Archive for the ‘Sheol’ 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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King Saul and the Witch of Endor   1 comment

Above:  Saul and the Witch of Endor, by Edward Henry Corbould

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART XXVII

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1 Samuel 28:3-25

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My spirit faints within me;

my heart within me is desolate.

–Psalm 143:4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Consistent chronology is not the organizing principle of 1 Samuel.  Chronologically, the correct order at the end of the book is:

  1. 27:1-28:2
  2. 29:1-11
  3. 30:1-11
  4. 28:3-25
  5. 31:1-13

Just in case we had forgotten that Samuel had died (1 Samuel 25:1a), 1 Samuel 28:3 reminds us.

The Philistine war mentioned in 28:1-2 had started.  King Saul, greatly concerned, inquired of God, who was silent.  The monarch, who had outlawed necromancy, disguised himself to consult a necromancer.  The disguise did not work for long.

Samuel, in popular belief, was in Sheol, an early notion of the afterlife in the Bible.  Sheol was the underworld, without reward or punishment.  Sheol was “the Pit,” slimy and mucky.  Sheol was a mire.

Samuel was irritated, Saul was in a terrible spiritual and emotional state, and the necromancer was concerned for the monarch’s well-being.

The focus in this reading is the depth to which Saul, rejected by God, had fallen.  One should contrast Saul with David, on the ascendancy and favored by God, the germane texts tell us.

I wish that those (especially despots) not on God’s side would meet with more frustrations.  Yet I know the past too well to believe that they do not succeed, at least for a time.  Genocidal dictators are not strictly figures of the past.  Those who transform republics into dictatorships are also figures of current events.  Such people explain much of the appeal of belief in reward and punishment in the afterlife.  Sheol proves unsatisfactory.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 23, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 16:  THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARTIN DE PORRES AND JUAN MACIAS, HUMANITARIANS AND DOMINICAN LAY BROTHERS; SAINT ROSE OF LIMA, HUMANITARIAN AND DOMINICAN SISTER; AND SAINT TURIBIUS OF MOGROVEJO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF LIMA

THE FEAST OF THEODORE O. WEDEL, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; AND CYNTHIA CLARK WEDEL, U.S. PSYCHOLOGIST AND EPISCOPAL ECUMENIST

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Building Up Our Neighbors, Part I   1 comment

Witch of Endor--Nikolai Ge

Above:  Witch of Endor, by Nikolai Ge

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 28:20-25

Psalm 34:1-8

Romans 15:1-6

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I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

–Psalm 23:6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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That verse from Psalm 34 functions as a counterpoint to King Saul’s situation in 1 Samuel 28:20-25.

Saul was at the end of his reign and at war with Philistine forces.  He had, according to 1 Samuel 28, disguised himself and gone to a necromancer (some translations say “witch”) at Endor, so that she would summon Samuel, who had anointed the monarch then announced God’s rejection of him.  The necromancer was in a difficult situation, for Saul had outlawed her profession.  (So, according to the monarch’s own standards, by what right was he there?)

The story in 1 Samuel 28 reflects an old understanding of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible.  Concepts of postmortem reward and punishment came later, by means of Zoroastrianism, for forces of the Persian Empire ended the Babylonian Exile.  (This does not mean, of course, that Heaven and Hell are figments of imagination, just that Zoroastrians had the concepts before Jews and, in time, Christians.  God’s agents come from many backgrounds.)  The understanding of the afterlife in 1 Samuel 28 is Sheol, the underworld.

In 1 Samuel 28 the necromancer, whose profession was, according to the Bible, forbidden due to its heathen nature, summoned Samuel successfully.  The prophet and judge, who was irritated with Saul, stated that the monarch had no more than a day left on the earth.  Saul took this badly, so he refused to eat for a while, until the necromancer and some countries convinced him to consume food.  The woman, who had risked her life to help Saul, cared about his well-being and fed him and his entourage.

God’s agents come from many backgrounds.  Sometimes they save us from our afflictions.  On other occasions, however, they simply provide aid and compassion until fate arrives.

Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.

–Romans 15:2, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Our neighbors include those similar to us and different from us.  Some like us, others are hostile to us, and still others are neutral or apathetic.  We like some of our neighbors, despise others, and have little or no knowledge of the existence of still others.  Yet we are all in this life together; that which we do to others, we do to ourselves.  We are, in the ethics of the Law of Moses, responsible to and for each other as we stand side-by-side in a state of responsibility to and total dependence upon God.  Certain attitudes, therefore, fall outside the realm of righteousness.  These include greed, bigotry, rugged individualism, self-reliance, and Social Darwinism.  There is no divine law against compassion, however.  And, since whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves, caring for others effectively and selflessly (at least as much as we can) is to our benefit.  Whenever we build up our neighbors, we build up ourselves.

MAY 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM SCHAEFFER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE DICKINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/devotion-for-thursday-before-proper-14-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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