Archive for the ‘Mutuality’ Tag

Individual Responsibility Before God   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING EZEKIEL, PART III

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

Ezekiel 3:18-21

Ezekiel 14:12-23

Ezekiel 18:1-32

Ezekiel 33:1-20

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

For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for the ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

–Exodus 20:5b-6; Deuteronomy 5:9b-10, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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

Maybe not, not withstanding 1 Kings 21:29; Exodus 34:7; Nehemiah 9:17; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 103:9; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Jeremiah 11:21-23; Jeremiah 15:1; Jeremiah 35:18-19.  To the list of passages arguing against intergenerational reward and punishment I add Jeremiah 31:29-30.  (The Book of Jeremiah contains layers of composition and editing.  Parts of that book contradict each other, as in the cases of intergenerational reward and punishment, and whether the deadline for repentance has passed.)

Sin, responsibility, reward, and punishment, in the Bible, are both collective and individual.  The collective varieties are consistent with mutuality.  Individual varieties exist within the context of mutuality, too.

Intergenerational influences are real.  If you, O reader, know enough about yourself and your ancestors for a few generations, perhaps you can identify intergenerational influences, both positive and negative, in your life.  I can identify some in my life.

For the purpose of this post, I bring together four readings on the same theme.  Three of them predate the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B,B.E.).  Ezekiel 33 postdates the Fall of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel 14:12-23 follows a section of threats against false prophets and diviners, and echoes Leviticus 26.  Certain individuals may be pious, but, if the population is rebellious against God, these holy people will save only themselves.  Divine punishment and reward are individual, we read.

I loved my father, now deceased.  He had his virtues and vices, like all human beings.  He was responsible for his actions.

I am responsible for my actions, not his.

This message of individual responsibility seems to have fallen primarily on deaf ears, despite repetition, within the Book of Ezekiel.

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born an exile in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Think about how hearing these words would have resonated with you.  Imagine, perhaps, that this teaching would have given you hope that God would not judge you for what your ancestors had done wrong.  Imagine, maybe, that these words would have encouraged your spiritual journey.

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born in Judea after the end of the Babylonian Exile.  Imagine how you may have welcomed the news that, as you strove to live piously, God would judge you based on yourself, not your ancestors.

I am a Christian.  As one, I read passages about individual responsibility, reward, and punishment through the prism of atonement via Jesus.  The atonement–three theories of which exist in Patristic writings–is the game-changer in my theology regarding the topic of this post.  Nevertheless, I affirm that what I do matters.  The atonement does not give me a license to act as I choose.  I am still morally accountable to God and other human beings.  Faithful response to grace is a constant moral principle in Judaism and Christianity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST BRITISH MARTYR, CIRCA 209 OR 305

THE FEAST OF DESIDERIUS ERASMUS, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, BIBLICAL AND CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, AND CONTROVERSIALIST; SAINT JOHN FISHER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, BISHOP OF ROCHESTER, CARDINAL, AND MARTYR, 1535; AND SAINT THOMAS MORE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, JURIST, THEOLOGIAN, CONTROVERSIALIST, AND MARTYR, 1535

THE FEAST OF GERHARD GIESHCEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES ARTHUR MACKINNON, CANADIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, 1965

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NOLA

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

Jeremiah’s Sermon in the Temple, With His Trial and Death Sentence   Leave a comment

Above:  Statue of Jeremiah, Salisbury Cathedral

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING JEREMIAH, PART V

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

Jeremiah 7:1-8:3

Jeremiah 26:1-24

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

Jeremiah 7:1-20:18 consists of oracles primarily from the reign (608-598 B.C.E.) of Jehoiakim (born Eliakim) of Judah.  For more about Jehoiakim, read 2 Kings 23:36-24:7; 2 Chronicles 36:5-8; 1 Esdras 1:39-42.

The Assyrian Empire had consumed the (northern) Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E. then the Kingdom of Aram in 720 B.C.E.  In 612 B.C.E., the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had conquered the Assyrian Empire.  In 608 B.C.E., Judah was struck between two powerful neighbors–Egypt and Babylonia, themselves enemies.  After the death of King Josiah (r. 640-609 B.C.E.) in combat against Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt (r. 610-595 B.C.E.), Judah had become a vassal state of Egypt.  Neco II had appointed the next King of Judah, Jehoahaz, also known as Jeconiah and Shallum (2 Kings 23:31-35; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4; 1 Esdras 1:34-38).  Jehoahaz had reigned for about three months in 609 B.C.E. before Neco II had replaced him with another son of Josiah and taken him into captivity in Egypt.  Neco II had also appointed Eliakim and changed his name to Jehoiakim in 608 B.C.E.  He served as an Egyptian vassal until 605 B.C.E., when he became a Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian vassal.

Jeremiah spent most of his prophetic career speaking difficult truths to a nation under foreign domination.  This context was extremely politically dangerous.

This sermon is thematically consistent with Hosea 6:4-6; Micah 3:9-12; and Amos 2:4-6.  It is also thematically consistent with many other passages of Hebrew scripture.  The link between idolatry and social injustice (especially economic injustice) is clear.  Sacred rituals, even those the Law of Moses mandates, are not talismans.  The joining of lived collective piety and justice on one hand and sacred ritual on the other hand is imperative.  The combination of social injustice and sacred ritual makes a mockery of sacred ritual.

Mend your ways and your actions,

Jeremiah preached at the Temple.  Then he unpacked that statement:

…if you execute justice between one man and another; if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; if you do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place; if you do not follow other gods, to your own hurt–then only will I [YHWH] let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers for all time.  See, you are relying on illusions that are of no avail….

–Jeremiah 7:5-8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Pay attention to 7:11, O reader:

Do you consider this House, which bears My name, to be a den of thieves?  As for Me, I have been watching–declares the LORD.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This is an allusion in Jesus’s mouth during the Temple Incident/the Cleansing of the Temple in Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; and Luke 19:46.  Notice that Jeremiah predicted the destruction of the First Temple.

Chronology is not the organizing principle in the Book of Jeremiah.  The Temple Sermon of Jeremiah is a case in point.  We return to it and read of its aftermath in Jeremiah 26:1-24.

Idols abound.  They may be tangible or intangible.  If an activity, idea, or object functions as an idol for someone, it is an idol for that person.  Money is one of the more common idols.  Greed contributes greatly to economic injustice, and corruption is one of the major causes of institutionalized poverty.  Obliviousness to participation in the violation of God’s moral commandments, including mutuality, will not shield us from the consequences of those sins any more than keeping sacred rituals will do so.

Circa 608 B.C.E. God was still holding out the possibility of repentance, prompting the cancellation of divine punishment, according to Jeremiah 26:3.  This contradicts other passages from the Book of Jeremiah and other Hebrew prophetic books composed or begun prior to the Book of Jeremiah.  Perhaps one reason for the contradiction is the addition of later material to the early Hebrew prophetic books, as late as the Babylonian Exile.  I suppose that maintaining the hard line of the time for repentance having passed was difficult to maintain after the Fall of Babylon (539 B.C.E.).

The priests and prophets said to all the people, “This man deserves the death penalty, for he has prophesied against this city, as you yourselves have heard.

–Jeremiah 26:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Jeremiah prophesied against a government and a population under foreign domination.  There was no separation of religion and state either.  The prophet worked in a dangerous milieu.

Jeremiah had allies, though.  Some cited the example of Micah, who had issued a dire prophesy (Micah 3:12) and had not received a death sentence.  Fortunately for Jeremiah, the court’s sentence remained unfulfilled.  Ahikam, a high-ranking royal official (2 Kings 22:12), saved him.  Ahikam was also the father of Gedaliah, the assassinated governor of Judah after the Fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 40:1-41:18).

Uriah ben Shemiah, from Kiriath-jearim, was not as fortunate as Jeremiah was.  Uriah, also prophesying in the name of YHWH, said what Jeremiah proclaimed.  Uriah fled to Egypt for safety because King Jehoiakim wanted him dead.  Royal agents found Uriah in Egypt and returned him to Judah, to die.

One may legitimately wonder why God protected Jeremiah from threats to his life yet did not spare faithful Uriah ben Shemaiah.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW TALBOT, RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC IN DUBLIN, IRELAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY GIANELLI, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF SAINT ALPHONSUS

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK LUCIAN HOSMER, U.S. UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HUBERT LAFAYETTE SONE AND HIS WIFE, KATIE HELEN JACKSON SONE, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES AND HUMANITARIANS IN CHNA, SINGAPORE, AND MALAYSIA

THE FEAST OF SEATTLE, FIRST NATIONS CHIEF, WAR LEADER, AND DIPLOMAT

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

Indictment for Apostasy and Call to Repentance   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING JEREMIAH, PART III

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

Jeremiah 2:1-4:4

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

Has any nation changed its gods

Even though they are no-gods?

But My people has exchanged its glory

For what can do no good.

–Jeremiah 2:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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

God had liberated the Hebrew slaves from Egypt.  Then the former slaves had quickly started grumbling.  No member of that generation had entered Canaan.  In Canaan, the Hebrews had practiced idolatry.  The practice of idolatry had continued through the time of Jeremiah.  The abandonment of the covenant, with the common good built into it, constituted infidelity to God.  The irony of self-serving religion was that it could “do no good,” as TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) masterfully renders 2:11.

I like the translation of Jeremiah 2:11 in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985).  The wordplay of “no-gods” and “no good” is wonderful.  “Do no good” is not a literal translation, though.  The New Revised Standard Version (1989) uses “does not profit,” not “do no good.”  The germane Hebrew verb is ya’al, or “to confer or gain profit of benefit.”  Ya’al also occurs in Jeremiah 2:8:

The priests never asked themselves, “Where is the LORD?”

The guardians of the Teaching ignored Me,

And the prophets prophesied by Baal

And followed what can do no good.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Ya’al sounds like “Baal,” as in Baal Peor, the Canaanite fertility and storm god.  The connotation of ya’al (profit) is almost entirely negative in the Hebrew Bible, and frequently occurs in the context of idolatry.  This verb occurs 23 times:  1 Samuel 12:21; Job 15:3; Job 21:15; Job 30:13; Job 35:3; Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4; Isaiah 30:5-6; Isaiah 44:9-10; Isaiah 47:12; Isaiah 48:17; Job 57:12; Jeremiah 2:8 and 11; Jeremiah 12:13; Jeremiah 16:19; Jeremiah 23:32; and Habakkuk 2:18.

The metaphor of the covenant as a marriage should be familiar to anyone who has read the Book of Hosea attentively.  That metaphor plays our in this portion of Jeremiah, too.  Idolatry is, metaphorically, infidelity to God.  And this infidelity entails economic injustice, hence the reference to “the blood of the innocent poor” (Jeremiah 2:34).  The metaphor of irreversible divorce (Jeremiah 3:105) draws from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, in which the husband may not take back his wife after she has remarried.  Can the sinful population return to YHWH?  (The Book of Jeremiah, with its layers of composition and authorship, is inconsistent in the answer to this question.)  The people, not YHWH, have broken the relationship.  Yes, we read in this part and other segments of the Book of Jeremiah, the sinful population can return if it will repent, we read.  It can return if it will turn its back to its sins and return to God, we read.  The text mixes metaphors.  The adulterous wife becomes rebellious children.  Yet the call to repent remains.

We know that the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah fell, however.  Knowing this adds melancholy to our understanding of these verses.  Nevertheless, we also know that the Babylonian Exile ended.  That detail should add some joy to the mix as we read Jeremiah 2:1-4:4.

To return to my opening theme, the irony of idolatry in the name of self-serving religion is that it is in vain.  The Law of Moses, with its ethical core, builds up the common good and teaches mutuality.  Whatever affects one person, affects others.  We are all responsible to and for each other as we stand together, completely dependent upon God.  Selfish gain, the sort that enriches some while impoverishing others, works against the common good and harms the one who benefits the one who benefits from that selfish gain.  This selfish gain turns into a liability in the long term.

God longs to heal our afflictions, even the ones we have inflicted on ourselves.  We must turn back toward God, however.  If we refuse to do so, we judge and condemn ourselves.  This truth applies on more than one level.  There is the individual level, of course.  Yet may we not forget that Jeremiah 2:1-4:4 addresses populations, not individuals or one person.  Sin is both collective and individual.  So are forgiveness and restoration.  We may feasibly apply this call to collective repentance to neighborhoods, families, congregations, denominations, societies, nation-states, et cetera.

God is the source of the best stuff, for lack of a better word.  Do we want the best stuff or inferior stuff?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW TALBOT, RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC IN DUBLIN, IRELAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY GIANELLI, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF SAINT ALPHONSUS

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK LUCIAN HOSMER, U.S. UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HUBERT LAFAYETTE SONE AND HIS WIFE, KATIE HELEN JACKSON SONE, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES AND HUMANITARIANS IN CHNA, SINGAPORE, AND MALAYSIA

THE FEAST OF SEATTLE, FIRST NATIONS CHIEF, WAR LEADER, AND DIPLOMAT

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

Divine Judgment on Judah, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Zephaniah

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING ZEPHANIAH, PART II

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

Zephaniah 1:2-2:3

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

Certain ambiguities exist in the Hebrew text.  These give rise to competing scholarly and theological interpretations.  Yet the text is clear about other matters:  God was mad, idolatry continued to be rampant and intolerable, divine judgment on the people and the royal family was on the way, social injustice (especially economic injustice) was ubiquitous and still intolerable to God, and there was still no time to repent.  This last point contrasts with First Isaiah (Isaiah 6), in which the time to repent had passed.  Overall, the imagery of Zephaniah 1:2-2:3, set in the context of the Day of the LORD, should be familiar to one who has recently read Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah recently.

Certain details require explanation:

  1. Milcom (1:5) was the chief deity of the Ammonite pantheon (1 Kings 11:5, 7, 33; 2 Kings 23:13).
  2. The alternative translation to “Milcom” is “Malcam,” or “their king.”  This may be a human monarch, YHWH, or a false god.
  3. “The king’s sons” (1:8) refers to the royal family, the House of David.  Those responsible for leading the people astray bear greater accountability before God.
  4. Idolatry is apparent in 1:4-6, 8-9.
  5. People are foolish and sinful to commit fraud, exploit others, and be complacent.
  6. Another theme from earlier in Hebrew prophetic literature repeats:  Circumstances may seem good and pleasant.  The kingdom may be faring relatively well.  Nevertheless, the circumstances are about to get very bad.
  7. 1:14-16 is the basis of the Latin Dies Irae, formerly part of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass.
  8. The imagery of the Day of the LORD is vivid.  The powerful language addresses a situation of long-term, collective, and unrepentant violation of the Law of Moses, despite many messengers of God having called for repentance.  Divine patience is not infinite.  Neither is divine judgment.

Seek the LORD,

all you humble of the land,

who have observed his law;

Seek justice,

seek humility;

Perhaps you will be sheltered

on the day of the LORD’s anger.

–Zephaniah 2:3, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That “perhaps” is ominous.

The Hebrew text in 2:1-3 is somewhat ambiguous and, in scholarly terms, corrupt.  Therefore, an exegetical debate about the identity of the “shameless nation” (2:1) is robust; the text is vague.  2:1-3 sits between a section condemning Judah and a section condemning foreign nations.  Also, the Hebrew word translated as “shameless” can also mean “not desiring God” or “not desired by God.”  Circumstantially, the position of The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), that Judah is the addressed nation makes sense to me.  Yet other study Bibles I consult interpret 2:1-3 to apply to foreign nations instead.

This ambiguity does not disturb me.  Even if I err in interpreting 2:1-3 to have applied to Judah, my ultimate point remains unaltered.  These texts, in the Hebrew language, indicate editing that has created confusion about historical interpretation.  I acknowledge this reality; I do not ignore or seek vainly to reconcile the irreconcilable.  Yet I remain focused on the text’s meanings for today.  When is too late to repent?  And why might not repentance shelter people from the wrath of God?

Certainly, one person’s actions affect other people.  Also, membership in a society means that one suffers and benefits based on what other members of that society do or do not do.  This may seem unfair.  It may even be unfair.

Stating the obvious may answer a question partially.  Such a partial answer may prove unsatisfactory.  So be it.  I wrestle with the two questions I asked:

  1. When is too late to repent?
  2. Why might not repentance shelter people from the wrath of God.

Certainty is antithetical to faith.  I, as an Episcopalian, welcome doubt, my old friend, and greet questions warmly.  I affirm that “I don’t know,” is frequently the best and most honest answer.  Faith is about walking humbly with God, not knowing the answers.  My model of faith is Jewish, not Muslim.  Jews get to wrestle and argue with God; Muslims submit to God.

I agree that repentance should shield one from the wrath of God.  It does not always do so, however.  I also argue that no time should be too late for repentance.  I disagree with Isaiah 6 in so doing.

God calls people and peoples into a positive relationship with each other and Him.  God does not call us to shut down our minds.  No, God calls us to bring ourselves to the relationship.  God calls us to trust Him, acknowledge our complete dependence on Him, and take care of each other.  Trusting does not entail a lack of arguments and misunderstandings.  We can know of God what God has revealed.  The fullness of God, however, is a glorious mystery.  The proper response includes awe.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN XXIII, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN GOTTFRIED GEISLER AND JOHANN CHRISTIAN GEISLER, SILESIAN MORAVIAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSER; AND JOHANNES HERBST, GERMAN-AMERICAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

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

Divine Judgment on Judah, Part I   Leave a comment

Above:  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965

Photographer = Warren K. Leffler

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-49864

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

READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART XIV

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

Isaiah 22:1-25; 28:1-29:24; 32:1-20

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

In 701 B.C.E., during the reign (727/715-698/687 B.C.E.) of King Hezekiah of Judah, King Sennacherib of Assyria (r. 705-681 B.C.E.) besieged Jerusalem.  That invasion of the Kingdom of Judah failed, by the hand of God (2 Kings 18:13-37; 2 Chronicles 32:1-23; Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-25; Isaiah 29:1-8; Isaiah 30:27-33; Isaiah 36:1-37:38).  In that context, widespread rejoicing ensued in Judah.  Isaiah ben Amoz was not impressed.

What is the matter with you now, that you have gone up,

all of you, to the housetops,

you who were full of noise,

tumultuous city,

exultant town?

–Isaiah 22:1-2a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Or maybe the rejoicing occurred because, in the failure of the Philistine-led revolt against the Assyrian Empire during the reign (722-705 B.C.E.) of Assyrian King Sargon II, Assyrian forces bypassed Jerusalem.  King Hezekiah had wisely not joined that uprising.  Yet Judah remained a vassal of the Assyrian Empire.  Either way, rejoicing was premature.  The Assyrian Empire remained a threat, and Judah was still subject to divine punishment for forsaking the covenant.  Judah still ignored the moral demands for righteousness and justice, in violation of the Law of Moses.  And Judah’s leaders bore the heavy load of responsibility for the kingdom’s predicaments.

An editor repurposed Isaiah 28:1-6, originally about the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, applied that passage to the Kingdom of Judah, and used 28:1-6 as the introduction to a condemnation of Judah.  Apart from one word (“Ephraim”), Isaiah 28:1-6 could be about Judah.  The oracle originally meant for Judah (28:7f) accused the ruling class of that kingdom of having made a covenant with death–not God–death.  Destruction would ensue, but it would not be complete.

The same themes repeat in the portions of scripture I grouped together for this post.  Isaiah 32 concludes with another condemnation of widespread, systemic unrighteousness and injustice, and a vision of how the people will benefit from the rule of a just and righteous government.

On April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Church, New York, New York, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke without equivocation against United States participation in the Vietnam War.  He also offered a moral critique of his country.  The United States of America needed to experience a

moral revolution of values,

King argued.  It was a thing-oriented society; the society needed to value people more highly than money and property, King contended.  King was correct.  He had also read the Hebrew prophets carefully.

King was a modern-day prophet.  He was also as unpopular in his day as many Hebrew prophets were in theirs.  The vision of a society standing humbly before God, recognizing its complete dependence on God, and acknowledging mutuality has remained an unfulfilled dream.

On that depressing note, I conclude this journey through First Isaiah.  Thank you, O reader, for joining me.  My next step on my trek through Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, will be the Book of Zephaniah.  I invite you to join me there, too.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BLANDINA AND HER COMPANIONS, THE MARTYRS OF LYONS, 177

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH HOMBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARGARET ELIZABETH SANGSTER, HYMN WRITER, NOVELIST, AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY, BISHOP, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 1075

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

Two Oracles Concerning Arabia   Leave a comment

Above:  Judas, by Edward Okún

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART XIII

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

Isaiah 21:11-17

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

INTRODUCTION

Immediately following an oracle of the Fall of Babylon (Isaiah 21:1-10), we read two short oracles that complete Chapter 21.

DUMAH (EDOM)

Duman was an oasis in northern Arabia (Genesis 25:14; 1 Chronicles 1:30).  Seir (Isaiah 21:11) was a place in Edom.  Poetically, Dumah equaled Edom.

One may recall a condemnation of Edom in Amos 1:1-12.

The oracle in Isaiah 21:11-12 is superficially vague.  “The night” is poetic language for suffering.  “Morning” is poetic language for liberation.  There is no encouraging news for Dumah from the watchman of Seir yet.  Despite the brief respite from Assyrian oppression, the morning of liberation will not dawn yet.

Edom, the nation, had pursued his “brother” (Israel) with the sword.  Edom, the nation, was metaphorically the brother of the Israelite people (Numbers 20:14; Deuteronomy 2:4; Deuteronomy 23:7; Obadiah 10, 12).  King David had added Edom to the (united) Kingdom of Israel (2 Samuel 8:13f; 1 Kings 11:15-17).  Edom, part of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah after the division of the (united) Kingdom of Israel, threw off Judean control during the reign (851-853 B.C.E.) of King Jehoram (Joram) (2 Kings 8:16-24; 2 Chronicles 21:4-20). Yet Judah reconquered Edom during the reign (798-769 B.C.E.) of King Amaziah of Judah (2 Kings 14:1-22; 2 Chronicles 25:1-28) and the reign (785-733 B.C.E.) of King Azariah/Uzziah of Judah (2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23), contemporary with the time of the prophets Hosea, Amos, and Micah.  Edomites persisted in their anger; they raged in wrath without end.

Circa 715 B.C.E., Edom had rebelled against the Assyrian Empire during a time when that empire was temporarily in decline and Egypt’s new masters (from “Ethiopia”–really Cush/Nubia)–encouraged regional peoples, vassals of Assyria, to rebel.  Ultimately and sadly, Edom was no match for the Assyrian Empire.

KEDAR AND THE DEDANITES

Kedar was a northern Arabian tribe known for their military prowess.  Yet Assyrian King Sennacherib (r. 705-681 B.C.E.) conquered that tribe in 689 B.C.E.

The Dedanites were a northern Arabian tribe conquered by an unnamed power, presumably the Assyrian Empire.  The residents of the oasis city of Tema were to greet the fugitives from Assyrian conquest “with bread.”

CONCLUSION

This material fits thematically with material I covered in the previous post in this series.  The warning to Judah, militarily weak, was not to seek a military solution, which was futile.  Judah needed to commit to social justice, consistent with the Law of Moses, the prophetic voice tells us.  That voice also tells us that saving Judah depended not on the state, but on covenant community founded on a just social and economic order.  We read that military solutions did not resolve the problems, even those of renowned warriors, vis-à-vis more powerful neighbors.

The Law of Moses teaches mutuality.  This timeless principle informs many culturally-specific laws that, superficially, have no bearing on us in 2021.  Mutuality, in the context of complete dependence on God, teaches that all people are responsible to and for each other, and depend on each other.  The pursuit of the common good builds up all people and helps them become the best possible versions of themselves.  Selfishness, cruelty, indifference, and insensitivity tear down community and harm the whole.

Early in President Ronald Reagan’s first term (1981-1985), staffers at the headquarters of the Church of the Brethren (one of the Historic Peace Churches) peacefully protested the Administration’s budget priorities–less for social programs, more for the military.  These staffers pooled the money they received from tax cuts, purchased thirty pieces of silver, and mailed that silver (with a letter) to the White House.  Some people were paying attention to the moral lessons in the Hebrew prophets and making an allusion to the betrayal of Jesus and Christian principles.

Sadly, these Hebrew prophetic warnings had something in common with such symbolic protests:  they did not change the minds of authorities they addressed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BLANDINA AND HER COMPANIONS, THE MARTYRS OF LYONS, 177

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH HOMBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARGARET ELIZABETH SANGSTER, HYMN WRITER, NOVELIST, AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY, BISHOP, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 1075

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

Divine Judgment on Philistia, Moab, Aram, Ethiopia, and Egypt, with Warnings Against Alliances with Egypt and Ethiopia   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Assyrian Empire

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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

READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART XII

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

Isaiah 14:28-20:6; 30:1-26; 31:1-9

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

INTRODUCTION

Some of this material may have originated with Isaiah ben Amoz, but other material (if not all of it) came from a later time.  The First Isaiah (Chapters 1-23, 28-33) part of the Book of Isaiah came to exist in its final form of the Babylonian Exile.  The editing of the older material and the addition of old material created a multi-layered collection of texts.

I acknowledge this historical and literary reality without reservation.  I also focus on meanings.  Contexts–especially historical ones–are crucial for establishing a text’s original meaning.  One needs to do this before interpreting a text for today as effectively as possible.  Unfortunately, determining original historical context is not always possible in First Isaiah.  Still, I do the best I can.

If prophetic denunciations of Tyre/Philistia, Moab, and Aram/Damascus (Isaiah 14:28-17:14) seem familiar to you, O reader, you may be thinking of Amos 1:3-5; 1:9-10; and 2:1-3.

PHILISTIA

Isaiah 14:28 establishes a temporal marker:

In the year that King Ahaz died….

As I have written in previous posts in this series of posts about Hebrew prophetic books, establishing a coherent and consistent chronology on the Gregorian Calendar and the B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. scale for the period from King Azariah/Uzziah of Judah and King Hezekiah of Judah is notoriously difficult.  If one consults three study Bibles, one may find three different sets of years for the reign of the same monarch.  Although study Bibles disagree about when King Ahaz began to reign, they agree that he died in or about 715 B.C.E.

Circa 715 B.C.E., Philistine cities, Assyrian vassals, were trying to forge a regional united front against the Assyrian Empire.  That empire had already swallowed up Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel in 720 and 722 .C.E., respectively.  The Kingdom of Judah, under King Hezekiah, did not join this alliance.  Circa 715 B.C.E., the Assyrian Empire was experiencing a period of temporary decline.

Do not rejoice, Philistia, not one of you,

that the rod which struck you is broken;….

–Isaiah 14:29a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The rod was not broken, after all.  The Assyrian Empire had a resurgence of power, and the anti-Assyrian rebellion failed.

Anyway, the snake in Isaiah 29:b is a call back to the seraphim (poisonous snakes) from Numbers 21:1-9 and Deuteronomy 8:15, and alluded to in Isaiah 6:1-13.

Philistia’s hopes of throwing off the Assyrian yoke were in vain.

MOAB

The temporal origin of Isaiah 15:1-16:13 is uncertain.  It may date to a time after Isaiah ben Amoz and refer to mourning after Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian military activity.  A similar text, a dirge for events circa 650 B.C.E., exists in Jeremiah 48.  There are also thematic connections with Numbers 21:27-30.

Moab, to the east of the Dead Sea, was where Jordan is today.  Moab was a traditional enemy of the Jewish people.  The (united) Kingdom of Israel controlled Moab.  The (northern) Kingdom of Israel fought off Moabite resistance to its control until the reign (851-842 B.C.E.) of King Joram (Jehoram) of Israel.  Then Moab regained its independence.  Circa 735 B.C.E., Moab became a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire.  In the middle of the seventh century B.C.E., Moab, as an autonomous state, ceased to exist.  Moab traded Assyrian domination for Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian domination in 609 B.C.E.  The last Moabite king’s reign ended circa 600 B.C.E. (Jeremiah 27:3).

Isaiah 16 encourages the Kings of Judah, part-Moabite (Ruth 1-4), to welcome Moabite refugees.

Isaiah 16 also includes some references that careful, attentive readers of the early prophets (Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah) should find familiar.  Verse 7 refers to raisin cakes offered to false gods (Hosea 3:1).  The royal government of Judah had a divine mandate to act justly, consistent with the Law of Moses (verses 1-5).  We read another condemnation of collective and official “haughtiness, pride, and arrogance” before God (verse 6).  And the remnant of Moab will be “very small and weak,” we read in verse 14.  The Moabite remnant contrasts with the Judean remnant.

E. D. Grohman wrote:

Archaeological exploration has shown that Moab was largely depopulated from ca. the beginning of the sixth century, and in many sites from ca. the eighth century.  From the sixth century on, nomads wandered through the land until political and economic facts made sedentary life possible again in the last centuries B.C.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:  An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, K-Q (1962), 418

ARAM/DAMASCUS

Aram (where Syria is today) was the main rival to the Assyrian Empire during the prophetic careers of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, and during the beginning of the prophetic career of First Isaiah.  After the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.), both the Kingdom of Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel lost territory to the Assyrian Empire and became vassal states of that empire.  The Assyrian Empire conquered Israel in 722 B.C.E. and Aram in 720 B.C.E.

Truly, you have forgotten the God who saves you,

the Rock, your refuge, you have not remembered.

–Isaiah 17:10a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

I will return to that theme before the end of this post.

ETHIOPIA AND EGYPT–REALLY CUSH/NUBIA

Modern place names do not always correspond to ancient place names.  The references to Ethiopia in Isaiah 18:1-7 and 20:1-6 are to Cush (where the Sudan is today).  On maps of the Roman Empire, the label is Nubia.

A Cushite/Nubian dynasty (the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty of Egypt) controlled Egypt at the time, so references to “Ethiopia” included Egypt.  That dynasty had invited the Kingdom of Judah to join its coalition against the Assyrian Empire circa 715 B.C.E.  Egypt/Cush/Nubia had replaced Aram as the main rival to the Assyrian Empire.  Judah, under King Hezekiah, did join this alliance, much to divine disapproval (Isaiah 30:1-5; 31:1-9).  Judean participation in this alliance was apparently an example of rebellion against God (Isaiah 28:14-22; 29:15-26; 30:6-7).  God was prepared to act against the Assyrian Empire, but not yet (Isaiah 18:1-7).

Isaiah 19 refers to the Cushite/Nubian conquest of Egypt and asserts divine sovereignty over Egypt:

The idols of Egypt tremble before him,

the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them.

Verse 1b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The theological-geopolitical agenda in the Egyptian/Cushite/Nubian material was to rely only on God, not on powerful neighbors that did not have Judah’s best interests at heart.  Trusting in God was the only way to maintain independence.  Empires rose and fell, but God would never fall.  And God was waiting to be gracious to Judah (Isaiah 30:18f).

For this said the Lord GOD,

the Holy One of Israel:

By waiting and by calm you shall be saved,

in quiet and trust shall be your strength.

But this you did not will.

–Isaiah 30:15, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

CONCLUSION

These passages reflect a particular geopolitical and historical set of circumstances.  As with the Law of Moses, one ought to be careful not to mistake examples bound by circumstances for timeless principles do exist.

If one expects me to extrapolate these readings into a condemnation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.) or the United Nations (U.N.), for example, I will disappoint such a person.  I live in the United States of America, not equivalent to any ancient kingdom, empire, or city-state.  I do not accept American Exceptionalism either, so I may disappoint another group of readers.  The same rules and moral standards that apply to other nation-states in 2021 also apply to the United States of America.

One timeless principle germane in this post is the imperative of trusting in God more than in people.  This applies both collectively and individually.  God is forever; people have relatively short lifespans.  Nation-states come and go.  Administrations come and go, also.  Even the most capable and benevolent leaders are imperfect.  They can still function as instruments of God, of course.  May they do so.  And may they know that they are “like grass.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST AND MARTYR, 166/167

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, 309

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROBINSON, MARMADUKE STEPHENSON, AND MARY DYER, BRITISH QUAKER MARTYRS IN BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 1659 AND 1660

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

The Downfall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire and the End of the Babylonian Exile   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART XI

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

Isaiah 13:1-14:22; 21:1-10

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

Chronology is not the organizing principle in the final version of the Book of Isaiah.  Therefore, writing based on topic can be appropriate.  The selected texts come from a time after Isaiah ben Amoz–probably very late in the existence of the Kingdom of Judah.  They cannot come from Isaiah ben Amoz because they speak of a geographical reality that did not yet exist.  However, Isaiah 14:24-27, in which the Assyrian Empire still stands, consistent with the geopolitical situation Isaiah ben Amoz knew.

The Book of Isaiah has already established that God punishes human arrogance.  That theme repeats here.  Arrogance feeds a false self of self-sufficiency, in contrast to reality, that we all depend entirely on God.  This arrogance feeds an “every man for himself” mentality, which encourages and condones exploitation of the poor.  Exploitation violates mutuality, a major principle in the Law of Moses.  When divine anger burns, the gig is up.

The key difference between the fates of Babylonia and the exiled Judeans was that preserved a remnant of the Judeans.  God was faithful to the divine promise in the covenant.  Restoration–the end of the Babylonian Exile–followed punishment.

I have read the entire canon of scripture of the Russian Orthodox Church (78 books) and taken notes.  I did that more than two decades ago, however.  I have been blogging my way through the Bible, with lectionaries as guides, since 2009.  I have been blogging through the books of the Bible according to plans I have devised for years, too.  Through it all, I have never failed to learn something I have missed umpteen times.  I have also become increasingly aware of how much the Bible repeats itself, even within the same book.

For maximum effect, O reader, find the first post in this series about First Isaiah and start reading, unless you have been doing so already.  Or find my first post in the “Reading Hosea” series, the series that has led me here, to First Isaiah, and start reading there.  First Isaiah contains themes also present in the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, and I have written about some of those themes in greater detail prior to this post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST AND MARTYR, 166/167

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, 309

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROBINSON, MARMADUKE STEPHENSON, AND MARY DYER, BRITISH QUAKER MARTYRS IN BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 1659 AND 1660

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

The Jerusalem of the Future and Present, Part I   Leave a comment

Above:  Swords into Plowshares Statue

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART III

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

Isaiah 2:1-22

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

If Isaiah 2:2-5 seems familiar, O reader, you may be thinking of the nearly identical passage at the beginning of Micah 4.  The Bible quotes itself frequently; that may explain the similarity in texts (Micah 4 and Isaiah 2).  Another theory holds that Micah 4 and Isaiah 2 quoted the same text.  And one may point out that Micah and First Isaiah were contemporaries. Alternatively, Micah 4 and Isaiah may have paraphrased the same source.

The eschatological vision in Isaiah 2:2-5 indicates that Jerusalem will become the seat of God in creation, restored to the divine ideal of primordial harmony of the universe.  The nations, without becoming Jews, will learn from God.  Isaiah 2:2 reads, “all nations,” but Micah 2:2 reads, “many nations.”  One word makes a major difference.

Isaiah 2:2-5 (the vision of future Jerusalem) contrasts with Isaiah 2:6-21 (about divine judgment on a sinful population).  Isaiah 2:6-21, addressed to the (northern) Kingdom of Judah, condemns a variety of offenses, including arrogance, pride, soothsaying, and idolatry.  That pride and arrogance will not stand amid divine punishment, we read.

Verse 22 stands out from the rest of the chapter.  This verse addresses some audience other than verses 6-21.  In French, “you” in 2:6 is tu–singular.  Yet, in French, “you” in 2:22 is vous–plural.  Commentaries on the Book of Isaiah also indicate that “you” in Isaiah 2:22 is plural.  Verse 22 is a late addition.

As for you, stop worrying about mortals,

in whose nostrils is but a breath;

for of what worth are they?

–Isaiah 2:22, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Context is crucial to interpretation.  Given the layers of writing and editing in the final version of Isaiah 2, establishing context can be difficult.  Who are “you?”  They may be the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, but that identification is uncertain.  Also, given the updating of the writings of the early prophets (Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah) through the time after the Babylonian Exile, the identity of the plural “you” in verse 22 may be less important than one may think at first.  After all, the prophecy still speaks clearly, long after its original context has ceased to exist.

Isaiah 2:22 pleads with a population to trust in God, not mortals.  It encourages people to rely on God and to abandon the delusion of human self-reliance.  That delusion is at the heart of arrogance, which Isaiah 2:6-21 denounces.  That delusion contradicts the Law of Moses, which teaches that people rely entirely on God, rely on each other, and are responsible to and for each other.  The delusion of self-reliance belies the reality of mutuality.  Whichever population the “you” of Isaiah 2:22 originally was, that “you” can, functionally, be any population in the modern world.  The reality of 2021 is far from the ideal vision of Isaiah 2:2-5 for a range of reasons, including human arrogance.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PERCY DEARMER, ANGLICAN CANON AND TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONA OF PISA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, LUTHER OF THE SLAVES AND FATHER OF SLOVAK HYMNODY

THE FEAST OF RUBY MIDDLETON FORSYTHE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EPISCOPAL EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY THERESA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF SAINT PETER CLAVER, AND “MOTHER OF AFRICAN MISSIONS;” AND HER SISTER, SAINT URSULA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE URSULINES OF THE AGONIZING HEART OF JESUS (GRAY URSULINES)

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

God’s Case Against Israel, Part I: Bad Habits   Leave a comment

Above:  Cattle (Hosea 4:16)

Image in the Public Domain

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

READING HOSEA, PART IV

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

Hosea 4:1-5:7

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

The heading for Hosea 4:1-9:17 in The Oxford Study Bible, Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha (1992) is,

God’s case against Israel.

This is a legal case, given the language of accusation and reproof, which carries the connotation of hauling someone into court.  This language carries over from Hosea 2:2/2:4 (depending on versification),:

“To court, take your mother to court!….”

The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019)

Then we got theological whiplash by changing the tone in Chapter 3 and switching back to judgment in Chapter 4.

Chapter 4 begins:

Hear the word of the LORD,

O people of Israel!

For the LORD has a case

Against the inhabitants of this land,

Because there is no honesty and no goodness

And no obedience to God in the land.

–Hosea 4:1-2, TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures (1985)

As I survey translations, I notice a variety of word choices in lieu of honesty, goodness, and obedience to God.

  1. The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) offers, in order, fidelity, loyalty, and knowledge of God.
  2. The Revised English Bible (1989) offers, in order, good faith, loyalty, and acknowledgment of God.
  3. The New Revised Standard Version (1989) offers, in order, faithfulness, loyalty, and knowledge of God.
  4. Robert Alter’s The Hebrew Bible (2019) offers, in order, truth, trust, and knowledge of the LORD.

I will unpack the three terms, in order.

  1. Truth/faithfulness/good faith/honesty refers to the trustworthiness expected of a judge, as in Exodus 18:21.
  2. Trust/loyalty/goodness refers to fidelity in human relationships, as in 1 Samuel 20:15.
  3. Knowledge of God/obedience to God/acknowledgment of God refers to marital intimacy.  The metaphors of marriage, sexual fidelity, and divorce are prominent in the Book of Hosea.

In other words, the covenantal relationship between God and Isaiah was broken.  Israel had broken it.

The priesthood was corrupt, too.  Some priests were devout and honest, of course, but corruption was rife.

Exegetes whose writings I have consulted disagree with each other about the alien or bastard children in 5:7.

  1. These offspring may be alien because of Israelite intermarriage with foreigners.
  2. But, O reader, do not forget the pervasive metaphors of marriage and divorce in the Book of Hosea.  We read that God has “cast off” Israel for sustained, collective infidelity to the divine covenant.
  3. The most likely explanation is that both answers apply.

The heart of 4:1-5:7 may reside in 5:4a:

Their habits do not let them

Turn back to their God;….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Alternative translations of the Hebrew word translated as “habits” include:

  1. Deeds (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989),
  2. Misdeeds (The Revised English Bible, 1989), and
  3. Acts (Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 2019).

Each of these translations has something to recommend it.  Yet I prefer “habits.”

Habitual behavior of the population had broken the covenant.

Human beings are creatures of habits.  May we, therefore, learn and nurture good habits, both individually and collectively.

I write this post at a particular moment, therefore certain issues occupy my mind.  The COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives needlessly around the world.  Whether to get vaccinated with a proven vaccine is, in the minds of many people with the option to get vaccinated, a politically partisan issue.  Public health policy, which should be just a matter of following science and saving lives, has become a matter of cynical politics for certain elected officials.  Varieties of hatred, often wrapped in Christian rhetoric, are on the rise.  Authoritarianism and objectively-inaccurate conspiracy theories are increasingly popular with most of those who identify with one of the two major political parties in the United States of America.  And speaking the objective truth about reality, as some members of that party do, is risky, if one hops to retain one’s leadership position within that party.

Bad habits separate individuals from each other.  Bad habits separate individuals, cultures, and societies from God.  Bad habits harm the whole.  Whatever I do, for example, affects others.  This is a statement of mutuality.  We all stand before God, completely dependent on grace.  In that context, each person is responsible to and for all other people.

Society is people.  Society shapes its members.  Those members also influence society.  When enough people change their minds, societal consensus shifts.

Their habits do not let them

Turn back to their God;….

This need not apply to any group, although it does.  Members of any such group can change their habits, therefore, their fates.  They can.  Will they?  Will we?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JUNIA AND ANDRONICUS, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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