaiah   1 comment

Above:  Isaiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART I

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Isaiah 1:1

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The Book of Isaiah contains the works of multiple authors writing over a span of centuries, from circa 742/733 B.C.E. to after 537 B.C.E.  The traditional division of the Book of Isaiah (First Isaiah = chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah = chapters 40-55, and Third Isaiah = chapters 56-66) is overly simplistic.  I follow the division from The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003):

  1. First Isaiah = chapters 1-23, 28-33;
  2. Second Isaiah = chapters 34-35, 40-55;
  3. Third Isaiah = chapters 24-27, 56-66; and
  4. A historical appendix verbatim from 2 Kings 18:13-20:19, except for King Hezekiah’s prayer of thanksgiving (Isaiah 38:9-20) = chapters 36-39.

I wrote about Isaiah 36-39 relatively recently, when blogging through the Second Book of Kings.

Isaiah ben Amoz (First Isaiah) was a resident of Jerusalem.  He, an aristocrat, may have been a priest serving at the Temple.  Isaiah’s name meant “the Lord is salvation.”  First Isaiah did not compose all of Isaiah 1-23, 28-33.  Multiple authors contributed to chapters 1-12 alone, for example.

The superscription names four Kings of Judah:

  1. Azariah/Uzziah (r. 785-733 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23);
  2. Jotham (r. 759-743 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:32-38; 2 Chronicles 27:1-9);
  3. Ahaz (r. 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 16:1-20; 2 Chronicles 28:1-27); and
  4. Hezekiah (r. 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 18:1-20:21; 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33; Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-22 and 49:4).

Placing dates from the period of Uzziah through Hezekiah on the Gregorian Calendar and the B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. scale is notoriously difficult.  If one consults five commentaries and study Bibles, one may find as many estimates of any given important date, such as the year in which King Uzziah died  and Isaiah ben Amoz received his prophetic commission from God (Isaiah 6:1).  I prefer to cite dates from The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), as much as possible.  When I consult study Bibles and commentaries, I find a range of years (742-733 B.C.E.) for the death of King Uzziah.

The royal chronology included at least one co-regency, that of Azariah/Uzziah and Jotham.  The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), in the back, holds that the reigns of Azariah/Uzziah and Ahaz may have overlapped.  Other study Bibles I consult indicate that these two reigns did not overlap.

Anyway, Isaiah ben Amoz (First Isaiah) prophesied during perilous times.  The Assyrian Empire loomed in the distance at the beginning of this prophetic career.  Also at the beginning, tensions with the Kingdom of Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel were prominent.  After Assyria conquered Aram then Israel, that empire posed a greater threat to Judah.  Meanwhile, on the domestic front, economic injustice was increasing.  First Isaiah was a contemporary of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, who prophesied regarding those problems, too.

The Books of Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Isaiah have existed in their current forms since after the Babylonian Exile.  This reality has presented many interpretive difficulties for themselves for years.

So be it.  The subsequent editing of texts to address then-current conditions provides a useful model for interpretation.  Despite the historical-critical methodological difficulties inherent in the final versions of these books–First Isaiah, in this case–they continue to address societies and nation-states in the present day.  I acknowledge the historical reality without any fear of offending God as I ask, in the words of a spiritual mentor of mine from the 1990s:

What is really going on here?

Any historical hiccups which may exist will not stand in the way of answering that question.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN H. W. STUCKENBERG, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND ACADEMIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF MENTHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND ARCHDEACON OF AOSTA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN POND PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAS DENCKE, SILESIAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST; AND SIMON PETER AND JOHANN FRIEDRICH PETER, GERMAN-AMERICAN COMPOSERS, EDUCATORS, MUSICIANS, AND MINISTERS

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCAFEE BROWN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, ACTIVIST, AND ECUMENIST

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The Mystery and Unconditional Love of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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For Trinity Sunday, Year 2

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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 and Everlasting God, who hast given to us, thy servants, grace,

by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity,

and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity;

we beseech thee, that thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith,

and evermore defend us from all adversities;

who livest and reignest, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 182

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Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 99

Romans 11:33-36

John 3:1-15

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As I have aged, I have changed in many ways.  I have recovered more slowly after moving from one dwelling into another one.  (Fortunately, I move only when necessary, and years apart.)  White hairs have sprouted from my chin and temples.  The rest of the hair on the top of my head has taken on a salt-and-pepper coloration.  I have recognized how much my parents knew when I was a child and an adolescent.  And I have become somewhat mystical.

I have written so many lectionary-based devotions for Trinity Sunday that I can no longer write one without repeating myself.  Consult my other devotions for Trinity Sunday at this weblog for than I offer in this post, O reader.  For now, I encourage you, O reader, to romp in the mystery of divine being.  Do not try to explain much of it.  No, revel in the mystery and unconditional love of God.  Then respond to God accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT BISCOP, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT OF WEARMOUTH

THE FEAST OF SAINT AELRED OF HEXHAM, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT OF RIEVAULX

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY PUCCI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HENRY ALFORD, ANGLICAN PRIEST, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, LITERARY TRANSLATOR, HYMN WRITER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND BIBLE TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

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Tobias and the Angel, On the Road Together   Leave a comment

Above:  Tobias and the Angel, by Wenceslas Hollar

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART VI

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Tobit  5:1-6:17/18 (depending on versification)

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The Book of Tobit is a novella with faulty history and geography.  Regarding geography, making the journey from Nineveh to Ectabana (about 450 miles) in a mere two days thousands of years ago would have been miraculous.  I realize that Azariah/Azarias means “God has helped,” but the geography in the story remains erroneous.

The dog is an odd detail, starting in Tobit 6:2 and again in 11:4.

  1. Dogs were unclean animals and not pets.  Biblical texts mentioned them in negative terms.  (Exodus 11:7; Judith 11:9; Luke 16:21; Proverbs 26:17; 2 Peter 2:22; Exodus 22:31; I Kings 14:11; 1 Kings 16:4, 21; 1 Kings 19:23-24; 1 Kings 22:38; 2 Kings 9:10, 36; Psalm 68:23-24; Jeremiah 15:3).
  2. “Dog” was a term of contempt for a human being.  (1 Samuel 17:43; 2 Kings 8:13; Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27)
  3. Sometimes “dog” referred to the wicked.  (Isaiah 56:10-11; Philippians 3:2; Revelation 22:15)
  4. Sometimes “dog” also referred to a male temple prostitute.  (Deuteronomy 23:18-19)
  5. Mentioning a dog in positive terms in Tobit 6:2 and 11:4 was, therefore, odd.  Perhaps it was a remnant of an older folk tale.  In the context of the Book of Tobit, the dog was a second angel in disguise.  

The reference to the fish (Tobit 6:3) that tried to swallow Tobias’s “foot” is one aspect of the story one can explain easily.  We are in the realm of euphemism.  As elsewhere “feet” are really genitals.  (Exodus 4:25; Ruth 3:7; Isaiah 6:2)

The fish-related cure for blindness and method of repelling demons are fascinating aspects of this folklore.  What a fish!

In these two chapters we read of God indirectly setting the healing of Tobit and Sarah into motion.  We also read of Raphael preparing Tobias to marry Sarah.  God has a hidden hand in the Book of Tobit.  God works subtly in this story.  Many of us can cite examples of God’s subtle, hidden hand in our lives and in the lives of others.

The Book of Tobit is partially about wellness.  In this reading, Tobit, Anna, and Sarah are not well.  Tobit is blind, Anna is overwhelmed, and Sarah is at the end of her rope.  By the end of the book, all of them are well.

But what is true wellness?  The best answer I can find comes from Irene Nowell, O.S.B., writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III (1999):

True wellness is a consequence of humility, the recognition that life and health are gifts from God.

True wellness is heavily spiritual.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Judgment and Mercy, Part XV   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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For Trinity Sunday, 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 and Everlasting God, who hast given to us, thy servants, grace,

by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity,

and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity;

we beseech thee, that thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith,

and evermore defend us from all adversities;

who livest and reignest, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 182

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Ezekiel 18:30-32 or Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalms 149 and 150

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 3:1-15

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Trinity Sunday is one of those feasts for which I dread writing, due to having rewritten the same post repeatedly.

I can, however, bring the readings from Ezekiel, Ephesians, and John together and weave the threads into a pattern.  The pattern is one of divine love being consistent with divine judgment and mercy.  Judgment need not occur; human repentance is one way to avoid it.  Another way of preventing judgment is direct divine action, meant to, among other goals, invite people to repent.  One may recall scenes of Jesus associating with notorious sinners in the Gospels, for example.  Furthermore, there is the matter of the Atonement.  Yet many continue to reject grace.  They condemn themselves.

The Holy Trinity is a great mystery.  The Church does not grasp this mystery, despite Ecumenical Councils and millennia of theological development.  The Eastern and Western branches continue to disagree about the filioque clause of the Nicene Creed.  Furthermore, Christological differences separate the Eastern Orthodox from the Oriental Orthodox.

The mystery will sort itself out.  We can, however, acknowledge the mystery and listen for the Holy Spirit urging us along spiritual pathways.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF FOLLIOT SANDFORD PIERPOINT, ANGLICAN EDUCATOR, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, SCOTTISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1615

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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A Glorious Mystery, Part I   Leave a comment

Above:  Symbol of the Holy Trinity

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Almighty God, father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and giver of the Holy Spirit.

Keep us, we pray thee, steadfast before the great mystery of thy being,

and in faith which acknowledges thee to be the one eternal God.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 124

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Isaiah 6:1-8

1 Peter 1:10-21

John 4:7-24

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The doctrine of the Trinity, as we know it, is the result of centuries of debates and numerous ecumenical councils.  Although the word “Trinity” never occurs in the New Testament, that portion of the Bible mentions the Father (YHWH), the Son (incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth), and the Holy Spirit many times.  Some passages contradict subsequent Church doctrine.  In Pauline writings and the Gospel of John, for example, the Son is subordinate to the Father.  Furthermore, in those same epistles, the Son and the Spirit are interchangeable sometimes.  And the filoque question remains current.

The nature of God is a mystery no human being can fully solve.  So be it.  The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is the best answer in human religion.  So be it.  My Western tradition tries to explain too much; it should frolic in glorious mysteries more often.  The ultimate nature of God is one of those glorious mysteries.  So be it.

The doctrine of the Trinity invites us to give up trying to explain the nature of God and to focus instead on relating to God.  The creation, Father Robert Farrar Capon wrote in The Third Peacock, resulted from a “Trinitarian bash.”  We should, in the words of the Westminster Catechisms, glorify and fully enjoy God forever.  Love and enjoyment do not require full understanding, after all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 29, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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