Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Tag

Religious Decline and Hope of Recovery   Leave a comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART II

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Malachi 1:2-3:12

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As I wrote in Reading Malachi, Part I, the dating of the Book of Malachi is vague–perhaps prior to 445 B.C.E., when the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah began (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9)–or perhaps not.   Clear, however, are the sense of spiritual crisis and the religious decline in the Book of Malachi.

Consider 1:2-5, O reader.  We read divine assurance of love for the people.  We may assume safely that the population (much of it, anyway) needed this assurance.  The proof of divine love for Jews in Judea in Malachi 1:2-5 is their continued existence in their ancestral homeland.  The contrast with their ancient foe and cousin people, the Edomites, is stark.

I have read and blogged about divine judgment on the people of Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Obadiah; and Isaiah 34:5-17.

The designated portion of the Book of Malachi continues with the condemnations of priests and the population.  We read of priests offering defiled food as sacrifices.  We read that God objected strongly to such disrespect, and preferred no ritual sacrifices to the offerings of blemished animals.  (See Exodus 12:5; Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 10; Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 22:22).  We read that God was really angry:

And now, O priests, this charge is for you:  Unless you obey and unless you lay it to heart, and do dishonor to My name–said the LORD of blessings into curses.  (Indeed, I have turned them into curses, because you do not lay it to heart.)  I will put your seed under a ban, and I will strew dung upon your faces, the dung of your festal sacrifices, and you shall be carried out to its [heap].

–Malachi 2:1-3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Furthermore, we read that (much of) the population of Israel has failed to keep the covenant, too.  We read that God objected to Jewish men divorcing Jewish wives to marry foreign women.  One may recall that this was also an issue in Ezra 10.  As prior to the Babylonian Exile, idolatry is in play.  Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Deuteronomy 12:31 permit divorce, but Malachi 2:16 begins:

For I detest divorce….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Context is crucial; statements never arise in a vaccum.

Malachi 3:5 specifies offenses:

But [first] I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me:  Who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause] of the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the LORD of Hosts.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Faithless members of the Chosen People remain “children of Jacob,” we read.  And God (as in Zechariah 1:3) expects them to express remorse for their sins and to repent:

Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you–said the LORD of Hosts.

–Malachi 3:7b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The text continues by explaining another way (other than not committing the previously listed sins) the people could return to God:  to support the Levites (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21-31; Nehemiah 13:10-13).  The text challenges the people to respond faithfully and generously to the extravagant and generosity of God.

Malachi 3:11 mentions locusts in the present tense.  This clue does not reveal as much as one may guess.  Does Malachi 3:11 date the Book of Malachi approximately contemporary with the Book of Joel, whenever that was?  The case for this is tenuous and circumstantial.  One may recall that swarms of locusts were a frequent threat in the region.  Malachi 3:11 may tell us one reason many people were not paying their tithes, though.

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 exists within a context, of course.  Taking it out of context distorts its meaning.  Recall Malachi 2:17, O reader.  We read there that people have been wearying God by saying:

“All who do evil are good in the sight of the LORD, and in them He delights,” or else, “Where is the God of justice?”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 rebuts that wearying statements and that wearying question.

Trusting in God liberates.  It liberates populations and individuals.  It liberates them to become their best possible selves in God, who is extravagantly generous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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The Promise of the New Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Tiges (Isaiah 61:11)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART IV

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Isaiah 60:1-62:12

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Isaiah 60-62 is a lengthy poem of encouragement to Jerusalem (Zion), personified as a bereaved woman.  Jewish exiles are returning to Jerusalem, we read.

Certain themes are notable, some for their presence and others for their absence:

  1. There is no Davidic monarch in Third Isaiah.  In this respect, Third Isaiah disagrees with Haggai, First Zechariah, and First Isaiah.
  2. In the future, according to Isaiah 60:1-62:12, the Jewish nation will have royal and priestly status, and God will rule directly.
  3. A must society embodies the divine covenant and receives God’s blessing.
  4. Judah, in Isaiah 60:1-22, is superior to its neighbors.  The theme of reversal of fortune exists here.  So do national concerns, overriding universalism of any variety.  We read of Gentiles transporting Jewish exiles to Judah, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and bringing silver and gold.  This image contrasts with First Isaiah (2:1-4), in which Gentiles stream to Jerusalem to learn God’s ways.
  5. Isaiah 61:1-9 applies the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:10), by which farmers forced into indentured servitude could regain their land, to the nation.  The time to start over had come.
  6. The predicted splendor of Jerusalem contrasted with the actual state of the city prior to 445 B.C.E. and the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8:1-9:55).  Isaiah 60:1-62:12 offered hope for a better future.

Hope is essential.  These beautiful three chapters, replete with familiar passages, come from a particular context.  If one takes these chapters and passages out of context, one misses much of their meaning.  The central message is timeless, not bound by context, though.  That meaning is that God is faithful.  God has promised to act.  God will act.  Keep the faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

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

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

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

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

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Divine Warnings to the Restored Community   Leave a comment

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

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART III

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Isaiah 56:1-59:21

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Third Isaiah, First Zechariah, and Haggai had to explain why previous prophecies of heaven on earth after the end of the Babylonian Exile had not come to pass.  (I have already covered Haggai-First Zechariah.)  Third Isaiah spoke of sinful and rebellious people within Israel opposing God’s righteous rule.  According to Third Isaiah, the end of the Babylonian Exile was not the inauguration of heaven on earth.  No, it was a foretaste of heaven on earth.

Isaiah 56;1-59:21 comes from a time when many Jewish exiles remained in Babylonia (then part of the Persian Empire) and the situation in Judah was difficult.  The economy was bad and the drought was severe.  The material in Isaiah 56:1-59:21 emphasizes keeping the divine covenant in the context of community.  This covenant requires justice.  This covenant excludes corruption, idolatry, faithlessness, and superficial piety.  This covenant includes all who keep it–even foreigners and eunuchs (see Ezra 9; Ezra 6:21; Deuteronomy 23:2; Leviticus 21:16-23).  This covenant, therefore, moves beyond some of the exclusionary parts of the Law of Moses and welcomes the conversion of Gentiles.  This covenant entails keeping the Sabbath, by which one emulates God.

The Sabbath, in this context, had a particular meaning.  Keeping it indicated commitment to the ancestral faith, the faith to which the society was supposed to be returning.  Keeping the Sabbath was part of a just society, as well as a mark of freedom.  People were free to be their best in God.  Many did not want to pursue that goal.

Without going too far down the rabbit hole of necessary compromises regarding Sabbath-keeping in Judaism in antiquity and the present day, I point out that some people have to perform certain work on the day designated in their tradition as the Sabbath.  I also affirm that keeping Sabbath, whichever day a tradition or an adherent to it does so, is necessary, proper, and beneficial.  Keeping Sabbath is not being productive.  Being productive should not be the greatest value or one of the greatest values in a society.  It is, actually, a form of idolatry when raised to that high a priority.  My worth as a human being comes from bearing the image of God, not in how productive I am (or can be) and how much I purchase (or can afford to buy).

God judges unrepentant sinners and helps the righteous and penitent, we read.  God balances judgment and mercy.  God could not ignore what the society of Judah was doing to itself, we read.  When Judahites oppressed each other, God could not pretend this was not occurring, we read.  Divine judgment and mercy are inseparable.  They are like sides of a coin.

Sadly, the warnings in Isaiah 56:1-59:59:21 remain relevant in 2021.   What we mere mortals do–collectively and individually–matters.  God is watching us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

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

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

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

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

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The End of Days   Leave a comment

Above:  Ahriman (from Zoroastrianism)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 24:1-27:13

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Babylon is not mentioned even once.  Rather, the eschatological focus of these chapters has raised their sights to the ultimate purpose of God in portraying the cosmological judgment of the world and its final glorious restoration.  Moreover, the redemption of Israel is depicted as emerging from the ashes of the polluted and decaying world.  Not just a remnant is redeemed , but the chapter recounts the salvation of all peoples who share in the celebration of God’s new order when death is banished forever (25:8).

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 173

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INTRODUCTION

Isaiah 24-27 constitutes the Isaiah Apocalypse.  They also constitute an early and not full-blown example of Biblical apocalyptic literature.  Some books I read inform me that the Jewish apocalyptic form emerged in the wake of the fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire–in the late sixth century (early 500s) B.C.E., to be precise.  These books also teach that full-blown Jewish apocalypses emerged only in the second century (100s) B.C.E., as in the case of Daniel 7-12.

Isaiah 24, in vivid language, depicts the divine destruction of the natural order and the social order.  I recommend the translation by Robert Alter, in particular.  Regardless of the translation, we read that people have violated the moral mandates embedded in the Law of Moses:

And the earth is tainted beneath its dwellers,

for they transgressed teachings, flouted law, broke the eternal covenant.

Therefore has a curse consumed the earth,

and all its dwellers are mired in guilt.

Therefore earth’s dwellers turn pale,

and all but a few humans remain.

–Isaiah 24:5-6, in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019)

The timeframe is sometime in the future, relative to both Third Isaiah and 2021.  in this vision, high socio-economic status provides no protection against God’s creative destruction.

Within the Book of Isaiah, in its final form, chapters 24-27 follow oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23) and precede more oracles against nations (chapters 28-33).  This relative placement is purposeful.

SWALLOWING UP DEATH FOREVER

Returning to the Isaiah Apocalypse, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God entails the defeat of the enemies of God’s people, the celebration of an eschatological banquet, and the swallowing up of death forever (See 1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 7:7-17).  The divine swallowing up of death echoes the swallowing up of Mot (the Canaanite god of death) in mythology.

Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 refer to divine victory over death.  Given the temporal origin of the Isaiah Apocalypse, is this a metaphor for the divine vindication of the downtrodden, likened to the dead?  Such language, in Book of Daniel (100s B.C.E.) and the Revelation of John (late 100s C.E.), refers to the afterlife.  The operative question regarding Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19, however, is if the author knew about and affirmed the resurrection of the dead.  We know that Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the dry bones) is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile.  But what about Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19?  Even the Jewish commentaries I consult do not arrive at a conclusion.

I understand why.  The Isaiah Apocalypses comes from a time when Jewish theology was changing, under the influence of Zoroastrianism.  Satan was moving away from being God’s employee–loyalty tester (Job 1-2) and otherwise faithful angel (Numbers 22:22-40)–and becoming a free agent and the chief rebel.   The theology of Ahriman, the main figure of evil in Zoroastrianism, was influencing this change in Jewish theology.  Jewish ideas of the afterlife were also changing under Zoroastrian influence.  Sheol was passing away.  Reward and punishment in the afterlife were becoming part of Jewish theology.  By the second century (100s) B.C.E., belief in individual resurrection of the dead was unambiguous (Daniel 12:2-3, 12).

I do not know what Third Isaiah believed regarding the resurrection of the dead.  I suppose that he could have affirmed that doctrine.  The historical context and the symbolic language of the apocalypse combine to confuse the matter.  So be it; I, as an Episcopalian, am comfortable with a degree of ambiguity.

DIVINE JUDGMENT ON ENEMIES OF THE COVENANT PEOPLE

Isaiah 25:9-12 singles out Moab, in contrast to the usual practice of not naming enemies in chapters 24-27.  One may recall material condemning Moab in Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 15:1-16:13; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Ezekiel 25:8-11.

In the divine order, the formerly oppressed rejoice in their victory over those who had oppressed them.  Oppression has no place in the divine order.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 24-27.  Divine deliverance of the oppressors is frequently catastrophic for the oppressors.  And the contrast between the fates of the enemies of God (27:11) and the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem (27:13) is stark.  As Brevard S. Childs offers:

In sum, the modern theology of religious universalism, characterized by unlimited inclusivity, is far removed from the biblical proclamation of God’s salvation (cf. Seitz, 192),

Isaiah (2001), 186

GOD’S VINEYARD

Neither do apostasy and idolatry have any place in the divine order.  And all the Jewish exiles will return to their ancestral homeland.  Also, the message of God will fill the earth:

In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall bud and flower,

and the face of the world shall fill with bounty.

–Isaiah 27:6, Robert Alter (2019)

The face of the world will be God’s productive vineyard, figuratively.  The people and kingdom of God, figuratively, are a vineyard in the Old and New Testament.  (See Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19).

CONCLUSION

Despite ambiguities in the texts, I am unambiguous on two germane points:

  1. Apocalyptic literature offers good news:  God will win in the end.  Therefore, faithful people should remain faithful.
  2. Apocalyptic literature calls the powers and leaders to account.  It tells them that they fall short of divine standards when they oppress populations and maintain social injustice.  It damns structures and institutions of social inequality.  It condemns societies that accept the unjust status quo.

Regardless of–or because of–certain ambiguities in the Isaiah Apocalypse, chapters 24-27 speak to the world in 2021.  Some vagueness in prophecy prevents it from becoming dated and disproven, after all.  And structural inequality remains rife and politically defended, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

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

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

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

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

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Six Oracles of First Zechariah: Joy and Gladness in the Coming Age   Leave a comment

Above:  Israeli Stamp of Zechariah 8:19

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART XIV

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Zechariah 7:1-8:23

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Jerusalem, mid-November 518 B.C.E. (Zechariah 7:1).

Regarding the “seventy years” and the various issues and Biblical interpretations of them, I refer you, O reader, to this post.

The Law of Moses contains timeless principles and culturally-specific examples of them.  The former remain relevant, although the latter may not.  “Peaking behind the law,” as I refer to it, may reveal the germane timeless principle(s) and help one determine how to apply it or them.  Certain moral principles, stated in scripture, condemn some policies in contemporary times.  For example, Zechariah 7:9-10 ought to send shivers down the spines of certain powerful people and their supporters in various lands.  Oppressing the resident aliens (7:10) is popular in segments of the body politic.  Taxing the poor heavily and the wealthy lightly (if at all) is popular with many conventionally pious people, too.  This violates 7:10.  Many laws criminalize poverty and homelessness, in violation of 7:9-10.  I wonder how a society based on showing kindness to each other (7:9) would function.  I want to find out.

The divine order of justice and equity is the opposite of much of human conventional wisdom and government policy.  Zechariah 8:16-17 remains revolutionary in 2021, sadly:

This is what you must do:  speak the truth to each other, administer true and sound justice in your courts, and do not love perjury, for all these things I hate.  This is the word of the LORD.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

When those principles cease to be revolutionary, when the love of truth and peace (8:19) is the norm, others will come from far away and, in the words of 8:23, say to us:

Let us accompany you, for we have heard that God is with you.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

Thank you, O reader, for accompanying me on this journey through Haggai-First Zechariah.  I hope you will remain by my side, so to speak, as I progress to my next destination, Third Isaiah (chapters 24-27, 56-66).

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN DE JACOBIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP IN ETHIOPIA; AND SAINT MICHAEL GHEBRE, ETHIOPIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAMILLUS DE LELLIS, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND FOUNDER OF THE MINISTERS OF THE SICK

THE FEAST OF LEON MCKINLEY ADKINS, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MATTHEW BRIDGES, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAMSON OCCUM, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO NATIVE AMERICANS

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The Sixth Vision of First Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Zechariah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART X

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Zechariah 5:1-4

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The contents of Zechariah 1:7-6:15 date to early February 519 B.C.E. (1:7).

The sixth vision (5:1-4) was of a flying scroll about 30 feet long and about 15 feet wide.  The scroll was about the size of the portico of the Great Hall of the First Temple (1 Kings 6:3).  The purpose of the curse on this remarkable scroll was to remove all crime–namely, theft and perjury–from the land.  There was no room such transgressions in the ideal society to come–in either Judah or the world, depending on the translation of 5:3.

Zechariah 5:1-4 get us, O reader, into the realm of curses.  I, as a modern person grounded in science, give them barely a thought, except to dismiss them as superstitions.  I do not think, therefore, as the authors of Zechariah 5:1-4; Judges 17:2; Numbers 5; and Deuteronomy 29:19 did.  The importance of a curse, Biblically, relates to that of an oath.  (See Leviticus 5:20-24; Proverbs 29:24; Exodus 22:9-11/22:8-10; Judges 11:29-40; Matthew 5:33-37; et cetera.)  The importance of curses also relates to that of blessings, as in Numbers 27:1-45; Numbers 22-24; et cetera.

The emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the community of Zechariah 5:1-4 is a timeless principle, though.  May more people act according to mutuality, one of the pillars of the Law of Moses.

The importance of blessings, curses, and oaths in the Bible points to another timeless principle:  words matter.  Notice the mention of perjury in Zechariah 5:1-4, O reader.  One may recall Daniel 13, the story of Susanna, in which perjury almost cost an innocent woman her life.  The penalty for perjury in the Law of Moses is:

If the witness is a false witness, and has falsely accused the other, you shall do to the false witness just as that false witness planned to do to the other.  Thus you shall purge evil from your midst.

–Deuteronomy 19:18b-19, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

For more commentary about the importance and power of words, read James 3:1-12.  That which the author of that epistle wrote goes double or triple in the age of social media.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN DE JACOBIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP IN ETHIOPIA; AND SAINT MICHAEL GHEBRE, ETHIOPIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAMILLUS DE LELLIS, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND FOUNDER OF THE MINISTERS OF THE SICK

THE FEAST OF LEON MCKINLEY ADKINS, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MATTHEW BRIDGES, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAMSON OCCUM, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO NATIVE AMERICANS

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

Above:  Inconsolable Grief, by Ivan Kramskoi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VIII

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Isaiah 50:1-52:12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,

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

Second Isaiah addressed a population, of course.

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

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS SPIRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF RUED LANGGAARD, DANISH COMPOSER

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

Above:  Martin Luther

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VII

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Isaiah 48:1-49:26

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Before I get to the meat of this post, I must clarify one point:  the meaning of “word of God,” in the context of Isaiah 48:1-49:26.  Pay attention to the difference between “word of God” and “Word of God” in writing, O reader.  I live in the Bible Belt of the United States of America.  Here, many fundamentalists (fun-damn-mentalists) and Evangelicals mistake the “Word of God” for being the Bible.  I, with my Barthian tendencies, affirm that Jesus is the “Word of God” and that the Bible is the “word of God,” in the broad sense.  Yet, in the narrow sense–in the context of Isaiah 48:1-49:26, for example–the “word of God” is whatever God says in a particular setting.  One of the highlights of Reformed (Christian) theology is the concept of the “book of nature,” by which God also speaks.

In Isaiah 48, Hebrew exiles (in general) were faithless people who swore insincerely and falsely in the name of YHWH.  Their word was not reliable and powerful.  The people were stubborn and prone to commit idolatry.  Yet God’s word was faithful and powerful.  And, as in the Book of Ezekiel, God was faithful not for the sake of the covenant people, but for God’s own sake (48:11):

For My sake, My own sake, I do act–

Lest [My name] be dishonored!

I will not give My glory to another.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

We also read the Babylonian Exile was punishment the population earned, and that God (for God’s own sake) balanced judgment–and mercy–did not destroy the rebellious Hebrews (48:9-11).  We read that the exile was a form of education in the ways of heeding divine commandments (48:17-19).  We read, too, that the Babylonian Exile was about to end (48:20-22).

What I wrote while blogging through the Book of Ezekiel holds.  I still find this self-centered God-concept repugnant.  I understand the cultural-historical context.  I know that Ezekiel and Second Isaiah asserted the sovereignty of God in the context of the widely-held assumption that Marduk and the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian pantheon had conquered YHWH in 586 B.C.E.  Yet I am also a Christian.  As one, I affirm the Incarnation, that Jesus of Nazareth (who lived, who breathed, and who dined with people) was God with skin on.  I affirm that the real, flesh-and-blood person, Jesus, being God (however the mechanics of the Incarnation worked) revealed the character of God.  I recall reading in the four canonical Gospels about Jesus healing and feeding people out of compassion and pity, not concerns about burnishing his reputation.

Isaiah 49:1-6 is the Second Servant Song.  The servant speaks.  The servant’s mission predates the servant’s birth.  The servant’s mission is to announce the divine restoration of the covenant relationship with YHWH, by YHWH, that the covenant people may be a light to the nations.  Salvation will, therefore, reach the ends of the earth via the covenant people.  As with the First Servant Song, the identity is not a matter of unanimous agreement.  Most likely, as in the case of the First Servant Song, the servant is the covenant people–the exiles, about to be free to go home.  The idea is that the end of the Babylonian Exile will lead to all the (known) world recognizing YHWH.

That prediction proved to overly optimistic.

The covenant people’s mission is to model a just society grounded in divine law.  The Law of Moses contains timeless principles and many culturally-specific examples of those principles.  Legalism results when people mistake culturally-specific examples for timeless principles.  Context is also crucial, as it always is.  Many people neglect or misunderstand context when interpreting verses and passages.  They mean well, but miss the point(s).  Mutuality, in the context of the recognition of complete dependence on God, informs many of the culturally-specific examples in the Law of Moses.  We human beings are responsible to God, to each other, and for each other.  We have a divine mandate to treat one another accordingly.  Creating and maintaining a society built on that truth is a high and difficult calling.  It is possible via grace and free will.

The prediction of the Jewish homeland as paradise on Earth after the Babylonian Exile also proved overly optimistic.  Dealing with disappointment over that fact was one of the tasks of Third Isaiah (24-27, 56-66).

The people were faithless, but God was faithful.  Martin Luther, counseling practicing, baptized Christians concerned they would go to Hell for their sins, advised them to trust in the faithfulness of God.  he was correct about that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS TOLTON, PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN RUDOLPH AHLE AND JOHANN GEORG AHLE, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GRANT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND HYMN WRITER

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The Universality of God, the Fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, and More Diatribes About the Folly of Idolatry   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of Babylon, 1932

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-13231

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VI

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Isaiah 45:1-47:15

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I started this this long-term project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order (with some exceptions), months ago.  I have learned much along the way.  Mainly, I have learned how repetitive the Hebrew prophetic books are.  I have learned that they are like people who tell the same stories again and again.  I have read so many assertions of the sovereignty of God, the folly of idolatry, the sin of social injustice, and other matters before arriving at Isaiah 45:1-47:15 that I choose not to beat too many proverbial dead horses in this post.

I hope you, O reader, understand.

God works through human beings much of the time.  Isaiah 45:1 calls King Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes (r. 559-530 B.C.E.) the “Anointed One,” or Messiah.  We know that his army defeated the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  We know that Cyrus II permitted Jewish exiles to return to their ancestral homeland in 538 B.C.E.  And we know that Cyrus II was a Zoroastrian, not a Jew.  We know, too, that the shape of Jewish theology changed during the Persian period, and that Zoroastrianism influenced these changes.  I, as a Christian, owe a theological debt to Zoroastrianism, via Judaism.

The city of Babylon survived for a long time after 539 B.C.E.  It was an ancient city then, and it remained important for centuries.  Yet the city became less important than it had been.  Babylon’s time as an imperial capital had ended.  The city became a regional administrative center within the Persian Empire.  King Seleucus I Nicator (r. 305-281 B.C.E.), looking for a capital for his Seleucid Empire, chose not to base the empire at Babylon.  He founded a new city, Seleucia, nearby.  Over time, the population of Babylon dwindled, until it the ancient city became a village, and a source of bricks for construction elsewhere.  Eventually, nobody lived in Babylon any longer.

Likewise, Seleucia, built on the Tigris River, had its day in the sun.  The course of the Tigris River shifted, however, and Seleucia eventually became a set of ruins, too.

Everything–empires, cities, et cetera–has it its time.  That time may be long.  However long that time lasts, it ends eventually.  Do not get too attached to anything, O reader.  If you outlive your “stuff,” others will have to decide what to do with it.  Trust in God, who is forever, and (in the Johannine sense), eternal.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS TOLTON, PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN RUDOLPH AHLE AND JOHANN GEORG AHLE, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GRANT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND HYMN WRITER

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

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 42:18-44:28

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

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS TOLTON, PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN RUDOLPH AHLE AND JOHANN GEORG AHLE, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GRANT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND HYMN WRITER

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