Archive for the ‘Idolatry’ Tag

To the Church in Laodicea   Leave a comment

Above:  The Ancient City of Laodicea

Image Source = Google Earth

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READING REVELATION, PART VIII

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Revelation 3:14-22

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The church in Laodicea had existed since the time of St. Paul the Apostle.  John of Patmos insisted that choosing God’s side against the Roman Empire and the worship of the Emperor of Rome was crucial.  Yet the congregation in Laodicea was lukewarm and complacent.  It had lost the ability to make moral and spiritual distinctions.

Yet that congregation had an opportunity to repent–or else.

Some of the members of that church in that commercial city relied on their wealth, not on God.  The poor members could not rely on wealth, of course.  They apparently relied on other idols.

Whenever any portion of the Church relies on God instead of God, it errs severely.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN DAVID, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF ALBAN BUTLER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HAGIOGRAPHER

THE FEAST OF HENRY STEPHEN BUTLER, EPISCOPAL ORGANIST, CHOIRMASTER, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JOAO BOSCO BURNER, BRAZILIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1976

THE FEAST OF VINCENT TAYLOR, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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Posted October 13, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Revelation of John 3

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To the Church in Thyatira   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of Ancient Thyatira (now Akhisar, Turkey)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART V

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Revelation 2:18-29

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Apollo, the sun god, was the deity of Thyatira.  His local cult merged with emperor-worship.  The opening of this passage set Jesus against and above Apollo and the emperor, officially, the Son of God.

The positive words for the Thyatiran congregation enduring patiently give way quickly to criticism for tolerating a false prophetess, “Jezebel.”  The reference to the wicked Queen of Israel and wife of King Ahab fits.  The text accuses “Jezebel” of having led members of that congregation into idolatry–figuratively, adultery.

In contrast, Thyatira was a center of commerce.  Business interests encouraged compromises for the sake of profits.  Some of the compromises compromised the Christian witness of the Thyatiran congregation.

Those who remain faithful will reign with Christ, we read.

Knowing when to compromise and when to hold fast can be difficult, in contexts.  Some compromises are necessary.  They are either harmless or proper.  Yet other compromises are detrimental and counter-productive.  They give away the store, so to speak.  Knowing when to compromise and when to hold fast is crucial.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 23:  THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF JOHANN NITSCHMANN, SR., MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; DAVID NITSCHMANN, JR., THE SYNDIC, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; AND DAVID NITSCHMANN, THE MARTYR, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND MARTYR, 1729

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN LUDWIG BRAU, NORWEGIAN TEACHER AND POET

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WHITE BENSON, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF LOUIS FITZGERALD BENSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMNODIST

THE FEAST OF VIDA DUTTON SCUDDER, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR, AUTHOR, CHRISTIAN SOCIALIST, AND SOCIAL REFORMER

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Posted October 10, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Revelation of John 2

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To the Church in Pergamum   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of the Acropolis, Pergamum, Between 1888 and 1910

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-03770

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READING REVELATION, PART IV

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Revelation 2:12-17

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Pergamum, a prominent city, was the seat of the local Roman imperial Provincial Council.  Zeal for enforcing emperor-worship was great.  In the worldview of Revelation, Pergamum was on the short list of places where Satan was enthroned.

Nevertheless, the church there persisted in faith, even after the martyrdom of one of their own, Antipas.

The story of Balaam fills Numbers 22-24.  In that account, Balak, the King of Moab, afraid of the Israelites, hired the soothsayer Balaam to curse and weaken the Israelites.  Numbers 22-24 reveal that God prevented Balaam from doing that.  The Jewish tradition upon which Revelation 2:12-17 relied expanded on that story, making Balaam the prototype of evil people who taught Jews to commit idolatry and to eat food sacrificed to idols (Numbers 25:1-3).

The Nicolaitans favored accommodation to the dominant culture, the one John of Patmos considered evil.

The text of Revelation 2:12-17 is vague about the sins of some of the Christians there.  Some guesses are reasonable, though.  One may surmise that some Christians were eating food sacrificed to idols, for example.  One may recall 1 Corinthians 8:7-13 regarding that matter.

Revelation 2:12-17 concludes with a divine promise to the faithful–a blessed afterlife with spiritual manna.  This conclusion is similar to a passage from Second Baruch, from the Pseudepigrapha:

And it will happen at that time that the treasury of manna will come down again from on high, and they will eat of it in those years because these are they who will arrived at the consummation of time.

–2 Baruch 29:8, translated by A. F. J. Klijn

The white stone was blessed because it was white.  (White symbolized holiness in Revelation.  Jesus had white hair.  The martyrs wore white robes.  Et cetera.)  The stone bore a new name, perhaps that of Jesus.  The faithful, having remained faithful to Christ, received a positive afterlife.

Not conforming to the dominant culture can be difficult when one belongs to a powerless minority.  When that dominant culture oppresses one’s religion, conforming is an easy way out of persecution.  Human beings are inherently social creatures.  Conformity, therefore, is a powerful pressure.  When nonconformity is righteous, conformity is sinful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DENIS, BISHOP OF PARIS; AND HIS COMPANIONS; ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, CIRCA 250

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN LEONARDI, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF THE MOTHER OF GOD OF LUCCA; AND SAINT JOSEPH CALASANCTIUS, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

THE FEAST OF PENNY LERNOUX, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC JOURNALIST AND MORAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GROSSETESTE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOLAR, PHILOSOPHER, AND BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF WILFRED THOMASON GRENFELL, MEDICAL MISSIONARY TO NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

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False Teachers, Part III   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART XII

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Jude

2 Peter 2:1-22

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The second chapter of Second Peter expands on the Epistle of Jude.  Almost all of the points in Jude exist in 2 Peter 2.

One may recognize the thematic relationship of 2 Peter 1 to Jude and 2 Peter 2.  False teachers, evil desires, and spiritually undisciplined lives provide the connective tissue.

We also read another repetition of the Biblical motif that divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  In other words, we will reap what we have sown.  Grace is free, not cheap; it mandates a faithful response.  Yes, God imposes mandates.  Freedom is a gift to use properly, not to abuse and misuse.

References to the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha abound in Jude and 2 Peter 2.  I choose to explain the references:

  1. Jude 5 refers to Numbers 14 and 26:64-65.  Apostasy is possible, and carries with it the loss of salvation.
  2. Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 refer to Genesis 6:1-4.  An elaborate version of the story of the “watchers” exists in 1 Enoch 6-19 (especially chapter 10).
  3. Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 refer to Genesis 19:1-25, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The “unnatural vice” is rape, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and of a person or an angel.  Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 present the scenario opposite of Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4, in which angels lusted after human women.
  4. The combination of the preceding two points indicates the grave consequences of violating God’s intended order for creation.
  5. Jude 9, drawing on Exodus 2:11-12, indicates familiarity with the Assumption/Testament of Moses, a text from the first century C.E.  Between one-third and one-half of that text is missing.  The lost portion includes the section depicting St. Michael the Archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses and quoting Zechariah 3:2:  “May the Lord rebuke you!”  Even angels do not rebuke Satan in Zechariah 3:2, Jude 9, and the Assumption/Testament of Moses.  The lesson in Jude 9 is that, if we mere mortals revile angels, we sin.
  6. Jude 11 refers to Cain (Genesis 4:8-16), Balaam (Numbers 16:1-25), and Korah (Numbers 31:16).  2 Peter 2:15-16 refers to Balaam and his talking donkey (Numbers 22:28-33).  Rebellion against God leads to punishment and reproof.
  7. 2 Peter 2:5 refers to Genesis 6:17.
  8. Jude 14-15 refers to 1 Enoch 1:9.

These false teachers did more than teach falsehoods; they behaved scandalously at agape meals (Jude 12, 2 Peter 2:13-14).  These false teachers doomed themselves and disrupted faith community.

I approach Jude and 2 Peter 2 from a particular background.  I grew up feeling like the resident heretic.  My heresies were asking “too many” questions, being an intellectual, accepting science and history, harboring Roman Catholic tendencies, and not being a Biblical literalist.  Some in my family regard me as a Hell-bound heretic.  I embrace the label “heretic.”  I even own a t-shirt that reads,

HERETIC.

I approach the label “false teacher” cautiously.  One ought to make accusations with great caution, and based on evidence.  False teachers abound.  I am not shy about naming them and their heresies.  These include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, Prosperity Theology, and the excesses of Evangelicalism.  The list is long.  The standards of orthodoxy and orthopraxy are as simple and difficult as the Incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus; the Atonement; and the Golden Rule.  Proper love–in mutuality–builds up.  It does not tear people down.  Proper orthodoxy maintains divine standards and is generous, not stingy.  It is loving, not hateful.  And it leads to humility before God and human beings.

I affirm that I am doctrinally correct about some matters and wrong regarding others.  I also affirm that I do not know when I am wrong and when I am right.  The life of Christian discipleship is about trust in God, not about certainty.  The quest for certainty, when faith–trust–in God is called for is an idolatrous and psychologically comforting effort.  Proper Christian confidence–grounded in Christ alone–says:

I may be wrong, but I act as if I am right.  I can neither prove nor disprove this article of faith, but I act as if I am right.

May you, O reader, and I trust in the faithfulness of God.  May we walk humbly with God and live with our fellow human beings in loving, respectful mutuality.  We can do all of the above only via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HONORIUS, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF JOANNA P. MOORE, U.S. BAPTIST MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY RAMABAI, PROPHETIC WITNESS AND EVANGELIST IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD CHALLONER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOLAR, RELIGIOUS WRITER, TRANSLATOR, CONTROVERSIALIST, PRIEST, AND TITULAR BISHOP OF DOBERUS

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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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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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The Seventh Vision of First Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Astarte Syriaca, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART XI

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Zechariah 5:5-11

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

The seventh vision (Zechariah 5:5-11) raises eyebrows.  The tub, with a capacity of 23 liters (21 quarts) is too small to hold the woman, but it does, somehow.  The woman represents wickedness, soon transported to Babylonia, where she/it will get a shrine.  The text names the land of Shinar, the site of the mythical Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.

I object to misogyny as much as the next self-respecting liberal.  Unfortunately, misogyny is a staple of some parts of the Bible and of much misinterpretation of certain Biblical texts.  Other details are more productive to explore in this post, however.

The shipping away of wickedness in a container echoes Leviticus 16, with the driving out of the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement.  The woman is not a scapegoat, though. No, she is a goddess–probably Astarte, the alleged wife of YHWH.  Putting these two pieces of the puzzle together, we realize that this text is about laying aside both idolatry and guilt for past sins.  Populations and individuals cannot move forward into a better future until they have acknowledged their uncomfortable, painful pasts and vowed to do better.  Learning and applying the germane lessons of the past are crucial and within human power.  The ability to forgive comes from God, who models that behavior.  Yet truth must precede forgiveness.

The burden of guilt is heavy.  I know the burden of survivor’s guilt.  One part of my psyche tells me that I could and should have done more.  Another aspect of my psyche tells me that I did as well as I could with what I had and as best I knew.  That part of my psyche tells me that I did a good job for a long time.  These two aspects of my psyche argue inside my cranium.

Also, forgiving oneself can be more difficult than forgiving others.  Forgiving others can also be a hard task, of course.

The population First Zechariah originally addressed needed to forgive themselves and their ancestors.  The only way forward was through truth and the acknowledgment of it, followed by forgiveness.

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 Power of the Divine Word, With the Second Servant Song   Leave a comment

Above:  Martin Luther

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VII

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Isaiah 48:1-49:26

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Before I get to the meat of this post, I must clarify one point:  the meaning of “word of God,” in the context of Isaiah 48:1-49:26.  Pay attention to the difference between “word of God” and “Word of God” in writing, O reader.  I live in the Bible Belt of the United States of America.  Here, many fundamentalists (fun-damn-mentalists) and Evangelicals mistake the “Word of God” for being the Bible.  I, with my Barthian tendencies, affirm that Jesus is the “Word of God” and that the Bible is the “word of God,” in the broad sense.  Yet, in the narrow sense–in the context of Isaiah 48:1-49:26, for example–the “word of God” is whatever God says in a particular setting.  One of the highlights of Reformed (Christian) theology is the concept of the “book of nature,” by which God also speaks.

In Isaiah 48, Hebrew exiles (in general) were faithless people who swore insincerely and falsely in the name of YHWH.  Their word was not reliable and powerful.  The people were stubborn and prone to commit idolatry.  Yet God’s word was faithful and powerful.  And, as in the Book of Ezekiel, God was faithful not for the sake of the covenant people, but for God’s own sake (48:11):

For My sake, My own sake, I do act–

Lest [My name] be dishonored!

I will not give My glory to another.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

We also read the Babylonian Exile was punishment the population earned, and that God (for God’s own sake) balanced judgment–and mercy–did not destroy the rebellious Hebrews (48:9-11).  We read that the exile was a form of education in the ways of heeding divine commandments (48:17-19).  We read, too, that the Babylonian Exile was about to end (48:20-22).

What I wrote while blogging through the Book of Ezekiel holds.  I still find this self-centered God-concept repugnant.  I understand the cultural-historical context.  I know that Ezekiel and Second Isaiah asserted the sovereignty of God in the context of the widely-held assumption that Marduk and the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian pantheon had conquered YHWH in 586 B.C.E.  Yet I am also a Christian.  As one, I affirm the Incarnation, that Jesus of Nazareth (who lived, who breathed, and who dined with people) was God with skin on.  I affirm that the real, flesh-and-blood person, Jesus, being God (however the mechanics of the Incarnation worked) revealed the character of God.  I recall reading in the four canonical Gospels about Jesus healing and feeding people out of compassion and pity, not concerns about burnishing his reputation.

Isaiah 49:1-6 is the Second Servant Song.  The servant speaks.  The servant’s mission predates the servant’s birth.  The servant’s mission is to announce the divine restoration of the covenant relationship with YHWH, by YHWH, that the covenant people may be a light to the nations.  Salvation will, therefore, reach the ends of the earth via the covenant people.  As with the First Servant Song, the identity is not a matter of unanimous agreement.  Most likely, as in the case of the First Servant Song, the servant is the covenant people–the exiles, about to be free to go home.  The idea is that the end of the Babylonian Exile will lead to all the (known) world recognizing YHWH.

That prediction proved to overly optimistic.

The covenant people’s mission is to model a just society grounded in divine law.  The Law of Moses contains timeless principles and many culturally-specific examples of those principles.  Legalism results when people mistake culturally-specific examples for timeless principles.  Context is also crucial, as it always is.  Many people neglect or misunderstand context when interpreting verses and passages.  They mean well, but miss the point(s).  Mutuality, in the context of the recognition of complete dependence on God, informs many of the culturally-specific examples in the Law of Moses.  We human beings are responsible to God, to each other, and for each other.  We have a divine mandate to treat one another accordingly.  Creating and maintaining a society built on that truth is a high and difficult calling.  It is possible via grace and free will.

The prediction of the Jewish homeland as paradise on Earth after the Babylonian Exile also proved overly optimistic.  Dealing with disappointment over that fact was one of the tasks of Third Isaiah (24-27, 56-66).

The people were faithless, but God was faithful.  Martin Luther, counseling practicing, baptized Christians concerned they would go to Hell for their sins, advised them to trust in the faithfulness of God.  he was correct about that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

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

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The Universality of God, the Fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, and More Diatribes About the Folly of Idolatry   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of Babylon, 1932

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-13231

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VI

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Isaiah 45:1-47:15

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I started this this long-term project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order (with some exceptions), months ago.  I have learned much along the way.  Mainly, I have learned how repetitive the Hebrew prophetic books are.  I have learned that they are like people who tell the same stories again and again.  I have read so many assertions of the sovereignty of God, the folly of idolatry, the sin of social injustice, and other matters before arriving at Isaiah 45:1-47:15 that I choose not to beat too many proverbial dead horses in this post.

I hope you, O reader, understand.

God works through human beings much of the time.  Isaiah 45:1 calls King Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes (r. 559-530 B.C.E.) the “Anointed One,” or Messiah.  We know that his army defeated the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  We know that Cyrus II permitted Jewish exiles to return to their ancestral homeland in 538 B.C.E.  And we know that Cyrus II was a Zoroastrian, not a Jew.  We know, too, that the shape of Jewish theology changed during the Persian period, and that Zoroastrianism influenced these changes.  I, as a Christian, owe a theological debt to Zoroastrianism, via Judaism.

The city of Babylon survived for a long time after 539 B.C.E.  It was an ancient city then, and it remained important for centuries.  Yet the city became less important than it had been.  Babylon’s time as an imperial capital had ended.  The city became a regional administrative center within the Persian Empire.  King Seleucus I Nicator (r. 305-281 B.C.E.), looking for a capital for his Seleucid Empire, chose not to base the empire at Babylon.  He founded a new city, Seleucia, nearby.  Over time, the population of Babylon dwindled, until it the ancient city became a village, and a source of bricks for construction elsewhere.  Eventually, nobody lived in Babylon any longer.

Likewise, Seleucia, built on the Tigris River, had its day in the sun.  The course of the Tigris River shifted, however, and Seleucia eventually became a set of ruins, too.

Everything–empires, cities, et cetera–has it its time.  That time may be long.  However long that time lasts, it ends eventually.  Do not get too attached to anything, O reader.  If you outlive your “stuff,” others will have to decide what to do with it.  Trust in God, who is forever, and (in the Johannine sense), eternal.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

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

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