Archive for the ‘Babylonian Exile’ Tag

Religious Decline and Hope of Recovery   Leave a comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART II

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Malachi 1:2-3:12

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As I wrote in Reading Malachi, Part I, the dating of the Book of Malachi is vague–perhaps prior to 445 B.C.E., when the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah began (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9)–or perhaps not.   Clear, however, are the sense of spiritual crisis and the religious decline in the Book of Malachi.

Consider 1:2-5, O reader.  We read divine assurance of love for the people.  We may assume safely that the population (much of it, anyway) needed this assurance.  The proof of divine love for Jews in Judea in Malachi 1:2-5 is their continued existence in their ancestral homeland.  The contrast with their ancient foe and cousin people, the Edomites, is stark.

I have read and blogged about divine judgment on the people of Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Obadiah; and Isaiah 34:5-17.

The designated portion of the Book of Malachi continues with the condemnations of priests and the population.  We read of priests offering defiled food as sacrifices.  We read that God objected strongly to such disrespect, and preferred no ritual sacrifices to the offerings of blemished animals.  (See Exodus 12:5; Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 10; Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 22:22).  We read that God was really angry:

And now, O priests, this charge is for you:  Unless you obey and unless you lay it to heart, and do dishonor to My name–said the LORD of blessings into curses.  (Indeed, I have turned them into curses, because you do not lay it to heart.)  I will put your seed under a ban, and I will strew dung upon your faces, the dung of your festal sacrifices, and you shall be carried out to its [heap].

–Malachi 2:1-3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Furthermore, we read that (much of) the population of Israel has failed to keep the covenant, too.  We read that God objected to Jewish men divorcing Jewish wives to marry foreign women.  One may recall that this was also an issue in Ezra 10.  As prior to the Babylonian Exile, idolatry is in play.  Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Deuteronomy 12:31 permit divorce, but Malachi 2:16 begins:

For I detest divorce….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Context is crucial; statements never arise in a vaccum.

Malachi 3:5 specifies offenses:

But [first] I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me:  Who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause] of the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the LORD of Hosts.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Faithless members of the Chosen People remain “children of Jacob,” we read.  And God (as in Zechariah 1:3) expects them to express remorse for their sins and to repent:

Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you–said the LORD of Hosts.

–Malachi 3:7b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The text continues by explaining another way (other than not committing the previously listed sins) the people could return to God:  to support the Levites (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21-31; Nehemiah 13:10-13).  The text challenges the people to respond faithfully and generously to the extravagant and generosity of God.

Malachi 3:11 mentions locusts in the present tense.  This clue does not reveal as much as one may guess.  Does Malachi 3:11 date the Book of Malachi approximately contemporary with the Book of Joel, whenever that was?  The case for this is tenuous and circumstantial.  One may recall that swarms of locusts were a frequent threat in the region.  Malachi 3:11 may tell us one reason many people were not paying their tithes, though.

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 exists within a context, of course.  Taking it out of context distorts its meaning.  Recall Malachi 2:17, O reader.  We read there that people have been wearying God by saying:

“All who do evil are good in the sight of the LORD, and in them He delights,” or else, “Where is the God of justice?”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 rebuts that wearying statements and that wearying question.

Trusting in God liberates.  It liberates populations and individuals.  It liberates them to become their best possible selves in God, who is extravagantly generous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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The Superscription of the Book of Malachi   1 comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART I

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Malachi 1:1

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The stated prophet in Malachi 1:1 is simply “Malachi,” without the traditional “son of ” formula following the persona name.  “Malachi” means “My messenger.”  This may be a name, a description, or both.  In fact, we know close to nothing about the prophet.

The Book of Malachi does not provide many details that place it in time.  It comes from after the Babylonian Exile.  1:8 and 1:2-5 place the book during the Persian period (539-332 B.C.E.).  The Book of Malachi refers to concerns raised in the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and First Esdras–Malachi 1:6-14 and Nehemiah 10:32-39; 13:31 pertain to provision for sacrifices.  The tithe is the topic in Malachi 3:8-12 and Nehemiah 13:10-14.  Acceptable marriage partners are the topic in Malachi 3:5 and Nehemiah 5:1-13.  But did Malachi come before Ezra and Nehemiah, who started their reforms in 445 B.C.E.?  (See Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9.)

The historical relationship s of Joel, Second Zechariah, and Malachi to each other are not clear.  The Book of Malachi, in its original form, may plausibly date to the 470s, prior to Second Zechariah.  Or the Book of Malachi may plausibly postdate Second Zechariah.

The Book of Malachi has fifty-five verses.  Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles divide those verses into three chapters.  Yet Anglican and Protestant Bibles divide these verses into four chapters.

Considering how short the Book of Malachi is, it fares well on the three major Christian lectionaries.  The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) assigns 3:14 for the Presentation of the Lord, Years A, B, and C, as well as for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C.  The RCL also assigns 4:1-2a on Proper 28, Year C.  The Roman Catholic lectionary for Sundays and major feast days assigns 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10 for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.  The same lectionary assigns 3:19-20a for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  The corresponding lectionary for weekday Masses assigns 3:1-4, 23-24 on December 23, Years 1 and 2.  The same lectionary assigns 3:13-20b for Thursday in Week 27 of Ordinary Time, Year 1.

Shall we begin, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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Judah’s Triumph Over Her Enemies   Leave a comment

Above:  Woods, Ben Burton Park, Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, October 29, 2017

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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READING SECOND ZECHARIAH, PART II

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Zechariah 9:1-11:17

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Zechariah 9:1-8 may be the original portion of Second Zechariah.  This opening oracle names enemies of the Hebrews:

  1. Aram (Zechariah 9:1-2a; Amos 1:3-5; Isaiah 17:1-14; Jeremiah 49:23-27);
  2. Tyre and Sidon (Zechariah 9:2b-4; Amos 1:9-10; Isaiah 23:1-18; Ezekiel 26:1-28:26); and
  3. Philistia (Zechariah 9:5-7; Amos 1:6-8; Isaiah 14:28-32; Jeremiah 47:1-17; Ezekiel 25:15-17).

One may read about the Jebusites (Zechariah 9:7) in Judges 19:10; 2 Samuel 5:6, 8; 2 Samuel 24:16, 18; 1 Kings 9:20; 1 Chronicles 11:4.

The development of Zechariah 9:1-8 is complicated.  The original version of it may predate the Babylonian Exile.  The reference to the rampart of the fortress (9:3) may allude to a military campaign of Alexander the Great in 333 B.C.E.  Zechariah 9:1-8 seems to have passed through various editorial hands before settling down into its current state.

Regardless of the number of editorial stages of development of all the segments of Zechariah 9:1-11:17, the final version is about an ideal future when the full-realized Kingdom of God is evident on the earth and when the Messiah, a descendant of King David, is triumphant and victorious.  The arrangement of material is odd.  YHWH is triumphant in chapter 9.  The promise of restoration fills chapter 10.  Chapter 11 concludes with the desperate situation extant in First Zechariah (chapters 1-8).  The editing seems backward, from a certain point of view.  Anyway, the present day of Second Zechariah, obviously far from ideal, has much in common with 2021.

Time passes.  Technology changes.  Social mores and norms change, also.  Locations vary.  Yet much remains the same.  False prophets abound (10:2).  [Note:  The reference to teraphim in 10:2 is to household cultic objects, as in Genesis 31:19, 30-35; Judges 17:5.  Deuteronomy 18:9-14 condemns divination.  Also, Deuteronomy 13:6 and Jeremiah 23:25-32 are suspicious of dreams.]  Many leaders–shepherds, metaphorically–are oppressors and predators (10:3; 11:4-17).  In this case, prophets and leaders are the same.  This makes sense; one is a leader if one has followers.  The text is sufficiently ambiguous to apply to those who are false prophets or predatory political leaders without being both, though.

Zechariah 11 concludes on a hopeful note:  Those leaders responsible for social ills will fall from power.  This is good news the metaphorical sheep.

I, as a Christian, pay especially close attention to Zechariah 9:9-10.  This is a vision of the Messiah, sometime in the distant future, approaching the glorious, restored Jerusalem after God’s victory.  The image of the Messiah–“your king”–triumphant, victorious, and humble, riding on a donkey, occupies the background in accounts of Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-15).  Understanding Zechariah 9:9-10 helps one grasp the imagery of Christ’s self-presentation in the Gospels’ accounts of that event.

The placement of the oracles in Zechariah 9-11 in the future, without claiming,

Do x, and God will will do y,

in such a way as to date the prophecies, works.  One may recall that Haggai made the mistake of being too specific (and objectively wrong) in Haggai 1 and 2.  The prediction of the restoration of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel of Israel (9:17-10:12), therefore of the restoration of the unity of Israel and Judah, remains unfulfilled.  One may doubt that it will ever come to pass, but one cannot legitimately criticize the text for establishing a temporal marker already past (from the perspective of 2021) and being objectively wrong, by that standard.

Reality falls short of God’s ideal future.  Yet we may legitimately hope and trust in God.  Details of prophecies, bound by times and settings of their origin, may not always prove accurate.  So be it.  We moderns ought to read these types of texts poetically, not as what they are not–technical manuals for the future in front of us.  We should focus on major themes, not become lost in the details.  We ought not to try to match current events and the recent past to details of ancient prophecy.  The list of books whose authors did that and whom the passage of time has proven inaccurate is long.  One can easily miss the forest by focusing on the trees.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WHITE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF THE CARMELITE MARTYRS OF COMPIEGNE, 1794

THE FEAST OF BENNETT J. SIMS, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF SAINT NERSES LAMPRONATS, ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF TARSUS

THE FEAST OF R. B. Y. SCOTT, CANADIAN BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, HYMN WRITER, AND MINISTER

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The Superscription of the Book of Joel   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Joel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JOEL, PART I

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Joel 1:1

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The stated name of the prophet is Joel ben Pethuel.  “Joel” means “YHWH is God.”  The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:  An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Volume 2, E-J (1962), lists thirteen Joels in the Bible, from the time of the Judges to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, after the Babylonian Exile.  “Joel” is also the name of an archangel in the Pseudipigrapha.

Depending on the commentary one believes, the Book of Joel dates to either the 400s B.C.E. or between 400 and 350 B.C.E.  Linguistic evidence dates the book to the Persian period, anyway.

Oddly, the setting of the Book of Joel is vague–not any particular era in the past of Israel.  The identify of the invading force at the end of the book is vague.  The identity of the invading force in chapter 2 is clear, though–locusts.

The Book of Joel has the same number of verses in Anglican and Protestant Bibles as it does in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles.  Yet the book has three chapters in Anglican and Protestant Bibles and four chapters in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles.  The last chapter (either 3 or 4) has twenty-one verses, in any case.  The last five verses of chapter 2 in Anglican and Protestant Bibles constitute chapter 3 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles.

For so short a book, Joel fares well on the major three Christian lectionaries.  The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) covers all three chapters (by Anglican and Protestant counting) well, mainly in Years A and C.  The Roman Catholic lectionary for weekday Masses includes readings from chapters 1, 2, and 4 (by Roman Catholic counting).  The corresponding lectionary for Masses for Sundays and major feast days lists Joel once–3:1-5, as an option for the Vigil for Pentecost, Years A, B, and C.

It shall come to pass

I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your old men will dream drams,

your young men will see visions.

Even upon your male and female servants,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

I will set signs in the heavens and on the earth,

blood, fire, and columns of smoke;

The sun will darken,

the moon turn blood-red,

Before the day of the LORD arrives,

that great and terrible day.

Then everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD

will escape harm.

For on Mount Zion there will be a remnant,

as the LORD has said,

And in Jerusalem survivors

whom the LORD will summon.

–Joel 3:1-5, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

We know about as much about the prophet Joel as we do about the dating of the book–very little.

Join me, O reader, as I read and write about these seventy-three verses, arranged in three or four chapters.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Posted July 16, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Joel 1, Joel 2, Joel 3, Joel 4

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Divine Warnings to the Restored Community   Leave a comment

Above:  Illustration of a Spider Web (Isaiah 59:5)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART III

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Isaiah 56:1-59:21

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Third Isaiah, First Zechariah, and Haggai had to explain why previous prophecies of heaven on earth after the end of the Babylonian Exile had not come to pass.  (I have already covered Haggai-First Zechariah.)  Third Isaiah spoke of sinful and rebellious people within Israel opposing God’s righteous rule.  According to Third Isaiah, the end of the Babylonian Exile was not the inauguration of heaven on earth.  No, it was a foretaste of heaven on earth.

Isaiah 56;1-59:21 comes from a time when many Jewish exiles remained in Babylonia (then part of the Persian Empire) and the situation in Judah was difficult.  The economy was bad and the drought was severe.  The material in Isaiah 56:1-59:21 emphasizes keeping the divine covenant in the context of community.  This covenant requires justice.  This covenant excludes corruption, idolatry, faithlessness, and superficial piety.  This covenant includes all who keep it–even foreigners and eunuchs (see Ezra 9; Ezra 6:21; Deuteronomy 23:2; Leviticus 21:16-23).  This covenant, therefore, moves beyond some of the exclusionary parts of the Law of Moses and welcomes the conversion of Gentiles.  This covenant entails keeping the Sabbath, by which one emulates God.

The Sabbath, in this context, had a particular meaning.  Keeping it indicated commitment to the ancestral faith, the faith to which the society was supposed to be returning.  Keeping the Sabbath was part of a just society, as well as a mark of freedom.  People were free to be their best in God.  Many did not want to pursue that goal.

Without going too far down the rabbit hole of necessary compromises regarding Sabbath-keeping in Judaism in antiquity and the present day, I point out that some people have to perform certain work on the day designated in their tradition as the Sabbath.  I also affirm that keeping Sabbath, whichever day a tradition or an adherent to it does so, is necessary, proper, and beneficial.  Keeping Sabbath is not being productive.  Being productive should not be the greatest value or one of the greatest values in a society.  It is, actually, a form of idolatry when raised to that high a priority.  My worth as a human being comes from bearing the image of God, not in how productive I am (or can be) and how much I purchase (or can afford to buy).

God judges unrepentant sinners and helps the righteous and penitent, we read.  God balances judgment and mercy.  God could not ignore what the society of Judah was doing to itself, we read.  When Judahites oppressed each other, God could not pretend this was not occurring, we read.  Divine judgment and mercy are inseparable.  They are like sides of a coin.

Sadly, the warnings in Isaiah 56:1-59:59:21 remain relevant in 2021.   What we mere mortals do–collectively and individually–matters.  God is watching us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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The End of Days   Leave a comment

Above:  Ahriman (from Zoroastrianism)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 24:1-27:13

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Babylon is not mentioned even once.  Rather, the eschatological focus of these chapters has raised their sights to the ultimate purpose of God in portraying the cosmological judgment of the world and its final glorious restoration.  Moreover, the redemption of Israel is depicted as emerging from the ashes of the polluted and decaying world.  Not just a remnant is redeemed , but the chapter recounts the salvation of all peoples who share in the celebration of God’s new order when death is banished forever (25:8).

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 173

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INTRODUCTION

Isaiah 24-27 constitutes the Isaiah Apocalypse.  They also constitute an early and not full-blown example of Biblical apocalyptic literature.  Some books I read inform me that the Jewish apocalyptic form emerged in the wake of the fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire–in the late sixth century (early 500s) B.C.E., to be precise.  These books also teach that full-blown Jewish apocalypses emerged only in the second century (100s) B.C.E., as in the case of Daniel 7-12.

Isaiah 24, in vivid language, depicts the divine destruction of the natural order and the social order.  I recommend the translation by Robert Alter, in particular.  Regardless of the translation, we read that people have violated the moral mandates embedded in the Law of Moses:

And the earth is tainted beneath its dwellers,

for they transgressed teachings, flouted law, broke the eternal covenant.

Therefore has a curse consumed the earth,

and all its dwellers are mired in guilt.

Therefore earth’s dwellers turn pale,

and all but a few humans remain.

–Isaiah 24:5-6, in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019)

The timeframe is sometime in the future, relative to both Third Isaiah and 2021.  in this vision, high socio-economic status provides no protection against God’s creative destruction.

Within the Book of Isaiah, in its final form, chapters 24-27 follow oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23) and precede more oracles against nations (chapters 28-33).  This relative placement is purposeful.

SWALLOWING UP DEATH FOREVER

Returning to the Isaiah Apocalypse, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God entails the defeat of the enemies of God’s people, the celebration of an eschatological banquet, and the swallowing up of death forever (See 1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 7:7-17).  The divine swallowing up of death echoes the swallowing up of Mot (the Canaanite god of death) in mythology.

Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 refer to divine victory over death.  Given the temporal origin of the Isaiah Apocalypse, is this a metaphor for the divine vindication of the downtrodden, likened to the dead?  Such language, in Book of Daniel (100s B.C.E.) and the Revelation of John (late 100s C.E.), refers to the afterlife.  The operative question regarding Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19, however, is if the author knew about and affirmed the resurrection of the dead.  We know that Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the dry bones) is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile.  But what about Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19?  Even the Jewish commentaries I consult do not arrive at a conclusion.

I understand why.  The Isaiah Apocalypses comes from a time when Jewish theology was changing, under the influence of Zoroastrianism.  Satan was moving away from being God’s employee–loyalty tester (Job 1-2) and otherwise faithful angel (Numbers 22:22-40)–and becoming a free agent and the chief rebel.   The theology of Ahriman, the main figure of evil in Zoroastrianism, was influencing this change in Jewish theology.  Jewish ideas of the afterlife were also changing under Zoroastrian influence.  Sheol was passing away.  Reward and punishment in the afterlife were becoming part of Jewish theology.  By the second century (100s) B.C.E., belief in individual resurrection of the dead was unambiguous (Daniel 12:2-3, 12).

I do not know what Third Isaiah believed regarding the resurrection of the dead.  I suppose that he could have affirmed that doctrine.  The historical context and the symbolic language of the apocalypse combine to confuse the matter.  So be it; I, as an Episcopalian, am comfortable with a degree of ambiguity.

DIVINE JUDGMENT ON ENEMIES OF THE COVENANT PEOPLE

Isaiah 25:9-12 singles out Moab, in contrast to the usual practice of not naming enemies in chapters 24-27.  One may recall material condemning Moab in Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 15:1-16:13; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Ezekiel 25:8-11.

In the divine order, the formerly oppressed rejoice in their victory over those who had oppressed them.  Oppression has no place in the divine order.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 24-27.  Divine deliverance of the oppressors is frequently catastrophic for the oppressors.  And the contrast between the fates of the enemies of God (27:11) and the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem (27:13) is stark.  As Brevard S. Childs offers:

In sum, the modern theology of religious universalism, characterized by unlimited inclusivity, is far removed from the biblical proclamation of God’s salvation (cf. Seitz, 192),

Isaiah (2001), 186

GOD’S VINEYARD

Neither do apostasy and idolatry have any place in the divine order.  And all the Jewish exiles will return to their ancestral homeland.  Also, the message of God will fill the earth:

In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall bud and flower,

and the face of the world shall fill with bounty.

–Isaiah 27:6, Robert Alter (2019)

The face of the world will be God’s productive vineyard, figuratively.  The people and kingdom of God, figuratively, are a vineyard in the Old and New Testament.  (See Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19).

CONCLUSION

Despite ambiguities in the texts, I am unambiguous on two germane points:

  1. Apocalyptic literature offers good news:  God will win in the end.  Therefore, faithful people should remain faithful.
  2. Apocalyptic literature calls the powers and leaders to account.  It tells them that they fall short of divine standards when they oppress populations and maintain social injustice.  It damns structures and institutions of social inequality.  It condemns societies that accept the unjust status quo.

Regardless of–or because of–certain ambiguities in the Isaiah Apocalypse, chapters 24-27 speak to the world in 2021.  Some vagueness in prophecy prevents it from becoming dated and disproven, after all.  And structural inequality remains rife and politically defended, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Introduction to Third Isaiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART I

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Isaiah 24-27, 56-66

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Haggai prophesied in late 520 B.C.E.  First Zechariah, commissioned as a prophet in late 520 B.C.E., prophesied in 519 and 518 B.C.E.  Sometime after Jewish exiles began to return to their ancestral homeland in the late 530s B.C.E., Third Isaiah prophesied.  He grappled with difficult circumstances and ubiquitous disappointment, just as Haggai and First Zechariah did.  The reality on the ground did not match the descriptions of prosperity and paradise on Earth that some previous prophets had offered.  For example, the contrast between the pessimism of many returned exiles and the optimism of Second Isaiah (from circa 540 B.C.E.) was a gaping chasm.

Third Isaiah spoke of divine sovereignty and divine compassion for Israel.  He did this between 537 and 455 B.C.E., in the context of matters remaining difficult for Jews in their ancestral homeland, part of the Persian Empire.  The reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra, starting in 445 B.C.E. (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8:1-9:55) greatly improved the civic and spiritual life of the population.  Third Isaiah prophesied before these reforms.

Designating Isaiah 56-66 as Third Isaiah and Isaiah 24-27 as part of First Isaiah is commonplace.  Yet I follow the determination in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), for I define the prophesies of Third Isaiah as encompassing Isaiah 24-27, 56-66.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONAVENTURE, SECOND FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF FRIARS MINOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT ATHANASIUS I OF NAPLES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF DUNCAN MONTGOMERY GRAY, SR., AND HIS SON, DUNCAN MONTGOMERY GRAY, JR.; EPISCOPAL BISHOPS OF MISSISSIPPI, AND ADVOCATES OF CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF GEORGE TYRRELL, IRISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN AND ALLEGED HERETIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT SWITHUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF WNCHESTER

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The Fourth Vision, Fifth Vision, and Second Oracle of First Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Zerubbabel’s Temple

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART IX

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Zechariah 3:1-4:14

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The contents of Zechariah 1:7-6:15 date to early February 519 B.C.E. (1:7).

The fourth vision (3:1-10; 4:4-5) is of the purification of the high priest Joshua ben Jehozadak, whom we met in Haggai 1:1.  TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) correctly translates the label in 3:2 as “the Accuser,” not “the Satan” or “Satan.”  This version thereby avoids an anachronistic reading of the doctrine of Satan, who, in Jewish theology, went from being an employee of YHWH to rebellious free agent during the Persian period.  “The Satan”–“the Accuser” and “the Adversary”–as an employee of YHWH in Numbers 22:26 and Job 1 and 2, for example.

One may legitimately argue that Satan was a rebellious free agent long before Zoroastrianism influenced Jewish theology, after the Babylonian Exile.  I, as a student of history, try not to read anachronisms into Biblical stories, though.

The vision depicts high priest Joshua as an unjustly criticized servant of God, affirmed and purified by God.  We read that Joshua was human, therefore flawed, yet that this intracommunity sniping was harmful.

We also read (as in Haggai 1:1) that Joshua and Zerubbabel (the governor) shared power.  One may recall Zerubbabel from Haggai 1:1 and 2:20-23.  One may remember that Zerubbabel would have been the Davidic king if there had been one.  One may recall that Haggai identified Zerubbabel as a king in the future (our ancient past).  Zerubbabel is “the Branch” in Zechariah 3:8.  The oracle about Zerubbabel (4:6-10) follows the fourth vision and relates to it.  That oracle declares that the governor will, by divine aid, oversee the completion of the rebuilding of the Temple.

The vision regarding high priest Joshua also predicts unusual prosperity in the future (Zechariah 4:4).  See Micah 4:4 and 1 Kings 5:5, also.

The fifth vision (4:1-3, 11-14) is of the lampstand (a menorah) and olive trees.  This vision speaks of Joshua and Zerubbabel as partners in power, with God being present.  One olive tree stands of Joshua.  The lampstand symbolizes God.  The other olive stands for Zerubbabel.

First Zechariah committed an error Haggai also made:  he predicted that Zerubbabel would become king and that the Davidic monarchy would resume.  He did not become a king, and no Davidic monarch has ruled since the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).

Sometimes–perhaps frequently–when God restores and revives peoples, God does so in ways they do not expect.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN DE JACOBIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP IN ETHIOPIA; AND SAINT MICHAEL GHEBRE, ETHIOPIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAMILLUS DE LELLIS, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND FOUNDER OF THE MINISTERS OF THE SICK

THE FEAST OF LEON MCKINLEY ADKINS, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MATTHEW BRIDGES, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAMSON OCCUM, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO NATIVE AMERICANS

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The Third Vision and First Oracle of First Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Zechariah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART VIII

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Zechariah 2:1-13 (Anglican and Protestant)

Zechariah 2:5-17 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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The contents of Zechariah 1:7-6:15 date to early February 519 B.C.E. (1:7).

The third vision (2:1-5/2:5-9, depending on versification) is of the man with a measuring line.  This vision predicts a time when Jerusalem will be boundless, with the Divine Presence/Glory as its fiery wall.  This vision of First Zechariah contradicts Ezekiel 45:1-6 and 48:15-20, in which the ideal, future Jerusalem has a measurable length and width.  In Isaiah 60-62, another vision of the ideal, future Jerusalem, the city has tone walls.

Upon your walls, O Jerusalem,

I have set watchmen,

Who shall never be silent

By day or by night.

–Isaiah 62:6a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

If I were a Biblical literalist, these discrepancies would bother me.  But I am not, and they do not.

Either way, God is the defense of Jerusalem, we read.

The oracle in 2:6-13/2:10-17 (depending on versification) refers to

the land of the north

–Babylonia (Joel 2:20; Jeremiah 6:22; Jeremiah 10:22), then part of the Persian Empire.  One may recall that:

  1. Jewish exiles returned to their ancestral homeland in waves, and
  2. Not all Jewish exiles chose to return.

God is active in 2:13/2:17 (depending on versification).  We read of a world order seemingly at peace in the wake of the Persian conquest of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Yet some forms of stability, although perhaps long-term, are counterfeit at worst and temporary at best.  Even the relatively benign empires fall short of divine high standards.

The future vision of First Zechariah is inclusive:

Many nations will give their allegiance to the LORD on that day and become his people, and he will dwell in your midst.

–Zechariah 2:11, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Zechariah 2:11/2:15 (depending on versification) anticipates Third Isaiah’s liberal attitude:

The foreigner who has given his allegiance to the LORD must not say,

“The LORD will exclude me from his people.”

–Isaiah 56:3a, The Revised English Bible (1989)

These inclusive attitudes contradict Ezekiel 44, which excludes foreigners from the predicted Second Temple.

I, as a Gentile, prefer inclusion in God’s kingdom.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLIFFORD BAX, POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER SCHMORELL, RUSSIAN-GERMAN ORTHODOX ANTI-NAZI ACTIVIST AND MARTYR, 1943

THE FEAST OF SAINT EUGENIUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES RENATUS VERBEEK, MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF PETER RICKSECKER, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER; HIS TEACHER, JOHANN CHRISTIAN BECHLER, MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER; AND HIS SON, JULIUS THEODORE BECHLER, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER

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The Commissioning of Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Zechariah from the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo Buonaroti

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART III

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Zechariah 1:1-6

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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

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