Archive for the ‘Idolatry’ Tag

Religious Decline and Hope of Recovery   Leave a comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING MALACHI, PART II

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

Malachi 1:2-3:12

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

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

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

Divine Warnings to the Restored Community   Leave a comment

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

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART III

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

Isaiah 56:1-59:21

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

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

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

The End of Days   Leave a comment

Above:  Ahriman (from Zoroastrianism)

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART II

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

Isaiah 24:1-27:13

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

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

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

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

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

The Seventh Vision of First Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Astarte Syriaca, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART XI

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

Zechariah 5:5-11

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

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

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

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

Above:  Martin Luther

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VII

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

Isaiah 48:1-49:26

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

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

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

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

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

READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VI

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

Isaiah 45:1-47:15

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

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

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

Divine Chastisement, with Redemption–For a Purpose   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART V

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

Isaiah 42:18-44:28

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

The exiles had been through much trauma.  They continued to experience trauma.  Many (not all, obviously) failed to understand the main cause of the Babylonian Exile–collective, persistent, and unrepentant refusal to walk in God’s ways, to build and maintain a just society.  Thus, the audience of Second Isaiah was, metaphorically, deaf and blind (42:18).

Yet divine judgment was not the last word.  No, redemption was the last word.  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire was about to fall.  The Babylonian Exile was about to end.  A new exodus was about to commence.  The redeemed people were to learn the lessons of the past and to amend their ways.  They were to serve God–God alone–and to forsake idolatry.  They were to find their identity in their Creator, YHWH, who chose them.

Note, O reader, that Second Isaiah addressed a population, not individuals.  He spoke of collective sin, guilt, judgment, and redemption.  The individual aspect was embedded in the collective aspect, the focus.  I come from an individualistic society, one which does not handle collective anything well.

One should also read 42:18-44:28 in the context of 42:1-9, with its mandate for the redeemed covenant people to function as a light to the nations and to create and maintain justice.  We read of this mandate again in 43:8-9, in particular.

We–collectively and individually–do not exist for ourselves.  We may life for ourselves.  If we do, we do so sinfully.  God has redeemed people so they can cooperate with Him to redeem others.  This is as high a spiritual calling as I can imagine.  How about you, O reader?

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

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

The Incomparable Sovereign God, with the First Servant Song   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART IV

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

Isaiah 40:12-42:17

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

YHWH, who ended the Babylonian Exile, was unconquered, incomparable, sovereign, and formidable.  YHWH, the Creator, was the God of the world, not a tribal or national deity.  YHWH was with the Jewish exiles, the Chosen People.  YHWH put the nations on trial, on behalf of justice.

The poor and the needy

Seek water, and there is none;

Their tongue is parched with thirst.

I the LORD will respond to them.

I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

–Isaiah 41:17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Idolatry in the presence of YHWH is futile (41:21-29).

I affirm all of the above while noticing that I have read all of it in various Hebrew prophetic books since I started this long-term project, with the Book of Hosea.  I also recall the Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch 6), one of many tirades against idolatry in Hebrew literature.  Another such tirade awaits me in Isaiah 44:9-20.  These tirades, while mocking idolatry (as they should), frequently mischaracterize idols–the objects themselves–and what idolaters though the objects were.  These tirades after falsely accuse idolaters of believing these figures of wood or metal were gods.  Actually, idolaters believed that divine presences entered idols after complex rituals.

Isaiah 42:1-9 is the First Servant Song.  The servant, we read, will bring justice to the nations.  Who is–was–the servant?  Proposed identities include Jesus (of course), King Cyrus II of the Persian Empire, Second Isaiah, the faithful people within the Hebrew nation, and the Hebrew nation itself.  Isaiah 42:1-4, which borrows from Isaiah 11 and Jeremiah 31:31-36, anticipates an ideal future of justice and ecological harmony.  It also lends itself to identifying the servant as the covenant community (42:6)–Jews, in terms Second Isaiah knew.  I, as one who affirms God’s double covenant, add Christians to the ranks of covenant people.  The task of the covenant people (Jews and Christians) in 2021 is to bring justice to the nations, per Isaiah 42:1-4.  God equips and empowers us to do so.  How many of us accept the mission?

I the LORD, in My grace, have summoned you,

And I have grasped you by the hand.

I created you, and appointed you

A covenant people, a light of nations–

Opening eyes deprived of light,

Rescuing prisoners from confinement,

From the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

–Isaiah 42:6-7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Those words remain as applicable in 2021 as they were circa 540 B.C.E.

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

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

The Regeneration of the Land, With the Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING EZEKIEL, PART XVI

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

Ezekiel 36:1-37:28

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

Ezekiel 36 flows from Ezekiel 35, the second of two divine oracles against Edom in that book.  In Ezekiel 35, one of the points of condemnation is Edomite settlement in the former Kingdom of Judah during the Babylonian Exile.  That point comes up in 36;5.

The short summary of Ezekiel 36-37 is that God will renew the people of the covenant, restore them to their land, and renew their land.  God will do this, not for the sake of the covenant people (36:22), but so that

then they shall know that I am the LORD.

–Ezekiel 36:38b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The motivation the Book of Ezekiel attributes to God disturbs me.  I would elaborate on that point in this post, but (1) I have other fish I am more interested in frying, and (2) I have elaborated on that point already in Part IX of this series.

Another repeated theme is the use of ritual impurity as a metaphor for moral impurity (36:16f).

Ezekiel 37 is about the renewal of the covenant people, in the context of the “new heart” and “new spirit” (36:26).  The vision of the valley of dry bones is a vivid reading.  The contribution of the spiritual based on it upon the last episode of The Prisoner (1967-1968) is indelibly stamped on mind.  This reading is a favorite reading at many Easter Vigils each year.  However, that vision has nothing to do with the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine unknown to the prophet Ezekiel.  No the vision is a bout the restoration of the nation, unified and free of idolatry (37:15f).  The prediction of the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty remains unfulfilled.

When all hope seems lost, trust in God may be extremely difficult to muster.  Faith that the future can be better–will be better–may seem foolish.  I understand, somewhat.  I understand well enough that I refuse to condemn those who think so.  Faith in the trenches can be hard to maintain.

The Book of Ezekiel, despite its excesses–including misogyny and a selfish deity–does have the virtue of proclaiming faith in the trenches.  If one cannot hold onto healthy faith in the trenches, all really may be lost.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 9:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ADALBERO AND ULRIC OF AUGSBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF CHARLES ALBERT DICKINSON, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH OF PORTUGAL, QUEEN AND PEACEMAKER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PIER GIORGIO FRASSATI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC SERVANT OF THE POOR AND OPPONENT OF FASCISM

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

Divine Judgment Against Egypt, Part II   2 comments

Above:  Ezekiel, the Biblical Prophet, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING EZEKIEL, PART XIV

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

Ezekiel 29:1-32:32

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

I have read and written about the oracles against Egypt in Isaiah 18:1-20:6 and Jeremiah 46:2-28.

We read seven oracles against Egypt.  The arrangement is not chronological.

The first oracle (29:1-16) dates to 588-587 B.C.E.  The context is Pharoah Hophra’s failed attempt to rescue Jerusalem from the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian siege before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.)  Hophra’s sin, we read, is arrogance–specifically, boasting that he had created the Nile River, therefore, the world.  The prophecy of the fall of Egypt holds up if one interprets the Persian conquest (525 B.C.E.).  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire never conquered Egypt, historical records tell us.  We also read that, in time, God will restore Egypt, but as a minor kingdom, not a major empire.

The second oracle (29:17-21) dates to 571-570 B.C.E.).  It accurately predicts the fall of Egypt to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Other inaccurate prophecies of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of Egypt occur in Jeremiah 43:8-13 and 46:2-28.

The third oracle (30:1-19), undated, uses the imagery of the Day of the LORD in a lament for conquered Egypt.

The fourth oracle (30:20-26) dates to 587-586 B.C.E.–specifically, about four months before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  Pharoah Hophra’s broken arm refers to the failed Egyptian effort to lift the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.

The fifth oracle (31:1-18) dates to 587-586 B.C.E.–specifically, about two months before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  This oracle predicts the the downfall of Egypt.  Egypt is, metaphorically, a fallen cedar of Lebanon.

The sixth oracle (32:1-16) dates to 585 B.C.E., one year or so after the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (586 B.C.E.).  This oracle cites mythology–specifically, the divine defeat of the sea dragon Leviathan at creation (Exodus 15; Isaiah 11-15; Psalm 74:12-17; Psalm 104:7-9; Job 38:8-11).  The oozing blood in verse 6 recalls the plague of blood (Exodus 7:19-24).  The theme of darkness recalls the plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21-29) and the Day of the LORD (Joel 2:1-2; Joel 3:15; Zephaniah 1:15).  God really does not like Pharoah Hophra (r. 589-570 B.C.E.), we read:

I will drench the earth 

With your oozing blood upon the hills

And the watercourses shall be filled with your [gore].

When you are snuffed out,

I will cover the sky

And darken its stars;

I will cover the sun with clouds

And the moon shall not give its light.

All the lights that shine in the sky

I will darken above you;

And I will bring darkness upon your land

–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 32:6-78, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Ezekiel 32:11 repeats the inaccurate prophecy of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of Egypt.

The seventh oracle (32:17-32) dates to 585 B.C.E.  This oracle depicts Egypt and the other enemies of Judah as being in Sheol, the underworld.  Once-great nations, having fallen, are in the dustbin of history in the slimy, mucky, shadowy Pit.  The use of Sheol, a pre-Persian period Jewish concept of the afterlife, in this way intrigues me.  My reading tells me that Sheol was an afterlife without reward or punishment.  Yet the text in Ezekiel 32:17-32 brims over with divine judgment.

Nations, nation-states, kingdoms, and empires rise and fall.  Many last for a long time.  Yet God is forever.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 2, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WASHINGTON GLADDEN, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR HENRY MESSITER, EPISCOPAL MUSICIAN AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF FERDINAND QUINCY BLANCHARD, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY MONTAGU BUTLER, EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JACQUES FERMIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST

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