Archive for the ‘Robert Alter’ Tag

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 Superscription of the Book of Obadiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Obadiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING OBADIAH, PART I

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Obadiah 1a

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The prophecy of Obadiah.

–Obadiah 1a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Book of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible, consists of twenty-one verses in one chapter.  It contains divine oracles of divine judgment against the nation of Edom.  The Book of Obadiah is also one of the two Hebrew prophetic books omitted from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL); the other one is Nahum, about God taking out the Assyrian Empire.  The shortest book in the Hebrew Bible is also absent from the Roman Catholic lectionaries for Masses on weekdays, Sundays, and major feast days.

Since I have started this project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order (with some exceptions), I have read the material regarding Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; and Isaiah 34:5-17.

Dating the Book of Obadiah is difficult.  Comparing eight commentaries and study Bibles, I detect no consensus about when Obadiah (“servant of YHWH”) prophesied in Jerusalem.  Robert Alter (2019) proposes that Obadiah prophesied during the final years of the Kingdom of Judah.  Five sources published between 1992 and 2015 insist that the book dates to after the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (1956), favors composition after the Babylonian Exile.  The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), states that Obadiah prophesied either during or after the Babylonian Exile.

We know almost nothing about Obadiah.  Even his name is common; the Hebrew Bible refers to twelve Obadiahs.  If we add “Obed” (a variant) to the list, we arrive at eighteen Obadiahs/Obeds.  Composition in Jerusalem after the fall of the Kingdom of Judah to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire is feasible.  History tells us that the conquerors did not deport everyone.  The text indicates that Obadiah received religious training and read other Hebrew prophetic books.  Commentaries point to similarities to Jeremiah 40; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Joel 1:15; Joel 2:5, 32; Joel 3:3, 17; and Amos 9:12.  Of course, some of these similarities may be due to later prophets having read the Book of Obadiah.  Obadiah also seems to have been one of those men called to prophesy for a brief period of time.

Anger against Edom marks the Book of Obadiah.  This makes sense, given the persistent hostility between the Jews and the Edomites.  This hostility is also evident in Malachi 1:2-5, from after the Babylonian Exile.  Consistent with this hostility and echoing Isaiah 34-35 (or the other way around), the Book of Obadiah pronounces divine doom on Edom and a bright future for the Jews.

For more on that point, read the next post in this series, O reader.

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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Judah’s History of Sin: The Not-Safe-For-Work Version   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART IX

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Ezekiel 16:1-63

Ezekiel 20:1-44

Ezekiel 23:1-49

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This project of reading the Book of Ezekiel is part of a larger project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order.  I know already, based on this larger project alone, that the Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  For example, idolatry is, metaphorically, sexual–prostitution and/or adultery.  This metaphorical prostitution is, functionally, pagan temple prostitution, common in the ancient Near East into New Testament times (from Genesis 38:15 to 1 Corinthians 6:15f).  Also, much of the language of this sexual metaphor is Not Safe for Work (NSFW) and replete with shaming.

The Bible is not G-rated.

Ezekiel 16 is not G-rated.  It uses the marital metaphor, also present in Isaiah 8:5-8; Isaiah 49-54; Isaiah 66:7-14; Jeremiah 2-3; Hosea 1-3; Zephaniah 3:14-20.

Robert Alter provides perhaps the most memorable synopsis of Ezekiel 16:

Among the themes of Ezekiel’s prophecies, the most striking expression of neurosis is his troubled relation to the female body.  Real and symbolic bodies become entangled with each other.  In biblical poetry, a nation, and Israel in particular, is quite often represented as a woman.  God’s covenant with Israel–see Jeremiah 1–is imagined as a marriage, and so the bride Israel’s dalliance with pagan gods is figured as adultery or whoring.  This is a common trope in biblical literature, but the way Ezekiel articulates it is both startling and unsettling.

The most vivid instance of this psychological twist in Ezekiel is the extended allegory of whoring Israel in chapter 16.  The allegory here follows the birth of the nation in Canaan–represented with stark physicality in the image of the infant girl naked and wallowing in the blood of afterbirth, then looked after by a solicitous God–to her sexual maturity and her betrayal of God through idolatry.  The focus throughout is on Israel as a female sexual body.  Thus, the prophet notes (as does no other biblical writer) the ripening of the breasts and the sprouting of pubic hair.  The mature personification of the nation is a beautiful woman, her beauty enhanced by the splendid attire God gives her (this is probably a reference to national grandeur and to the Temple).  Yet, insatiably lascivious, she uses her charms to entice strangers to her bed:  “you spilled out your whoring” (given the verb used and the unusual form of the noun, this could be a reference to vaginal secretions) “upon every passerby.”  Israel as a woman is even accused of harboring a special fondness for large phalluses:  “you played the whore with the Egyptians, your big-membered neighbors.”  She is, the prophet says, a whore who asks for no payment for her services.  “You befouled your beauty,” he inveighs, “and spread your legs for every passerby.”  All this concern with female promiscuity is correlative with Ezekiel’s general preoccupation with purity and impurity.

It is of course possible to link each of these sexual details with the allegory of an idolatrous nation betraying its faith.  But such explicitness and such vehemence about sex are unique in the Bible.  The compelling inference is that this was a prophet morbidly fixated on the female body and seething with fervid misogyny.  What happens in the prophecy in chapter 16 is that the metaphor of the lubricious woman takes over the foreground, virtually displacing the allegorical referent.  Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.

The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1051

Corinne L. Carvalho comments:

In Israel, spouses were not equal partners; women were legally and socially subservient to their husbands.  Betrothal and marriage were contractual arrangements by which a woman became the exclusive “property” of her husband, even before the actual marriage.  In practical terms, this meant that her husband was her sole sexual partner from the moment of betrothal.  Since men could have more than one wife, adultery occurred only when it involved a married woman; it was a crime, punishable by death, against the sole property rights of a wronged husband (Lev 18:20; 20:10; Deut 22:22).

Ezekiel 16 plays on these elements of marriage.  God is the one who owns Jerusalem, and Jerusalem owes him her exclusive allegiance and fidelity.  Anything less gives him the legal right to punish her.  Ezekiel 16 uses hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric to achieve a shocking literary effect.  Here, the author utilizes a common metaphor, the city as God’s wife, in ways that border on pornography.  (Modern translations tone down the sexually explicit language of the Hebrew texts.)  It is an image to provoke a response.

–in Daniel Durken, ed., The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 1431

Ezekiel 16 concludes on a sexually graphic metaphor of future restoration (verses 59-63).  After all, to “know” is frequently a euphemism for sexual intimacy.

And I Myself will establish the covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD.

–Ezekiel 16:62, Robert Alter, 2019

Consider the following verse, O reader:

Thus you shall remember and feel shame, and you shall be too abashed to open your mouth again, when I have forgiven you, for all that you did–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 16:63, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I feel too abashed after reading Ezekiel 16.

My library contains a variety of editions and versions of the Bible.  The Children’s Living Bible (1972) is one of these.  The artwork depicts a smiling Jesus holding lost-and-found sheep, smiling at children wearing attire from 1972, and generally smiling.  The volume also includes Ezekiel 16.  I imagine a child reading Ezekiel 16 and asking a horrified parent about the contents of that chapter.  I also imagine that parent’s horror that the tyke was reading a volume that included the term, “son of a bitch” (1 Samuel 20:30).  Just wait for Ezekiel 23!

Ezekiel 20 continues the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  The text dwells on the sabbath.  This suggests that the sabbath had become important, as a substitute for the Temple, during the Babylonian Exile.  The sabbath is foundational in the covenant.  The sabbath is also a sign of a free person in the context of liberation from slavery in Egypt.  And to keep the sabbath is to emulate God, the creator and original keeper of the sabbath.

God, as depicted in Ezekiel 20, is not worthy of emulation, respect, love, and awe:

  1. God, according to 20:9, 14, 22, and 44, acts selfishly, to preserve the divine reputation.
  2. God gave the people “laws that were not good and rules by which they could not live (20:25) then promised to destroy the people as punishment for obeying the bad laws and disobeying the impossible rules (20:26).

Chapter 20 exists in the shadow of Ezekiel 18–about individual moral accountability to God.  The verdict on the people of Judah, in the yet-future context of the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) is damning.

Ezekiel 20 concludes on a note of future restoration, but not for the sake of the covenant people:

Then, O House of Israel, you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for My name’s sake–not in accordance with your evil ways and corrupt acts–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 20:44, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I wonder how many agnostics and atheists grew up devout, with this understanding of God, or one close to it.  That theology may explain their current spiritual status as they properly reject that understanding of God yet go too far and remain out of balance.

Ezekiel 23 returns to the imagery of idolatry as harlotry.  It also returns to the category of Not Safe for Work.  (What was it with Ezekiel and sex?)  Break out the plain brown wrappers again, O reader!  The text speaks of the Babylonian Exile as punishment for persistent, collective, and unrepentant idolatry.

Some G-rated details (There are some.) require explanation:

  1. Samaria, the capital of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, is, metaphorically, Oholeh, “her tent.”  One may recall that, in the theology of the Hebrew Bible, the Presence of God dwelt in a text then in the Temple.  We read of the fall of the Kingdom of Israel and of the causes of that collapse.
  2. Jerusalem, the capital of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, is, metaphorically, Oholibah, “my tent is in her.”
  3. Ezekiel 23 condemns the kingdoms’ foreign alliances.  This is an old Hebrew prophetic theme, albeit one other prophets presented in less graphic terms.

I try to maintain a spiritual and theological equilibrium.  The God of Ezekiel 16, 20, and 23 is a self-absorbed, abusive, and misogynistic monster.  This is not my God-concept.  Neither is the God of my faith anything like a cosmic teddy bear or a warm fuzzy.  No, the God of my faith holds judgment and mercy in balance.  I do not pretend to know where that balance is or where it should be.  The God of my faith also loves all people and models selflessness.  Neither is the God of my faith a misogynist or any kind of -phobe or bad -ist.  The model for the God of my faith is Jesus of Nazareth, God Incarnate.  I read stories of Jesus having harsh words for those who deserved them and compassion for the desperate.  I understand Jesus as being stable, unlike Ezekiel, apparently.

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.

–Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019), 1051

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 8:  THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CORNELIUS HILL, ONEIDA CHIEF AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ARIALDUS OF MILAN, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND MARTYR, 1066

THE FEAST OF HUGH THOMSON KERR, SR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND LITURGIST; AND HIS SON, HUGH THOMSON KERR, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES MOFFATT, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND BIBLE TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GEORGIAN, ABBOT; AND SAINTS EUTHYMIUS OF ATHOS AND GEORGE OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN, ABBOTS AND TRANSLATORS

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The Superscription of the Book of Ezekiel   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART I

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Ezekiel 1:1-3

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In 597 B.C.E., Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian forces invaded Judah.  King Jehoiachin‘s brief reign ended.  His uncle Mattaniah came to the throne as King Zedekiah.  Jehoiachin and many others–members of the Judean elite–became exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The first wave of the Babylonian Exile had begun.

Ezekiel ben Buzi was one of these captives and exiles.  Ezekiel, a priest in the community beside the Chebar Canal (next to the city of Nippur, southeast of the city of Babylon), received his commission as a prophet on the fifth day of Tammuz (on the Gregorian Calendar, in June), 593 B.C.E.  He prophesied until 571 B.C.E.

Robert Alter describes Ezekiel as

surely the strangest of all the prophets

and as

an extreme case.

The Hebrew Bible, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1049

The prophet, whose name meant, “God strengthens,” was, by modern standards, misogynistic, as in Chapters 16 and 23.  He was not unique–certainly not in the company of Biblical authors.  According to Alter, especially in the context of Chapter 16:

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.  The states of disturbance exhibited in his writing led him to a series of remarkable visionary experiences, at least several of which would be deeply inscribed in the Western imagination, engendering profound experiences in later poetry and in mystical literature.  At the same time, there is much in these visions that reminds us of the dangerous dark side of prophecy.  To announce authoritatively that the words one speaks are the words of God is an audacious act.  Inevitably, what is reported as divine speech reaches us through the refracting prism of the prophet’s sensibility and psychology, and the words and images represented as God’s urgent message may be sometimes distorted in eerie ways.

–1051-1052

Biblical scholars from a variety of times, theological orientations, and geographical origins have commented on Ezekiel’s pathological psychology.  The prophet may not have been well-adjusted.  “Touched by the gods” has been an expression for a long time, and for a good reason.

However much one accepts that much or most of the Book of Ezekiel comes from the prophet, a textual difficulty remains.  The book includes evidence of subsequent editing after the Babylonian Exile.  Any given passage, in its final form, may have more to do with Ezra or some other editor than with Ezekiel.  Or that passage may be entirely from Ezeki8el.  Or the editorial touch may be light.

I acknowledge these matters as I commit to my primary purpose in this Hebrew prophetic reading project:  to read these passages in context and to ponder what they say to the world today.  The ancient message, grounded in particular circumstances, continues to speak.

“The hand of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:3) symbolizes divine power.

The Book of Ezekiel breaks down into three sections:

  1. Chapters 1-24, in their original form, date to between the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  This section divides into two subsections.  Chapters 1-11 contain visions of divine presence and departure.  Chapters 12-24 offer a rationale for and anticipate the destruction of Jerusalem.
  2. Chapters 25-32 contain oracles against the nations.  The arrangement of these oracles is not chronological.  Such a collection of oracles is also a feature of other prophetic writings, as in Amos 1:3-2:3; Isaiah 13:1-23:19; Jeremiah 46:1-51:64.
  3. Chapters 33-48 contain oracles from after the Fall of Jerusalem.  This section breaks down into two subsections.  Chapters 33-39 offer a rationale for and anticipate the transformation of the LORD’s people.  Chapters 40-48 contain visions of the LORD’s return to the Second Temple (not yet built; dedicated in 516 B.C.E.) in a transformed land.

Tova Ganzel wrote, in the introduction to the Book of Ezekiel, in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014):

Because of the central themes of the Temple, acts of leadership, sins of the people, and divine theophanies appear in both the predestruction and postdestruction oracles (1.3, 13-15, 22-24; 8.2-3; 10.11, 22-23; 40.1-2; 43.1-5), Ezekiel’s oracles merit both sequential and topical study.

–1034

I will study the Book of Ezekiel in a combination of sequential and topical organization of posts.

Major lectionaries ignore most of the Book of Ezekiel.  The Roman Catholic lectionaries for weekdays, Sundays, and major feast days omit Chapters 3-8, 11, 13-15, 19-23, 25-27, 29-42, 44-46, and 48 entirely. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) lists the Book of Ezekiel only five times:

  1. 34:11-16, 20-24 for Christ the King Sunday, Year A;
  2. 36:24-27 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C;
  3. 37:1-14 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C; the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A; and (as an alternative reading), for the Day of Pentecost, Year B.

I understand the benefits and limitations of lectionaries.  Any lectionary–even a narrow, one-year cycle with two readings and a Psalm each Sunday–is superior to ministers focusing on their favorite passages of scripture Sunday after Sunday.  The orderly reading of scripture in communal worship has virtues.  Lectionaries also help people to read the Bible in conversation with itself.  Nevertheless, the parts of the Book of Ezekiel that even three-year cycles overlook are worth hearing and reading, in private, alone, in a study group, and in the context of worship.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 7:  THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH AUGUSTUS SEISS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF ALFRED RAMSEY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CHARLES COFFIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HANS ADOLF BRORSON, DANISH LUTHERAN BISHOP, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN SPARROW-SIMPSON, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND PATRISTICS SCHOLAR

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Habakkuk’s Second Complaint, with God’s Response   1 comment

Above:  Habakkuk and God

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HABAKKUK, PART III

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Habakkuk 1:12-2:4

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Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence

while the wicked devour those more just than ourselves?

–Habakkuk 1:13b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That is an excellent question for God in any time and place.

The context of the prophet Habakkuk was probably after 605 B.C.E. yet before the first Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian invasion of Judah in 598/597 B.C.E.  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire was notoriously cruel.  This, was, unfortunately, a characteristic common to many Mesopotamian empires in antiquity.

“The righteous will live by faith” is a familiar line that should never be trite.  Sadly, many people reduce it to triteness.  It is a line, originally from Habakkuk 2:4, and quoted in Romans 1:17, in the context of justification with God.  The line occurs, originally, in the context of God’s reply (2:2-4) to the second complaint of the prophet.

The LORD answered me and said:

Write the prophecy down,

Inscribe it clearly on tablets,

So that it can be read easily.

For there is yet a prophecy for a set term,

A truthful witness for a time that will come.

Even if it tarries, wait for it still;

For it will surely come, without delay:

Lo, his spirit within him is puffed up, not upright,

But the righteous man is rewarded with life

For his fidelity.”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Robert Alter’s translation of Habakkuk 2:4 follows:

Look, the spirit within him is callous, not upright,

but the righteous man lives through his faithfulness.

The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019)

The translation of Habakkuk 2:4, according to The Revised English Bible (1989) follows:

The reckless will lack an assured future,

while the righteous will live by being faithful.

Habakkuk 2:4, in The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011), reads:

See, the rash have no integrity;

but the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live.

The variety in translations opens up a sense of shades of meaning in the Hebrew text.  Does a righteous person–man, whatever–receive life as a reward for fidelity to God or survive extreme hardship by being faithful to God?  Also, the varying translations of the first part of 2:4 interest me.  Lacking integrity, being puffed up, and being callous sound different than having no future.  Perhaps they have no future because they are puffed up and are callous.  The translation in The Revised English Bible (1989) reminds me of why I frequently add that version to the stack of translations I consult on Bible study projects.  The Revised English Bible (1989) maintains a high literary quality and is often idiosyncratic and not literal.  Yet captures the meanings of texts.

In the original context, the faithful Jews of Judah seemed to have no future.  The future seemed to belong to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  God said that reality was the other way around.  God told Habakkuk that the divine schedule was not the prophet’s schedule.

Imagine, O reader, that you were a faithful Jew living late in the Babylonian Exile.  Imagine that you were, as in Psalm 137, sitting by the waters of Babylon and singing songs of Zion.  Imagine that you had never lived in Zion.  How might Habakkuk 2:4 have sounded to you?  How might you have responded to it?

Imagine also, O reader, that you were a faithful Jew (perhaps the same one) years later, having returned to your ancestral homeland?  How might you have related to Habakkuk 2:4 then?

Waiting for God can be extremely challenging in a variety of circumstances–not just worst-case scenarios.  Waiting for God requires trust in God.  That can come only via trust in grace.  One may desire to trust God; that is a good start.  Trusting God and walking in healthy relationship with God requires divine assistance.  It is available.  How many of us see it and do not recognize it?  And how many of us never even see it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOROTHEUS OF TYRE, BISHOP OF TYRE, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 362

THE FEAST OF BLISS WIANT, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR, ARRANGER, AND HARMONIZER; AND HIS WIFE, MILDRED ARTZ WIANT, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF INI KOPURIA, FOUNDER OF THE MELANESIAN BROTHERHOOD

THE FEAST OF MAURICE BLONDEL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHER AND FORERUNNER OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL

THE FEAST OF ORLANDO GIBBONS, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; THE “ENGLISH PALESTRINA”

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Divine Rebuke of Israel and Judah   Leave a comment

Above:  Vineyard

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 5:1-30

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

Isaiah 9:8-21 (Anglican and Protestant)

Isaiah 10:1-4

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

Let me sing of My beloved

the song of my lover for his vineyard.

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

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

–45

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

Now let me sing of my friend,

my beloved’s song about his vineyard.

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

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

Je chanterai à mon bien-aimé

Le cantique de mon bien-aimé sur la vigne.

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

Or donc, je chanterai à mon ami

Le chant de mon bien-aimé sur sa vigne.

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

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

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

Que je chante à mon bien-aimé

le chant de mon ami pour sa vigne.

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

Je veux chanter pour mon ami

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

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

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

–196-197

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does God have to do to get attention?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOAN OF ARC, ROMAN CATHOLIC VISIONARY AND MARTYR, 1430

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, APOSTLE TO THE PYGMIES

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, ENGLISH FEMINIST AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LUKE KIRBY, THOMAS COTTAM, WILLIAM FILBY, AND LAURENCE RICHARDSON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1582

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

Above:  Trees Near the Dead Sea

Image in the Public Domain

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-01756

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART IV

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Isaiah 3:1-4:6

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Deportation and the consequences thereof constitute the backdrop of Isaiah 3:1-4:1.  Attentive readers of the Hebrew Bible may recall that Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian authorities began deportations for Judean elites before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  These deported elites had exploited the poor.  These elites had been arrogant and disregarded social justice.  Yet the societal collapse after deportation of leaders was devastating; it was worse than the widespread social injustice from prior to deportation.

This section of First Isaiah cannot end on that gloomy note, can it?  It does not.  Isaiah 4:2-6, from a later period, promises a new beginning–the purification of Jerusalem.  Who is the promised “branch of the LORD?” in 4:2?  (Other translations include “the LORD’s shoot” and “the radiance of the LORD.”)  The answer(s) to that question vary over time.

  1. The branch/shoot/radiance of YHWH may be the Messiah, a king of the Davidic Dynasty.  If so, the most likely historical figure may be King Hezekiah, probably the promised king in Isaiah 7, too.
  2. Study Bibles I consult disagree with each other whether the “fruit” or “splendor” of the land (4:2) is consistent with royal messianic expectations.  The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), says no.  However, The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), says yes.
  3. The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), and The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) favor this prophecy being one fulfilled in antiquity, within the lifetime of First Isaiah.  The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), does not anticipate the long-term fulfillment of prophecy, either.
  4. Robert Alter, in his three-volume The Hebrew Bible (2019), argues that “the LORD’s shoot” is “the people of Israel to be redeemed after a period of devastation and tribulation that will leave a saving remnant” (Prophets, 634).  The Oxford Study Bible (1992) concurs:  “The plant and the fruit are the survivors of the remnant” (705).
  5. However, The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), identifies the survivors as refugees from the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.

Biblical interpretation can become complicated.  This is especially the case when one reads a text from one period and place and perhaps altered in a subsequent period, to fit new circumstances.  Therefore, all of the above (or some of) the interpretations I have listed may be plausible, in different contexts.

At least one point is not ambiguous, O reader:  divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  Divine forgiveness may not prevent punishment, but grace is the last word for those who repent and return to God.

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)

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A Collection of Speeches: The Wickedness of Judah, and the Degenerate City   Leave a comment

Above:  Tares

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 1:2-31

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G. H. D. Kilpatrick, author of the exposition on Isaiah 1-39 in The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5 (1956), described Isaiah 1 as

The Heart of Isaiah’s Message.

Kilpatrick began:

Here is a tremendous indictment of an apostate nation.  The charge is the blindness, the insensitivity, the brutish stupidity of a people steeped in sin.  The prophet is against them.  In a sense the chapter is an epitome of Isaiah’s whole message and ministry.  In this series of oracles he proceeds from accusation to judgment, and on to the divine promise of mercy in terms of repentance and obedience.  Throughout the book the changes are rung on these themes.

–165

As I reread this chapter for the umpteenth time, I noticed themes that populated the (contemporary) Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, too.  I noticed these themes readily because I have blogged my way through them before starting First Isaiah.  I noticed legal charges of having abandoned the covenant.  I noticed the allegation of idolatry–prostitution, metaphorically.  I noticed the condemnation of corruption and social justice, especially that of the economic variety.  I noticed the pronouncement that sacred rituals do not protect one from the consequences of impiety.  I noticed the call to repentance and the possibility of forgiveness.

Chronology is not the organizing principle of the Book of Isaiah.  No, the commission of the prophet is in Chapter 6, for example.  Chapter 1 contains short speeches that summarize themes First Isaiah unpacks in subsequent chapters.

The text provides many options for where I may dwell in this post.  I choose verses 27 and 28.  The translation in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible (2019), is close to the standard English-language rendering:

Zion shall be redeemed through justice,

and those who turn back in her, through righteousness.

But the rebels and offenders together are shattered,

and those who forsake the LORD shall perish.

However, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) offers a somewhat different translation:

Zion shall be saved in the judgment;

Her repentant ones, in the retribution.

But rebels and sinners shall be crushed,

And those who forsake the LORD shall perish.

These verses date to either the Babylonian Exile or afterward.  (As I wrote regarding the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, the final versions of early prophetic writings date to the time after the Babylonian Exile.)  Differences in Hebrew meter and the concept of Zion’s slavery relative to the surrounding material point to later origin.  That may or may not prove interesting, but there it is.

I noticed that righteousness and justice are related concepts.  This has long constituted old news to me, but I delighted to see another instance of it in Isaiah 1.

That justice and righteousness are related establishes a high standard.  Many people mistake human vendettas for justice.  Many people mistake torture for justice.  Many people are oblivious to or forget Deuteronomy 32:35, in the voice of God:

Vengeance is mine and recompense,

for the time they lose their footing;

Because the day of their disaster is at hand

and their doom is rushing upon them.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

When we set out to take revenge, we embark on a path we ought to leave alone.  God knows better than we do.

I also noticed the difference between the translations of verse 27.  I noticed that TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) had “judgment” for “justice” and “retribution” for “righteousness.”  Yet the germane note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), read:

Having been punished, Zion will again know justice and faithfulness.  A new name is given to the reformed Jerusalem; c.f. 62:2-4; Ezekiel 48:35.

–769

The promised salvation will stem only from divine justice and righteousness, not the virtue of Israel.  The destruction of rebels and sinners, however, will stem from their lack of virtue.  For the meantime, Zion, as a faith reality, not a political entity, contains the good and the wicked.  Likewise, in the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30), the wheat and the weeds will grow together in the field until the harvest time.  God will judge at the harvest time.  In the meantime, attempting to remove weeds may result in the removal of some wheat, also.

May we–you, O reader, and I–strike a proper balance, by grace.  May we understand correctly the difference between good and evil.  May we understand correctly the difference between that which is sinful and that which is not.  May we understand correctly the difference between justice and injustice.  When appropriate, may we speak out, and do so in the right way.  And may we understand correctly the difference between our tasks and God’s tasks.

If I am going to err, I prefer to do so on the side of kindness, not harshness.  I would rather be too gentle than mean.  I prefer to strike the proper balance in each circumstances, of course.  Yet maybe my Southern training takes over and tells me not to create a needless scene.  I prefer to practice personal diplomacy, even when doing so entails telling white lies.  “No, that dress does not make you look fat,” except it does.  I also know enough to have some idea of what I do not know.  God knows more than I do, and I do not bring people to God by behaving obnoxiously in God’s name.

Nevertheless, as anyone who has read my weblogs sufficiently ought to know, I do not always shy away from writing what I really think.  I am capable of being blunt, too.  There is a time for diplomacy, just as there is a time for bluntness.  Yet there is never any moral justification for not leaving vengeance to God.

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)

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Oracles of Divine Punishment, Part I   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING MICAH, PART II

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Micah 1:2-16

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Micah 1:2-3:12 consists of oracles of divine punishment.  I choose to unpack this section in three installments.  The first installment concludes where Chapter 1 does.

For an explanation of the terms “Jacob” and “Israel” in the Book of Micah, I refer you, O reader, to the first post in this series.

Idolatry (metaphorically, prostitution; see the Book of Hosea) was ubiquitous in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.  God’s coming would be frightening and cause natural disasters.  Only Samaria , the capital of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, and that kingdom would fall in 1:2-7, though.

Who mourned for Jerusalem in 1:8-16?  Micah himself?  The people of Israel?  God?  The ambiguity of the text invites speculation.  More than one answer may be correct.  And, given (A) the passage of time, (B) new contexts in which to read 1:8-16, and (C) the layers of composition in the Book of Micah, all three answers I have listed may be correct.  Considering the divine pathos in Hosea 11:8-9, God is a feasible candidate for the identity of the mourner in Micah 2:8-16.

Micah 1:10-14 contains Hebrew wordplay in place names.  The following translations from notes in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014):

  1. Verse 10–“In Dusthouse I will roll myself in dust.”
  2. Verse 11–“Pass on your way, girl of Pretty-town, in shameful nakedness.”
  3. Verse 12–“The girl of Bitterness-town aches for good, yet evil has come down from the LORD at the gate of Jerusalem.”
  4. Verse 14–“The houses of Deception-ville shall be a deception to the kings of Israel.”

Towns, personified as females, receive omens.  Yet Jerusalem receives no such omen.  The Kingdom of Judah will suffer, but Jerusalem will not fall–yet.

Shave the pate and shear your hair

over your pampered children.

Make yourself bald as an eagle,

for they are gone from you into exile.

–Micah 1:16, Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible (2019)

The Babylonian Exile would happen.  It did happen.  It also ended.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 25, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BEDE OF JARROW, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND FATHER OF ENGLISH HISTORY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALDHELM OF SHERBORNE, POET, LITERARY SCHOLAR, ABBOT OF MALMESBURY, AND BISHOP OF SHERBORNE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CRISTOBAL MAGOLLANES JARA AND AGUSTIN CALOCA CORTÉS, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC SAINTS AND MARTYRS, 1927

THE FEAST OF SAINT MADELEINE-SOPHIE BARAT, FOUNDRESS OF THE SOCIETY OF THE SACRED HEART; AND SAINT ROSE PHILIPPINE DUCHESNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT MYKOLA TSEHELSKYI, UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1951

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Israel’s Punishment and Restoration, Part II: Parenting and Ingratitude   1 comment

Above:  Lion and Lioness

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HOSEA, PART IX

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Hosea 11:1-13:16 (Anglican and Protestant)

Hosea 11:1-14:1 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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Hosea 11:5 and 12:1/12:2 are two verses in this book that refers to Egypt, with Egypt described as the main rival to the Assyrian Empire.  “Egypt and Assyria” may be a motif in Hebrew prophetic literature, as some of the commentaries I consult suggest.  Egypt, as part of a motif, recalls slavery in a foreign land.  Returning to Egypt, metaphorically, is abandoning freedom in God and reversing the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 13:17-14:31).  Perhaps the reference to King Hoshea of Israel (r. 732-722 B.C.E.) attempting a last-minute alliance with Egypt (2 Kings 17:4) offers a partial explanation for the motif of returning to Egypt in this portion of the Book of Hosea.  Otherwise, that motif makes no historical sense in the timeframe of the prophet Hosea, when Aram was the main rival to the Assyrian Empire.  If, however, one acknowledges subsequent Judean editing and updating of the Book of Hosea, this motif does make sense historically, assuming that one replaces “Assyria” with “Babylon.”  An astute student of the Bible may recall that, after the Fall of Jerusalem, some Judean fugitives went into exile in Egypt and took him with them (Jeremiah 42:1-44:30).  Anyway, the people, whether Israelite or Judean, were returning to Egypt, metaphorically, not to God.

Their one hope is the one possibility which they ignore.

–James Luther Mays, Hosea:  A Commentary (1969), 155

The main idea in these verses is that God loves the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, which he has refused to repent, to return to God and the covenant.  Israel has continued to surround God with deceit.  Israel has condemned itself, and God has pronounced sentence.  The people have no excuse and only themselves to blame.

Ephraim was bitterly vexing,

and his bloodguilt shall be set upon him,

and his Master shall pay him back for his shame.

–Hosea 12:15, Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019)

Alternatives to “shame” in other translations include scorn, blasphemy, insults, and mockery.

Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance in both Testaments of the Bible.  This can be a difficult teaching to digest.  I struggle with it sometimes.  Yet I strive to be spiritually and intellectually honest.  God refuses to fit into human theological boxes and categories.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MALTBIE DAVENPORT BABCOCK, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT FELIX OF CANTALICE, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC FRIAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EDUCATOR AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1945

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