Archive for the ‘Judgment and Mercy’ Tag

The Righteous Triumphant   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART III

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Malachi 3:13-24 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Malachi 3:13-4:6 (Anglican and Protestant)

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Malachi 3:19-24 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox) = Malachi 4:1-6 (Anglican and Protestant).

The final section of the Book of Malachi speaks of the beginning of a new era–the long-anticipated, fully-realized Kingdom of God.  In this context, divine judgment and mercy remain balanced (3:18f).  Apocalyptic writings in the Bible balance divine judgment and mercy–judgment on the wicked and mercy on the faithful.

In Christian Bibles, the Book of Malachi concludes on a threat of partial destruction.  Divine action–grace–prevents the threat from being of complete destruction.  Jewish Bibles, however, reprint the penultimate verse (3:23) after 3:24.  Hence, in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), the Book of Malachi concludes with:

Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the LORD.

In Jewish Bibles, therefore, the Book of Malachi ends on a positive note.

Christian tradition, of course, associates St. John the Baptist with Elijah.

Another point I would be remiss not to mention is that 3:22/4:4 (depending on versification) asserts the superiority of the Torah to the Hebrew prophetic tradition.

The Book of Malachi–and this project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, with some exceptions–concludes on a note of grace, mixed with judgment.  Divine self-restraint in matters of judgment is an example of grace.  YHWH, according to the Book of Malachi, is far removed from being God of hellfire-and-damnation theology.  YHWH provides laws, practices patience, calls on people and peoples to repent, and exercises self-restraint in judgment.  YHWH condemns nobody; people and peoples condemn themselves.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Hebrew prophetic books as long as you have done so.  I wish you shalom as I consider what my next project should be.

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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Israel Forgiven and Restored   Leave a comment

Above:  Joel, the Prophet, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JOEL, PART III

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Joel 2:18-4:21 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Joel 2:18-3:21 (Anglican and Protestant)

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The divine forgiveness and restoration of Judah in the rest of the Book of Joel relies on the assumption that God has been punishing them with a swarm of locusts.  As glorious as the predicted restoration is and as much as I welcome divine mercy, I reject the underlying assumption.

The unidentified invading force in 3:1-21/4:1-21 (depending on versification) will be the recipient of divine wrath, we read.  Again, divine deliverance of the oppressed is catastrophic for the oppressors. We also read that named enemies of Judah–those perennial foes Egypt and Edom–will suffer terrible fates for “shedding the blood of the innocent” in Judah.

But Judah shall be inhabited forever,

And Jerusalem throughout the ages.

Then I will treat as innocent their blood

Which I have not treated as innocent;

And the LORD shall dwell in Zion.

–Joel 4:20-21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Joel 3:6/4:6 (depending on versification) helps somewhat to date the book.  The verse refers to Philistines selling the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Ionians.  This is a reference to the slave trade.

The Book of Joel ends on a note of divine vengeance against foes of Judah, juxtaposed with a glorious future for Judah.  In this regard, Joel ends like Third Isaiah.

I have mixed feelings about the Book of Joel.  I do not blame or credit God for natural disasters.  Logic teaches a simple principle:

If x, then y.

Given that I reject x, I harbor questions about y.  I embrace calls to repentance, of course.  Populations and individuals always need to confess their sins and repent.  But what if x (the swarm of locusts, in this case) is not God’s army of destruction?  I also enjoy certain passages of Joel, read on Ash Wednesday and Pentecost, especially.  Yet I do not like the book, as a whole.

Thank you for joining me, O reader, for this journey through the Book of Joel.  My next (and penultimate) destination will be Second Zechariah (Zechariah 9-14).  Stay beside me, so to speak, if you choose.  You are certainly welcome.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with , ,

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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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 Conclusion of Second Isaiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART X

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Isaiah 54:1-55:13

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The theme of the Babylonian Exile as deserved punishment is dominant in Second Isaiah.  The Fourth Servant Song (52:13-52:12) contradicts that theme, which returns in chapters 54 and 55.  So do the motif of God taking the covenant people back, renewing the covenantal relationship, ending the exile, and renewing Jerusalem (personified as a woman).  The soaring poetry of Isaiah 55 contains certain familiar verses, such as:

But as the heavens are high above the earth,

So are My ways high above your ways

And My plans above your plans.

–Isaiah 55, 9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Notwithstanding the theological whiplash of reading the Fourth Servant Song within the context of Second Isaiah, Second Isaiah concludes on a note of grace and mercy.  One cannot earn grace; is free.  But it is not cheap.  Faithful response to God is proper.  Isaiah 55:6-7 indicates that not everyone will repent of wickedness, and therefore, receive divine pardon.  Despite human faithlessness, though, divine faithfulness holds.  And we mere mortals still reap what we sow.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through Second Isaiah.  I invite you to remain with me as I move along to the Book of Obadiah, just one chapter long.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MYLES HORTON, “FATHER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS EUMENIOUS AND PARTHENIOS OF KOUDOUMAS, MONKS AND FOUNDERS OF KOUDOMAS MONASTERY, CRETE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF DAMASCUS, SYRIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1860

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS SPIRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF RUED LANGGAARD, DANISH COMPOSER

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The Vindication and Rejoicing of the Hebrew Exiles, With the Third Servant Song   Leave a comment

Above:  Inconsolable Grief, by Ivan Kramskoi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VIII

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Isaiah 50:1-52:12

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In Second Isaiah, YHWH is the father and Jerusalem is the mother of the covenant community, metaphorically.

The Third Servant Song is Isaiah 50:4-9.  The audience this time is the covenant community–especially those members thereof who have fallen away.  The Third Servant Song occurs in the textual context of divine frustration with Hebrew exiles (50:1-3, 10-11), many of whom remained rebellious.  Reading the Third Servant Song on Christian autopilot identifies the servant as Jesus.  This is overly simplistic and ahistorical.  The servant here speaks the message of God to disheartened Hebrew exiles.  The theology of Isaiah 50:4-9 is that the exiles deserved the Babylonian Exile (40:1-3), but that YHWH was about to vindicate them anyway.

Some of the despairing exiles relied on God and accepted this message.  Others rejected it and, poetically, laid down in pain.  They did not respond favorably and faithfully to God, mighty, strong, and sovereign.  They rejected grace.  They rejected God, in whom judgment and mercy exist in balance.

In Jeremiah (8:11; 27:8-11; 28:1-17), false hopes and prophets of peace and restoration belied the upcoming Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) and its aftermath.  The truth was hard to hear.  Words of comfort were mostly lies.  Those words of comfort that were not lies focused on seemingly distant restoration, eventually.

In contrast, in a different time, words of imminent divine deliverance and consolation seemed, to many, ridiculous.  After so many years of the Babylonian Exile, that response was predictable.

When populations have been poor, oppressed, discriminated against, et cetera, the hope of a better future may seem ridiculous.  Yet there is always a better future with God.  How many people want to embrace that hope?  How many people think they can embrace that hope?  And to what extend is the continued state of poverty, oppression, discrimination, et cetera, a self-fulfilling prophecy?

The answers to the these questions vary according to circumstances, of course.  Machinery of oppression, discrimination, and the maintenance of poverty exists.  Most people over the course of documented time have lacked the agency that proponents of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps assume many people have.  Telling someone without shoes,

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,

is cruel and unrealistic.  Yet other people are fortunate enough to possess agency.  But do they know this?  And do they know how to use that agency most effectively?

Second Isaiah addressed a population, of course.

Above:  Bonny Thomas (1965-2019), Whose Death Broke My Heart and Shattered My Life

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

On the individual level, grief can be as crippling as it is on the collective level.  I know this grief.  I know the grief over the death of dreams and aspirations.  I also know the grief that lingers after someone has died.  I know what life-shattering grief is; I deal with it daily.  I talk to God about it.  I remain broken, and I talk to God about it.  Doing that is what I know to do.  I am broken and shattered, but I am not alone.

We–collectively and individually–are all broken.  The fortunate are less broken that others.  Leaning into the strength and faithfulness of God is the way of healing.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MYLES HORTON, “FATHER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS EUMENIOUS AND PARTHENIOS OF KOUDOUMAS, MONKS AND FOUNDERS OF KOUDOMAS MONASTERY, CRETE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF DAMASCUS, SYRIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1860

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS SPIRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF RUED LANGGAARD, DANISH COMPOSER

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

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 42:18-44:28

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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

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Comfort My People   Leave a comment

Above:  Sheep and Shepherd, by Anton Mauve

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART III

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Isaiah 40:1-11

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Isaiah 40 flows thematically from Isaiah 34 and 35.

My soundtrack for Isaiah 40:1-11 comes courtesy of Handel‘s Messiah.  Now that I have gotten that out of the way, I proceed with the rest of this post.

Just as the commissioning of First Isaiah does not open First Isaiah (It occurs in Isaiah 6.), the commissioning of Second Isaiah occurs three chapters in.  Chronology is not the organizing principle in the Book of Isaiah.  Second Isaiah’s commission is to be a comforter, we read.  This contrasts with the mission of Ezekiel, the previous prophet.  One may recall that God called Ezekiel to be a watchman (Ezekiel 2:1-3:11) to a rebellious people who would not listen to him.  The Book of Ezekiel contains oracles of consolation, though.  The expectation in Second Isaiah, however, is that people will listen.

Again, divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.  The time for mercy and deliverance is at hand, we read.

The reference to the royal road in the wilderness (40:3-5) calls back to other passages of scripture.  The Divine Presence, having departed Jerusalem and the Temple (Ezekiel 8-11), will travel with returning exiles, we read.  (See Ezekiel 43:1-5, too.)  The highway in the desert is also a motif in Isaiah 35:8-10.

YHWH is the good shepherd in Isaiah 40:10-11, protecting the sheep from enemies.  One may recall that YHWH is also the good shepherd in Ezekiel 34:11-31; Psalm 23; and Psalm 78.  Perhaps one recalls that Lamentations 3:1-20 depicts YHWH as a bad shepherd, and that this raging voice against YHWH indicates just one opinion in that chapter.

Rage against God is predictable, especially after a terrible event or during a time of crisis and distress.  Many people blame God for doing what God has not done.  God is a convenient scapegoat.  Many people also misunderstand God.  This is predictable, too.  God is so much greater than and different from we mere mortals, after all.  The extent to which we can understand God is limited.  So be it.

The nature of God is the topic of the next post in this series.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 8, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AND AGENT OF NATIONAL HEALING; AND BETTY FORD, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

THE FEAST OF ALBERT RHETT STUART, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF GEORGIA, AND ADVOCATE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF ALICE PAUL, U.S. QUAKER WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF GEORGE NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA BONONCINI AND ANTONIO MARIA BONONCINI, ITALIAN COMPOSERS

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