Archive for the ‘Brevard S. Childs’ Tag

The People’s Lament and God’s Response   Leave a comment

Above:  Valley of Hinnom

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 63:1-66:24

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Isaiah 63:1-6 depicts God as a warrior taking vengeance on Edom (Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Obadiah; Isaiah 34:5-17).  For more about Edom, follow the links.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance, as in the previous section.

Most of Isaiah 63 and 64 consist of a grand tour of Biblical history, in the form of a lament in the voice of Third Isaiah.  It is a recounting of divine faithfulness, human faithlessness, and divine punishment.  Third Isaiah’s questions of why God has allowed terrible events to occur and not prevented them stand the test of time.  One may ask them, for example, about millennia of anti-Semitic violence, especially the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, Isaiah 64 concludes on a combination of trust and uneasiness.  This makes sense, too.

The divine response, at the beginning of Isaiah 65, is consistent with Covenantal Nomism.  Those who disregarded the mandates of the covenant consistently and unrepentantly dropped out of the covenant and condemned themselves.  God will punish sins, we read.  We also read that God will also regard faithful servants.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

In the new divine order (65:1-66:24), circumstances will be idyllic and the relationship between God and the faithful population will be close.  The process of getting to that goal is underway, we read.  The old prophecies of heaven on earth will come to pass, we read.  And Jews and Gentiles will recognize the glory of God, we read.  Yet not all will be puppies and kittens, we read:

As they go out they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me, where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is not quenched.  All mankind will view them with horror.

–Isaiah 66:24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Isaiah 66:24 refers, literally, to Gehenna, in the Valley of Hinnom, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Commentaries tell me that, when Jewish Biblical authors (perhaps including Third Isaiah) sought a properly terrifying metaphor for Hell, they used the Jerusalem garbage dump, where corpses of criminals either burned or decomposed, without receiving burial.  Yet, in Isaiah 66:24 (perhaps of later origin than 66:22-23, the bodies of those who rebel against God will neither burn nor decompose.

Regardless of when someone composed 66:24, as well as whether 66:23 originally ended the chapter, I push back against the desire to end the Book of Isaiah on an upbeat note.  I read that, in Jewish practice (as in The Jewish Study Bible), people reprint 66:23 after 66:24, to have an upbeat ending:

And new moon after new moon,

And sabbath after sabbath,

All flesh shall come to worship Me

–said the LORD.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet 66:23-24, taken together, balance divine judgment and mercy.  Brevard S. Childs, conceding the possibility of the later composition of 66:24, argues that 66:24 fits the theme of

the division between the righteous and the wicked.

Isaiah (2001), 542

This division exists elsewhere in Third Isaiah, too.

In spite of God’s new heavens and death, the exaltation of Zion, and the entrance of the nations to the worship of God, there remain those outside the realm of God’s salvation.

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 542

They remain outside the realm of God’s salvation because they have condemned themselves.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey though Third Isaiah.  I invite you to remain by my side, so to speak, as I move along next to the Book of Joel.  This journey through the Hebrew prophetic books is much closer to its conclusion than to its beginning.  Nevertheless, much to learn remains.

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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Divine Rebuke of Israel and Judah   Leave a comment

Above:  Vineyard

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 5:1-30

Isaiah 9:7-20 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Isaiah 9:8-21 (Anglican and Protestant)

Isaiah 10:1-4

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The vineyard, an erotic image in Song of Songs 1:6 and 8:12, was more frequently a metaphor for the people of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Robert Alter’s translation of the beginning of Isaiah 5:1 in The Hebrew Bible (2019) is close to the standard rendering in English:

Let me sing of My beloved

the song of my lover for his vineyard.

The lover is God, and the vineyard is the people of Israel.  The speaker may be a friend of the bridegroom.  Brevard S. Childs, in Isaiah (2001), tells us:

At the outset, the song is not a love song, as often rendered (e.g., RSV), but a song of a beloved one concerning his vineyard that is sung by another.

–45

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) translates the beginning of Isaiah 5:1 as:

Now let me sing of my friend,

my beloved’s song about his vineyard.

I checked Isaiah 5:1 in five French-language translations, too.  The germane terms are mon ami “my friend” and mon bien-aimé (“my beloved”).

The beginning of the translation in the revised Louis Segond translation (1910) is:

Je chanterai à mon bien-aimé

Le cantique de mon bien-aimé sur la vigne.

The beginning of the translation in the Nouvelle Version Segond Revisée (1976) is:

Or donc, je chanterai à mon ami

Le chant de mon bien-aimé sur sa vigne.

The beginning of the translation in La Bible en Français Courant (1997) is:

Laissez-moi chanter quelques couplets au nom de mon ami; c’est la chanson de mon ami et da sa vigne.

The beginning of the translation in La Bible de Jérusalem (2000) is:

Que je chante à mon bien-aimé

le chant de mon ami pour sa vigne.

The beginning of the translation in La Bible du Semeur (2015) is:

Je veux chanter pour mon ami

la chanson de mon bien-aimé au sujet de sa vigne.

The germane note in The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), suggests that the speaker in Isaiah 5:1-2 may be a relative, not a lover, hence the language of friendship in The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) and certain French translations.  The note from R. B. Y. Scott, in The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5 (1956), agrees:

In accordance with the Oriental fondness for grandiloquent language, the words could be used with the weakened sense of “friend”….It is almost inconceivable that Isaiah, of all people, would use an erotic term for Gods even in a parable; moreover, by no stretch of the imagination can the song be called a long song.  It is probably best to take [yadid] and [dod] as synonyms, and to translate:  “Now let me sing on behalf of my friend, my friend’s song about his vineyard.”

–196-197

In verse 3, the speaker changes; God begins to speak.

The bottom line in Isaiah 5:1-7 is that the people of Judah have failed to meet divine expectations; they have neglected the covenant.  They have failed to maintain a society in which divine righteousness and justice defined values and norms.  God, we read, will abandon the vineyard to its fate.

Isaiah 5:8f continues the theme of social injustice.  Sins include grabbing land, being indifferent, and drinking to excess.  The ruling class of Judah, we read, has been indifferent to the covenant.  Therefore, exile awaits the ruling class, and further misery awaits the masses.

Isaiah 5:25-30 may belong after Isaiah 9:7-20/9:8-21 (depending on versification), about judgment on the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  Isaiah 5:25-30 does flow naturally from Isaiah 9:7-20/9:8-21 (depending on versification).

Another editorial oddity is that Isaiah 10:1-4 fits with and may have originally been united with Isaiah 5:8-24.

I, as a history buff, find details of fifth-century B.C.E. editing of sacred texts interesting.  I acknowledge them readily.  These do not distract me (for long) from my main purpose in this series of weblog posts:  to understand and apply the messages of the Hebrew prophets, as those messages are relevant today.  These messages are repetitive.  After blogging my way through the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah already, I recognize the same themes repeating:  The covenant and the Law of Moses require societal, institutionalized justice.  The societal reality in which any given prophet speaks out is inconsistent with that vision, which includes economic justice and excludes idolatry.  Unjust societies will reap what they have sown.  Even Gentiles, not subject to the covenant and the Law of Moses, must obey certain standards, or else.

The message repeats on a playback loop because it must.  Many people continue to be indifferent to the message.  Other people are oblivious to it.  Just check the news, if you dare, O reader, for current evidence.

What does God have to do to get attention?

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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Epiphanies of God   1 comment

Moses on Mount Sinai

Above:  Moses on Mount Sinai, by Jean-Leon Gerome

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Holy God, through your Son you have called us to live faithfully and act courageously.

Keep us steadfast in your covenant of grace,

and teach us the wisdom that comes only through Jesus Christ,

our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 19:1-9a (Thursday)

Exodus 19:9b-15 (Friday)

Exodus 19:16-25 (Saturday)

Psalm 19 (All Days)

1 Peter 2:4-10 (Thursday)

Acts 7:30-40 (Friday)

Mark 9:2-8 (Saturday)

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The law of the LORD inspires reverence and is pure;

it stands firm for ever,

the judgements of the LORD are true;

they form a good code of justice.

–Psalm 19:10, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers, Harry Mowvley (1989)

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We are always in the presence of God.

Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;

if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand shall lead me,

your right hand hold me fast.

–Psalm 139:6-9, Common Worship:  Daily Prayer (2005)

Nevertheless, sometimes the presence of God becomes evident in an unusually spectacular way.  How one ought to respond to those occasions is one topic in the assigned readings for these three days.

1 Peter 2 and Exodus 19 bring up the point of the faithful people of God having the responsibility to be a light to the nations.  First, however, the faithful people must become that light.  This was originally the call of the Jews, who retain that call as well as their status as the Chosen People.  Far be it from me to give short shrift to the Jews, my elder siblings in faith!  I, a Gentile, belong to the branch which God grafted onto their tree.

But how should one respond to a spectacular manifestation of the presence of God?  Those details, I suppose, are culturally specific, as is much of the Law of Moses.  Moses removed his sandals in the presence of the burning bush.  At Mt. Sinai the people were to wash their clothing, abstain from sexual relations for three days, and avoid touching the mountain.  There was a case of fatal holiness, a repeated motif in the Hebrew Scriptures.  People were supposed to maintain a safe distance from God.  As for sexual activity, it would cause ritual impurity (see Leviticus 15:18) in the Law of Moses, which they were about to receive.  And, in the words of scholar Brevard S. Childs:

The holy God of the covenant demands as preparation a separation from those things which are normally permitted and good in themselves.  The giving of the covenant is different from an ordinary event of everyday life.  Israel is, therefore, to be prepared by a special act of preparation.

The Book of Exodus:  A Critical Theological Commentary (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, 1974), page 369

As for women and the Law of Moses, I cannot help but notice that the code reflects a negative view of gynaecology.  May such sexism become increasingly rare in today’s world.

One pious yet misguided response to a spectacular manifestation of the presence of God is to seek to institutionalize it.  That was just one error St. Simon Peter committed at the Transfiguration, the description of which I understand as being more poetic than literally accurate.  (Could any description do the event justice?)  Another error was that the three proposed booths would be the same size; one should have been larger than the others.

Although we dwell in the presence of God and might even be aware of that reality most of the time, we still need moments when we experience it in unusual and spectacular ways.  Mundane blessings are wonderful and numerous, but sometimes we need another variety of blessing and a reminder of the presence of God.  I have had some of them, although they were substantially toned down compared to the Transfiguration, the burning bush, and the giving of the Law of Moses.  They were, however, out of the ordinary for me.  Thus I remember them more vividly than I do the myriads of mundane blessings and encounters with God.  These unusual epiphanies have edified me spiritually at the right times.  They have also called me to continue on my spiritual walk with God through easy and difficult times.  That journey is one for the glory of God and the benefit of others–perhaps including you, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF THOMAS MERTON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MONK

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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