New Interpreter's Bible (12 Vols.) - Pre-Publication Examples

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Keep Smiling 4 Jesus :) | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Feb 8 2012 12:06 PM

Dan Francis:

Keep Smiling 4 Jesus :) 

Thought this would be a better way to display things, while I tend to wonder about how large the thread might grew with numerous examples posted to one thread.

A large thread promoting => New Interpreter's Bible (12 vols.) (NIB) is preferable; easy reference for the various examples.  Thanks for typing a lot; for several examples, I have desired to compare and contrast with current content in my Logos library.

Noticed NIB has 11,591 pages; Logos.com tends to have Table of Contents and up to 5 % available for look inside, which would be 579 pages.  Hence recognize potential for many more examples until NIB has enough pre-orders for resource development.

Current pre-order progress:

With 11,591 pages, the pre-publication price per page is $ 0.24

By the way, to become the largest forum thread, need over 674 replies.

Keep Smiling Smile

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Feb 8 2012 1:14 PM

PSALM 82:1-8, SHOW JUSTICE TO THE WEAK

 

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COMMENTARY

As if to supply a rationale for Ps 81:9, Psalm 82 portrays the death of all other gods. In so doing, it offers a clear picture of the ancient Near Eastern polytheistic culture that formed Israel’s religious background. In Canaanite religion, the high god El convened the council of the gods (see this concept also in 1 Kgs 22:19-23; Job 1:6-12; and perhaps Ps 58:1-2). In v. 1, Israel’s God has displaced El and convenes what proves to be an extraordinary meeting. Israel’s God proceeds to put the gods on trial (see the trial metaphor also in Isa 3:13-15; Hos 4:1-3; Mic 6:1-5). After the gods are indicted and charged (vv. 2-4), the case against them is summarized in v. 5, and the sentence is announced (vv. 6-7). The psalmist then pleads for God to claim the dominion once held by the gods and to rule justly (v. 8). In short, the council of the gods is permanently adjourned, and so Psalm 82 affirms again the message that forms the theological heart of the book of Psalms: God rules the world (see Psalms 2; 29; 47; 93; 95–99; Introduction).

82:1-4. The key issue in the trial of the gods is the way they “judge” (fpv sApat, v. 2) or administer “justice” (v. 3; note the two other occurrences of the same Hebrew root—“holds judgment” in v. 1 and “judge” in v. 8). Acting as both prosecutor and judge, God accuses the gods of judging unjustly and showing partiality (v. 2). The inadequacy of such behavior is apparent in Leviticus 19, part of the Holiness Code, as well. There God commands the people of Israel to “not render an unjust judgment” and to “not be partial” (Lev 19:15 NRSV). Indeed, Lev 19:2 exhorts, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (NRSV). Thus injustice among humans, and certainly among the gods, violates the very nature of divinity and the divine will for the world.

The importance of justice in the human realm is emphasized in vv. 3-4. The series of imperatives functions not to exhort the gods but to indict them. As the series unfolds, it becomes clear that justice is a matter of ordering the human community. In v. 3, “give justice” and “maintain the right” are parallel, just as the nouns “justice” and “righteousness” are frequently parallel (see Amos 5:7, 24; 6:12). Justice and righteousness are not just abstract principles or ideals; rather, they have to do with the very concrete matter of how human beings relate. For the God of Israel, the criterion of justice involves what is done for the weak, the orphaned, the destitute, the needy (see Pss 9:7-9, 18; 10:17-18; 68:5-6; 113:7; 146:7-9). Not surprisingly, justice and righteousness also appear as parallels in the psalms that proclaim God’s reign or describe the reign of God’s earthly agent, the king (see Pss 72:1-2; 97:2; 99:4; see also 96:10, 13; 98:9). Here again, the establishment of justice and righteousness is the measure of divinity and of human life as God intends it.

Verse 4 allows even more specificity. Justice and righteousness involve the very concrete matter of how power is distributed in the human community, and thus the matter of who has access to life. In biblical terms, only persons whose lives are threatened need to be rescued or delivered. For instance, the psalmists often plead in life-threatening situations for God to rescue them from the wicked (see Pss 17:13; 71:2, 4). The verb “deliver” (lxn nzl) is used to describe what God did to save the Israelites “from the hand of the Egyptians” (Exod 18:9-10 NIV). The word “hand” describes “grasp,” or more to the point, “power.” The gods should have delivered the weak and needy from the power of the wicked 

 

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(v. 4), but it was precisely the wicked to whom the gods have been partial (v. 2). For the God of Israel, things are right in the human community when power is distributed in a way that all persons, especially the powerless, have access to the resources that enable them to live.

82:5. The speaker in v. 5 could be interpreted as the psalmist acting as narrator, but it is more likely that God continues to speak here. The “they” in v. 5 refers to the gods, and the case against them is summarized. The result of their ignorance and failure is disastrous. The shaking of “all the foundations of the earth” represents a worst-case scenario. In the ancient view of the world, the mountains were the foundations that held up the sky and held back the waters from flooding dry land. The shaking of the foundations meant that the whole creation was threatened by the return of chaos (see Isa 24:18-19; Ps 46:1-3). In short, v. 5 suggests that injustice destroys the world! Where injustice exists, the world—at least the world as God intends it—falls apart. L. K. Handy argues that v. 5 is the structural center of Psalm 82, and its claim is certainly of central importance.317

82:6-7. Because the gods have failed to do justice, they are guilty of destroying human life and community as God intends them. Thus they deserve to die (vv. 6-7).

82:8. The death of the gods opens the way for God’s reign of justice, for which the psalmist prays in v. 8 (see “rise up” in Pss 3:7; 9:19; 10:12). Having affirmed God’s sovereignty, the psalmist also prays for and awaits God’s rule; that is, the perspective is eschatological (see Commentary on Psalm 2; Introduction). But the psalmist is sure of the outcome. The final “you” is an emphatic pronoun; God rules the nations and the cosmos.

REFLECTIONS

Psalm 82 raises the question of how we are to hear such an overtly mythological text in our very different world. The first step is to approach the psalm as a poetic expression of faith rather than a literal description of a trial in heaven. The truth of the psalm’s message lies in its ability to illumine reality, which it does in a remarkable way—so much so that in our day, and with our distance from the ancient Near Eastern worldview, it is possible for us to appreciate the psalmist’s conviction that injustice destroys the world. Indeed, we see it happening all around us—in our cities and neighborhoods, in our schools and churches and homes. That the foundations of the earth are still shaking reinforces that Psalm 82 does not literally describe the death of the gods, but instead denies ultimacy to any claim on our lives other than God’s claim. The apostle Paul said it well in 1 Cor 8:5-6: “Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (NRSV). Paul also refers to these so-called gods as “the rulers and authorities” (Eph 3:10; Col 2:15; see RSV “the principalities and powers”). These “rulers and authorities” are still with us in diverse forms—wherever and whenever anyone benefits from denying the God-given humanity of others. As Mays suggests, “As long as nations and their peoples do not see the reign of God as the reality that determines their way and destiny, there will be other gods who play that role.”318

While such gods are still with us, Psalm 82 affirms, in Paul’s words, that “for us there is one God.” J. P. M. Walsh argues that the Canaanite polytheistic system elevated economic survival to ultimacy at the expense of compassion.319 Thus the religion of the gods legitimated

 

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 a hierarchical social system in which those at the top prospered and those at the bottom suffered. The religion of the one God, the God of Israel, countered by affirming that God’s very nature is compassion. The faith of Israel was founded on the conviction that the one God hears the cries of victims and acts to deliver them from death to life (see Exod 3:7). The followers of the one God became an alternative community on the ancient Near Eastern scene. For them, the gods were dead.

For Christians, all rulers and authorities other than the one God have been dethroned; the gods are dead. We profess to live solely under the rule of God, which Jesus announced and embodied in a ministry of justice and righteousness, directed especially to the weak and to the needy. (See John 8:34-38, where Jesus cites Ps 82:6 in defense of his claim to be one with God on the basis of doing God’s works; the sense of the argument depends on the Jewish custom of understanding “gods” in 82:6 as the people of Israel rather than divine beings.) We cannot help hearing the plea of v. 8 in terms of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10 NRSV, italics added).

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Feb 10 2012 10:09 AM

ROMANS 3:1-14

Romans 13:1-7, God’s Call to Obedience to the Authorities

Link to: Romans 13:1

 

 

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COMMENTARY

Theological fashions change, and pressure points move from one exegetical location to another. A previous generation found Romans 9 intolerable, first reading into that chapter a doctrine of absolute predestination to salvation or damnation and then angrily rejecting it. Others have taken a similar view of Rom 1:18-32, hating the very idea of “wrath” as a theologically barbarous concept. Now, after a century in which totalitarian governments have devastated continents, decimated nations, and dehumanized millions of their subjects, it is scarcely surprising that the critical searchlight has swung around and come to rest on the little paragraph now before us. As though by some scapegoating process, these seven verses have been struck out of the canon, vilified, and blamed for untold miseries. They have enabled whole generations of critics to combine their sociopolitical instincts and prejudices with their status as professional exegetes, and to leap-frog over Paul onto what looks like the high moral ground. This is always a deeply satisfying pastime.

But when the sound and fury have died away, we are left wondering what all the fuss was about. Yes, many wicked and powerful governments have appealed to Romans 13 to justify their every move. But have people not done that with words of Jesus himself? If enemies sow weeds in a field of wheat, is the wheat farmer to be blamed? There are many parts of the Bible that can be, and have been, twisted to serve violent and self-serving ends.505 If we cut them all out, there might be little left. Exegesis, and the determination to live at least with its results, and perhaps even by them, is always a risk, part of the risk of an incarnational religion or faith. Romans 13 is no exception.

This paragraph, I shall suggest, neither needs nor deserves opprobrium. It is not a fully blown “Theology of Church and State”; indeed, as is often pointed out, our post-Enlightenment notion of “State” would have been foreign to Paul. One can hardly blame a writer if, in the course of a letter about something else, a small aside does not contain the full sophisticated and nuanced treatment that subsequent generations might have liked. Paul’s point here is essentially quite simple; it fits into the line of thought of Romans 12—13 as a whole; it need not be wished away in an effort to undercut legitimating arguments for totalitarianism, and indeed it needs to be present for the balance of the previous chapter and paragraph to be maintained.

Many theories have been advanced, predictably, as to what Paul was talking about and why. I here list only the major ones.506 (On the unwarranted suggestion that the entire paragraph is a gloss, see the Overview for 12:14—13:7.)

(1) This passage is a general statement about ruling authorities. It applies to all legitimate authorities all the time. It is based on a general belief in the desire of the creator God for order within all societies.507

 

 

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(2) It is a particular statement about the Roman Empire, based on (a) Paul’s belief that it was in some sense God-given, and (b) his experience of sensible magistrates protecting him from persecution, and looking (c) for the safety of the Jewish and/or Christian community in Rome at this historical moment.508 

(3) It is a very particular statement about the specific moment in the Roman Empire when, with a new, fresh emperor in the throne (Nero’s early years were as promising as his later years were terrible), Paul believed there was at least a moment when the church should trust Rome and live content within its world.509 

(4) It is a statement of something that is now true as a result of the victory of Jesus over the powers of the world in his death and resurrection.510 

I regard (4) as simply mistaken. Paul does not argue his point on the basis of christology or the gospel. The passage is so close in tone and content to various Jewish writings of the period and before (see below) that there is no reason to suppose that this is a new viewpoint generated by the Christian gospel.

There are further variations within (1), (2), and (3). Maybe Paul intends the paragraph as a general statement (1), but is also influenced by elements of (2) and (3), for instance by the need to distance himself from the groundswell of Jewish resistance against Rome in the Middle East.511 Maybe he has in mind the particular situation of a tiny Christian group, including many Jews, in the city from which Jews had been expelled a few years earlier for rioting “at the instigation of Chrestus.”512 Maybe he held view (2) or perhaps (3) at the time of writing, but found that his subsequent experience in Roman prisons led him to a very different view, which emerges in Philippians.513 Within subsequent interpretation, variants of (2) and (3) have been taken to mean that the passage cannot be insisted upon as relevant for all time.

There may well be elements of particular historical situations visible in the passage; but what Paul actually wrote still looks very much like a general statement about ruling authorities, not a pragmatic assessment of Rome, or the present situation.514 This is both, so to speak, good and bad news for those who are anxious about the application of the passage to subsequent situations. The more general the passage, the less it can be taken to glorify Rome, and hence to have Paul legitimating the tyranny that within a decade or so had done grievous violence to the church. The more specific the passage (Paul making a positive comment on the Roman Empire), the easier it appears to relativize it and declare it irrelevant to other times and places. However, there is an irony in this specific reading (as in [2] and [3]). By having Paul declare that Rome is a good thing (and thereby having him say nothing much about other rulers and governments), exegesis finds itself unable to see other parts of Paul, and other parts of Romans, as subverting the Roman imperial ideology: Romans 13 is regularly appealed to as an argument against a “counterimperial” reading of the rest of Paul. However, if Paul really did intend it as a general statement, based on God’s appointed order in creation (as per [1] above), the less it stands in the way of this counterimperial reading. It would be ironic if, in seeking to avoid a totalitarian reading of this one text, we make it so Rome-specific that it blinds us to the far deeper anti-imperial message of Paul’s gospel as a whole.

The wider context gives good reasons to support (1), even if we want to nuance the question of how Paul’s readers would have heard what he was saying. As we have suggested, 13:1-7 goes closely with 12:14-21, which we would be right to assume Paul would have said to any church at

 

 

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any time. Paul is well aware that persecution may come, and even if we date all the prison letters after Romans we are surely not going to say, with 1 Thessalonians and 2 Corinthians behind him (let alone the experiences ascribed to him in Acts), that he had a pragmatically rosy view of authorities in general. Just as in 12:14-21 he seems to have drawn on traditions about the words and actions of Jesus, so there may be a sense here, as in at least one gospel tradition, that even when they are grievously deceived and almost demonic, ruling authorities still have a certain level of divine authorization (see John 19:11; cf. the interesting exchange in Acts 23:1-5).

More especially, the point he stresses throughout 12:14-21 dovetails exactly into what he says in 13:1-7. One must not call down curses on persecutors, nor repay evil with evil, nor seek private retribution; punishment is God’s business. Now we see how Paul supposed, in part at least, that God went about that business. Of course, Paul believed in a final judgment (1:32; 2:1-16; 14:10) when all wrongs would be put to rights. But he now articulates, as a central point in 13:1-7, a standard Jewish and then Christian belief: that ruling authorities are what they are because God wants order in the present world. God is not going to allow chaos to reign even in the present evil age. Chaos and anarchy enable the powerful, the rich, and the bullies to come out on top, and they invariably do. God desires that even in the present time, even in the world that has not yet confessed Jesus as Lord, there should be a measure of justice and order. The point can easily be observed by thinking of situations where magistrates and judges are perceived to be failing badly in their duty to keep this order: before too long, vigilante groups and lynch mobs arise, taking “justice” into their own hands. One of the underlying theses that binds 12:14-21 and 13:1-7 together is therefore this: justice is served not by private vengeance but by individuals trusting the authorities to keep wickedness in check. Knowledge that the authorities are there to look after such matters is a strong incentive to forswear freelance attempts at “justice.”

This, as I say, looks back to many clear Jewish precedents. Isaiah spoke of pagan rulers accomplishing God’s purposes. Jeremiah urged Israel in exile to pray for the welfare of Babylon, because if Babylon was prospering, Israel would as well (Isa 10:5-11; 44:28—45:5; 46:11; Jer 29:4-9; 27:6-11 [God gives Jerusalem into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar]; see also Dan 1:2; 2:21, 37-49; 4:25, 32; 5:18; Ezra 6:10; Prov 8:15-16; Bar 1:11; 1 Macc 7:33). The book of Esther turns on the potentially risky but eventually satisfactory position of Jews under pagan rule. Many Jews in the Second Temple period were happy to see God’s hand in the rise, as well as the fall, of great powers, and even though the early hailing of Rome as such a power must have left an extremely bitter taste in later mouths, the principle was established, and articulated in sundry writings of Paul’s period: God intends that there should be good and wise rulers, and if rulers know what their business really is they will seek divine wisdom to help them accomplish it (e.g., Wis 6:1-11).515 Romans 13:1-7 belongs fair and square on this map. It occupies a similar space, ironically enough, to that occupied by the more moderate Pharisees, the Hillelites, who were content for the moment to live and let live (though still believing in the eventual Age to Come and the worldwide rule of the Messiah), rather than the fiercer Shammaites who would have seen such a position as a compromise. From one point of view, if Paul’s conversion made him look, on this point, more like a Hillelite than the Shammaite he had been before, that only serves to emphasize how very Jewish, how “natural,” a position like this would seem.516 

But did Paul not believe, and hint at several points in Romans itself, that the gospel and rule of Jesus the Messiah, the world’s true Lord, subverted the gospel and rule of Caesar, whose cult was growing fast in precisely the cities (Corinth, Ephesus, and so on) where he spent most of his time?517 Yes; and this is perhaps part of the point. If the gospel of Jesus, God’s Son, the King who will rule the nations (1:3-4; 15:12) does indeed reveal God’s justice and salvation, which put to shame

 

 

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the similar claims of Caesar (1:16-17; Phil 2:5-11; 3:19-21); if it is true that those who accept this gospel will themselves exercise a royal reign (5:17); and if Paul suspects that his audience in Rome are getting this message–then it is all the more important to make it clear that this does not mean a holy anarchy in the present, an overrealized eschatology in which the rule of Christ has already abolished all earthly governments and magistrates. Precisely because Paul is holding out for the day when all creation will be renewed (8:1-27), when every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus (Phil 2:10-11), it is vital that the excitable little groups of Christians should not take the law into their own hands in advance.518 In particular (and with events in Palestine in mind), it is important that his readers do not take his covert polemic against the imperial ideology as a coded call to a Christian version of the so-called fourth philosophy.519 This is where Paul’s probable awareness of the riots under Claudius, and the reputation that both Jews and Christians will have gained in Rome because of them, must come into play. God does not intend that Christians should become agents of anarchy, which would replace the tyranny of the officially powerful with the tyranny of the unofficially powerful. The ultimate overthrow of pagan power comes by other means, and Paul has outlined in Romans 5 and 8 what those means are. Rome could cope with ordinary revolutions. Rome could not cope, as history bears witness, with a community owing allegiance to the crucified and risen Messiah as the world’s true Lord.

In fact, reading Romans 13 against the backdrop of the extravagant claims made within the burgeoning imperial cult highlights one point in particular. According to Paul (and the Jewish tradition in which he stands) the rulers are not themselves divine; they are set up by the one God, and they owe this God allegiance. Romans 13 constitutes a severe demotion of arrogant and self-divinizing rulers. It is an undermining of totalitarianism, not a reinforcement of it. By implication, if the rulers themselves are given the task of judging wicked people within their sphere of authority, they themselves will be judged by the God who set them up. Paul does not say this explicitly; but in 13:4 he twice describes the rulers as God’s “servants” (diavkonoi diakonoi), and if he is capable of pointing out that God’s servants in the gospel will be judged on how they have performed, there is every reason to suppose that God’s “servants” within the civic community will themselves also face an ultimate tribunal (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-15; 4:1-5, having described himself and Apollos as God’s diakonoi in 3:5; 2 Cor 5:10). This, however, is not his point at the moment (just as he does not say, in Romans 5—8, what will happen to those who are not “in Christ”), and we must remind ourselves that this is not intended as a full and balanced statement of everything Paul might have wanted to say on the subject. The main thing he wants to get across to the Roman Christians is that, even though they are servants of the Messiah Jesus, the world’s rightful Lord, this does not give them carte blanche to ignore the temporary subordinates whose appointed task, whether they know it or not, is to bring at least a measure of God’s order and justice to the world. Government and magistrates may be more or less good or bad; but–and this is Paul’s basic point–government qua government is intended by God and should in principle command submission from Christian and non-Christian alike.

Reading Rom 13:1-7 in the context of 12:14-21 raises a question, which Paul does not here even touch on: What happens when the “persecutors” (12:14) are the same people as “the governing authorities,” and are using their God-given power for that purpose? Since Paul does not raise the question here, we cannot press this passage for a hint of an answer; but we might again compare Acts 23:1-5. Even if this is merely a stylized scene constructed by Luke, it expresses the same balance we might get by reading Romans the way I have suggested, adding Philippians and the Thessalonian correspondence to the mix, and then returning with the same question. “Paul” in this story declares that God will strike the “whitewashed wall,” the judge who is behaving illegally. When confronted with the news that he is addressing God’s high priest, he apologizes formally, recognizing that he should not speak evil of a ruler. But he does not retract his charge that the ruler in question has behaved illegally and will be

 

 

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judged for it. A similar pattern emerges when Acts places Paul before pagan magistrates. He will submit to their authority, but he will also remind them of their duty (see Acts 16:19-40; 22:22-29; 25:6-12). We may be right to suspect that Paul could see, not far away, the battle that would come, in which Caesar insisted on an absolute allegiance that left no room for Jesus as Lord. Less than a century later, Polycarp died at the stake because of that; but even he, it seems, held on to a view of magistracy very similar to Paul’s.520 

In particular, Paul always insists on seeing the present in the light of the future. Romans 13:1-7 does not describe a new situation brought into being by the eschatological events concerning Jesus; but the obedience of Christians to earthly magistrates takes place under the sign of ultimate judgment (cf. again 2:1-16). This does not mean, as Paul’s own example bears out, that one must be politically and socially quiescent until the great renewal of all things. That is the slur made on the good name of inaugurated eschatology by those who want to insist on the full renewal right away. Preaching and living the gospel must always be announcing and following Jesus, rather than Caesar, as the true Lord. But the eschatological balance must be kept. The church must live as a sign of the coming complete kingdom of Jesus Christ; but since that kingdom is characterized by “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” it cannot be inaugurated in the present by chaos, violence, and hatred (cf. 14:17). The methods of the Messiah himself (12:14-21) must be used in living out his kingdom within the present world, passing away though it may be.

Romans 13:1-7 is about the running of civic communities, and the duty of Christians toward them. It does not mention or allude to the interactions between different civic communities or nations. It was because of this that later Christians developed a theory of “just war,” to argue at a new level that under certain circumstances it may be right to defend the interests of a nation or community, by force if necessary; and it is against that in particular that various pacifist movements have protested. Romans 13 is sometimes called as a witness in this discussion, but its relevance may be doubted (see the Reflections). 

13:1.  “Every person” (NRSV) is literally “every soul”–a clear enough indication, if such were needed, that by “soul” Paul means more than “the immaterial element within a human being.” The word yuchv (psyche) regularly refers, in the New Testament, to the whole human being seen from the point of view of the person’s interior life, motivation, and intention. Here it is a way of indicating that every person as an individual must obey this command. The command itself is to “be subject” (NRSV), or “submit” (NIV, NEB/REB); not necessarily “obey” (JB, NJB), though that will usually follow. The point is that one must regard the governing authorities as having a rightful claim on one’s submission. The word has echoes of military formation: one must take one’s place in the appropriate rank.521 

But who are the “authorities” to whom one owes this submission? Elsewhere in Paul there are times when the “rulers and authorities,” the “principalities and powers,” are primarily spiritual beings, shadowy but powerful entities that stand behind the visible and earthly rulers. This seems to be the case in, for instance, Rom 8:38-39. Sometimes it seems as though he intends to refer simultaneously to both earthly and heavenly powers; this is how 1 Cor 2:6-8 is usually read, and how Col 2:14-15 must be read. But here, though it is unlikely that Paul ever made a complete distinction between earthly and heavenly dimensions of civic authority, his primary focus is on the earthly rulers themselves. They are the ones who bear the sword (v. 4). They are the ones to whom one pays taxes (vv. 6-7).522 

The problem, of course, at the level of understanding Paul (to postpone for a minute the question of applying him today), is that in 1 Corinthians 2, and again in Col 2:15, Paul declares that the cross of Jesus Christ has defeated the powers. How can he now suggest that one should be subject to them? The answer seems to lie, whether or not Paul wrote Colossians, in the great christological poem in the first chapter of that

 

 

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letter, in which it is affirmed that all things, including all powers and authorities in heaven and on earth, were created in, through, and for Christ, and are also reconciled in, through, and to him.523 The tension, in other words, is not only between Romans 13 and Colossians 2; it is between Colossians 1 and Colossians 2. And–since Paul seldom sees the need to say everything he could in principle say on a topic every time he brings it up–it is perfectly feasible to propose that Paul in this case was stressing one of the more positive aspects of the “powers.” Some have argued, as noted above, that Rom 13:1-7 belongs with Col 1:20: that Paul commands submission to the powers because they have now been reconciled in Christ. But it seems much more likely that he does so in parallel with Col 1:16: he commands submission because they are part of God’s good created order. The fact that they are in rebellion does not of itself mean that submission is inappropriate.

Paul, characteristically, gives an explanation for the command: all authority is from God, and (the specific form of the general statement) the actually existing ones have been put there by God. This is not a specific commendation of the Roman Empire as against the ruling systems of other times and places; it is a general point about civic authority. It belongs with mainstream Second Temple Jewish tradition, and has parallels, including one surprising one, in the NT (e.g., Wis 6:3-10; John 19:11).

13:2-4.  Paul backs up this initial command and explanation with a short discussion of what happens when people resist the authorities, and of the fact that these results are part of God’s appointed order. Resistance incurs “condemnation,” or “judgment” (NRSV, NIV) (v. 2), because rulers hold no terrors for those who do good, but only for wrongdoers (v. 3a). Paul could no doubt have given counterexamples from his own recent biography, but his point here concerns God’s intended order, not its corruptions. He then turns the point around (vv. 3b-4): if you want to go about your business without fear of the authorities, do what is good, and they will praise you. That is their God-given function. They are “ministers” (diakonoi), “stewards” of God for this purpose: their delegated task is to praise good behavior. Conversely, then (v. 4b), if you do evil, you should be afraid, because authority has the right and responsibility to punish. Once again, the authority is God’s “steward,” this time to administer punitive justice–that is, “wrath”; this is the point at which the authority must do what the private individual may not do (12:14-21)–a point regularly missed in many popular-level discussions of the judicial role of civic authority.

13:5.  This to-and-fro discussion of the appointed role of “authority” and the way in which “you” may encounter it, for good or ill, leads Paul back to reiterate his initial command, now with an extra reason: one must therefore submit, both because the alternative is “wrath” in this sense, and also because, recognizing the God-given role of authority, the educated Christian conscience ought to become disquieted if it finds itself resisting God’s “stewards.” Paul does not often mention the role of conscience in Christian behavior, but when he does, as here, it appears that this is not because it is marginal in his thinking but because he takes it for granted. The word occurs elsewhere in Rom 2:15; 9:1; most of the other Pauline references occur in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10; see also 2 Cor 5:11.

13:6-7.  Conscience, too, prescribes therefore that one must pay taxes.524 Once again Paul gives the authorities a high status: they are God’s leitourgoiv (leitourgoi), public servants (in a world where “public service” regularly had cultic overtones at least, sometimes explicit association with religious functions).525 They must therefore receive what is due to them, whether the material dues of direct and indirect taxes (that is the likely distinction between the two words used here) or the non-material dues of respect and honor. This last point shows once more, not least in relation to Paul’s own practice in Acts, what is and is not meant. Paul was always ready to honor the office even while criticizing the present holder. Though of course one hopes that the holder will prove worthy of the office, and one knows that sometimes holders prove so unworthy as to need removing from office, being able to respect the

 

 

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office while at least reserving judgment about the holder is part of social and civic maturity. And, for Paul, being able to say “the existing powers are ordained by God” while living under a system that, as he makes clear elsewhere, was bristling with potential or actual blasphemy and injustice, is part of Christian maturity–a part he urges his Roman readers to make their own.

REFLECTIONS

1. Romans 13 has attracted so much opprobrium, particularly in the twentieth century where most thinking Westerners developed a more than justified horror of totalitarianism, that to many it seems counterintuitive to do anything but reject it outright. Either Paul did not write it, people say, or he did not mean it like it sounds, or he was just plain wrong. Whatever else you do with this passage, it is implied, you ought not to be caught agreeing with it.

Until, of course, your house is burgled. Or someone you love is murdered. Or you are cheated in business, or even in sport. Then, quite suddenly, you want someone to be in authority. Nobody enjoys the presence of a referee or umpire when they are trying to foul an opponent, or sneak offside; but everybody appeals to them when the other side do it. Actually, we none of us want to live in a world where the bullies get away with it, except when we are planning to do the bullying ourselves.

Libertarian histories of Western culture read the story of the last millennium as one of increasing social and civic freedom. The long march from Magna Carta to universal adult suffrage was not, in fact, as smooth an upward rise to freedom as it is sometimes made out to be. Oppression and systemic injustice still exist within every Western democracy. But since we tell our story as one of dethroning authorities and discovering new freedoms, we are bound to find Romans 13 a surprise, or even a shock. Unless we are actual anarchists, however, we will soon acknowledge explicitly that all societies need some regulation, some ordering, some structure of authority; and we will soon recognize that this ordering is no use unless everyone is, at least in principle, signed up to it or, failing that, able to be coerced into going along with it.

Romans 13:1-7 then issues commands that are so obvious that they only make sense if there might be some reason in the air not to obey the civic authorities. More or less everyone in the ancient world, with the possible exception of Cynic philosophers on the one hand and occasional radical groups like the extreme Shammaite or “zealous” Jews on the other, would have shrugged their shoulders and accepted that some form of civic authority was a necessary part of an ordered world. If a moral or religious teacher took the trouble to explain the rationale for such authorities, and insisted that those who embraced that moral or religious system were bound to obey them, that would be of itself a sign of what we have, in fact, seen both elsewhere in Romans and elsewhere in Paul: that the average Christian might well have supposed that there might be grounds for not doing so. You only put up “No Smoking” signs where people are likely to want to smoke. And, since Paul himself frequently hints at what the grounds for not obeying the authorities might be, we do not need to speculate for long about them. They are the sovereignty and saving justice of the one true God, unveiled in action in the world’s true Lord, Jesus the Messiah.

Romans 13, in short, carries a hidden “nevertheless” at its heart. Jesus is Lord; nevertheless, his followers must obey their earthly rulers. This is not because the rulers have somehow, in theory, already submitted to his lordship, but despite the fact that they have not done so. The authorities are part of the present world order, the good and wise structure of God’s original creation. Not to submit might look like a noble piece of overrealized eschatology, claiming to belong already to the new world promised when the full day dawns (see 13:11-14); but to make that complete claim ahead of time is in fact to move toward a dualism in which the goodness of the present world, even in its not-yet-redeemed state, is denied. That, in fact, is what millenarian and similar movements have classically done.

 

 

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2. The authority of the state, however, is strictly limited here by the rubric that stands over the whole paragraph: the rulers exist by God’s will and at his pleasure. The book of Daniel is a graphic description of how this works out within a pagan world and how the people of God may find their way through the resultant moral minefield. It is noticeable that even when human rulers become fatally guilty of hubris, and court their own destruction, this does not signal the end of all human rule. Even in the apocalyptic scenario in Daniel 7, the one who eventually sits on a throne dispensing judgment is “one like a son of man.” Just as there is a dialectical movement between Daniel 1—6 (the stories of human kings and God’s people) and Daniel 7 (the enthronement of the Ancient of Days and the vindication of “one like a son of man,” representing God’s people), so in Romans 13 the Christian belongs in the tension between the present existence, owing submission to earthly rulers, and the promised future “day.” Just because we have become horribly aware of the dangers of brutal, self-serving, self-justifying “governments,” it does not follow that there are no errors in the opposite direction.

3. Putting together Rom 12:14-21 and 13:1-7 has the salutary effect of reminding us of one of the most important, if pragmatic, reasons for there being governing authorities. Private vengeance, whether individual or (as in the lynch mob) corporate, is shocking in itself and can easily spiral out of control into vendettas and generations of senseless brutality. Where authorized policing fails, or is felt to be failing, the authority vacuum is quickly filled, and the results are seldom happy. Of course, commanding people to pray for their persecutors, not to repay evil with evil, to live at peace with all, and above all not to avenge themselves, is excellent advice at a purely personal level. People who allow vengeance, however apparently justified, to dominate their motivational life will become eaten up by it. It is a way of allowing the evil that someone has done to you to continue to hold you in its power. Part of the enormous breakthrough achieved by Jesus in his teaching and death is found just here: that to suffer innocently and not to retort or retaliate is to win a far greater victory than can ever be achieved by hitting back. It is to win a victory over evil itself.

4. I write this in the wake of September 11, 2001–a date people will recall for decades, perhaps centuries, and shudder at the memory. Terrorist atrocities against innocent and unarmed civilians, especially on so large a scale, cry out so loudly for punishment that any comment might seem superfluous. Yet in the debates that followed that terrible day Romans 13 was frequently invoked in support of military action by the United States and its allies against other countries; and one of the great problems of Christian moral discourse has been precisely that Romans 13 does not deal with such matters. That is why “Just War” theory was invented, in an attempt to develop the idea of magistracy, of a justice that kept a society in balance, beyond the borders of a particular jurisdiction and into the realms of conflict between nations. The problem with this is, to put it perhaps oversimply, that Romans 13 is dovetailed into an argument against the taking of private vengeance (12:14-21). When punitive and retaliatory action is taken against a nation, or a group within a nation, it becomes difficult to maintain that it is judicial and legitimated by Romans 13. That is not to say that such action is wrong or unjustified, only that this text will not support it. Many have concluded, rightly in my view, that the only way forward is the establishment of a worldwide justice system that will carry moral weight across different cultures and societies. Unfortunately, one of the obstacles to this is precisely the determination of some of the more powerful nations to oppose such a thing, lest they themselves be brought to account for the ways in which they have used, and perhaps abused, their own power. Romans 13 will not help in addressing these issues, then. But the rest of Romans, setting forth God’s justice, freedom, and peace over against those of Caesar, could certainly do so.

 

 

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Romans 13:8-10, LOVE FULFILLING THE LAW

Link to: Romans 13:8

COMMENTARY

This little passage on love and the law is clearly a summary of issues that Paul lays out more fully elsewhere (e.g., Galatians 5). It reverts to the theme of 12:3-13, and it may be, as we suggested above, that Paul intends this whole section (chaps. 12—13) as some kind of chiasm (see the Overview on 12:1—16:27). Within this, 13:8-10 plays a similar role within chapters 12—16 as a whole to that played by 1 Corinthians 13 within 1 Corinthians 12—14 as a whole, identifying the characteristic that must be central to all authentic Christian community life.

The thematic difference between this passage and 12:3-13, however, is that there Paul was dealing with life within the Christian community, and here he appears to be advocating a love for neighbors of any and every persuasion. The opening words of v. 8, indeed, if read without a break from what has gone before, look as if they are simply saying “always pay your bills on time”; we must assume that he is still talking about the wider community represented by those who levy taxes and demand respect (v. 7). And this view of a wider community alerts us again to a wider reference within Romans. Just as 12:1-2 looked back to 1:18-32, seeing in Christian worship the reversal of idolatry and dehumanization, so the present passage looks back to 2:17-29 in particular. With 3:27-31; 8:1-8; and 10:5-11 in the background, Paul sketches a brief but telling picture of how the Torah is fulfilled in that love of neighbor which will bring admiration, rather than blasphemy, from the watching world (cf. 2:16-17). Here, in other words, are the “true Jews” (see 2:28-29), those who are bringing God’s light and love to the world. This coheres well with the context of Gal 5:14, the other passage where Paul says almost exactly the same thing (see also 1 Corinthians 13, where, though Paul does not mention Torah, the matchless exposition of love and its abiding permanence reminds us of Jewish eulogies of Torah or wisdom; see Sirach 24).

The passage consists, typically, of an opening statement and explanation (v. 8), followed by an extended explanation of the explanation (v. 9), leading to a summary that repeats and reinforces the original explanation (v. 10).

13:8.  Although the idea of “debt,” immediately after instructions concerning money, using the cognate word ojfeilav" (ophelias, 13:17; “what is due them,” NRSV; “what you owe them,” NIV), is most naturally taken literally, Paul has twice already in Romans used it as a metaphor, once for his own obligation to bring the gospel to the whole world (1:14) and again to indicate the Christian’s obligation to live by the Spirit and not the flesh (8:12). For the sense of obligation we may compare 4:4; 15:1, 27; the root regularly carries both literal and metaphorical meanings in early Christian writings.526 The context thus breathes life into what

 

 

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might be for him a nearly dead metaphor, giving a particular force to the command to love: This is a debt, owed to everyone, that can never be discharged.

The explanation, in the second half of the verse, should not be misunderstood. Paul does not, of course, mean “Love fulfils the Torah; therefore love is the way to earn righteousness with God.” He does not suppose that this was ever the purpose of Torah. Rather, the purpose of Torah was that Israel might be God’s light to the world; Israel was “entrusted with God’s oracles,” but proved unfaithful. Those who are justified by faith “apart from the works of the Torah” (3:28) are now, perfectly logically, instructed to live as the people through whom what the Torah by itself could not do is accomplished (8:3-8; 10:1-11). People who love their neighbors thus “fulfill Torah,” both in the immediate sense that they will never do any of the things Torah forbids, and in the wider sense that through them God’s way of life will be seen to advantage. The Greek for “the one who loves the neighbor has fulfilled the law” could also be translated “the one who loves has fulfilled the other law” (to;n e{teron novmon ton heteron nomon; cf. ti" eJtevra ejntolhv tis hetera entole, “any other commandment,” in v. 9). This has sometimes been adopted by exegetes with the supposed meaning that love fulfills, not Torah itself, but the “other” law–that is, the one that Jesus gave to replace it. This is very awkward in view of the quotation from the Decalogue that follows immediately; and Paul rarely uses the verb “love” absolutely, without an object. The apparent echo of heteron nomon in 7:23 is a pure accident.

13:9-10.  Paul explains (gavr gar) what he means by saying that love fulfills Torah. First he simply states that all the commandments are in fact summed up in the command to love (v. 9); then he sums this up to the effect that love does no evil, and draws the conclusion that love is indeed Torah’s fulfillment (v. 10).527 Loving one’s neighbor is itself, of course, a command in Torah (Lev 19:18, quoted here), though not part of the Ten Commandments. Paul was not the first to see it as a summary of the whole law; this is one of several passages in Romans 12—13 where we are right to detect echoes of the teaching of Jesus himself (Matt 22:37-39 and par.; see also Jas 2:8, where this commandment is described as the “kingly law,” presumably meaning “the command given by the king,” i.e., Jesus; cf. 2 Macc 3:13). The specific commands he lists here consist of four of the last five of the ten (omitting the bearing of false witness, a deficiency that one good ms and a few lesser ones tried to rectify), following the LXX order of Deut 5:17-21 (adultery, murder, theft, coveting) rather than that of Exod 20:13-17 (placing theft before murder).528 The idea of being able to sum up Torah in a single phrase has a long history in Judaism of which Paul was no doubt well aware.529 

Though v. 10 opens, unusually, without a verbal connection to what precedes, it is clearly intended as a summary of v. 9. It should not be supposed that the full achievement of “love” consists simply in doing no evil; as Dr. Johnson said, to do no harm is the praise of a stone, not a man. Rather, love, on its way to higher and more positive goals, takes in this negative one in a single stride: If love seeks the highest good of the neighbor, it will certainly do no wrong to him or her. We should notice that Paul leaves no room for the slippery argument whereby sexual malpractice has been routinely justified in the modern world; “love,” as the summary of the law, includes the command not to commit adultery, and could never be confused with the “love” that is frequently held to excuse it. One only has to ask the question, whether adultery routinely builds up or breaks down human communities and families, to see the point. Once again, then, the “fulfillment of Torah” does not mean the performance of “good works” designed to put God in one’s debt; rather (and perhaps this is why Paul writes v. 8 in this fashion), it is the discharge of one’s own debt, to one’s neighbor but also to God. This passage takes its place alongside Paul’s several earlier statements about the Torah, confirming the positive understanding of it for

 

 

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which we argued earlier, and making it clear once again that ethical obligation is not undermined but reaffirmed by a proper understanding of justification and Christian life.

REFLECTIONS

In the light of the suggestion that this passage belongs to some extent at least with 12:3-13, we may reflect on both together.

1. The obvious centrality of love within early Christian ethics is so well known that we often overlook how striking, almost revolutionary, this was. Judaism, of course, cherished the command to love, but did not highlight it in the same way. Within the pagan world there was far less emphasis on anything that approximates to the early Christian meaning of “love,” modeled as it was on Jesus himself. This oversight on the part of contemporary readers goes with the more practical problem that we all give lip service to the idea of love but we do not usually reflect on how to do it. Granted the prevailing context of romanticism and existentialism, it is normally assumed that love will “just happen” as long as people are sincere and do what comes naturally. The moral history of the twentieth century should have given the lie to this, but since it is a convenient thing to believe (giving one the feel of virtue without the need for hard moral work) the belief continues unabated, being propagated by most movies, many novels, and a million shallow sermons. We urgently need moral reflection, at every level of church and society, on what exactly love is, what it means and does not mean, and more especially the steps of moral learning and effort required to attain it. The very fact that this sounds so “inauthentic” (“You mean I’ve got to pretend?” one can hear people asking) is a measure of how far we have allowed ethical reflection to diverge from early Christianity.

2. Of course, Paul wants love to be “genuine” (ajnupovkrito" anypokritos, “unhypocritical”). But here is the strange thing. If you try to treat someone you thoroughly dislike as though in fact you cared very deeply for them–if you try to think of how it is to live inside their skin and walk in their shoes–then it may well happen that a genuine sympathy arises, and from that real affection, and finally an unhypocritical love. This is, after all, more or less what Paul is commending in 12:19-21. The love of which Paul speaks is tough; not simply in the sense of “tough love” as applied to the difficult task of bringing up children, though that may be true as well, but in the sense that, since it does not spring from the emotions but from the will, love will grit its teeth and act as if the emotions were in place, trusting that they will follow in good time. If we reduce ethics to emotions, we lose not only consistency of behavior but also the very possibility of moral discourse.

3. The unity of the church, highlighted in 12:3-8, remains a goal to be worked for despite the apparent failure of many unity schemes of the period between 1960 and 2000. Here Paul stresses the need for humility and mutual respect between different gifts within a Christian community; when everyone is doing what they are called to do to the utmost of their powers, the whole body is in good health. The ecumenical task may consist not least in the humble recognition, between the different denominations, that we may after all have different callings–overlapping, interlocking, most likely, but perhaps different as well. This is not to minimize doctrinal differences, which still matter; nor is it to connive at the scandalous fragmentation of the body of Christ, or the “one body in Christ” as here. It is to suggest that within the greater unity for which we must work we should be prepared to allow room for the particular tasks, characteristics, and genius of the different “churches” that have grown up over the years, particularly since the Reformation. The ecumenical movements of the twentieth century had a dangerously modernist feel (bringing everything together into one grand and possibly grandiose structure); maybe the ecumenical movements of the twenty-first century, though they must avoid the postmodern

 

 

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trap of easygoing acceptance of all differences, which results in further fragmentation, should work at ways of humbly affirming appropriate differences while learning how to celebrate and share all we hold in common.

4. In particular, the common life of love in the one body should also give rise, as in 13:8-10, to the command of love for the neighboring non-Christian world. This must of course work on a daily basis at the local level, in the street, the theater, the office, the factory. There will always be room for improvement–and for humility, penitence, and fresh starts–at that level. Equally, we should not ignore the bracing call to whole churches, and to communities and even countries that think of themselves as basically Christian, to act toward their neighbors in the global village with that same love, the debt that can never be discharged. One of our major world problems, bringing a myriad other evils in its wake, is precisely financial debts that can never be discharged because the compound interest increases faster than ailing economies can service it. Since the lending countries belong to the part of the world that, rightly or wrongly, is seen as “Christian” (and in some cases sees itself thus), we can scarcely avoid the problem, with all its ironies. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor”; working out what that means personally and collectively, and putting it into practice, is one of the most urgent tasks we currently face.

Romans 13:11-14, LIVING BY THE RISING SUN

Link to: Romans 13:11

COMMENTARY

Paul ends the section where he began in 12:1-2, setting the Christian’s moral obligations in the context of knowing what the time is: It is almost daybreak. This is a familiar image in early Christian writing, again quite possibly going back to Jesus himself; and Paul has developed it elsewhere (1 Thess 5:1-11; see also Matt 24:42-44; 26:45; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 12:35-46; 21:36; Eph 5:8-16; the idea of staying awake to be about one’s Christian tasks is also evident in Eph 6:18). This idea flows consistently from the early Christian belief that with the resurrection of Jesus God’s promised new age had dawned, but that full day was yet to come (see above all 1 Cor 15:20-28). Christians therefore live in the interval between the early signs of dawn and the sunrise itself, and their behavior must be appropriate for the day, not the night. There is such a thing as appropriate and

 

 

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good nocturnal behavior, but as with 1 Thess 5:7 Paul takes “night” as a synecdoche (one part standing for the whole) for the types of evil behavior that flourish away from the light. There is also a trace here of the metaphor Paul develops more in 1 Thess 5:8 (and that reaches fuller expression in Eph 6:10-17): What you need, between dawn and full day, are the “weapons of light” (13:12). Finally there is the command to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ, an idea paralleled both in Galatians (3:27) and in Eph 4:24. This paragraph, in short, though perfectly at home at this point in Romans, bringing the opening exhortation of chaps. 12—13 to an appropriate and sharp conclusion, is also a window on several aspects of Pauline ethics. It should not pass unremarked that this was the passage read by Augustine after hearing children’s voices chanting “pick up and read, pick up and read”; it was the final push he needed to make a clean break with his past and devote himself entirely to God.530 

13:11.  Paul assumes that his readers will know what “time” it is (the word for “time” here is kairov" [kairos], a special moment rather than mere chronological time); as in 12:2, he expects them to be familiar with the idea of the old age, which is passing away, and the new age, which is dawning. (The NIV’s “understanding the present time” is a somewhat ponderous way of drawing attention to the significance of what he says.) He expects them to be up before day breaks fully; this theme, with its echoes of the Easter morning stories, resonates through the early Christian sense of new creation, new life bursting through the wintry crust of the old world. It is, he insists, time to wake up. 

The reason he gives is that “our salvation” is nearer now than when first we believed. Paul does not say, as many of his interpreters have supposed that he said, that the final end of which he speaks in Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4—5, and elsewhere, will certainly come within a generation; but he knows that it might well do so, and insists that it is the more urgent that Christians behave already in the manner that will then be appropriate. Though “salvation” can refer to saving events during the present course of history (e.g., Phil 1:19), and Paul can insist in one passage that “the day of salvation” is already present (2 Cor 6:2), here the word has its normal meaning, referring to the final day when God will renew all things in Christ and give all the justified their glorious, risen bodies, and investing that event with its sense of “rescue from disaster” (see Rom 5:9-10; 8:24, 29-30; Phil 3:20-21). The idea of the eschatological moment coming “near,” which Paul repeats in the next verse, carries echoes of Jesus’ original proclamation, as in Mark 1:15 and parallels: God’s kingdom “is near.”531 And now, he says, it is nearer than it was at the time we became believers; this is in one sense obvious, but in another needs saying as a reminder that though to us the passage of time seems to move on without much change we should not forget that the great future moment is steadily coming closer.

13:12.  By way of explaining what he means by saying it is time to wake up, he declares that the night is nearly over and the day is breaking, and draws the conclusion in a mixed metaphor: it is time to stop nocturnal activities and put on the “weapons” proper for daylight. (The metaphor is more obviously, and gloriously, mixed in 1 Thessalonians 5, where those who are asleep will go into labor pains, because a thief is breaking into the house, while those who are awake should not get drunk, but should put on their armor.) Though “putting on” is the normal term for clothing or protective armor, the verb anticipates v. 14, where it is “the Lord Jesus Christ” who is “put on.” The weapons here are “of light,” contrasting with the “works of darkness”; “of light” seems to mean “appropriate for daylight,” “the weapons that children of day will need.” (The NRSV and the NIV translate o{pla [hopla] as “armor.” The word properly denotes military equipment, not primarily clothing; however, the verb here and in Eph 6:11 is ordinarily used of putting on clothes.)

13:13-14. Paul has in mind, clearly, what in Galatians he calls “the works of the flesh,” the things that characterize humanity in rebellion against its creator (Gal 5:19). As is often pointed

 

 

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out, “flesh” here means much more than “physicality”; for “quarreling and jealousy” (NRSV) you need an unquiet spirit as well as a sharp tongue and an envious eye. Nevertheless his main target here is the abuse of the body, one’s own and often that of others as well: wild parties, drinking-bouts, sexual immorality and licentiousness. These are characteristic nighttime behaviors in the literal sense that they normally happen after dark, and in Paul’s metaphorical sense that they belong with the old age rather than with the new day that is dawning in Christ (see 12:2). We should not forget that “quarreling and jealousy” are put on exactly the same level as immorality; there are many churches where the first four sins are unheard of but the last two run riot.

Instead, Paul commands his readers to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh” (NRSV), or, as the NIV rightly interprets, “do not think about how to gratify” the desires that come from the corruptible and rebellious side of human nature. Paul has here returned to the basic commands of 6:12-13 (where, as here in v. 12, he speaks of “weapons,” though there it is the parts of the body that are to become “weapons of righteousness”) and of 8:12-13. And though his particular expressions shift from passage to passage, his underlying terminology is completely consistent. The “body,” which will die but be raised, must already in the present be given to God in service and worship (12:2); the “flesh” will die, and its efforts to drag the Christian down with it must be resisted. There must be no loophole, no secret areas where license is permitted, where the “desires” of the “flesh” are tolerated, let alone encouraged (see 7:4-6).

The ultimate safeguard against the seduction of the “flesh” in this full sense is Jesus himself–the Lord, the Messiah. In Gal 3:27 it is “the Messiah” who is to be “put on”; in Eph 5:24 and Col 3:10 it is “the new human being”; but the imagery of putting on a new suit of clothes, carrying as it may well do overtones of baptism, is used in several different senses and cannot easily be systematized. (In 1 Cor 15:53-4 and 2 Cor 5:3 it is used in relation to the resurrection body; in Col 3:12 it is used of the key Christian virtues; see also the passage about baptism and behavior in Romans 6.) Frequently when Paul uses more than one name or title for Jesus the one he wishes to emphasize is placed first; here, by saying, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” he seems to be drawing attention to the sovereignty of Jesus, not simply over the believer (who is bound to obey the one whose servant he or she is), but perhaps more particularly over the forces of evil that are ranged against the gospel and those who embrace it. The Lord Jesus Christ thus becomes the personification of “the weapons of light” in v. 12: putting him on like a suit of armor is the best protection against the powers of the present darkness (see Eph 6:12). Paul is addressing those who have already “put on Christ” in baptism (Gal 3:27). The assumption must be that he is urging them, as a regular spiritual discipline, to invoke the presence and power of Jesus as Lord of all things to be their defense against all evil, not least the evil toward which they might be lured by their own “flesh.”

REFLECTIONS

1. There are three things this passage highlights as basic to Christian behavior. The first is to know what time one is living at. Though as we have seen there are social and cultural reasons why it seems counterintuitive to say so, the Christian is committed to the belief that the world’s new day dawned with Jesus the Messiah, and that ever since his resurrection the world has been caught in the overlap between the old and the new, seen here as the moment just before full dawn when those who know their business are already up and behaving as in the daytime. The mental, moral, emotional, and spiritual effort required to sustain a belief in inaugurated eschatology may at times seem impossible. But the effort must be made. Without it, Christian moral teaching can easily degenerate into apparently baseless, or even pointless, exhortations. Why bother staying awake at midnight?532

 

 

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2.  The second basic point is the rejection of “the works of darkness,” and the making of no provision for “the desires of the flesh.” The balancing point between unbridled hedonism on the one hand and nervous dualism on the other is very delicate, and Christians who react against the excesses of the one position are often in danger of lapsing into the other. It is important to read the present passage with 12:1-2 in mind, recognizing and celebrating the goodness of the body while (as in 8:12-13) rejecting some of the characteristic things that the body gets up to–which are what Paul calls “the works of the flesh.” Equally, it is important, in celebrating the goodness of the created body, and delighting in the truth articulated in the next chapter, that everything made by God is good (14:14; cf. 1 Cor 10:25-27; 1 Tim 4:4), not to be led astray into thinking that therefore all rules concerning eating, drinking, and sexual practice are now irrelevant, shown up as unnecessary and probably dualistic restrictions on God-given liberty. Far from it. There are many things that must simply be ruled out, cut off without mercy; and drunkenness and sexual immorality (which often go together, of course) are among them. “As the flesh will make its own demands, there is no need to meet it halfway.”533 

3. Third, there is the positive command to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul never explains what exactly he thinks will constitute obedience to this attractive-sounding but to us opaque command, or to the others like it. Since it is similar to the “putting on Christ” that occurs in baptism (Gal 3:27), we may suppose that he has in mind the spiritual discipline, through daily prayer and meditation, of invoking Jesus himself as Lord (and therefore sovereign over oneself and over all powers that might attack) and savior (and therefore able to rescue one from harm). One of the best ways of doing this, practiced in many Christian traditions, is to meditate on the Gospel narratives about Jesus, placing oneself in the position of one of the onlookers or participants in the story and allowing the presence of Jesus to be felt and known, and with that presence allowing his own struggles against evil, and his call to take up the cross and follow him, to have their full effect. The reading of a gospel passage at a daily or weekly eucharist, followed by the solemn invoking of the risen Lord and feeding on the symbols of his self-giving love, is known in many Christian traditions as an excellent way of steadily obeying this most positive of ethical commands.

Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Feb 12 2012 6:51 PM

Here is another sample (1 TIMOTHY 4:1-16), if you have a section that you would like to see, I will get it posted here ASAP.

-Dan 

1 TIMOTHY 4:1-16, THE TWO WAYS

<Page 810 Ends><Page 811 Begins>COMMENTARY

Chapter 4 broadly follows a pattern of exhortation with ancient precedents, in Jewish tradition already quite elaborate in Deuteronomy 28:1–30. The speaker sets before his audience two paths, between which they have to choose, or two prospects, one of which will be realized, depending on how they respond to the speaker's challenge. The classic Christian examples are Matt 7:13-14 and the early second-century church manual, Didache 1–6. Here the indicative terms are “later times” and “depart from” (4:1); “follow” (4:6); “train yourself” (4:7-8); “promise of life” (4:8); “strive,” “hope” (4:10); “progress” (4:15); and “you will save” (4:16). The first alternative is characterized by talk of “deceitful spirits” and “demons” (4:1); “hypocrisy of liars” and “seared conscience” (4:2); “godless and silly myths” (4:7); and, by implication, general slackness and lack of discipline (4:7-8, 10, 15). The second alternative, to which the writer wishes to point his hearers, is characterized by “thanksgiving,” “believing and knowing the truth” (4:3-4); “word of God and prayer” (4:5); “words of faith and of the good teaching” (4:6); “godliness” (4:7-8); “hope in God” and “believe” (4:10); “love, faith, purity” (4:12); “reading, encouraging, teaching” (4:13, 16); and “charism” (4:14). The contrast is stated sharply for effect, the former set out in pejorative terms, the latter in bland assertions; but sufficient detail is included to enable the reader to perceive that recognizable life-styles were in view.

4:1-5, The Wrong Way. The prospect of defection is held out as a certainty. It had been explicitly stated by the Spirit (v. 1). The reference is presumably either to the familiar scenario of immense suffering and persecution to be experienced by the faithful in the last days of the present age, or to a particular prophetic utterance elaborating the prospect in more detail. The prediction had been a feature in Jewish apocalyptic more or 

 

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 less since Dan 12:1-2. In Christian tradition, something similar is attributed to Jesus (Mark 13:5-6, 13, 19-22) and to Paul (Acts 20:29-30; 2 Thess 2:3-12), and the same foreboding is expressed in Revelation (e.g., Rev 2:5, 16; 14:9-12). The implication is that the writer understands his present as already “the last days.”

The key word here, ajfi"sthmi (aphistemi), can be translated as “fall away,” “become apostate,” “desert” (NIV, “abandon”; NRSV, “renounce”), and is regularly used in the LXX of falling away from God (e.g., Deut 32:15; Jer 3:14; 1 Macc 1:15). There was a real choice to be made here, and given the volatility and lack of clear boundaries around the young churches, there would be considerable crossing of these boundaries, outward as well as inward (see Reflections on 1:1-11). The concern here, then, is to firm up the commitment and resolve of such recruits by painting the alternative in apocalyptic colors (cf. references to Daniel 12:1; Mark 13:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:1; and Revelation above).

The immediate contrast is between “the faith” and “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” Presumably prophecies within or without the Christian assemblies are in view (cf. 2 Thess 2:2; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 4:1-3), promoting views that the writer saw as contrary to “the faith.” The problem of false prophecy is an old one within the Judeo-Christian tradition (see, e.g., 1 Kings 22:1; Jeremiah 28:1; 1 Thess 5:19-22; Didache 11; Justin Dialogue with Trypho 82), though the earlier Paul was less disposed to attribute to false spirits and demons those prophecies that were to be rejected (see 1 Cor 10:20-21; 12:10). An example of such teaching supported by prophecy will be provided in 4:3, but it should be noted that the charismatic character of the earlier Pauline churches (1 Cor 14:26-32; 1 Thess 5:19-22) still persisted. The firmer structures of organization and formulation of “the faith” had presumably been found necessary, in part at least against the dangers of charismatic excess and false prophecy.

Verse 2 is a good example of polemical denigration. Those who depart from “the faith” for such reasons have simply succumbed to “the hypocritical preaching of liars whose own consciences have been seared” (lit., branded with a red-hot iron and thus desensitized).66 The imagery evoked is vivid, but we should recall that it is coined by one who disagreed violently with the opinions expressed.

An example of such false teaching backed by prophetic utterance is the advocacy of an ascetic life-style: marriage forbidden and abstinence from certain foods advocated (v. 3). Similar issues had troubled the church in Corinth—regarding marriage (1 Cor 7:1)67 and over the eating of meat offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1)—though in the latter case the principal problem was with those who thought it perfectly acceptable to eat such food (see Col 2:20-23). The advice here follows that in 1 Corinthians 7:1 and the theological logic of 1 Cor 10:25-26: Whatever has been created by God is good (Genesis 1:1).68 The faithful, by definition, should know this truth, their consciences being instructed in the faith. The practical test is the same as in the nearest equivalent passage, Rom 14:6: Can the one who eats, acting in a way that seems overindulgent to others in the church, give thanks to God in doing so (v. 3)? The answer here is yes; the acceptability of a controversial life-style to God is more determinative than its acceptability to fellow church members.

The point is repeated in strong terms to reinforce it: “Everything created by God is fine and nothing need be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for then it is consecrated through the word of God and prayer” (vv. 4-5). That the rationale is essentially theological (“faith,” “truth,” “made by God,” “word of God,” “prayer”), and not simply freedom of the individual or liberty of opinion, should be noted.

4:6-10, The Right Way. The alternative is to be clearly taught by Timothy (v. 6). This is a primary responsibility of the “fine minister of Christ Jesus”; the term used is again dia"konov (diakonos, “minister,” “one who serves”), underlining its still functional and not yet exclusively formal sense (as in 3:8-13; cf. 1:12; 2 Tim 4:5,

 

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 11; this was its more typical earlier use; cf. Rom 15:8; 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6; 6:4; 11:15, 23; Gal 2:17; 1 Thess 3:2). Here the idea of a way of discipleship comes more clearly to the fore, mingled with the earlier family imagery: Timothy has been “nourished, brought up”—that is, within “the household of God” (3:15)—and has “followed faithfully” (see Commentary on 2 Tim 3:10) “the words of the faith and the good teaching.” The doubling up of two of the letters' most consistent terms to denote the body of teaching that had already been formulated as “Christian” (see footnote 9) makes clear the character and direction of the second alternative, the right way, being advocated. Again the impression is clearly given that within the relative amorphousness of the early Christian communities it soon became necessary to agree on and formulate more carefully defined statements of faith and more elaborate codes of acceptable conduct, presumably in order to give a sharper sense of Christian identity and a clearer boundary line over against wider society. In the Pastorals we see this process happening before our eyes.

In sharp contrast, the wrong-way alternative can be dismissed as “profane” (the same word appeared in the vice list in 1:9) and “old wives' tales [myths]” (v. 7), the latter phrase having the same disparaging overtone as today (see Commentary on 1:4). To avoid these requires strict self-discipline, which the writer clearly sees to be distinct from the asceticism of v. 3, in content, character, and goal.69 The image now switches to the athlete's training (v. 8), an image much loved by Paul (1 Cor 9:24-25; Phil 3:13-14). If that is of some profit (as would be generally agreed), then training for “godliness” (the regular term of approbation in the Pastorals; see the Commentary on 2:2) is of profit for everything. The promise is not simply of the victor's wreath in the games, but of life both now and in the age to come (cf. 1:16; 6:12, 19; 2 Tim 1:1, 10; Titus 1:2; 3:7). The writer is so confident of the truth of his conviction that he designates it also a “faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance” (v. 9). Some think “the faithful saying” refers to what follows, but v. 8b has the more formulaic character (see the Commentary on 1:15).

With the age-old religious instinct to set this present life and its circumstances into a long-term context, the writer reaffirms the goal of godliness: a hope that looks for a salvation beyond the limits of current experience (v. 10). The thought is still of the discipline required: “for this cause we work hard and exert ourselves” (ajgwnizo"meqa, agonizometha as in the agon, “athletic contest”).70 “Hope,” as almost always in the NT, is the confident Hebrew assurance, rather than the tentative Greek aspiration (cf. Rom 5:2-5; 8:24; Gal 5:5; Col 1:5), the Hebrew character of the thought reinforced by a further reference to “the living God” (see Commentary on 3:15) as the guarantor of the hope.

The hope arises out of the conviction that God is “Savior” (v. 10). Elsewhere in the Pastorals (see Commentary on 1:1), the thought is always of “our Savior,” whether in reference to God or to Christ Jesus. But here the note of universalism, first loudly struck in 2:4-6 (see also Titus 2:11), is sounded again: “Savior of everyone.” The additional phrase, “especially believers,” sounds odd and has occasioned much discussion: Does it qualify the note of universalism? Presumably it is intended primarily to underline the confidence of the writer's hope: If God is Savior of everyone, then those of faith in God can be all the more confident that they will share in God's salvation.

4:11-16, Timothy as an Example. The role envisaged for Timothy becomes clearer: He receives instruction from Paul and passes it on with authority to instruct and to teach (v. 11). How someone should be described who commands overseers and deacons is not made clear. The writer is content to leave the impression, here and elsewhere, that Timothy is Paul's personal representative and emissary. So the authority with which Timothy teaches is that of Paul himself, not that of a distinct rank or office.

The reference to Timothy's youth (v. 12) is somewhat surprising. At first encounter he is described in terms suggesting a fair degree of maturity (a disciple well spoken of, Acts 16:1-2). Since then he had functioned as Paul's chief aide for the rest of Paul's ministry (see Commentary on 1:2). That is, if the Pastorals do come from a

 

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 late phase of Paul's ministry, then Timothy would have been Paul's chief coworker for about fifteen years. To call someone already into his thirties a “youth” would be unusual, and after such a period of training and responsibility, was anyone who respected Paul likely to question Timothy's authority? If, alternatively, the letter was written later, as seems more likely, and if Timothy himself was still in view, then he would probably have been in his fifties at least. It looks, then, as though the writer is working with an image of Timothy drawn from the earlier letters of Paul. Timothy, in other words, may here function as a representative model of the youthful leader, like the younger member of Paul's mission team of earlier years, someone whose charism or natural ability brought him to the forefront despite his youth. In an era that venerated the wisdom of age, such a one might well be “despised” (1 Cor 16:11, a different word, written at least ten years earlier). And though Paul never uses the word in reference to himself (cf. Rom 2:4; 1 Cor 11:22), there certainly were those operating within his churches who had scorned him in the past (e.g., 2 Cor 10:10).

The best way of answering such attacks would be for Timothy to show himself as a model worthy to be copied (v. 12). On several occasions Paul had put himself forward as an example (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17); it is interesting to note that in the first of these, Timothy is sent to remind the Corinthians of Paul's example (1 Cor 4:17). So now it is Timothy who is to provide exemplary leadership “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity,” the last probably with the sexual sense of “chastity” (cf. 5:2). Little is more destructive of community than authority of status not matched by quality of life.

With the instruction of v. 13, whether an epistolary characterization or a real visit in prospect, the function of the letter as the voice of the absent Paul is underlined. Paul's letters were often written to signal an imminent visit or a visit delayed (see Commentary on 3:14-16). “Until I come” can serve as a piece of advice that endures. “Reading” probably means public, rather than private, reading. This would certainly refer to the Scriptures,71 but also to writings worthy to be read in church and probably already also readings of Christian documents—early collections of Jesus tradition and Paul's own letters (cf. Col 4:16; 2 Pet 3:15-16). It was in this way that their authority grew and spread. Worth noting is the implied content of a Christian assembly and its variety: the drawing upon ancient scriptural writings and newer writings of recognized worth; encouragement as well as teaching, presumably on the basis of the reading (see Luke 4:17-21; Acts 13:15).

Timothy's authority is underlined by reference back to what is considered a particular commissioning event (v. 14). It evidently had three elements: the giving of his “charism,” that is, presumably, by the Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-7, 11); a “prophecy” (prophetic utterance; cf. 1:18); and “the laying on of hands by the presbytery.” The event is referred to again in 2 Tim 1:6, and the nearest parallel is the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul by the leaders of the Antioch church at the behest of the Spirit, presumably through prophetic utterance (Acts 13:2-3; cf. Acts 14:23). The whole event, however, seems to be envisaged in more formal terms. The “charism” seems now to be conceived of as a permanent gift that Timothy can “neglect” (v. 14) or can “rekindle” (2 Tim 1:6), whereas Paul's earlier thought was more in terms of charism as the enactment of grace, coming to visible manifestation in a particular utterance or act (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11). The laying on of hands as an act of the presbytery (council of elders) sounds like a more formally conceived and structured act, though in 2 Tim 1:6 Paul refers only to his own action, and here the preposition “with” implies attendant circumstances rather than means (“through,” as in 2 Tim 1:6; but see Commentary on 2 Tim 2:2). In v. 14, we appear to be on the way to a concept of “ordination” and of charism as “grace of office.”

That commission (“these things”) once given has to be thought about, carefully cultivated, and practiced (the first verb, meleta"w [meletao], has this range of meaning); “these things” (v. 15) presumably embraces all that had been referred to in vv. 11-14. The charism that is not exercised will wither. “Be in them”; we might say, “Immerse yourself in them.” The personal objective is “progress” in “these things”; the term “progress” (prokoph prokope) was popular in Stoic philosophy, and Paul had used it in Phil 1:25 (cf. 

 

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 Phil 1:12). The advice complements that of 1 Tim 4:12.

The most important yardstick is “the teaching” (v. 16): “Stick with that.” It is that which will ensure salvation both for Timothy and for those whom he instructs in the teaching. Here again we see a deep concern to mark out and delimit the terms of the gospel, the faith, and to forge an exclusive link between that teaching and salvation. Down that track lies the old slogan, “Outside the church no salvation,” with both its strengths and its weaknesses. The strength is that the teaching does encapsulate what Christians have found from the start to contain the words of life. The weakness is that salvation can be thought to be conditional on adherence to a particular set of words, first framed to meet certain historical challenges and interpreted in a narrow and insensitive way.

REFLECTIONS

The advantage of the “two ways” imagery is twofold. In the first place, it emphasizes that there is a choice to be made and that this choice will entail what may be lasting consequences. The vision of endless freedom and an infinite pluralism of “good” possibilities cloaks an uncomfortable fact, summed up in the old aphorism: We are free to choose, but we are not free to choose the consequences of our choice. Freedom to choose a particular career or to experiment with drugs or to throw off sexual restraint sets in motion a sequence of consequences from which it is impossible to escape and which will be character shaping as well as life-style constraining. And these are simply illustrations of the potentially far more momentous choice in regard to religion and faith, if indeed it is the case that a fundamental reality of human beings is that they are also spiritual beings made by God and for relationship with God.

This does not mean that such a momentous choice once made need never be made again. The reality is that there will always be some people, initially drawn to choose the best way, who will “fall away” by paying too much attention to what the writer calls “deceitful spirits” (the problem of false prophecy) and “hypocritical preaching of liars” (teaching proferred for factional or personal motives). Here as in other spheres, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. In this often disturbing reality of enticing alternatives and clashing opinions, it is often vital to have a clear grasp of the basic principles and values on which the religion, the godly life, is built. In the case of the Pastorals, this means “the words of the faith and of the sound teaching.” Few can live out of a faith outline as brief as “God is one; Jesus is Lord” (cf. Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 8:6). Most need something more. It is the task of leadership to indicate and define what that more should be, drawing not least from the reading of Scripture and previous tradition (4:13).

The danger on the other side is that such a statement of “the faith and the teaching” can become overdefined and too prescriptive. Here it is important to note the way the writer takes a firm stand on a principle of liberty in regard to one of the most contentious issues for the early churches: whether certain foods were prohibited to believers. In earlier days it had been a make-or-break issue; the very definition and status of “Jew” and “Christian” hung on it (1 Macc 2:62-63; Rom 14:3-4). In the light of such tradition, a cautious respondent would have been tempted to counsel, “If it's offensive to others, don't.” But in this instance the writer follows the line of Paul's advice: “If you can give thanks to God in what you do and for what you do, then it is a consecrated act acceptable to God” (see 4:4-5; cf. Rom 14:6). In other words, the make-or-break issues for one need not be so for others or for the church as a whole. Discerning the difference is what marks out mature leadership.

In the second place, the image of a “way” is a reminder that the Christian life is not to be conceived as something static. This is often the hidden implication of alternative metaphors 

 

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 like “position” and “viewpoint.” But the first formal title for Christianity seems to have been “the way” (Acts 9:2; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). And Paul's favorite image for Christian conduct is “walk,” itself reflecting the traditional Jewish image ^lh (hAlAk, “walk”), from which the term halakhah (“rules for conduct”) is derived. Here the point is evoked particularly by talk of “following” (v. 6) and “progress” (v. 15). The point is that the Christian life involves movement, growth (nurture, v. 6), development. Too often in Christian mission so much attention is given to conversion that the equally important development toward maturity is neglected.

The writer makes clear that such growth and development depend on training and the discipline involved (vv. 7-8); they involve hard work and sweat-inducing exertion (v. 10); they require cultivation of the gift given and committed personal involvement (v. 15). Here again a choice once made has to be repeatedly reaffirmed and lived out.

The imagery also provides another angle on “the faith” and “the teaching.” The Pastorals can be too easily disparaged for their reliance upon a faith and teaching already formulated and prescribed. But it would be more fair to see this emphasis as a stage on the way to greater maturity (of individual and church). That is to say, “the faith/teaching” actually refers to the process of giving Christian identity greater clarity of definition. It is not an endpoint (“the faith” finally defined), but “faith seeking understanding.”

Such progress in faith need not mean a steadily lengthening list of “what we believe and do” (even the more prescriptive tendency of rabbinic Judaism allowed for plenty of dissenting opinions). What it should mean is a greater appreciation of how faith responds to and impacts upon an increasing range of alternative ideologies and practical issues, a process that in turn should provide guidelines (not straitjackets) for future responses and objectives. To “do theology” is not simply to learn about past doctrines and classic statements of faith. It means still more to think through the reality of a living faith and to bring that reality (not just formulae and statements about faith) into dialogue with alternative views of reality, resulting in fresh formulations of the faith. A faith that does not grow and develop condemns itself to wither and die. Tertium non datur: There is no third alternative!

Posts 569
Rev Chris | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Feb 12 2012 7:46 PM

I appreciate your continued insistence to push the NIB toward production!  I hope it goes over the top soon - it gets tiring opening up my printed copies each time. Wink

Pastor, seminary trustee, and app developer.  Check out my latest app for churches: The Church App

Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Feb 12 2012 8:03 PM

Hi Chris, can you think of a particularly favourite passage from the NIB that i could post that might help people see what a good resource this is?

-Dan

Posts 2169
Michael Childs | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 13 2012 7:33 AM

Dan,

I also commend you for lifting up this resource to everyone.  I think Abingdon owes you a commission!

I also believe that the publication of NIB in Logos format will expand the Logos market in Methodist and Wesleyan circles.  As far as I know, Logos will be the exclusive Bible software format for the crown jewels of Abingdon, (namely the New Interpreters Bible Commentary and NIB Dictionary.)  This needs to be made well known among Methodist and Wesleyan pastors.

Also, I wish my fellow Methodist pastors knew that Logos publishes many other resources which should be of great interest to Methodists and Wesleyans.  For example, the new edition of Wesley's Works, which contains the full journal not found in the Jackson edition that everyone else publishes.  Logos has a number of works by noted Wesleyan scholar Thomas Oden.  The same is true of Dr. Ben Witherington or Dr. John Oswalt.  I intend to do all I can to influence my colleagues to consider what this wonderful tool can mean to them.

I am certainly not implying that the interest in these resources are limited to Wesleyan circles.  Absolutely not, the excellent scholarship in them is far broader than that.   I just think that Methodist and Wesleyan pastors are a market for Logos that has great unrealized potential.  I am very glad that Abingdon is beginning to publish in Logos.  I hope Abingdon / Cokesbury will strengthen their relationship with Logos.   I think both Logos and Abingdon / Cokesbury would be winners. 

"In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church," John Wesley

Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 13 2012 11:39 AM

Not quite, Olivetree currently has the dictionary and the study Bible, and while they use to be mobile only they now have computer based software (not sure what windows is like but the mac one is pretty basic, but quite fast. So Abingdon is not looking at Logos exclusively, what they should have done is commissioned Logos to do it, this is probably the best commentary out there and they would do well to have it in the top Bible study program. It is a win win for both of them. And while I would love Abigndon to give something for my efforts, but i have no delusions that I will get anything for my efforts but hopefully the NIB in Logos format.  Although I do know if it becomes available in Olivetree for a decent price before it is under contract in Logos I will have to consider possibly getting it there. But I do know my preference is having the version in Logos fully integrated with my Logos Library.

-dan

Michael Childs:
As far as I know, Logos will be the exclusive Bible software format for the crown jewels of Abingdon, (namely the New Interpreters Bible Commentary and NIB Dictionary.)  This needs to be made well known among Methodist and Wesleyan pastors.

Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Feb 14 2012 8:17 AM

EZEKIEL 34:1-31, THE LORD IS YOUR SHEPHERD; YOU SHALL NOT WANT

OVERVIEW

With Ezekiel 34, the reader arrives at the onset of what commentator Daniel Block calls “the gospel according to Ezekiel (34:1–48:35).”1129 To be sure, optimistic prophecies have appeared in some preceding chapters (e.g., 11:14-21; 17:22-24; 28:25-26); and negative comments will surface not only in chap. 34, but also in some subsequent oracles. The present prophecy of salvation, however, marks a genuine turning point in the prophet’s ministry. Henceforth, he will speak frequently of Yahweh’s future rescue of Israel, of its restoration to the homeland, and of conditions that will pertain there.

Ezekiel 34 draws upon (and draws together) a rich array of Israel’s religious imagery, traditions, and motifs: the metaphors, common in the ancient Near Eastern world, that a king (whether divine or human) is a shepherd, and his subjects are the flock; Day of the Lord allusions; the (new) exodus; God’s everlasting covenant with David and his dynasty; blessings associated with fidelity to the covenant forged at Sinai; and the establishment of a future “covenant of peace.”

A complex compositional history likely underlies Ezekiel 34. Few critics would deny the prophet vv. 1-16 (sans vv. 7-8), but the “authenticity” of vv. 17-31 has been the subject of vigorous debate.1130 Nevertheless the text invites readers to construe it as a single unit, because its subunits (vv. 2-10; 11-16; 17-31) share shepherd/flock imagery. Such imagery is less pronounced in vv. 25-30 (it returns explicitly in v. 31). But because those verses are read in the light of preceding ones and speak of Israel’s future security in ways largely apropos to animals as well as to human beings, they fit their context well.

Following the familiar word event formula (v. 1), the chapter commences with a prophecy of punishment addressed to the past shepherds of Israel (vv. 2-10). This may seem a strange way to launch an oracle of salvation, but the reader soon discovers that the shepherds’ loss will be the flock’s gain. Ezekiel casts his metaphorical description of the rulers’ sins of commission and omission against Yahweh’s people in the form of a woe oracle (vv. 2-6; note the presence of ywh [hôy, “woe”] in v. 2 NIV). The announcement of their punishment appears in v. 10: God will retake control of the flock, bringing an end to the shepherds’ exploitive and irresponsible tending.

The second subunit (vv. 11-16) proclaims that Yahweh, the good shepherd, will seek out the sheep scattered among the nations and return them to their homeland, there to graze in fine pasturage upon the mountains of Israel and to drink from the land’s watercourses. The Lord’s care for the flock is the antithesis of the former shepherds’ miscare (compare vv. 4 and 16).

Verse 16b functions as a pivot between previous and following verses. Yahweh will destroy the fat and strong members of the flock, whose offenses are detailed in vv. 17-21, and tend the sheep with “justice.” Not only do the rams and he-goats (the flock’s most powerful members) feed on the best pasturage and drink the clearest water, but also they oppress the rest of the flock by trampling the remaining pasturage beneath their feet and muddying the water with their hooves. Therefore, Yahweh will judge between the “fat sheep” and their victims, the “lean sheep” who have been scattered far and wide. The text does not dwell upon the form Yahweh’s judgment or arbitration will take. Rather, v. 22 focuses upon the positive—God’s rescue of the flock, which will “no longer be ravaged.”

 

 

 

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An initial conjunctive (w waw, “and”) links vv. 23-25 to preceding verses. Yahweh intends to raise up over the flock one shepherd, “my servant David.” Here, Ezekiel speaks not of the resurrection of Israel’s second king, but of the reestablishment of the Davidic dynasty. Despite his earlier, brutal denunciations of Judah’s last rulers (see, e.g., chaps. 17 and 19), he anticipates the restoration of Israel’s only legitimate royal line.

Promising the establishment of an unconditional “covenant of peace,” Ezekiel describes a future free of dangers (wild animals, oppressive and insulting nations, famine) and filled with blessings (security, seasonal rains, lush vegetation). The people will know that Yahweh is with them, and that they are God’s own. The chapter concludes with the reassuring words, “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture and I am your God, says the Lord God.”

Ezekiel 34:1-10, Woe to the Shepherds of Israel

Link to: Ezekiel 34:1

 

 

 

 

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COMMENTARY

Yahweh commands Ezekiel to prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Who are these shepherds? Critics agree that the prophet employs a metaphor common throughout the ancient Near East, i.e., a king is a shepherd.1131 The Sumerian King List, for example, says of Etana, a post-flood ruler of Kish, “Etana, a shepherd, he who ascended to heaven (and) who consolidated all countries, became king and ruled 1,560 years.”1132 In the prologue to his law code, Hammurabi, a ruler of the Old Babylonian Dynasty, identifies himself as “Hammurabi, the shepherd, called by Enlil am I.”1133 Block cites two ancient Near Eastern similes employing shepherd (= king) and flock (= subjects) imagery. The first, a Babylonian proverb, asserts that “a people without a king (is like) sheep without a shepherd.” The second, from Egypt, expresses the same idea: without a king, the people are “like a flock gone astray without a shepherd.”1134 These proverbs stir thoughts of the prophet Micaiah son of Imlah’s prediction concerning the death of northern Israel’s King Ahab: “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd” (1 Kgs 22:17).

It is possible that Ezekiel, like Jeremiah (see, e.g., Jer 2:8; 23:1-4), intends that “shepherds” be understood to refer more broadly to leaders in Jerusalem, and not just to the nation’s kings per se. Block challenges that option, observing that in vv. 23-24, the problem of the former, abusive shepherds is resolved by Yahweh’s future appointment of a single good shepherd, David, through whose earthly rule God will exercise divine rule of the flock.1135 His point is strong, though not decisive. In preceding judgment oracles, Ezekiel has singled out Judah’s kings for rebuke (see, e.g., Ezekiel 17, with which the present passage shares striking similarities, and Ezekiel 19). But he has also condemned Israel’s elders for idolatry (8:9-13) and its princes for idolatry, gross acts of social injustice (e.g., murder, oppression), the desecration of sabbaths, and sexual misconduct (Ezekiel 22). On balance, I conclude that in 34:1-10, the prophet focuses on Judah’s last kings. But competent ancient (as well as modern) readers could construe “shepherds” more broadly.

The indictment, in the form of a woe oracle, immediately sets out a situation gone awry. Israel’s shepherds tended (h[r rA(â) themselves, when their responsibility was to tend the sheep!1136 They ate the fat, i.e., the choicest part of an animal (a sin of commission);1137 they clothed themselves with wool (a second sin of commission); and they slaughtered the fat sheep (a third sin of commission), but (the charge is repeated) they did not tend the sheep (a sin of omission).1138 They made no attempt to strengthen the weak animals, heal the infirmed, bind up the injured, return those who had strayed from the flock, or seek out the lost animals (all sins of omission), but ruled over them with force and harshness (a sin of commission). “With force,” Greenberg reminds us, describes the brutal oppression the Israelites endured under King Jabin of Canaan (Judg 4:3), while “harshness” characterizes the Egyptians’ savage treatment of the enslaved Hebrews (Exod 1:13-14).1139 Israel’s shepherds have treated their own flock as would foreign tyrants and taskmasters! As a consequence, the sheep have been scattered and have fallen prey to wild animals (at the literal level, marauding nations). Lacking a leader, the sheep—Yahweh calls them “my sheep,” asserting that God is their true owner—have wandered

 

 

 

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 throughout the mountains and high places of Israel, and finally been dispersed “over all the face of the earth” with no one to search (vrd dAras) for or seek them.

The reader is surely struck by Ezekiel’s metaphorical account of how his fellow Judeans entered exile. Though he has excoriated the last rulers of the davidic dynasty in previous oracles and depicted Judean society’s most helpless members as victims of their leaders (e.g., 22:6-12), for the most part Ezekiel has condemned the entire “house of Israel”—both those Judeans remaining in the homeland and those deported to Babylon. Here, by contrast, all of God’s scattered people appear as helpless victims of their rulers’ neglect and abuse.

  Verse 7, with its initial “therefore” (˜@kl lAken) followed by a direct address to the shepherds and the call to attention formula (“hear the word of Yahweh”), leads readers next to expect the proclamation of punishment. Instead v. 8, with its initial oath (“As I live”) and prophetic utterance (“says the Lord God”) formulas, summarizes the situation in an incomplete sentence: Because God’s flock has no shepherd and has become spoil and prey for all the ravaging beasts, and because God’s shepherds have not sought out Yahweh’s flock, tending rather to themselves. . . . Verse 9, then, repeats v. 7; and v. 10 sets out the punishment proper, introduced by the messenger formula, “Thus says the Lord God.” Speaking now of the shepherds in the third person, Yahweh utters the challenge to a duel formula (“I am against the shepherds”; the formula “I am against X,” formulated either in the second person [direct address] or in the third person, has appeared in 21:3; 26:3; 28:22; 29:30; 30:22). God will demand (vrd dAras; the same root appeared in v. 6 with the meaning “to search”) “my flock” from their hand and bring an end to their irresponsible tending; and they will no longer indulge themselves at the sheep’s expense. The Lord will rescue “my flock” from their mouths, and the sheep will no longer be food for them. Readers recall that in the story of David and Goliath, the young shepherd, defending his ability to battle the giant, said to Saul: “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth” (1 Sam 17:34-35; emphasis mine). When Yahweh speaks of rescuing God’s flock from the mouths of the shepherds, the latter are comparable to rapacious beasts.

Some critics have argued that the verses examined thus far were composed during the pre-exilic period, when Judah still was ruled by Davidic kings.1140 From the perspective of the sequential reader, however, Ezekiel proclaims these verses after the news of the nation’s collapse has reached the exiles. Hence, his indictment of Judah’s kings must serve some function other than proclaiming punishment to a still-enthroned royal line. That function becomes clear as the reader progresses through the following subsection, vv. 11-16.

REFLECTIONS

In the world of ancient Israel, sheep and other livestock were valuable possessions—sources of nourishment (meat and milk) and of wool for clothing, tents, and trade. A shepherd’s life was difficult and often dangerous, for he was responsible both for providing the defenseless flock with adequate food and water and for protecting it from predators—both human (see, e.g., Ezek 25:4) and animal (1 Sam 17:34-35).

The peoples of the ancient Near East spoke of kings as shepherds and of their subjects as sheep, thereby emphasizing the responsibility of the former diligently to care for and protect the latter. In ancient Israel, kings were expected to “tend” their subjects; and God held them accountable for their treatment of the flock.

The shepherd/flock metaphor is ancient but enduring. Its significance for Christian ministry is reflected in our use of “pastor” to refer to ordained ministers. Ministers serve as shepherds obedient to God. They are not self-appointed, nor are they engaged primarily by the flock. Instead, they are called by God to divine service.

 

 

 

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Pastoring is not, however, the sole responsibility of ordained ministers. To the contrary, authentic leadership requires “pastoral” care. Everyone who, in one way or another, in one arena or another, exercises authority and influence would do well to consider how the shepherd metaphor might impact his or her mindset and actions. Pastoring begins with the psalmist’s full awareness that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,/ the world, and those who live in it” (Ps 24:1). As leaders and caretakers, we are not to use persons, things, and situations to personal advantage. Neither exploitation nor neglect is acceptable. Rather, we are to act as God’s stewards, protecting and providing for those who are entrusted to our care, but belong to God. Ezekiel 34 has much to say to leaders of every ilk, be they politicians, health care providers, supervisors, teachers, pastors, or parents.

Ezekiel 34:11-16, Yahweh, Israel’s Good Shepherd

Link to: Ezekiel 34:11

COMMENTARY

In this subsection Ezekiel turns from Judah’s last kings, the exploitative and irresponsible bad shepherds of the past, to Yahweh as the flock’s exemplary future shepherd. As the reader makes his way through vv. 11-16, he recognizes that the preceding subsection functioned as a foil for this one. Yahweh’s tending of the flock is the antithesis of the kings’ former, irresponsible shepherding.

As noted in the Overview, the “a god is a shepherd” metaphor was well-established in the ancient Near East. The Babylonian deity Marduk, for example, is exalted by other deities who say, “May he shepherd all the gods like a flock.”1141 Egyptian hymns speak of the gods as herdsmen,

 

 

 

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 and so on. Within the Hebrew Bible, this metaphor appears most famously in Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”) but also in other texts (e.g., Ps 80:1a: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!” see also Mic 4:6; 7:14; Jer 23:3: “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply”; and Isa 40:11: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep”).

Following the messenger formula, Yahweh speaks with emphatic determination: “I myself” (v. 11b). God will not withdraw from the sheep, but will actively search them out (vrd dAras) and examine (rqb bAqar) them. The piel verb from the root bAqar can mean “to seek” but also “to inquire” in the sense of inspecting something. In Lev 13:36, it describes a priest’s inspection of a person’s skin for signs of disease (yellow hair); in Lev 27:33, it refers to the examination of an animal in order to determine its fitness for sacrifice. Verse 21 is difficult, but the sense seems to be that just as a shepherd examines bAqar his scattered sheep when at last he has found them, so Yahweh will examine “my sheep” after rescuing them from all of the places to which they were scattered “on a day of cloud and deep gloom.”1142 The latter phrase stirs thoughts of the theophany at Mt. Sinai (see, e.g., Deut. 4:11; Ps 97:2) and, especially, of the “Day of Yahweh” motif (see Joel 2:2; Zeph 1:15, and the commentary to Ezekiel 7). In this context, it refers to the recent destruction of Jerusalem, which Ezekiel understands to be Yahweh’s just punishment for Israel’s long-lived history of sin.

In describing God’s future salvific activity, Ezekiel draws from vocabulary rooted in Israel’s exodus (from Egypt) and entrance (into Canaan) traditions. Yahweh will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and bring them into their own land.1143 These three verbs appeared, in the same sequence, in Ezek 20:34-35—also an account of a new exodus which, in 20:37, uses shepherd imagery (“I will make you pass under the staff”). Under the (mis)care of the bad shepherds, the flock was scattered and wandered “over all the mountains and on every high hill” (v. 6). Under the direct care of shepherd Yahweh, however, the Israelites will undertake a new exodus, even greater than the first, because God will bring them out from the lands of multiple peoples, gathering them from all the nations. More than the Judean exiles in Babylonia are in view here. Yahweh intends to retrieve all members of flock Israel including, one supposes, the descendants of those Northern Israelites scattered abroad in the wake of Ephraim’s defeat by the Assyrians in 721 BCE and the Judeans who fled to Egypt in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s fall. The mountains of Israel are thrice mentioned (in vv. 13-14) as the ideal setting for the flock, offering excellent pasturage and ample water. Verse 15, with its initial, emphatic pronoun (“I will be the shepherd of my sheep”) speaks of rest and security for the flock and stirs thoughts of Ps 23:2 (“He makes me lie down in green pastures”).

In v. 4, the irresponsible shepherds were accused of five sins of omission. In Hebrew, one expects a verb to precede its direct object. But in v. 4 normal word order was reversed for emphasis:

  A   the weak you have not strengthened,

  B   the sick you have not healed,

  C   the injured you have not bound up,

  D   the strayed you have not brought back,

  E   the lost you have not sought

Verse 16 recasts these five negative statements about the shepherds’ neglect into positive statements concerning Yahweh’s shepherding of the flock. Again, direct objects precede verbs for emphasis. Moreover, the order of statements in v. 4 is reversed; and the A and B statements of that verse are, in v. 16, conflated and condensed:

  E´   the lost I will seek,

  D´   the strayed I will bring back,

  C´   the injured I will bind up

  B´   the sick

  A´   I will strengthen.

 

 

 

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In MT, the initial statement of v. 16b reads, “but the fat and the strong I will destroy” (dymva )asmîd). In two Hebrew manuscripts, however, the verb is rymva ()asmîr), “I will watch over.” The latter reading is presupposed by LXX; MT can be explained as a copyist’s error, since d (d) and r (r) were easily confused. If one emends the Masoretic text, then the first part of v. 16b continues the series of short, positive descriptions about Yahweh’s good shepherding begun in v. 16a: God’s tending of the flock is not restricted to its lost and disabled members, but extends to robust and healthy animals (the opposite of “the weak” Angel in v. 4) as well. The second half of v. 16b, then, proclaims that God will tend the flock “with justice,” the antithesis of the bad shepherds’ ruling with “force and harshness.” However, MT can be retained if one reads all of v. 16b as a presage of the subunit to follow, in which Yahweh promises to judge or arbitrate between strong and oppressive members of the flock and their weaker victims. The sequential reader of v. 16 does not yet know the contents of vv. 17-22, so the MT’s “I will destroy” is jarring. But the tension it creates is immediately resolved in the following verses. So read, v. 16b functions as a transition between preceding verses and ensuing ones.

REFLECTIONS

As noted in the Commentary, Yahweh is rather frequently depicted in Hebrew Scripture as the good shepherd who provides for the flock’s every need. Although many people reading this reflection will have had little or no direct contact with shepherds and sheep, the metaphor remains powerful. Witness the popularity of Psalm 23, which affirms that even as God’s sheep walk “through the valley of the shadow of death” (NIV), they need not fear, for God is with them as protector and guide.

For many Christians, Jesus assumes the role of the good shepherd. Indeed, as O’Day observes, “the image of Jesus as the good shepherd has a perennial hold on Christian imagination and piety. Some of the most popular pictures of Jesus are those that depict him as a shepherd, leading a flock of sheep.”1144 According to John 10:11, Jesus appropriates the “good shepherd” metaphor because he, like such a shepherd, “lays down his life for the sheep.”

In Israel’s ancient Near Eastern world, kings were expected to “tend” their subjects justly, especially those who were most vulnerable to abuse: widows, orphans, the poor, infirmed, and displaced. Israel’s past shepherds neglected such responsibilities, Ezekiel charges (v. 4). But Yahweh, Israel’s divine king, shepherds the entire flock including its weakest members (v. 16). How a society and its leaders treat those who struggle against disadvantages speaks volumes about that society’s true values—not the ones it professes to hold, but those revealed in policy and action. North American society provides all too stark examples of our failure to imitate the divine shepherd. Too often the elderly are neglected, the homeless are disparaged, the sick are stigmatized, and foreigners are exploited.

 

 

 

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Ezekiel 34:17-31, Yahweh Arbitrates, Establishes, and Initiates

Ezekiel 34:17-22, Inter-flock Conflict

Link to: Ezekiel 34:17

COMMENTARY

The third major subsection of Ezekiel 34, which can itself be subdivided into smaller sections based on the topics addressed, is cast in the form of a three-part prophetic proof saying. Turning now to address the flock (“As for you, my flock”) Yahweh declares, following a resumptive messenger formula, the intention to judge or arbitrate between strong and weak sheep. The reasons why such arbitration is necessary are identified in a series of accusations expressed as questions (vv. 18-19). Verse 20, introduced by the transitional “therefore” (˜@kl lAken) followed by the messenger formula, promises Yahweh’s intervention on behalf of the lean sheep. Verse 21, introduced by “because” (˜@[y ya(an) continues the indictment of vv. 18-19, adding the charge that the strong animals physically abuse the weak ones. In v. 22 God declares, “I will save my flock”; as a consequence, they will no longer be ravaged. Ezekiel does not provide specifics about the consequences of Yahweh’s arbitration for the flock’s oppressive members. One certainly presumes that God’s intervention will bring inter-flock conflict to an end. The strong sheep will not continue to bully the weak. Nevertheless, the reader who construes vv. 20-22 in the light of MT v. 16b (“but the fat and the strong I will destroy”) and with 20:37-38 in mind might well assume that oppressive and violent members of the flock will be eliminated. In this particular context, has Ezekiel blunted the extermination of abusive animals in order to foreground his overriding interest, God’s positive efforts on the flock’s behalf?

 

 

 

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REFLECTIONS

Ezekiel 34 speaks to the issue of what we would call responsible ecological stewardship. God’s creation is not ours to exploit, as Judah’s former kings exploited the flock entrusted to their care. Neither are we, like the strong, selfish members of the flock addressed in vv. 17-22, free to take more than our share of its resources, consuming at will and polluting what remains. Ezekiel’s world knew the devastation of flood and earthquake, of famine and drought, of warfare and plunder. We too know of such things; perhaps we have even experienced some of them. But Ezekiel’s world did not know the devastation of nuclear waste and chemical landfills, of cracked-open oil tankers and mountains of non-biodegradable trash. Today, chap. 34 speaks with a piercing relevance the prophet could not have imagined. 

Ezekiel 34:23-24, Israel Tended by One Shepherd, God’s Servant David

Link to: Ezekiel 34:23

COMMENTARY

Commentators sometimes express surprise at the contents of vv. 23-24, Yahweh’s promise to raise up over the sheep a single human shepherd, “my servant David” (the emphasis on a single shepherd likely reflects Ezekiel’s expectation that in the future, Israel will consist not of two separate kingdoms, but of one united kingdom), to tend them and to be prince among them. Hals speaks, for example, of “the unanticipated promise of a Davidic shepherd.”1145 For several reasons, however, the ancient reader likely is not surprised that Ezekiel moves in this direction. First, he has read chap. 17, which—like the present passage—speaks first of the failures of Judah’s last kings, second of Yahweh’s punitive response to their sins, and third of God’s future restoration of the Davidic dynasty. Ezekiel uses different imagery in that chapter—eagles, cedars, vines (see the Commentary on chap. 17). But the progression of thought in the two passages is essentially the same.1146 Second, the reader knows Jer 23:1-6(8), which likewise exhibits both shepherd/flock metaphors and the same sequence.1147 Third, he recognizes that references to David as shepherd and as Yahweh’s servant ruler fit sublimely into their context. On the one hand, tradition remembers David, the youthful shepherd, as a faithful tender of his father’s flock—one who risked his own life in order to protect the animals entrusted to his care (1 Sam 17:34-35). David’s actual shepherding style was the antithesis of the evil shepherds’ (metaphorical) “tending.” On the other hand, tradition remembers David as Israel’s king par excellence, the ruler for whom God established an unconditional, everlasting covenant: 

 

 

 

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 “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16; see also Jer 33:17, 20-21, 25-26). Critical though he be of Judah’s final Davidic kings, Ezekiel still insists that its only legitimate dynasty will be reinstituted in Israel’s future.

The references to David in vv. 23 and 24, then, address the dilemmas of preceding verses at multiple levels. Israel’s shepherds failed to tend their flock and, in fact, exploited it in order to care for themselves. Young David, by contrast, cared for his father’s flock as an obedient and faithful shepherd should. A future Davidic shepherd (here called “prince,” aycn nAZî)) will tend Yahweh’s flock as did King David of old, God’s servant ruler (the title “my servant” is, in this context, both honorific and expressive of one’s obligation to obey one’s master). Unlike Israel’s past shepherds, who helped themselves to the best of Yahweh’s flock, this Davidide will tend the sheep on behalf of their true owner. As Levenson observes. “God does not send his messiah to rule; he rules through his messiah.”1148 

At its outset, v. 24 echoes half of the traditional Sinai covenant formulation (e.g., “You are my people, and I am your God”; see, e.g., Deut 27:9; Jer 31:11; Hos 2:25). But the second half of v. 24 evokes thoughts of the Davidic covenant. Hence, the verse not only echoes both covenant traditions, but also yokes them. (See Reflections at 34:25-31.)

Ezekiel 34:25-31, A Covenant of Peace

Link to: Ezekiel 34:25

 

 

 

 

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COMMENTARY

Yahweh’s promise of a future “covenant of peace” (µ!wlv tyrb burît sAlôm) is followed by a description of its attending blessings: the eradication of dangerous beasts, such that one can rest securely throughout the land, including its least hospitable regions; lush vegetation sustained by adequate and reliable seasonal rains; and freedom from oppression and fear. Here, we find one of the fullest descriptions of Israel’s understanding of sAlôm as more than the absence of hostility or tension. Shalom speaks of wholeness, harmony, fulfillment, humans at peace with their environment and with God.”1149 

What is this “covenant of peace” that God will make for (not “with”) them? What is its relationship to other covenants within the book of Ezekiel and beyond? Bernard Batto argues convincingly that the “covenant of peace” motif derives from ancient Near Eastern mythology about the primeval period. When divine/human hostility ended, the deities ceased their efforts to exterminate humankind and took an oath “to maintain peace and harmony with humankind and even with the whole of creation.”1150 The oath was confirmed by a “permanent visible sign” symbolizing the perpetuity of this new era of peace. The myth appears in two variations, designated by Batto as Pattern A and Pattern B. In the former, the gods attempt to exterminate humankind by flood. The latter lacks a flood account. Rather, a goddess seeks to slay humanity with her sword.1151 The influence of Pattern A is patent in the biblical flood accounts (J and P) found in Genesis 6–9. Pattern B may have left its imprint on the present passage, as we shall see below. According to Batto, certain of Israel’s prophets (Hosea, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah, Zechariah) adopted the covenant of peace motif, which had grown and developed over the centuries. But they unlatched it from the primeval period and projected it into the future (Hos 2:18-25; Isa 54:10; Zech 8:10-12, Ezekiel 37). So, for example, in the present passage and in Isa 54:9-10, the assuaging of Yahweh’s anger is followed by God’s promise to establish an eternal covenant of peace with Israel.

Zimmerli, and more recently Block, identify this covenant of peace with the “eternal covenant” which Yahweh will establish with Jerusalem, “his” faithless wife, in Ezek 16:60. To be sure, that passage says nothing of a covenant of “peace.” For Zimmerli, the addition of that word in this passage simply makes explicit the essence of covenant. A covenant establishes well-being, a healthy relationship between the covenant’s partners. This well-being extends throughout the nation’s sphere of life when Yahweh is the covenant partner who brings about peace.1152 

It is by no means clear, however, that an ancient reader of Ezek 34:25-31 would identify its “covenant of peace” with the eternal covenant of 16:60. The latter appeared within the context of a metaphorical narrative about Jerusalem, a personified (female) city whose idolatrous cultic practices and inappropriate royal policies (e.g., forging and relying on international alliances) were presented as sexual infidelities threatening her marriage with Yahweh. To be sure, faithless Jerusalem embodies her inhabitants. But the female personification of the urban center is ubiquitous throughout chap. 16. Yahweh speaks of remembering God’s covenant with her in the days of her youth (most obviously a reference back to their marriage in 16:9) and establishing with her an everlasting bond, i.e., one that cannot be abrogated because Yahweh determines that it will not be.

The “covenant of peace” in the present passage, by contrast, says little about God’s relationship with that city. To the contrary, the blessings of this covenant focus especially upon idyllic agrarian conditions. One wonders if Zimmerli, Block, and others have associated this passage with 16:60 under the influence of Hosea 2, where both female imagery (Israel’s land and its people are personified as women) and reference to a beneficent covenant (v. 18) appear. I do not deny that Ezek 34:25-30 bears some similarities to Hosea 2,

 

 

 

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 though there are differences as well.1153 As Batto has shown, both texts reflect the influence of the ancient Near Eastern motif discussed above (they share, for example, the notion of lying down in safety and of abundant harvests). Nevertheless, the equation of this passage’s covenant of peace with the eternal covenant of Ezek 16:60 seems strained.

More probable is the reader’s conclusion that Yahweh’s covenant of peace is somehow associated with the one forged at Sinai. How could he not think of that treaty, when Ezekiel’s description of the blessings Israel will enjoy in the future echoes blessings associated with human fidelity to that ancient bond? The present passage evokes thoughts of the Sinaitic covenant blessings of Lev 26:1-13 and their counterpart in Deut 28:2-14. Yet this covenant of peace cannot adequately be explained simply as a renewing of the conditional Sinai covenant. In vv. 25-30, Ezekiel nowhere says that Yahweh’s covenant of peace depends upon the people’s obedience to a set of stipulations. Rather, he focuses upon Yahweh’s initiative (“I will make a covenant of peace for them”) and unconditional promises of safety, blessing, security, and freedom from oppression. So, while the benefits of the covenant in vv. 25-30 stir thoughts of that ancient treaty with its blessings (and curses), this covenant is presented as something new.

The first consequence of Yahweh’s covenant of peace is the eradication of dangerous animals from Israel’s land (cf. Hos 2:18; Isa 11:6-8). Even the desert and its opposite, the forest, will be so safe that one can live and sleep in them. The desert is home to wild and noxious creatures. Forests are especially dangerous at night, when beasts prowl in search of food (see Ps 104:20-22).

In the covenant curse of Lev 26:22, Yahweh threatens to bring ravenous beasts against Israel: “I will let loose wild animals against you, and they shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock; they shall make you few in number, and your roads shall be deserted.” Ezekiel has previously referred to such beasts as God’s instruments of punishment (5:17; 14:15, 21; 31:12-14; 33:27). Now, his promise recalls the covenant blessings of Lev 26:6: “And I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down and no one shall make you afraid; I will remove dangerous animals from the land, and no sword shall go through your land.” There, as here, “peace” is associated with the eradication of wild beasts, though Leviticus speaks also of sword-wielding foes.

Verse 25 makes sense as an address to human beings. But the reader also can easily understand it as a promise to Yahweh’s “flock.” On the one hand, enemy nations are depicted as wild animals ravaging the sheep in Ezek 34:5, 8. On the other hand, eliminating fierce beasts would benefit flocks both literal and metaphorical. Indeed, the reference to residing securely in the desert and sleeping in the woods might be more appropriate to the flock metaphor.

Verse 26 is difficult because the referent for “them” in the phrase “I will make them” is unclear, the identity of “my hill” is disputed, and its relationship to v. 25 is ambiguous. In the light of the immediately preceding verse, “them” might refer to the recipients of Yahweh’s covenant (“I will make with them a covenant of peace”), who can reside securely even in the land’s most harrowing areas. Alternatively “them” might be understood as a reference to the desert and forests of v. 25b. This second possibility is buttressed by the fact that the following phrase (“the region around my hill”) is, like desert and forests, a reference to place(s). “My hill” might well be construed by the ancient reader as a reference to Jerusalem (see Isa 10:32; 31:4). The fact that Ezekiel has not (and will not) use the name “Zion” does not rule out that possibility, since Jerusalem and its Temple are often his focus. (It is true, however, that the prophet does not elsewhere use “hill” in this way; cf. 6:3, 13; 20:28; 34:6; 35:8; 36:4, 6).

The first half of v. 26, then, likely asserts Yahweh’s promise to make all of Israel’s land, including its most formidable regions, into a “blessing”—that is, “an exemplar of blessedness.”1154 In v. 26b, God promises that the land

 

 

 

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 will receive its seasonal rains, “showers of blessing.” As a consequence, lush vegetation will grow (v. 27a).1155 The trees of the field will yield their fruit, and the earth will bring forth its various crops. The people will be freed from the danger of drought, famine, starvation, and death. Secure on their soil, they will know that “I am Yahweh,” when God has freed them from slavery as in the exodus of old.1156 No longer will they be plunder for other nations or food for savage beasts. Fear will have no place in so safe an existence.

In MT, v. 29 begins as follows: “And I shall establish for them a planting of renown” (µ!vl [fm mattA( lusem). The NRSV translates “a splendid vegetation”; the NIV reads “a land renowned for its crops.” The Hebrew text makes sense: so great will be the fertility of Israel’s land that the people will never again experience famine or the consequent insults of other nations. LXX, however, presupposes µ!lv [fm (mattA( sAlom), “a peaceful planting”; and commentators often emend the MT accordingly. Batto’s investigation of the “covenant of peace” motif offers some support for emending MT, for Pattern B examples of the core myth he examines include a submotif about the planting of peace in the earth. If, as Batto suggests, the text is one of several biblical references to this submotif, then it is possible that a knowledgeable reader might espy in MT a slight scribal error and read accordingly. Verses 28-29 address the Israelites literally (as people), rather than metaphorically (as the sheep of Yahweh’s flock). By this point, however, the reader is accustomed to Ezekiel’s tendency to permit literal referents to surface within metaphorical oracles (see, e.g., 16:41).

Verse 30 commences with the opening words of the recognition formula (“and they shall know that . . . ”), followed by assurance of God’s presence with the people, itself a modified version of the Sinai covenant formula (see, e.g., Lev 26:12). The closing formula, “says the Lord God,” assures Ezekiel’s audience and his reader that his words are, in fact, God’s own. Verse 31, yet another variation on the Sinai covenant formula, explicitly returns to the flock metaphor. The NIV translation follows the MT (translating µ!da [)AdAm, “human”] as “people”), while the NRSV translation follows the LXX (where a Greek equivalent of )AdAm does not appear). This verse, like its predecessor, ends with the formula, “says the Lord God.”

REFLECTIONS

Ezekiel’s use of the shepherd/sheep metaphor has the power to realign our understanding of what responsible leadership entails. Like all metaphors, however, it requires thoughtful critique. Ezekiel anticipates that the reversal of his people’s plight will be initiated and sustained solely by God. When Yahweh, the good shepherd, reclaims the sheep, their every need will be met: the flock’s fat and abusive members will no longer ravage the other sheep or the environment; the good old days of David’s rule will return; the blessings of God’s unconditional covenant of peace will make possible life that, if not edenic, is certainly idyllic.

Fertile soil, freedom from foe and fear—who among us does not yearn for such conditions? But if, for the prophet, the covenant of peace comes only as a result of divine volition, then what remains for humans to do? What role have we to play in setting the world right? It is one thing to acknowledge Yahweh as creator and liberator. It is quite a different thing passively to await God’s creative and liberating activity. Ezekiel’s metaphor affirms that ultimately, God is the source of salvation. But we are not sheep. We are, Genesis 1 insists, created in God’s image and entrusted with dominion over all other living things. Ironically, exercising dominion is an act of servantship. It demands responsibility; it certainly is not a license to exploit God’s “very good” creation.

 

 

 

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Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Feb 16 2012 10:28 AM

Perhaps I am simply beating a dead horse seeing the progress bar never seems to move at all, but here is another sample…. This time the entire book of Philemon being so short i thought I would include it all.

-Dan

THE LETTER TO PHILEMON

INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS

BY

CAIN HOPE FELDER

 

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THE LETTER TO 

PHILEMON

INTRODUCTION

The Letter to Philemon is one of the seven letters that almost all biblical scholars hold were written by the apostle Paul. Having only twenty-five verses in its English rendering from the 335 words in the apostle's Greek original, Philemon is the shortest among the Pauline epistles. The textual integrity of the letter is complete (i.e., fully preserved) in twelve of the major uncial manuscripts, and there is a near-total word agreement among the Greek texts of the letter, with but few orthographical differences (in vv. 2, 6, 9, 12, 25).1

Most commentators agree that Philemon reflects Paul's spirit, theology, moral tone, language, and style, as do 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Philippians, the six other undisputed letters. Ancient church tradition links the letter to Paul, and the major catalogs of the New Testament canon from the early centuries (e.g., the late second-century Muratorian Fragment and Bishop Athanasius's thirty-ninth Festal Letter to his clergy in 367 CE, among others) list it among Paul's writings.

DATE AND PLACE OF WRITING

The Letter to Philemon differs significantly from Paul's other writings in two ways. First, it is not addressed to a church but to specific persons. Second, it is a letter of mediation to foster reconciliation between two individuals to whom Paul bears common relation as

 

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 their spiritual leader: Philemon, a slavemaster, and Onesimus, a slave who fled Philemon's household but who has returned, concerned to make things right. This letter was Paul's plea for a renewed relationship between the two, but one on better terms than before in the light of their mutual faith as Christians.

Three options are usually set forth regarding the place from which Paul wrote the letter: Caesarea, Ephesus, or Rome. These are the places where Paul was imprisoned for considerable periods of time (although there were other occasions when he was taken into custody, as 2 Cor 11:23ff. reports). The dating of this letter depends in large measure on the location of its composition. If Paul wrote to Philemon from Rome, as seems most likely, then the letter was composed about 61 CE. If written during his imprisonment at Caesarea, the letter should be dated about 58 CE. If written from Ephesus, a date of 55 CE would be required.

The argument for Rome as the place of composition has particular merit. Since Philemon was the overseer of the Lycus Valley house churches at Colossae (see the map “Main Roadways of Asia Minor,” 581), in Asia Minor, Onesimus, his slave, would most likely not have remained within a short distance from the household he had fled but would have found his way to Rome, where other runaway slaves from the provinces tended to seek refuge. Although Rome sought to protect slave owners' rights and even encouraged bounty for assistance in returning fugitive slaves to their owners, it is not certain that Onesimus was, in fact, a runaway at all or, if he was, that he had become one without just cause.

Those who suggest Ephesus as the place of origin for this letter cite Paul's request that Philemon prepare lodging for his visit (v. 22) as an indication that Paul must have been imprisoned nearby. In addition to this, Ephesus was a provincial capital whose proximity to Colossae made it a more convenient destination for a slave without resources. Against this argument, however, is the fact, based on Col 4:7-9, that Onesimus and Tychicus were commissioned by Paul to carry letters from him to Ephesus, Laodicea, and Colossae. As for Caesarea as the place of writing, it is the most improbable choice of the three because of the difficulty in aligning events surrounding Paul's imprisonment there (see Acts 23:1–25) and the contents of this letter to Philemon.

The circumstance occasioning the letter to Philemon has strong bearing on Col 4:7-9, which mentions Tychicus (“beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in the Lord,” Col 4:7) as someone who will update the Colossian church members concerning Paul's situation. The same text refers to Onesimus as traveling with him; Paul there described Onesimus as “the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you” (Col 4:9). It is also instructive, and doubtless indicative, that this mention of Onesimus occurs just after the segment in Colossians that details the subordination codes pertaining to slaves and masters (Col 3:22–4:1; it should be noted that the injunction in Col 4:1, advising those who owned slaves to “treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven” is a unique principle for such stock codes).

 

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FOCUS

At first glance, the Letter to Philemon seems to focus almost entirely on the issue of slavery. Paul was imprisoned or under house arrest (vv. 9, 13, 23) as he wrote; nevertheless, he was able to provide refuge for the slave Onesimus, who for some reason had fled the household of his master, Philemon. Paul appeals to Philemon as a friend and fellow Christian to take Onesimus back and to receive him without penalty or prejudice, in view of the slave's conversion and new life in Christ, their common Lord. Thus the reference to Onesimus as a “beloved brother”; Onesimus had become a Christian in the interim between leaving Philemon's household and the time the letter was written. Paul's description of Onesimus as “my child, whose father I have become during my imprisonment” (v. 10) can be understood to mean that Paul was the primary human agent in helping Onesimus to become a Christian.

The view widely held across many centuries is that this is a fairly straightforward personal letter in which Paul petitions his friend Philemon to forgive and restore his runaway slave, who was both a fugitive and a thief. Now, various questions can be raised about why Onesimus left Philemon's household and why he sought out Paul. Had he been abused by Philemon? Had he, in leaving Philemon, caused him to undergo some financial loss? However, although Paul recognized Philemon's “claim” upon Onesimus, nothing in the letter provides warrant for the notion that Onesimus was a criminal fugitive who had stolen something from his master.

The central meaning and purpose of the Letter to Philemon concern the difference the transforming power of the gospel can make in the lives and relationships of believers, regardless of class or other distinctions. However, the way slavery has figured so prominently in modern history has obscured this deeper, more essential meaning and veiled the perennial significance of the letter. During the period of the European and American slave trade, many slave owners and other defenders of the system who laid claim to Christian leadership appealed to the Letter to Philemon to justify the racial stereotypes they held and the compliance they believed that Scripture requires from those under the slavery system. To be sure, the institution of slavery in the Roman Empire during the first century, the legal infrastructure that supported it, and the various moral judgments given in the New Testament regarding its legitimacy are issues that must be considered in reading the letter. However, close study of the text makes clear that Paul's primary focus is not on the institution of slavery but on the power of the gospel to transform human relationships and bring about reconciliation. There is no basis whatsoever for thinking of Onesimus as a progenitor of the African American slave, especially since the Roman Empire did not have a race-based policy for the institution of slavery, neither in the first century nor at any other time.2 All things considered, the way Paul's letter to Philemon is viewed provides

 

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 excellent opportunity for a case study about the ways in which a person's social location can serve as a tacit rationale for reading inappropriate values into the text, distorting the document's original intent.

Quite apart from the fact that it was the work of Paul, the inclusion of the letter to Philemon in the New Testament canon would be justified on the basis of its message about reconciliation. Lloyd Lewis draws attention to Paul's use of “family language” in the letter: “brother” (vv. 1, 7, 16, 20), “sister” (v. 2), “my child...whose father I have become” (v. 10), and the like. The frequency of use of the terms is so pronounced that the communal-family emphasis cannot be viewed as coincidental. Lewis highlights Paul's noble intent expressed in those terms of endearment; the apostle exposes “an unwillingness to canonize the social roles found in his environment.”3

In addition to the many published studies that report traditional interpretations of the Letter to Philemon, new studies have appeared seeking to buttress older views or to supply fresh perspective on how the letter should be viewed and explained. Sarah C. Winter has suggested that the Letter to Philemon was primarily written to a church and was only formally addressed to Philemon as the congregational overseer. The references to the situation between Philemon and Onesimus are explained as not so much dealing with personal matters as framing a paradigm for changing master/slave relationships into new opportunities for manumission and shared fellowship.4

Perhaps the most dramatic departure from the traditional understanding of the Letter to Philemon of late is found in the work of Allen D. Callahan.5 Callahan seeks to dispel the idea that Onesimus was a slave at all, suggesting rather that he and Philemon were estranged biological brothers whom Paul sought to reconcile. Despite flashes of keen insight, Callahan's heavy reliance on “silences of the text” and his literal interpretation of Paul's words about Onesimus as “a beloved brother...in the flesh and in the Lord” (v. 16) as indicating a blood kinship between Onesimus and Philemon move the interpretive center of the letter too far from the more common and ancient understanding of Onesimus as a runaway slave.

Eduard Lohse calls attention to the interpretive center of the Letter to Philemon in his majesterial commentary, citing Martin Luther's influential evaluation of the Pauline writing:

This epistle gives us a masterful and tender illustration of Christian love. For here we see how St. Paul takes the part of poor Onesimus and, to the best of his ability, advocates his cause with his master. He acts exactly as if he were himself Onesimus, who had done wrong.

 

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 Yet, he does this not with force or compulsion, as lay within his rights; but empties himself of his rights in order to compel Philemon to waive his rights.6

Luther's observation conveys his view that Onesimus had done something wrong, yet exactly who in the letter is the injured party or real victim has remained open to debate. It is quite possible, for example, that Onesimus's only offense was leaving the household of a master—Philemon—who had abused him in some way. There is greater warrant for such a scenario than for viewing Onesimus as a lazy or dishonest servant—the view found in the folklore that circulated among the ruling classes of the modern Western world, especially those who championed and benefited from the institution of slavery.

While Paul's letter to Philemon does not focus on the issue of slavery, it certainly offers clues that help to clarify the apostle's moral stance on the issue. Paul was aware of the provisions in the Hebrew Bible that sanctioned some forms of slavery despite the abhorence of the Hebrews for the long period of their own bondage in Egypt. And, as a Roman citizen, he certainly knew the legal warrants for the system as practiced across the empire. He was astute enough to recognize that the role of a pronounced abolitionist would not only have been foolhardy for himself, despite his Roman citizenship, but it would also have been disastrous to the nascent Christian missionary movement. Such factors make all the more astonishing texts like Gal 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”; or 1 Cor 7:21, which suggests that slaves should use every opportunity to gain manumission;7 or 2 Cor 11:20-21, which castigates those who let others enslave them. These statements, rightly viewed, are hardly the words of someone who approves of the institution of slavery. On the contrary, they reflect an attitude consistent with the appeal made in the Letter to Philemon, making the words found there all the more poignant and significant, for Paul is also the one who brought Philemon into the faith.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Commentaries:

Bruce, F. F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. NIGNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984. A scholarly, evangelical commentary.

Caird, George B. Paul's Letters from Prison. NCIB. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976. A classic commentary that explores the theological meaning and historical background of Paul's letters.

Dunn, James D. G. The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. A scholarly commentary, particularly helpful for study of the Greek text.

Knox, John. “The Epistle to Philemon: Introduction and Exegesis.” Interpreter's Bible. Vol. 10. Nashville: Abingdon, 1955. A classic commentary for preachers and teachers.

 

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 Lohse, Eduard. Colossians and Philemon. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971. A scholarly commentary, with extensive notes and references.

Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. New York: United Bible Societies, 1971. An excellent overview of the textual variants of the NT writings.

O'Brien, Peter T. Colossians, Philemon. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word, 1982. A critical, scholarly, evangelical commentary.

Osiek, Carolyn. Philippians, Philemon. ANTC. Nashville: Abingdon, 2000. A concise, critical commentary, particularly valuable for its analysis of rhetorical strategies and social realities.

Other Specialized Studies:

Bartchy, S. Scott. MALLON CRHSAI: First Century Slavery and the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:21. SBLDS. Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1973. A detailed, scholarly analysis.

Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997. A study of Paul's life and thought from an outstanding evangelical scholar.

Callahan, Allen D. “Paul's Epistle to Philemon: Toward an Alternative Argumentum.” HTR 86:4 (1993). An intriguing reading of the Letter to Philemon.

———. Embassy of Onesimus: The Letter of Paul to Philemon. Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1997. A comprehensive statement of the author's provocative reading of the Letter to Philemon.

Lewis, Lloyd A. “An African American Appraisal of the Philemon-Paul-Onesimus Triangle.” In Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation. Edited by Cain Hope Felder. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991. An analysis of the Letter to Philemon from a contemporary African American perspective.

Martin, Ralph P. Reconciliation: A Study of Paul's Theology. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981. A comprehensive examination of Pauline theology, emphasizing reconciliation.

Meeks, Wayne A. The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983. A classic study of the social environment of the early Christian movement.

Sampley, J. Paul. Pauline Partnership in Christ: Christian Community and Commitment in Light of Roman Law. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980. A study of partnership in Paul's missionary work and writing as influenced by concepts in Roman law.

Winter, S. C. “Methodical Observations of a New Interpretation of Paul's Letter to Philemon.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 39 (1984).

 

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OUTLINE OF PHILEMON

I. Philemon 1:1-3, Opening Greetings

II. Philemon 1:4-7, Philemon Is Commended for His Faith and Charity

III. Philemon 1:8-20, Paul's Request Regarding Onesimus

IV. Philemon 1:21-22, Paul's Expectation to Visit

V. Philemon 1:23-25, Concluding Words and Benediction

 

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PHILEMON 1-3

OPENING GREETINGS

COMMENTARY

Following the conventional forms of letter writing of his time, Paul names himself first as the one writing; then Timothy, a known close associate who was with him as he wrote. Finally he names the intended recipients: Philemon; Apphia and Archippus, two presumably key persons within Philemon's circle, possibly even family members; and the “church in [Philemon's] house.” Paul describes himself as a “prisoner” (de;smiov desmios, vv. 1, 9), which was his current situation, being in custody. However, he wanted it clearly understood that he did not view himself as a battle casualty but as an obedient servant to Jesus Christ. Thus the full self-designation “prisoner of Christ Jesus,” which could also mean “prisoner for Christ Jesus” (as the Greek was rendered previously in the RSV).

Paul's self-description here as “prisoner of Christ Jesus” deviates from his more customary self-reference in the undisputed letters as an “apostle of Jesus Christ” (see 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; etc.); in the deutero-Pauline Eph 3:1 we find his self-reference as “prisoner for Christ Jesus”; at Eph 4:1, “prisoner in the Lord”; and at 2 Tim 1:8, “me his prisoner.” It is clear that Paul always associated his imprisonments with having been obedient to his Lord. Callahan has suggested that “perhaps Paul's failure to claim his apostolic credentials here, which he so readily flashes before those congregations he has established personally, is better understood as a reflection of his rhetorical situation vis-à-vis churches in which his personal standing and relationship are less than certain.”8 Paul did sometimes assert his claims to apostolicity when his credentials were challenged by opponents; this is seen in his writing to the Corinthians and the Galatians. Yet it was not necessary for him to do so here; since he did not have to assert leadership priority in dealing with a house church that he did not plant, his apostleship is not being questioned. Paul is merely sending this particularly personal letter to Philemon, whom he addresses as his “dear friend and co-worker.”

Philemon is not named elsewhere in the Pauline corpus or in the early Christian literature. Apart from his appearance by name in this letter, nothing more is known concerning him except that he was a slave owner, a head of a household, a leader of a church group that met within his properties, and, by inference, that he was engaged in some business that supported his status. (As for the name “Philemon,” it was as common in the Greek-speaking culture as are “John” and “Joe” in English-speaking countries.)9

 

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 Paul addressed Philemon as “dear friend” (ajgaphto;v agapetos, “beloved one”); the abstract adjective seems appropriate because he and Paul had known each other in some settings as coworkers in the furtherance of the gospel. Koinwni"a (Koinonia), or “fellowship,” exists between them, and Paul highlights this fact as he addresses his friend. Callahan suggests that this was Paul's way of preparing Philemon for the claim this letter would press upon him as he read it, “co-worker” being not only initially descriptive but finally prescriptive as well.

Apphia is traditionally assumed to have been Philemon's wife; that she was so is asserted by John Chrysostom (c. 344/354–407) in his first homily on the Letter to Philemon. Since Philemon is referred to as “beloved,” some scribes added “the beloved” after her name as well in making copies of this letter, as many cursives (copies written in small cursive letters) reveal. As for Archippus, some commentators suggest that the person identified here by that name is the same person mentioned in Col 4:17. Indeed, many have promoted the view of Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350–428), influential Antiochene exegete and theologian, that the Archippus greeted here was a son of Philemon and Apphia. The paucity of information from that early period of church history has prompted the pressing of meager data into unwarranted and dubious constructions. Nevertheless, Paul's greeting—addressing them together with Philemon—indicates that both Apphia and Archippus were important figures in the house church headed by Philemon. Archippus is also addressed in loving terms, being greeted as “our fellow soldier” (sustratiw"thv systratiotes). F. F. Bruce has commented that “some personal association with Archippus in the work of the gospel is implied, but what it was is unknown to us.”10

“The church in your house” is mentioned by way of extension. Paul acknowledges the work for which Philemon was responsible and shows concern for the welfare of the assembly. He was aware that Philemon and his family, so intimately related to the congregation for which Philemon had oversight, would appreciate a word that included the group's welfare. Moreover, Paul knew that the plea he was about to make to Philemon in this letter, no matter how it might be handled, would affect social relations within the assembly. So the formulaic close of the apostle's greetings, the implied prayer for continued “grace to you [plural] and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” is more than a simple expression of courtesy. The greetings and implied prayers found in Paul's correspondence always convey his pastoral concern.11

REFLECTIONS

1. A true soldier understands orders and obeys them, strengthened by trust in the cause and a disciplined will to fulfill a known duty. Paul understood himself as a soldier for Christ, a man under orders, so he had no shame in being a prisoner; he knew it was in the interest of the cause he served.

Imprisoned, with a Roman soldier always in his presence or within sight, Paul was reminded constantly of his own ties to authority. He viewed himself as a soldier sent out by his Lord under orders to deal with evil. Though confined for a time, he was content because he had been “captured” while “in battle.” The soldier image must have been uppermost in his mind when, in greeting Philemon, Paul remembered his ties with Archippus (possibly Philemon's son) and greeted him as well, calling him “fellow soldier.” Images from military life may not be as stimulating to the present generation as to those of the past, but it is not possible to understand the depth of Paul's commitment to Christ and his willingness to undergo his many periods of confinement in prison without taking into account the positive aspects of what it means to be “under orders” and to obey them despite the costs involved (cf. 2 Cor 9:16).

2. The church at Colossae, perhaps still in its early growth stage, was blessed by a hosting home where its members could meet. Stated church buildings would come only in the future 

 

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 (the third century, to be exact), but at that early time the nascent church realized itself and promoted its mission through gatherings in homes. The home was central to the tasks envisioned, the place where worship and learning could take place and fellowship could be experienced. Churches in our time have been discovering anew the importance of small-group life in teaching, in learning, and in community ministry.

With so much in our day that militates against quality time at home, there must be a commitment on the part of a family to provide space and time for church gatherings in the home setting. A church gains something vital when cells of believers can meet for prayer, Bible study, or fellowship in a home setting. Despite the conveniences afforded in other places available for congregational uses, it is in the home that openness beckons, love is promoted, unselfishness is modeled, intimacy deepens, encouragement is gained, and integrity is nurtured.

3. At the beginning of the third millennium, the phrase “church in your house” seems rather foreign; popular culture portrays the modern home as a secular institution. However, reflecting on that phrase takes us to the historical depths of church life—that is, the way particular congregations began and who assisted in their development. Many a vital church began when some person or family offered their dwelling place as a meeting site to help start a fellowship group. Providing space was a ministry that generated cooperation, cohesion, and growth—and that spawned other ministries.

A wise Christian fellowship will keep track of its life as it develops, teaching truths, marking trends, and charting timelines. And a caring church will honor those whose commitment encourages growth and ministry to happen. In modern consumer-oriented societies where so much is readily thrown away to make room for what is next, church leaders with vision will acquaint themselves and the other members of their congregation with information about their group's history, and they will inspire members to appreciate and add to that history through commitment to duties essential for a vital ministry.

 

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PHILEMON 4-7

PHILEMON IS COMMENDED FOR HIS FAITH AND CHARITY

COMMENTARY

Paul's pastoral concern involved him regularly in prayers for the churches under his care, for his coworkers, and for those converted under his ministry. Philemon, one of Paul's own converts (v. 19) as well as his “dear friend and co-worker,” here learns about the prayers offered to God by Paul on his behalf. Those prayers are filled with thanksgiving over reports from others that Philemon shows “love for all the saints” and a contagious “faith toward the Lord Jesus” (v. 5). But they also include intercession, with the apostle asking God to help Philemon share his faith, informed by the knowledge of all the good ways in which this can be done and with an increased effectiveness that honors Christ, his Lord.

These words show us something more than a customary thanksgiving section of a letter: They reveal a specific commendation from Paul to Philemon. Although Paul wrote with particular instances of Philemon's charity in mind, many of which were shared with him by Epaphras (who is named in v. 23) and perhaps by Onesimus as well, no such details appear in this letter. Paul is impressed by Philemon's charitable disposition and pays him tribute, acknowledging his deeds as having been done in love and inspired by his faith in the Lord Jesus. “Love” (ajga"ph agape) and “faith” (pi;stiv pistis) are highlighted here by Paul as they are in his other letters, but it is interesting that while “faith” is usually mentioned first elsewhere, “love” receives first mention here. It is likely that Paul was thinking strategically about the issue for which the letter was being sent, hoping that Philemon's charitable disposition would allow the forthcoming appeal regarding Onesimus to be received with understanding and acceptance.

Paul's words of tribute regarding Philemon's charity were not merely literary flourish or contrived flattery. They were an honest expression based on known facts regarding Philemon, knowledge gained, perhaps, from Paul's own previous experience with him, but surely from the good reports heard from others whose lives had been touched in helpful, meaningful ways by the man. Paul, therefore, adds a personal comment about his own emotion resulting from such good reports: “I have received much joy and encouragement 

 

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 from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother” (v. 7). Paul's words here are remarkably similar to those in 3 John 3, where John the Elder confesses his joy over reports about Gaius's “faithfulness to the truth, namely how you walk in the truth.” Bruce has commented, “It is a pleasant coincidence that the two really personal letters in the NT should both be addressed to men so like-minded in their generosity.”12

Paul's intercessory prayers for Philemon included concern regarding what the NIV translates as being “active in sharing your faith,” but which the NRSV renders as “the sharing of your faith.” All told, that “sharing” (koinwni"a koinonia) would involve Philemon's witnessing to others about his faith as well as doing deeds that showed evidence of his faith. Generosity is the present focus, and that becomes clearly noted in v. 7 where Paul mentions how the “hearts of the saints have been refreshed [ajnape;pautai anapepautai, “calmed,” “comforted,” “relieved”]” through Philemon's charitable deeds. This commendation covers much about which we have no knowledge, but “the saints” did, and from personal experience.

While this much is certainly understood from the commendation in vv. 4-5, the grammatical construction of v. 6 leaves us perplexed by translation difficulties and many alternative exegetical possibilities. The Greek wording in v. 6 is awkward in its phrasing; the intended meaning of the crucial term koinonia, especially linked with pistis, remains unclear. The differences between the NIV and the NRSV in translating the Greek are readily noted; other translation options can be observed by comparing additional renderings of v. 6 in English:

The New English Bible: “My prayer is that your fellowship with us in our common faith may deepen the understanding of all the blessings that our union with Christ brings us [or “that bring us to Christ”].”

New American Standard: “And I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake.”

The New King James Version: “...that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.”

Good News: “My prayer is that our fellowship with you as believers will bring about a deeper understanding of every blessing which we have in our life in Christ.”

Paul's use of koinonia, linked in the context with the genitive pi;stewv (pisteos) and the possessive sou (sou), requires strict attention. While koinonia primarily means “common participation” in something, as equal sharers, the question raised by linking that word in the verse with pisteos sou, “your faith,” is whether that “common participation” should be understood as objective—the fellowship or sharing that results from faith—or as subjective—one's experience of a commonly shared faith. If Paul intended the subjective meaning, then his prayer for Philemon was that God would make him increasingly knowledgeable and effective in the ways that good can be accomplished for, in, and through Christ. “To perceive (or understand) and appreciate all the good [ejpignw"sei panto;v ajgaqou' epignosei pantos agathou]” no doubt refers ultimately to beneficial deeds and helpful relationships. As he wrote or dictated this passage of the letter, Paul was surely solicitous for Philemon to respond graciously to the request he was about to make on behalf of that leader's returning slave, Onesimus.

REFLECTIONS

 1. Paul wrote with a quill dipped in the inkwell of grace. He offered thanksgiving to God for Philemon, and he confessed this to Philemon, thus complimenting him. Everyone has times of feeling misunderstood or unappreciated. And we are usually strengthened when appreciation for us is expressed or when good deeds we have done are acknowledged. At the same time, the person who expresses that appreciation is usually gladdened for having done so. While it may sometimes be vain to seek approval, the need for recognition is a basic human quality.

 

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 2. Paul knew of Philemon's social position and wealth. Paul did not commend him, however, for either his station or his possessions, but rather for his gracious and more just use of them. Not only had Philemon done good in “refreshing the hearts of the saints,” but he also had done so in right ways and in the right spirit. The dignity of those who benefited from Philemon's largesse was not undermined but undergirded by the spirit he showed in sharing. No wonder Paul, like many others, no doubt, heard about Philemon's “love for all the saints.” One is reminded of the line in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice:

How far that little candle throws its beams!

So shines a good deed in a naughty world. (5.1.90)

Differences in status or financial condition should never get in the way of helping someone in distress, especially someone in the community of faith (see Gal 6:10). Christian love not only establishes new “familial” bonds, but also dictates timely action when needs are known.

 

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PHILEMON 8-20

PAUL'S REQUEST REGARDING ONESIMUS

COMMENTARY

Having reiterated the basis for rapport between himself and Philemon (this being clear from the singular use of “you” in vv. 4-21), Paul now begins the primary message the letter is sent to convey. Thus the “therefore” (dio; dio), which here is translated “for this reason” (v. 8).

The intercession for Onesimus begins, couched in carefully chosen terms but offered in frankness: “I...appeal to you” (v. 9). Paul was aware that 

 

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 his situation as intercessor was legally defensible, Roman law having provided for cases of advocacy on behalf of runaway slaves who returned to their master. He also knew that he had a right to intercede on behalf of the now-converted runaway slave as Christ's apostle (thus the use of presbu;thv [presbytes, “ambassador”]). Paul surprises us, however, by choosing not to appeal to Philemon from either position of authority. He makes his appeal for Onesimus “on the basis of love.”

The appeal Paul is about to make is prefaced by a statement of relationship with Onesimus that notifies Philemon about a new fact concerning his runaway slave: “I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment” (v. 10). John Knox commented that “this clearly means that Onesimus has become a believer in Christ under Paul's influence.”13 Peter T. O'Brien has suggested that:

This was the first news Philemon had received of his slave since he ran away and he might be expected to react negatively to the mention of his name. So with delicate tact Paul first establishes the central fact that Onesimus has become a Christian, converted during Paul's imprisonment.14

The situation of Onesimus as a runaway slave returning to face Philemon, his master, raises many questions. Why did Onesimus leave in the first place? Where did he go, and where could he expect refuge? If Onesimus had committed some crime, had Philemon published a reward notice regarding him? If so, then how widely would that reward notice have been circulated and known? If there was a reward notice, then Onesimus would have had increased need to remove himself as far from the master's arena of influence (Colossae) as resources and opportunity would allow. If he traveled as far from Colossae as Rome, then perhaps he came to Paul's notice through some encounter with Christians there, Onesimus having sought them out for whatever initial reasons.

But it is also possible that Onesimus went looking for Paul, aware of Paul's influence on Philemon. Paul could be an advocate for him in resolving his situation as a runaway slave. Roman law regarding returning slaves did allow a friend of the master to advocate on the returning slave's behalf in the interest of his or her safety and well-being.15

There are still other questions. Had Philemon disappointed Onesimus, promising manumission and then delaying it? Had Onesimus reached thirty years of age, when freedom was sometimes granted to faithful and deserving slaves, and escaped because he had been denied it?16

There is all too little about Onesimus's situation that can be stated with certainty; too much is left for conjecture. But the little that is given in the Letter to Philemon is positive rather than negative. Onesimus has become converted, Paul's “child” (te;knon teknon) in the faith (v. 10). He is now even more “useful” than before, since we must assume that he had served Philemon in some meaningful capacity before his decision to leave or escape Philemon's household. Paul's statement that “formerly he was useless [a[crhstov achrestos] to you” (v. 11) could have been intended to cover only the period Onesimus was absent from Philemon and the problems associated with that absence, and, therefore, was not intended to mean that Onesimus was always a lazy or shiftless person. The notice that “now he is indeed useful [eu[crhstov euchrestos] both to you and to me” completes Paul's play on the meaning of the returning slave's name  Onh;simov (Onesimos), which in Greek means “useful,” “profitable.” This name was common among slaves, either bestowed in tribute or perhaps as an incentive to usefulness and a master's profit. Now, as a converted person, Onesimus was more useful than ever.

Paul had no doubt benefited from that usefulness during the time Onesimus had been with him, thus his words “useful both to you and to me.” Because of that usefulness, and having become fond of the slave, Paul would have kept Onesimus with him (see v. 13); but a reconciliation needed to occur between the runaway and

 

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 his master. The two, as Christians, needed to become friends—no longer one the master and the other a slave. So Paul writes: “I am sending him...back to you” (v. 12).

The appeal Paul makes, on the basis of love, not law, is for Philemon to receive Onesimus back “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (v. 16). Here is the substance of the appeal. Paul knew that this request might well test Philemon's heart, so Paul reveals his own emotion, confessing that Onesimus was linked with his heart: “I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you” (NIV, “[he] is my very heart”).

Raymond E. Brown maintains that through appealing to Philemon's cooperativeness rather than censuring him, Paul challenged “a Christian slave owner to defy the conventions: To forgive and receive back into the household a runaway slave; to refuse financial reparation when it is offered, mindful of what one owes to Christ as proclaimed by Paul; to go farther in generosity by freeing the servant; and most important of all from a theological viewpoint to recognize in Onesimus a beloved brother and thus acknowledge his Christian transformation.”17

Paul has already stated that he was not seeking to impose his own will (v. 14) or to use any authority he possessed (v. 8) to achieve the goal of his appeal; but some forcefulness is evident in his words in v. 17, when he invokes the rules of partnership: “So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.” Having earlier referred to himself as Christ's “ambassador” (presbytes, v. 9), Paul here suggests that Philemon favorably honor his petition by accepting Onesimus with the same cordial diplomacy an envoy or ambassador expects and enjoys in representing the one who sends him or her. By introducing the concept of partnership, a mercantile image, Paul thereby invokes its terms, calling upon Philemon to honor all that partnership involves and implies: acceptance, trust, regard, divisions of responsibility in a common purpose, and equality of sharing (in profits and losses).18 This explains in part why Paul could so readily move forward to accept as his own any debts owed Philemon by Onesimus: “If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account” (v. 18).

It must be noted from Paul's wording that he has allowed for the possibility of wrongdoing by Onesimus, but he does not mention that he knows of any. His “if” is probably more than rhetorical; it allows Philemon to reckon any damages due him, since only he would know of these. Like Paul's worthy greeting at the beginning of the letter, this gesture of willingness to assume responsibility for Onesimus, debts and all, was carried out in good faith. Paul was thus honoring the mutual dictates of partnership, and Philemon was being challenged to do the same. To authenticate that this was his own true pledge as Onesimus's guarantor, Paul did what was his custom when certifying his involvement in some special matter or action, signing his name in his own special way: “I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it” (v. 19a). (On Paul's custom of authenticating his presence and involvement in a letter, see 1 Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; 2 Thess 3:17.)

Interestingly, if Colossians was written by Paul—and at about the same time as the letter to Philemon—Paul may have thought about the situation of Onesimus as he wrote the injunctions addressed in Col 3:22-25 to Christians who were slaves, particularly the warning Col 3:25: “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality.” But immediately thereafter, this stricture addressed to masters appears: “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col 4:1). Although the injunctions to masters and slaves in some of Paul's letters reflect aspects of the social structure of the churches he addressed, it is natural to wonder whether in this case he had Onesimus and Philemon in mind. Given his stress on justice and fairness regarding slaves, one can reasonably argue that while Paul understood societal conventions and social groupings, he saw some of them ultimately as antithetical to Christian fulfillment through the koinwni"a (koinonia) relationship made possible in Christ, as Col 3:11 and Gal 3:28 dramatically declare.

 

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REFLECTIONS

1. Pastoral or ecclesiastical authority based on church law is often used as a warrant and resource in dealing with church problems. However, the more Christlike and creative approach calls for the spirit of persuasiveness, conditioned by love; and this usually yields a more peaceable and long-lasting harvest of harmony.

2. It is the work of divine grace to make “unprofitable” persons profitable. When apprehended by a sense that God's favor is being personally felt and known, every person can be changed into someone whose life offers profit (beneficial fruit) to God and to others. This is the triumph of Christ, his very reason for coming into the world; but it happens only through his “begetting” work in our lives.

Those who have been “born anew” must show others what that new birth means and can effect in everyday, practical terms. The highest and noblest service we believers can render is to reach beyond established barriers of human separation, social class, and ethnicity and touch the lives of persons who are considered “different” and “unprofitable” and, like Paul, help them in Christ to become “useful.” However wasted anyone's life may seem to be, that person must never be written off. God's grace can intercept us, intervene in our particular situations, inspire hope in our hearts, and bring about needed change in our lives. There is a purpose for the life of each and all, and there is a service to be rendered by each of us in this world.

3. Written as a personal request, the Letter to Philemon could be considered a missive of “limited application.” But in the light of the social problems of slavery and the repercussions of its existence and support in the centuries since Paul's day, the concern Paul expressed in this brief letter must be understood and valued as more than an ancient and isolated issue. The important theme in the letter was never highlighted in any of the great theological debates of the ancient church. Divine providence was at work in preserving this letter, for it speaks more forcefully in these later times to us, perhaps, than it did in the first century CE to Philemon, its initial primary reader.

Paul sent Onesimus, a runaway slave, back to his master, Philemon. Many modern readers bristle at Paul's action. They are influenced by modern notions of freedom and an abhorrence of all systems that delimit and circumscribe human dignity. Why did Paul not provide Onesimus with continued refuge? And why did he not overtly condemn the system of slavery within the Roman Empire at that time?

One explanation offered is that Paul did not view slavery as a wrongful institution. Being a Roman citizen, and hence someone who enjoyed the privileges associated with that social boon, he accepted the empire's customs and social systems as a given, and hence he felt no need, even as a Christian, to oppose slavery.

Another explanation put forward defends Paul's deed of returning Onesimus to Philemon by appealing to Paul's apocalyptic views as expressed in 1 Cor 7:29a, 31b. It suggests that because of Paul's view that “the appointed time has grown short” and that “the present form of this world is passing away,” he was tolerant of the slavery system and content to live with it, informed by an interim-ethic. However, it must be pointed out that apocalyptic concerns have often served as a catalyst for radical action and protest, both within the Old Testament period and in New Testament times.

There is another more sensible way to answer the question, and it forms an explanation based on three pieces of evidence: this very letter to Philemon, Paul's steady emphasis on freedom in his writings, and a statement in 1 Cor 7:21. All of these passages underscore the personhood of slaves and thus grant us fresh perspective for viewing the socioeconomic arrangement of the master/slave relationship. When Paul made his plea to Philemon to “receive 

 

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 [Onesimus, now converted] back no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (v. 16), it should be forcefully clear that Paul wanted Philemon to honor their new tie as Christians above and beyond any legal demands. Their relationship was to be conditioned by love, not law, now that they were linked by faith, and not fealty.

Surely Paul must have sensed what this stipulation could mean in the long run and on an even wider scale, not only within but also beyond the household of Philemon. Paul's action here was that of a true ambassador, which is how he earlier described himself (v. 9). In returning Onesimus to Philemon, Paul used a form of diplomacy that appears to ignore one aspect of the slavery problem while offering his rationale for a new social arrangement that would in time effect a deeper concern and wider results.

4. In the Declaration of Independence of the United States, the first among the truths held and listed as “self-evident” are these: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” (Interestingly, at the time these truths were declared in writing, the Negro slave was not included, being viewed, rather, as but “three-fifths” of a person!) The full truth is this: Every person is unique and of worth because every person is made in the image of God; so human relations are fundamental and crucial. We who preach and teach must be leading examples and instruments of God's will in reaching out to people, in regarding each and all, in responding to acknowledged need, and in working steadily for the human good of all.

Unlike Paul's setting, which was dominated by Rome's monolithic, worldwide system of rule, our surroundings are smaller pockets of organized life within which our voices and votes and personal vision can have some impact. Paul was a significant actor within the world of his time, and his wit and will brought results far beyond his calculation and time. We who serve “the present age” must look to the same Lord for guidance in meeting the demands of our time and place. Paul was convinced that God's “plan for the fullness of time, [is] to gather up all things in [Christ]” (Eph 1:10). Our rightful work falls within that plan, and it is ours to serve our Lord with faith, courage, and commitment. While mindful that human servants can never bring in God's kingdom, we—like Paul—must work in this world with kingdom values informing and influencing our lives and deeds.

 

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PHILEMON 21-22

PAUL'S EXPECTATION TO VISIT

COMMENTARY

Paul was intent to do all within his power to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus. The apostle volunteered to remove any stumbling blocks to that desired end, and his letter spells out his role in the process. With Onesimus having been sent back to him, the rest would be up to Philemon. Paul asserted, doubtless for Philemon's encouragement, that he was “confident of [Phi-

lemon's] obedience” (v. 21), presumably to the dictates of Christian love, and that he expected Philemon to “do even more” than he had suggested.

Paul may have hoped that, once Philemon and Onesimus were reconciled, Onesimus might be released by Philemon to assist Paul in ministry. The slave was now “a beloved brother” who had proved to be “indeed useful”; his service was viewed by Paul as a possible further expression of Philemon's generosity (through Onesimus's manumission?). Onesimus could by mutual agreement be of service to Paul (in Philemon's place) during the apostle's imprisonment (see v. 13).

Paul expected eventually to be freed from prison and, therefore, expresses his hope to visit Philemon. Thus the second and last request made in the letter: “One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you” (v. 22). The apostle was eager to visit Philemon and the believers at Colossae. This request reflects a more relaxed mood on Paul's part, but it also reflects his knowledge about Philemon's resources as a householder with the means to provide hospitality and support for guests at times of need. It is interesting that in reporting that he expects “to be restored to you,” Paul returns to the plural for the first time since v. 3. This might well imply his recognition that Apphia—or even the entire membership of the house church—should also be informed of his plan to visit. Meanwhile, he lives in hope (ejlpi"zw elpizo) for this event, trusting their prayers, along with his own, to be fulfilled in God's time.

 

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PHILEMON 23-25

CONCLUDING WORDS AND BENEDICTION

COMMENTARY

The list of persons who sent greetings along with Paul is instructive, and their appearance in this letter provides a clue regarding the location of Philemon and his house church. Epaphras, mentioned first as Paul's “fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus” (v. 23), would surely have known Philemon at close range, since he was from Colossae (see Col 1:7-8; 4:12-13). Described as a “fellow prisoner,” which should be understood literally, Epaphras was no doubt serving as a personal attendant to Paul, perhaps quartered with him along with the soldier holding authority over Paul. The kind of custody Paul experienced as a Roman citizen allowed him freedom to “conscript” volunteers to serve his outside interests while confined himself. It is possible that by adding “in Christ Jesus” to the description, Paul is really describing Epaphras as standing in close relation to him as a slave would be; a personal slave would have a freedom of access to an imprisoned “master” that others, even close friends, could not share.18 Epaphras's role as a personal attendant, then, was something different in kind or extent than Timothy's, who is referred to as “our brother” (v. 1), while Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke are described as “my fellow workers” (v. 23).

Mark, here, is the same John Mark of the book of Acts (see Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37, 39; Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; 1 Pet 5:13), and it is likely that the Aristarchus mentioned here is the same person spoken of in Acts 19:29; 20:44; 27:2; and Col 4:10. If the view is accepted that the Letter to Philemon was written from Rome, then one can harmonize the data in Acts and Colossians to locate Aristarchus with Paul during Paul's imprisonment there, and thus relate Colossians and Philemon as having been written at about the same time. Demas, also mentioned elsewhere as being among Paul's circle of workers (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:10), joined Paul, Luke “the beloved physician” (Col 4:14), and the others in a statement of greeting to Philemon as Paul prepared to close the letter.

The letter required no final instructions. Its message had been shared, its appeal made, and a confidence expressed that its purpose would be honored. So Paul concluded the letter with his customary, brief, but earnest, benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (v. 25). F. F. Bruce, in his commentary on this letter, asked: “Was Paul's request granted? Yes; otherwise the letter to Philemon would not have survived. That it survived at all is a matter calling 

 

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 for comment, but if Philemon had hardened his heart and refused to pardon and welcome Onesimus, let alone send him back to Paul, he would certainly have suppressed the letter.”20

REFLECTIONS

A close look at the names of those who joined Paul in his final greeting to Philemon brings to view some treasured members of the apostle's circle. Those names, and the histories connected with them, also provide evidence of Paul's charisma as a person and as a leader.

Paul's personality involved something contagious that went far beyond any limitations to his physical appearance. Based on a legendary account of how he looked—the account being so plain and unflattering that the legend seems to embody some truth—Paul was “a man small of stature, with a balding head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked, full of friendliness.”20 That phrase “full of friendliness” tells much about how Paul was known as a person and as a leader.

Three among those named were Gentile Christians: Epaphras, Demas, and Luke; the other two were Hebrews. The New Testament records both their distinctiveness and their unity. Most important, they were vital and valued members of Paul's circle. They were with him because Paul was a dynamic, creative leader.

What were some of Paul's leadership traits?

(1) Paul led as he was being led: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Enthralled by his Lord, that supreme person Christ Jesus, Paul was forever busy listening for Christ's voice, forever seeking to fulfill the vision laid out for his life by his Lord. Paul not only knew the name “Jesus,” but also he experienced the risen Jesus.

(2) Paul appreciated, recognized, and encouraged others. The many gracious compliments found in his letters are genuine, and not merely contrived. He was not making verbal backslaps with political ends in mind. Leaders of integrity, leaders who value people as persons, avoid the semblance of friendship.

(3) Paul always kept “the big picture” in view as he planned and worked. Even in this letter, something larger remains in view than the reconciling of Onesimus and Philemon, as essential as that was. Paul was eager to see the Christian enterprise move forward with greater effectiveness (see v. 6).

(4) Paul knew how, when, and to whom to delegate responsibilities. He needed to enlist the help of others, to be sure, but he also trusted their help and complimented those who gave it.

(5) Paul observed protocol, doing what he sensed to be right at the right time and in the right way.

(6) Paul had goals and sought to reach them through strategic means: prayer, planning, and the help of others, providing honest and honorable incentives to those who assisted him. The Letter to Philemon well illustrates this.

(7) Paul's leadership was characterized by the servant-leader attitude. He was not self-centered. He aspired to live what Martin Buber referred to in another connection as an “unexalted life.”21 “Christ will be exlated now as always in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil 1:20b).

 

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 These were some of the traits Paul's circle of friends were familiar with as they followed his lead. Small wonder, then, that he remained so influential and that his coterie of workers remained so loyal. Paul had that personal “power” about which Ralph Waldo Emerson commented in one of his essays: “Who shall set a limit to the influence of a human being? There are [leaders], who, by their sympathetic attractions, carry nations with them, and lead the activity of the human race.”222323 While each of us has particular gifts with which to further the cause of Jesus Christ, we, too, would do well to follow Paul's lead as appropriate to our circumstances.

 

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Posts 753
Brother Mark | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Feb 16 2012 11:27 AM

Dan Francis:
Perhaps I am simply beating a dead horse

Let me quickly add a hearty AMEN to your epiphany!  

"I read dead people..."

Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Feb 16 2012 12:19 PM

Brother Mark:

Dan Francis:
Perhaps I am simply beating a dead horse

Let me quickly add a hearty AMEN to your epiphany!  

I don't give up that easily, besides our God is a God of resurrection, from our Lord, to Lazarus and many other resuscitated ones.

-dan

Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Feb 16 2012 7:21 PM

Thought i would do the same for Obadiah, also being a very short book.

THE BOOK OF OBADIAH

INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS

BY

SAMUEL PAGÇN

 

 

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THE BOOK OF

OBADIAH

INTRODUCTION

THE BOOK

The book of the prophet Obadiah—the shortest in the Old Testament—presents a clear message of judgment against the people of Edom. It begins with the word “vision” (v. 1), which reveals the prophetic intent, the tone of the message, and the nature of the literature, and it ends with an affirmation of the kingdom and sovereignty of God, a word of hope (v. 21). The prophet elaborates on earlier traditions—e.g., the day of the Lord—and applies them to his immediate historical situation (the Israelite community of Jerusalem), and then to the exile of the people into Babylonia.

Obadiah is one of the least read prophetic writings in the Bible. It is a short book and does not provide much information about the author and the historical setting in which it was written. Moreover, at the literary level, a section of the message of Obadiah (vv. 1b-6) is similar to Jeremiah 49.

The book of Obadiah belongs to a type of literature that heralds God’s judgment to come upon the nations near Israel. These prophecies may have been preserved by the cultic circles in Jerusalem. The oracles of judgment against the nations constitute an important element in the biblical prophetic literature. Prophecies against Edom are also found in Isaiah (21:11-12), Jeremiah (49:7-22), Ezekiel (25:12-14), Amos (1:11-12), and Malachi (1:2-5; see also Isa 11:14; Jer 25:21; Lam 4:21; Joel 4:19).

In the Hebrew canon, the book of Obadiah is fourth in order among the minor prophets, between Amos and Jonah. Perhaps this order stems from the fact that Obadiah and Amos

 

 

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have similar themes: both prophets emphasize the day of the Lord. It is important to point out, moreover, that thematic connections are also found with the book of Joel; the proclamation of the day of the Lord presented in Joel 3:2, 14 is included in Amos 9:11-12 and emerges again in Obadiah 15a-21. Some scholars think that Obadiah 1-14 is a commentary on Joel 3:19, and Obadiah 15-21 on Amos 9:12.

In most Septuagint manuscripts, the longer books (Hosea, Amos, Micah) are followed by shorter ones (Joel, Obadiah, Jonah). Such an ordering may reflect a criterion for order based on a book’s length. Nonetheless, the length of Obadiah does not seem to be the main reason for placing it between Joel and Jonah in the Septuagint. Instead, the thematic relationship between Joel 3 and Obadiah and the interest in chronology manifested by the translators of the Septuagint were probably more important factors in establishing that order.1

It is difficult to determine precisely the date the book was written, since the historical information it provides is scant. Some scholars have proposed the ninth century BCE, referring to the Edomite rebellion against Joram (2 Kgs 8:20-22). Others, however, have placed the composition of the book at a much later date, at the middle of the fifth century BCE, after the exile of the people of Israel to Babylonia, during the Edomite occupation of the Negev.2

Nevertheless, historical, literary, and theological analysis of the book suggests the exilic period, particularly the years immediately following the crisis in Jerusalem (687/686 BCE), as the most probable date of the composition of Obadiah. Edom’s attitude to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of Judahites helps to illumine Obadiah’s historical context. Moreover, during that same period—at the beginning of the sixth century BCE—a literature with similar theological and literary tendencies developed (cf. Ps 137:7; Lam 4:18-22; Ezek 25:12-14; 31:1-15). These writings manifest resentment against the Edomites similar to that presented in the book of Obadiah. That anti-Edomite perspective also occurs in subsequent works. For example in 1 Ezra 4:45, the Edomites are identified as the ones who set fire to the Jerusalem Temple, when the Jews were devastated by the Chaldeans.

THE PROPHET

There is not much information about the prophet Obadiah. A tradition included in the Babylonian Talmud3 identifies him as the servant of Ahab (1 Kgs 18:3-16), allied with Elijah and the protector of the prophets of the Lord (Jerome knew this tradition). Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine an official of the king in the ninth century BCE who prophesied exclusively concerning relations between Judah and Edom three centuries later. Furthermore, there is no historical basis for equating the two characters. This tradition probably stemmed from the interest, attested in the Talmud, of identifying the author of

 

 

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each book of the Bible, along with the fact that very little information on this small prophetic book was available.

The Masoretic Text vocalized the name of the prophet Obadiah as hydb[ ((obadyâ, “worshiper of Yahweh”; the Septuagint used Abdiou (Abdiou); and the Vulgate rendered the name as Abdias, “servant of Yahweh.” These variants in pronunciation produce alternate ways of understanding the same name. Some scholars have thought that the name “Abdias,” beyond identifying a person, is symbolic. However, in ancient Israel, the name was fairly common. At least twelve people with that name are mentioned in the Old Testament; moreover, Obed, one of the variants of “Obadiah,” is applied to six additional persons, including the grandfather of King David (Ruth 4:21-22; Matt 1:5).

Obadiah was a prophet of Yahweh. The prophet probably lived during the sixth century BCE, delivered his message in Jerusalem, and had at least some religious or cultic training. He was familiar with the prophetic traditions of judgment against the nations and was particularly versed in the anti-Edomite language, as seen in the similarities and parallels with Jeremiah 40; Ezek 25:12-14; Joel 1:15; 2:5, 32; 3:3, 17; and Amos 9:12. The style of Obadiah’s oracles demonstrates his great communicative ability and literary skill. Perhaps, like Amos (Amos 7:10-15), he was not a professional prophet, but was called by God for a specific task.

The theme of the lordship of Yahweh (v. 21) perhaps echoes the enthronement psalms (Psalms 47; 93; 96–99), which made a prominent contribution to the worship liturgy in the Temple. The historical focus of the book (vv. 11-16) implies that it reflects the political relationship between Judah and Edom, after the catastrophe of 587/586 BCE and Israel’s exile into Babylonia. Obadiah may have witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and the capture of the people of Judah.

JUDAH AND EDOM

The territory of Edom is located to the south of the Dead Sea and is surrounded by deserts to the east and the south. To the west is a mountainous region that extends south to the Gulf of Aqaba. To the north, the Zered stream separated Edom and Moab. This small territory measured approximately seventy miles north to south and fifteen miles east to west. A characteristic of the region is the reddish color of its rocks and mountains; that geological trait may explain its name: !wda ( )adôm) signifies this red region.

The Edomites arrived and settled that region around the year 1300 BCE, sometime before the Israelites arrived in Canaan. The history of the relations between these peoples is characterized by animosity and hostility. Edom is regularly included in the catalogue of judgment oracles against the nations that surround Israel.4

Some passages of the OT allude to the fraternal relationship between Israel and Edom; they are identified as “brother” peoples (Genesis 25; 27; 36; Num 20:14-21; Deut 2:4-8;

 

 

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23:7; Jer 49:7-11; Amos 1:11-12; Mal 1:2-4). Two fundamental conclusions can be drawn from these texts: First, the term “brothers” does not always connote a bond of friendship or camaraderie between peoples. Second, the fraternal relationship between Israel and Edom stems from complex events in the histories of these nations.5 The struggle between the twins in Rebekah’s womb (Genesis 25) symbolizes such enmity and hostility between Israel and Edom.

The people of Israel and Edom have displayed great mutual hostility throughout the ages. According to the narrative in Num 20:14-21, the Israelites, on their journey from Egypt to the promised land, requested permission from the king of Edom to pass through that territory, but he refused them permission. That disdainful attitude marked the beginning of intense enmity between the two nations. The resentment reached its peak when Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE. The Edomites may have joined in the destruction and helped the plunderers of Jerusalem (Ps 137:7). Moreover, the Edomites helped to capture fugitives who had fled from Judah (Obad 14). Because of the lack of solidarity with the neighboring people of Israel, God is determined to punish Edom.

The difficulties and conflicts between the two peoples were evident from at least the time of King David (2 Sam 8:13-14), and possibly even from the time of King Saul, when Edom was listed among Israel’s enemies (1 Sam 14:47). This history of enmity continued throughout the monarchic period to the fall of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25; Obad 11-14).6

During the exile and, subsequently, during the Persian period, neither of these peoples was in a political or military position to manifest resentment or conflict. Judah was a minor district in the Persian provincial system, whereas Edom, distant from the main events of the political powers of that day, experienced pressures from Arab groups that were attempting to take possession of its lands.

After the Babylonian exile, a group of Edomites moved to the south of Palestine to protect itself from the Nabataean Arab groups in the area that was later known as Idumaea, a word that derives from “Edom.” Herod the Great was known as an Idumean, a term that reflects the hostility of the Jews toward the Edomites and their resentment toward Herod.

LITERARY STRUCTURE

One theory concerning the structure of the book divides the work into two major sections: (1) vv. 1-4, 15b and (2) vv. 15a, 16-21. This theory reflects the thematic and stylistic differences between these two sections. The first part refers to specific historical problems: the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 587/586 BCE and the attitude of the Edomites concerning that crisis. The rest of the work emphasizes eschatological issues related to God’s judgment: the coming of the day of the Lord.

 

 

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According to the scholars who propose this structure, the book portrays a transition from history to eschatology. Moreover, v. 16 presents an abrupt change in the target audience; the first part of the message is addressed to Edom, the second to Judah. Moreover, the second part of the book has been divided into several sections that reveal stylistic differences: v. 15a, vv. 16-18, and vv. 19-21.

A second theory for explaining the literary and stylistic complexities of the book of Obadiah also divides the work into two sections, but recognizes only vv. 1-18 as original to the prophet. Verses 19-21 were added later to emphasize eschatological hope. Some scholars have identified, in the first section of the book, oracles of the prophet that were subsequently compiled and edited to form the book.

Another theory attempts to explain the book as essentially one literary unit. The author developed his message from ideas and themes of numerous oracles spoken earlier against the nations and preserved in Jerusalem and incorporated into Obadiah’s prophecy. Obadiah formulated his message in the light of Jerusalem’s destruction, the exile, and the reaction of the Edomites during the 587/586 catastrophe.

This commentary divides the book into three major sections: (1) the proclamation of judgment against Edom (vv. 2-9); (2) the indictment and reasons for judgment (vv. 10-14, 15b); and (3) the announcement of the day of the Lord (vv. 15a, 16-21).

By studying the book of Obadiah as a literary unit, one can discover several important elements that are intimately related. There is a gradual progression in the development of the ideas: from the proclamation of judgment on Edom to the description of its sins during Judah’s crisis and finally to the general theme of the day of the Lord with respect to the nations and the survival of a remnant of God’s people. Nevertheless, the primary theme is God’s judgment against Edom. God, according to the message of the prophet, is the Lord of the earth and will see to it that the territory of Judah is returned to God’s people.

From a structural and thematic standpoint, the book may also be studied as a set of six short poems in chiastic form. This analysis underscores the theological importance of the work.7 The chiastic structure, which presents the themes of the poem in parallel form, takes the shape ABCA´B´C´, with the following themes:

 

A vv. 1-4 God will humble Edom

B vv. 5-7 Edom will be attacked and abandoned by its allies

C vv. 8-11 Edom is judged for remaining passive during the slaughter 

    of its brothers and sisters

C´ vv. 12-14 Edom should not have rejoiced at the defeat of Judah and 

    should not have plundered and delivered up the survivors 

    of the Jerusalem catastrophe

B´ vv. 15-18 God’s people will return to rule on Mount Zion

A´ vv. 19-21 God will save God’s people

 

 

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The main emphasis occurs at the center of the book (sections C and C´): Edom will be judged for its attitude against God’s people in their time of crisis and need.

OBADIAH’S RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER PROPHETS

This commentary’s analysis of the literary unity of the book does not overlook its diverse components and influences from oral and written sources. Perhaps the material used by Obadiah is of ritual or liturgical origin; however, the range of the prophet’s thematic and literary resources is difficult to determine.

The relationship between Obadiah and other prophets, particularly Jeremiah, has been the focus of much study and research.8 Specifically, we can identify similarities between Obad 1-6 and Jeremiah 49. According to some scholars, Obadiah used the oracles of Jeremiah to formulate his own prophetic proclamation. Others believe that the book of Jeremiah includes the material that had been prepared by Obadiah. Both points of view claim that one of the two authors relied on the material of the other.

A better explanation may be that both works rely on prophetic material that already existed in cultic and prophetic circles in Jerusalem. Stylistic and thematic analysis of both works reveals literary, textual, and thematic continuity, which may be explained on the basis of that hypothesis.9

 

      1—Parallels:            2—Similarities: 

Obadiah     Jeremiah Obadiah         Jeremiah

  1a              49:7      8                49:7

  1b-4       49:14-16      9               49:22

  5-6         49:9-10a     16              49:12

 

Study of Obadiah, moreover, reveals thematic and literary contact with other prophetic books, particularly with Joel, Amos, and Ezekiel. The parallels and similarities again underscore the importance of prophetic material against other nations, which circulated among the prophetic and cultic groups in Jerusalem. The brief oracle against Edom included in Ezek 25:12-14 and the theme of the day of the Lord of Amos 9:12 are clear examples. Obadiah also bears strong similarities to the book of Joel:

 

Obadiah Joel

  11 3:3

  15 1:15

  16 3:17

  18 2:5

  21 2:32

 

 

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Such comparisons between Obadiah and Jeremiah and Joel indicate that these prophets used oral or written sources of prophetic oracles against Edom for developing their own message.

THEOLOGY

The theology of the book of Obadiah is intimately related to the historical reality that characterized the prophet’s ministry. After the triumph of the Babylonian armies over Judah and Jerusalem, the citizens were left demoralized and humiliated as they had seen their country devastated, national institutions dismantled, and many of their leaders deported (2 Kgs 2:5). The prophet’s theology had to take into consideration the political, social, and spiritual condition of the people, while appropriately responding to the theological expectations of the community. After the exile, the community of Judah and Jerusalem struggled to survive, to reorganize national life, and to comprehend the theological implications of the events that had befallen them.

The message of Obadiah is judgment for Edom and hope for the Yahwistic community. Although the work is not a systematic theological treatise and instead the prophetic word in the face of a national crisis,10 one may identify four important themes.

Divine Justice. After the devastation of Jerusalem in 587/586 BCE, a divine manifestation of judgment against Edom was needed because of its part in Judah’s catastrophe.

To balance the theological crisis created by the destruction of Jerusalem, the religious and political center of the Yahwistic community, Obadiah used and developed a theology of divine justice. God would intervene and punish those who had been involved in the plunder of Jerusalem: Edom. In vv. 2-9, Edom’s destruction is announced. In vv. 10-14, the nature of Edom’s crimes is developed. Verse 15b emphasizes the punishment warranted by Edom’s betrayal of Judah and offense against God.

The Day of the Lord. Tied to the theme of God’s justice is the theme of the day of the Lord. But this theme is also linked to the idea of holy war—the belief that God is able and willing to intervene to defeat decisively the enemies of God’s people. The day of the Lord also implies the judgment and destruction of those enemies as well as victory and salvation for God’s people.

The book of Lamentations identifies two important phases in the manifestation of the day of the Lord (Lam 1:21; 2:21-22) during the crisis of 587/586 BCE. The first phase takes place during the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the devastation of the Judahite state. The second phase involves the reaction of Judah’s enemies to the slaughter and affliction of the people. Obadiah may have taken that double motif from the book of Lamentations and incorporated it into his message against Edom. The destruction of Edom will result from a new manifestation of the day of the Lord: first, because the Edomites had been accomplices to the Babylonians’ intervention against Judah and, second,

 

 

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because they had taken advantage of the crisis to plunder and destroy the city. The destruction of Edom is the logical result of the just actions of a God who responds to the needs of people and does not allow injustice to reign. The people of Judah had received the divine penalty for their sins and actions in violation of the covenant. The book of Obadiah presents the theology of the day of the Lord and the manifestation of divine judgment, now applied to the people of Edom.

The Lord of History. The prophet’s theology underscores the ability of the God of Israel to intervene in history and to vent the divine furor against the people of Edom. In ancient days, when nations would go to war, they believed their gods would be present in battle. According to that theology, the people of Judah might have been dismayed and frustrated at a God who was not able to defeat the gods of the Babylonians and the Edomites.

Obadiah’s theology affirms that the God of Israel was not defeated and will manifest power in history so as to judge the people who have taken advantage of Judah’s defeat in order to plunder it and take over its territory. The affirmation that the Lord is God over history runs counter to the Edomites’ view of themselves. The destruction of Edom will not be a chance event but the result of the righteous action of the God of history.

The Kingdom of the Lord. The message of Obadiah ends with a statement concerning the people’s future. After the national catastrophe, the future of the Jewish community will be radically transformed. The vindication of the people will be a reality, thanks to divine intervention that will restore the national borders and establish a theocracy in the world (vv. 19-20). Mount Zion will be reestablished as the capital of a renewed and liberated people. The book culminates with an ardent affirmation of faith and hope: “the kingdom shall be the LORD’s” (v. 21).

THE TEXT OF THE BOOK

The Hebrew text of the book of Obadiah has been quite well preserved. Scholars frequently use the parallel passage of Jeremiah 49 to revise and amend difficult parts of Obad 1-5. That process of revision and textual amendment, however, must be made without violating the literary integrity of either document (see vv. 19-20). The Septuagint can also be of great assistance in studying the text of Obadiah; nonetheless, the Greek vocalization of poetic portions of the Masoretic Text should be used with careful critical judgment.11

Textual corrections that should be made to the book include changing the word wcpjn (nehupZu; “ransacked,” NIV; “pillaged,” NRSV) from the plural to the singular (v. 6); revocalizing the Hebrew text, in accordance with the ancient versions, to clarify the sense of the text in vv. 7, 13, 17, 21; and, in v. 20, interpreting a strange expression that has been added to the original text. Some scholars maintain that in several places the text has suffered transpositions during the process of textual transmission (e.g., v. 15). Generally,

 

 

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it is believed that the topographical and geographical references in vv. 19-20 were added at an early stage of the text’s history.12 In this evaluation and analysis of the structure and style of the work, the text’s integrity is respected so as to avoid inappropriate amendments and transpositions.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976. Excellent overall basic commentary.

Clark, David, and Norm Mundhenk. A Translator’s Handbook on the Books of Obadiah and Micah. New York: United Bible Societies, 1982. Of special interest to those who know Hebrew.

Coggins, R. J., and S. P. Re’emi. Israel Among the Nations: Nahum, Obadiah, Esther. ITC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985. Commentary with a theological interest.

Limburg, James. Hosea–Micah. Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988. A commentary oriented to the task of preaching.

Mason, R. Micah, Nahum, Obadiah. Sheffield: JSOT, 1991. Up-to-date, concise assessment of issues raised by Obadiah.

Myers, J. “Edom and Judah in the Sixth-Fifth Centuries B.C.” In Near Eastern Studies in Honor of William Foxwell Albright. Edited by H. Goedicke. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1971. Provides important historical information.

Snyman, S. D. “Cohesion in the Book of Obadiah,” ZAW 101 (1989) 59-71. An article that focuses on the issue of literary unity.

Watts, J. D. W. Obadiah: A Critical Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969. A brief but useful study.

Wolff, Hans Walter. Obadiah and Jonah: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986. A definitive commentary, with focus on critical issues.

OUTLINE OF OBADIAH

I. Obadiah 1, Heading and Introduction

II. Obadiah 2-9, Judgment Against Edom

III. Obadiah 10-14, 15b, Crimes of Edom

IV. Obadiah 15a, 16-21, Edom on the Day of the Lord

 

 

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OBADIAH 1

HEADING AND INTRODUCTION

Link to:  

COMMENTARY

The introduction of the book of Obadiah is brief. It provides no details concerning the prophet’s or his ancestors’ home; neither does it indicate the date of his message. The content of the book is presented in the form of prophetic oracles, although the title or heading of the book reads “The Vision of Obadiah.” The basic meaning of v. 1 is that God has given to Obadiah a message that must be communicated to the people.

The Hebrew word for “vision” (@wzj hazôn) suggests that Obadiah may have received his message while in some kind of a trance.13 The literary unity of vv. 1-14, 15a is evident, since these verses deal solely with Edom’s sin, blame, and judgment. This unity is also conveyed through the literary style; in this section, the prophet refers to Edom using the second-person singular “you.”

God is the foundation of the message of the prophet Obadiah (v. 1b).14 The expressions “Lord GOD” and “Sovereign LORD” represent the Hebrew phrase hwhy ynda ()adonAy YHWH ), two words that often appear together in the OT.15

The main theme of Obadiah’s message is judgment on the nation of Edom. According to the biblical accounts, the Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother (Gen 25:19-26, 36; see also Introduction, “Judah and Edom”).

Verse 1 presents an image of the divine council—i.e., a messenger has been sent from that body. In the OT, God is sometimes depicted as a king. One characteristic of ancient Near Eastern monarchs is that they had courts and councils, groups of people who carried out his orders and advised the king. That image was often used in prophetic circles to describe the setting in which the divine revelations came to the prophet (cf. 1 Kgs 22:19-23). According to Obadiah, the divine council had met and had decided to go to battle against Edom. God, in council, has announced an impending judgment on the people of Edom (see Isa 34:5-15; 63:1-6; Ezek 25:12-14; 35:1-15; Amos 1:11-12; Mal 1:2-4).

The book does not clearly indicate the audience to whom Obadiah addressed his message. Much of the prophecy refers to and describes the judgment of the Edomites; the message, however, is presented to the people of Israel, the community of Judea, and not to Edom.

The translations of v. 1b in the NRSV and the NIV offer some stylistic differences, but both present the same essential information: The messenger of God must be sent before those people can hear the message. The Lord is identified both as the source of Obadiah’s message and the one who

 

 

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sends the messenger. The image of the messenger may allude to a representative of Judah who visited the neighboring nations and urged them to form a military alliance against Edom. The meaning of the message is, “Get ready! Let us go to war against Edom.” The modern translations express the message as an imperative: “Let us go to war against Edom” (author’s trans.).

The prophet apparently realizes that the Lord has commissioned him to proclaim a message of judgment: “We have heard a report.” Obadiah speaks to the people of Judah using the plural subject “we” to indicate that both the community and the prophet have received the message and must respond to God’s revelation. In so doing, the prophet identifies with the everyday realities of the people.

 

 

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OBADIAH 2-9

JUDGMENT AGAINST EDOM

Link to:  

COMMENTARY

This initial section of Obadiah’s utterance may be divided into four basic units or paragraphs. The first paragraph (vv. 2-4) announces the fall of Edom; these verses are similar to Jer 49:14-16. The second paragraph (vv. 5-6) clearly and vividly describes the severity of the punishment; this section is similar to Jer 49:9-10. The third paragraph (v. 7) alludes to the betrayal

 

 

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of allies and friends of Israel; this verse also chides Edom for its lack of intelligence or wisdom. The fourth paragraph (vv. 8-9) points up the absoluteness, decisiveness, and completeness of the punishment proclaimed against the nation of Edom.

Verses 2-4, The Fall of Edom. Verse 2. The prophetic message is structured as if it were being addressed directly to the Edomites. This strategy lets the people of Israel know that God is about to punish their traditional enemies.

The Hebrew phrase translated in this text as “I will surely make you least [“small,” NIV] among the nations” (NRSV) generally conveys a completed or past idea, particularly in prose texts. In prophetic poetry, however, this verbal form (sometimes known as prophetic perfect) usually refers to the future; the prophet writes about future events as if they have already happened. (It is not always easy to ascertain whether this verb form refers to the past or actually alludes to future events; hence the ambiguity about the situation in vv. 2-7.) Since v. 1 alluded to the enemies who are about to attack Edom, it is better to present the defeat as an event yet to occur. Moreover, since other verbs of this passage refer clearly to the future, it is best to understand all of these verbs as referring to a future time.

The word @fq (qAton; NIV, “small”; NRSV, “least”) functions as figurative language. It refers not only to the size of the nation, but also to its might, power, and authority.

At the end of v. 2, the phrase “you shall be . . . despised” conveys the idea that Edom will be greatly humiliated. This notion reveals, moreover, the attitude of Israel toward its enemies.

Verse 3. The statement “Your proud heart has deceived you” (^ayvh ^bl @wdz sudôn libbukA hissi)kA) translates literally the Hebrew text. The heart connotes the seat of emotions, as has been maintained in the translations. The Edomites were excessively proud of their military might, thinking they could not be defeated. Ironically, it was this sense of self-sufficiency that defeated them.

The expression “live in the clefts of the rock” may indicate the basis of the Edomites’ pride; it may also refer to their capital, Sela. In Hebrew, the word [ls (sela() means “rock.”16 The play on the meaning of the two words cannot be reproduced in English. The city was situated on a plain among high mountains; it was accessible from only one direction. The town of Sela was like a fortress. This physical, geographical peculiarity caused the Edomites to feel sheltered, safe, and proud.

The expression “you say in your heart,” which has been translated also as “you say to yourself,” intimates the perception the Edomites had of themselves. Confident because their homes were high on the mountains, the Edomites would rhetorically ask: “Who will bring me down to the ground?” The question attests the Edomites’ arrogance. The Edomites thought they were so strong that no one could bring them down, but God, in fact, easily defeated them.

Verse 4. This verse provides the prophet’s answer to Edom’s pride: “Though you soar . . . I will bring you down.” (The issue of pride is often stressed in the prophetic oracles against the nations; see Isa 10:5-15; Jer 50:31-32). Verse 4 offers two images: a high-flying eagle and the eagle’s nest. The nest is situated in a hidden and inaccessible place. But it is difficult to determine whether the notions of flying high as eagles and building a nest in an inaccessible place elaborate on the same idea. The second part of the verse, which speaks of making a nest among the stars, constitutes a hyperbole, a figure of speech that makes its point through exaggeration.

The imagery of eagles may connote the ability of these birds to fly very high and build their nests in secluded places. But it may also allude to their legendary size and the fact that they are birds of prey. The disloyal attitude Edom displayed in Israel’s hour of crisis can be compared to the behavior of eagles (v. 13 condemns Edom for plundering the people of Israel).

The final phrase of the verse, “says [or declares] the LORD,” affirms that the Lord is the one who has spoken. This phrase indicates that the people are not hearing Obadiah’s words but the message of the Lord.

Verses 5-6, Total Destruction. Verses 5-9 return to the message proclaimed in vv. 2-4: God is going to punish Edom. Unlike vv. 2-4, where God is the agent, now God’s punishment will be meted out by Edom’s former allies and friends.

The structure of v. 5 is complex.17 The text

 

 

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presents two images and comparisons: One speaks of two thieves, the other of people who harvest grapes. These ideas are parallel and complement each other. Each conveys the main thrust of the verse: There will be partial rather than absolute destruction.

Two problems complicate an understanding of the verse. First, the subjects of the two images are practically synonymous: “thieves” and “plunderers” or “robbers.” Second, the first clause of the text is separated from the second by an exclamation that is thematically related more closely to v. 6 than it is to v. 5: “How you have been destroyed!”

To overcome these difficulties in understanding posed by this text, the Good News Bible (GNB) translation has restructured the passage in three steps. First, it has translated the exclamation “How you have been destroyed!” (NRSV) as “But your enemies have wiped you out completely” (GNB) and has placed it at the end of the verse; in this way, the idea of destruction in vv. 5-6 is more clearly tied in to the unit.18 Second, in the first part of the verse the two words translated as “thieves” and “plunderers” in the NRSV have been incorporated into a single clause: “When thieves . . . they always . . . ” (GNB). Third, the GNB conveys the meaning of this verse through affirmations rather than rhetorical questions.

This kind of restructuring not only simplifies the structure of the verse, but it also makes it easier to follow the progression of the prophet’s ideas. The two ideas that are compared follow each other without interruption, and the contrast between them and the situation of Edom is set forth by the phrase “But your enemies. . . . ”

When a nation suffers a military defeat, usually the destruction is partial. This will not be the case with Edom, which will experience a much more severe and radical destruction. That idea is communicated by the expression “Oh, what a disaster awaits you.” Just as Edom’s pride is highlighted in vv. 3 and 4, so also v. 5 depicts its rigorous and far-reaching destruction.

In the first line of v. 5, the word “night” is employed because it is the setting and the time in which the Israelites conceived of thieves’ breaking in and stealing. Still, the verse emphasizes not the time the thieves arrive, but their stealthy, aggressive manner.

The expression “would they not steal only what they want?” implies that thieves leave something behind. And the expression “would they not leave gleanings?” may be based on the fact that the grape harvesters neither see nor are able to reach all the grapes on the vines. For Israel, however, the practice of leaving behind a portion of the produce was deliberate. According to Lev 19:11, anyone reaping a harvest should leave some in the field for the poor.

The Hebrew verb htymdn (nidmêtâ), which has been translated as “have been destroyed,” may be another example of the prophetic perfect (see also the verbs in v. 6 and the first three verbs of v. 7). The change from future to past tense in the verbs in NRSV and NIV (vv. 5-7) may obscure the meaning.

According to Gen 36:1, 8, 19, Esau is the forebear of the nation of Edom. In Hebrew, as in the NRSV and the NIV translations, this verse concerning Edom is presented as an exclamation in the third-person singular. The text addresses Edom in the second person throughout the rest of vv. 2-7. The Hebrew text in Obad 6 employs two clauses to convey the basic idea that Edom will be plundered. In v. 6b, the NRSV reads “his treasures searched out,” and in v. 6a, “How Esau has been pillaged.” Many of the people’s treasures may have been hidden away in the numerous caves located in the rocky fortress of Edom. This text can also be rendered “your treasures have been looted”; the “treasures” perhaps include items of trade and luxury.

Verse 7, Betrayal of Allies. This verse further develops the theme of Edom’s destruction. The prophet describes the divine judgment through three basic ideas: “deceived” by allies, antagonism from “confederates” or “friends,” and betrayal by “those who ate your bread.” The theme of betrayal by allies and against covenants recurs (see vv. 1, 3-4).

The verb tenses in v. 7 require careful examination. Of the four verbs used in the text, three are in prophetic perfect; the fourth is in the imperfect (see Commentary on v. 2). The verse may be translated in the future tense, as the NIV does, to underscore the future implications of the prophet’s message.

 

 

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Divine judgment focuses on the human element in this unit. The “confederates” must be distinguished from the enemies; the former are nations that had promised to help Edom in times of trouble. The expression wjlv (silluhûkA), translated “they have driven you” or “will force you,” derives from the verb whose basic meaning is “send” (jlv sAlah), although in this text it may mean “escort” or “lead.” The idea is that Edom’s former allies deceived the Edomites and expelled them from their own lands. The prophet contrasts this idea with the treatment of the people of Judah by the Edomites (v. 14).

In the Hebrew text, the first two lines have the same subject, which occurs in the second clause: “your allies.” To facilitate the understanding of the passage, the NRSV and the NIV have restructured the text, identifying the subject of the verse in the first line.

In ancient times, alliances or covenants between individuals or peoples were considered sacred; to break a covenant was abominable; moreover, the covenant breaker was severely penalized (see Ps 55:20; Amos 1:9). In v. 7 the prophet points out the nature of Edom’s destruction and judgment. The hope and security implied in international alliances would not suffice to halt the approaching divine judgment, because Edom had been unfaithful to an alliance or covenant with Judah.

The third line of the verse is difficult to understand and to translate. It may allude to the lack of solidarity and the grave offense of withholding hospitality. According to ancient Near Eastern customs, hospitality was a responsibility and obligation that created strong ties of solidarity and loyalty (Ps 41:9).19 In the Hebrew text, the subject of the third line literally means “your bread” (^mjl lahmukA). Since this term is thematically related to the preceding idea, the NRSV has rendered it as “those who ate your bread”—that is, “your close friends.” Once again, the nature of Edom’s treachery is accentuated.

The final portion of the verse reproaches Edom for its lack of discernment and intelligence. Divine judgment will startle Edom. The nation will fall prey to its own false sense of safety and confidence. Edomites apparently refuse to believe that they could be betrayed.

Verses 8-9, Defeat of the Sages and Warriors. These verses contain the oracle that concludes this section (vv. 5-9). Edom’s punishment will be conclusive and absolute. The expression “says the LORD” or “declares the LORD” (v. 8), which marks a prophetic oracle, concludes vv. 1-4 and also begins vv. 5-9. In these latter verses, Edom’s wisdom and intelligence (v. 8), as well as its military power (v. 9), are criticized.

Throughout vv. 1b-9, divine and human actions are intimately related. In vv. 8-9, “the nations” (cf. v. 1b), “thieves” and “plunderers” (v. 5), and “your allies” (v. 7) are instruments of the ire of the Lord. According to the text, Edom’s catastrophe is the result of divine intervention through God’s agents.

One important element in the holy war theology is that God is the secret ally who brings about confusion among the enemy forces. Such confusion affects the enemy’s morale and sense of security (Exod 23:27; Deut 7:23; Josh 10:10). “The wise men” and “men of understanding” in Edom will fearfully tremble when God pours out judgment and wrath. Destruction will be total and absolute.

The fate of Teman as a center of wisdom may stem from its geographical position in the Middle East. This important Edomite town held a privileged position in intermediate trade (v. 9). The caravans and merchants from the East used to bring merchandise and folklore to Teman. In the book of Job, Eliphaz, who represents a type of wisdom severely criticized in the work, is from Teman (Job 2:11; cf. Jer 49:7). According to Obadiah’s message, Edom’s national wisdom is exemplified in its military capacity. The parallelism between Edom and “Mount Esau” (vv. 9, 19, 21) is found only in the book of Obadiah. Teman poetically refers to Edom.

The NIV’s rhetorical questions in v. 8 have been translated as affirmative statements in the NRSV. The theme of the day of the Lord, inferred in the phrases “on that day,” usually allude to the day of final judgment. It is used here, however, to refer to Edom’s punishment. (See Reflections at vv. 15a, 16-21.)

 

 

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OBADIAH 10-14, 15b

CRIMES OF EDOM

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COMMENTARY

Verses Verses 10-14, 15b comprise a thematic and literary unit. Obadiah, speaking as the interpreter of the divine will, interrelates two themes of capital importance to his prophecy: violence and fraternity. Divine judgment results from Edom’s cruel and inhumane treatment of Judah. The text exposes Edom’s unjust, unfriendly attitude and proceeds to justify the divine intervention on the basis of those acts of fratricide.

Verses 10-11, Lack of Solidarity. These verses introduce this unit and also relate vv. 1b-9 with this new section. The initial words of v. 10, “Because of the violence,” emphasize the judgment announced in the preceding section. Verse 11 describes the context in which Edom acted against Israel. The brotherly relationship mentioned in the text is based on the patriarchal accounts (Genesis 25–29; 32; additionally Deut 23:7 clearly states: “You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin” [NRSV; NIV, “brother” ]). Judah is expressly called Jacob (v. 10) to underscore the relationship. Even though the relationship between these peoples involved varying levels of hostility, their fraternity presupposes a moral obligation of solidarity that should not be ignored. The term “brother” is not to be taken literally. The Hebrew word conveys the notion of kinship as well as that of a covenant partner.20

Edom’s violence—that is, its failure to respect the human rights of the Israelites—will be the reason for the destruction and humiliation that will befall the nation. Edom took advantage of Judah’s misfortune to vent its resentment and hostility toward the people and their king (see Introduction, “Judah and Edom”). In the prophet’s estimation, that act cannot go unpunished.

In v. 11, The expression “You stood aside”/“you stood aloof” conveys the prophet’s harsh criticism of Edom’s inhumane behavior. This verse carries the heart of Obadiah’s charge. Edom acted as an enemy by allying itself with Judah’s invaders: “You too were like one of them.” The prophet clearly identifies some of the calamities Judah had experienced: “strangers carried off his wealth” and “foreigners entered his gates/ and cast lots for Jerusalem.” During the great catastrophe, Edomites took part in the plundering and violence against Judah. This description sets the stage for vv. 12-14, which present the day of divine judgment as a response to Edom’s behavior.

Verses 12-14, 15b, The Day of the Lord. The main theme of these verses is the day of the Lord.21 The Hebrew term for “day” (!wy yôm ) appears eleven times in vv. 11-15. The repetition of “on the day” gives the text an extraordinary poetic strength, stressing the importance of this motif and emphasizing the gravity of the accusation. The “day of the Lord” theme is tied to the outpouring of divine judgment, particularly against the enemies of Israel. In vv. 12-14, the prophet plainly describes Edom’s behavior during the day of judgment, which is referred to as “the day . . . of his misfortune,” “of their ruin,” “of distress.”

The specific “day” occurred in the year 587/586 BCE, when Nebuchadnezzar’s armies entered Jerusalem to conquer the city, destroy the Temple, and take the leaders of Judah into captivity in Babylon. That experience marks the beginning of the period called the exile (see Ps 137:7).

The description of Edom’s arrogance and pride in the passage alludes to v. 3. Obadiah’s criticism, expressed in specific accusations against Edom, refers to historical events that occurred before the destruction of Jerusalem. This section also includes an extensive list of specific indictments against Edom. The expression “you should not have . . . ” marks Edom’s specific attitudes and actions against Judah: “gloated over your brother,” “rejoiced over the people of Judah,” “boasted,” “entered the gate of my people,” “joined in the gloating of Judah’s disaster,” “looted his goods,” “stood at the crossings,” and “handed over his survivors.” The repetitions, the parallelism, and the consistency of ideas enhance the literary and thematic unity of these verses.

“The gate” (v. 13) is a symbol of God’s presence with the people (Pss 87:2; 9:14; 118:20).

 

 

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Since the gates of the city were considered inviolable and secure, the act of entering through them symbolized defeat. The destruction of the gates, likewise, symbolizes God forsaking the people (Lam 4:12-13).

Some poetic features of the text are impossible to reproduce in translations. The English versions of this verse, for instance, do not reflect the Hebrew wordplays on the [collapse]original message; the English “calamity” translates the Hebrew word !dya ()êdAm), which is similar to Edom.

The list of injustices enumerated in vv. 12-14 ends with Edom’s sentence: “As you have done, it shall be done to you” (v. 15 NRSV). This sentence concludes the indictments against Edom as well as the first part of Obadiah’s prophecy. (See Reflections at vv. 15a, 16-21.)

 

 

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OBADIAH 15a, 16-21

EDOM ON THE DAY OF THE LORD

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COMMENTARY

The translation of v. 15 allows the literary structure of the book to be understood in at least two different ways. Some translations link v. 15 to vv. 10-14. In this way, the imminent judgment of God is presented, and the specific example of Edom’s punishment is underscored. Verse 15 is the climax of this unit. Another possibility is to begin the new literary and thematic unit with vv. 16-21. That would emphasize the divine judgment of the nations in a general way, and the case of Edom in particular. The NRSV divides the book into four units: vv. 1-4, vv. 5-9, vv. 10-16, vv. 17-21. The NIV makes only two fundamental divisions: vv. 1-14 and vv. 15-21. In my judgment it is important to take into consideration the continuities between vv. 10-14 and v. 15b and between vv. 16-21 and v. 15a. Possibly, due to some difficulty in the transmission of manuscripts, the clauses of v. 15 were transposed (see Introduction, “Literary Structure”).

The final section of Obadiah’s prophecy (vv. 15a, 16-21) places the divine judgment of Edom in a broader eschatological perspective. The theme of the day of the Lord is given special attention in the climax of the message: God’s final victory will be manifested on behalf of the people of Judah.22 The conquest and destruction of Edom are presented as a sign of God’s judgment against that nation and grace for Israel. The historical events that provide the background for this section are the crimes committed by the Babylonian army during the destruction of Jerusalem.

Verses 15a-16. The prophet begins his message by announcing judgment “against all the nations.” The word “day,” frequently employed in the previous section of Obadiah’s prophecy (vv. 12-14), continues and develops the thought of v. 8. While “the day” of vv. 12-14 refers to the specific historical event of the conquest of Jerusalem, vv. 8, 15 speak of the eschatological day of God’s final judgment. In this way, the prophet ties the historical moment of Babylonia’s triumph over Israel, with the day of divine judgment at some indeterminate future time.

In contrast to the day of sorrow and defeat referred to in vv. 12-14, the new literary and thematic unit presents the day of victory, of vindication, and of rejoicing for the people of Judah. The final defeat of Edom serves as a preamble to the demise and destruction of the human powers that reject the divine power and sovereignty. The day of eschatological judgment is also the day of final victory for God’s people.23

In v. 16, the idea of divine judgment is likened to a drunk person. The literary image of “drunk on my holy mountain” alludes to the outpouring of God’s wrath (Ps 75:8; Jer 25:15-29; Mark 14:36). The image also describes those who drink the bitter cup of divine judgment and are annihilated: “shall be as though they had never been.”

The Hebrew verb htv (sAtâ, “to drink”) is used three times in v. 16 to convey the idea of drunkenness. This text may be related to two literary images. The first alludes to the drunken victory celebrations of the conquerors; ancient armies used to celebrate their victories by getting drunk on the alcoholic beverages they had taken as booty. The second literary image has to do with divine judgment, with the image portraying the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem.

“My holy mountain” or “holy hill” refers to Mount Zion (v. 17), the section of Jerusalem included in the Temple area. “Zion” and “my holy mountain” often refer to all of Jerusalem, when the writer wishes to emphasize the city’s religious importance (2 Sam 5:7; Cant 2:6; Isa 1:8).

Until v. 15b, the oracles are directed to the people of Edom; in v. 16, the message is addressed to Israel. The reference “as you drank” (second-person plural) is different from the allusions to Edom (vv. 2-15b), which were phrased in the second-person singular. Direct address to the people of Israel continues until v. 21.

Verse 17. This verse offers a divine promise of restoration and deliverance. In contrast to the judgment of the nations, announced in v. 16, the prophet now reveals God’s purposes for the people. The future of Jerusalem is closely related to that of the nation of Israel. Worship in the Temple redounds in blessing for the whole land of Judah.

 

 

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Such change in the future status of the city symbolized future prosperity for the country. The city will become a place of refuge, “But on Mount Zion will be deliverance” (NIV). The NRSV expresses that idea of salvation with the phrase “on Mount Zion there shall be those that escape.” The theme of salvation for a small group or a remnant is particularly prominent in the book of Isaiah; the name of one of the prophet’s children, “Shearjashub” (Isa 7:3), means “a remnant shall return.” The same idea of a remnant is found in Isa 4:2 and 10:20.24 According to v. 17, the temple mount will again be holy. Holiness in Hebrew thought involves the idea of separation or consecration for the purpose of fulfilling a specific function. Although it has ethical and moral implications, the substantial elements of the concept are (1) the state of separation to fulfill some definite purpose (Lev 2:3; 22:2) and (2) the rejection of anything that may hamper that state of separation (Isa 52:1).

“The house of Jacob/ will possess its inheritance” refers to Israelites who will have an opportunity to claim their ancient territorial possessions. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the neighboring peoples took possession of Judah’s lands. The judgment against Edom will result in the restoration of land for the people of Judah.

Verse 18. Some scholars connect vv. 17 and 21 for linguistic, thematic, and formal reasons. But this radical restructuring of the biblical text is unnecessary. Verse 18 continues the idea of salvation that began in the preceding verse; in addition, it uses the same phrases as v. 17, e.g., “house of Jacob.”25

“House of Joseph” may be a poetic allusion to Israel—that is, to the remnant mentioned in v. 17. It may also imply the salvation of the entire people of Israel (Ps 77:15; Zech 10:6).

The promise of the restoration of Judah continues with the language of fire and destruction in v. 18. While the preceding verses relate salvation to the city of Jerusalem, this verse describes that salvation in terms of the destruction of Edom, calling it the “house of Esau.” The prophet clearly and forcefully states that the enemies of Israel will be utterly destroyed: “There will be no survivors/ from the house of Esau.”

The images of “fire” and its rare synonym translated “flame” are common portrayals of God’s wrath (Exod 15:7; Isa 10:17; Matt 3:12; Luke 3:17). In this context, however, the prophet stresses that the divine judgment will be inexorably applied to the detriment of Edom. Moreover, not only will the Israelites be allowed to respond to their enemies with the same treatment they had received, but also they will be instruments of God in executing judgment. The holy war against the enemies of God will take place through a coalition of nations (v. 1), including Judah (v. 18). Edom will be destroyed, and Judah will actively participate in the process of destruction. The divine judgment shall be categorically executed.26

Verse 18 ends with the traditional formula of the prophetic messenger: “The LORD has spoken.” The use of this formula identifies the unit (vv. 15a, 16-18) as an oracle; the theme present is that of judgment.

Verses 19-21. Some scholars think the final section of Obadiah’s message was originally written in prose.27 In any event, the passage does not reflect traditional poetic style. The prophet affirms that the restoration of Judah includes the promise of reestablishing the ancient territory of Israel. The prophet incorporates the theme of the land to the list of events that demonstrate the final victory of Judah and the final destruction of Edom.

The nations that took advantage of Judah’s devastation to take over unjustly their territories must return that land; the divine intervention and the repeated use of the Hebrew verb vry (yAras, “to possess”) evoke the period of the conquest of Canaan, when Israel took possession of the land. The prophet affirms the importance of the Israelites’ reclaiming the land occupied by the Edomites.

Verses 19-20. References to the Negev, the desert south of Judah, begin and end this unit. The Edomites, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of Israel to Babylonia in 587/586 BCE, infiltrated the region located south of Judah and north of Beersheba. During the times

 

 

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of the Maccabees (1 Macc 5:65), the city of Hebron (north of the Negev) was still possessed by the Edomites; the region was then known as Idumaea. The triumph and conquest of Edom, Mount Esau (v. 19), marked the beginning of an era of national restoration.

The Hebrew text is difficult to translate, but the NRSV and the NIV have contributed to a better understanding of the passage. Yet they do not resolve all the problems. In the first place, although not identified explicitly in the text, the subject of the verse is the Israelites, in particular, the remnant of Israel (v. 19). Second, the NRSV’s “Shephelah” should not be interpreted as the proper name of a region; the NIV offers a better understanding of the passage, rendering the expression as “people from the foothills.” Some scholars feel that the references to Mount Esau and to Shephelah are subsequent commentaries to Obadiah’s message, added to emphasize the anti-Edomite character of the writing.

The restoration of Judah will include the reconquest of the ancient territories of Israel: to the south, the Negev; to the west, “the land of the Philistines”; to the north, “the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria.” This triumph will allow Benjamin (i.e., the youngest tribe of Israel) to “possess Gilead.”

The first part of v. 20 is also very difficult to translate. The Hebrew phrase hzhAljh (hahel-hazzeh; lit., “their hosts”) has been understood by the NRSV as a reference to the exiles in Halah, a region near Nineveh, a place to which some Israelites had been deported (2 Kgs 17:6). This rendering of the passage highlights the final victory of Judah: the return of the exiled Israelites, even from the most remote places. In contrast, the NIV has translated literally the Masoretic Text. The Hebrew phrase that literally means “who are the Canaanites” (!yn[nkArva )aser-kuna (anîm) has been understood as a reference to the exiled Israelite groups. According to this translation, the exiles are not in Halah but in Canaan. Zarephath, a city near the Mediterranean Sea and about ten miles south of Sidon (1 Kgs 17:9-24), marks an ideal northern point for the reconquest by the Israelites. Sepharad may refer to Sardis, capital of Lydia, to the west of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), although scholars also place it in Spain, Greece, or Media. The passage assures exiles that, although they have been forced to live in remote places, God will bring them again to the promised land.

According to vv. 19-20, Israelites will move in all directions to recover their historical lands. Judah’s victory is also a return to the promised land; their triumph over their enemies is an affirmation of the ancient promise of possession of the lands made to Israel’s forebears.

Verse 21. This verse concludes the message of prophet Obadiah’s book. It includes a note of hope similar to the one added to the book of Amos, which presents the salvation of Israel in connection with its possession of Edom (Amos 9:12; see also Isa 11:14). The Israelites arrived at Mount Zion to rule over the Edomites, who in this verse are again called Mount Esau (vv. 8, 19). The NIV translation has rendered the Hebrew word !y[yvwm (môsî(îm) as “deliverers,” although it is not common in the Masoretic Text (cf. Neh 9:27); the NRSV has emended the text and used the passive voice (“those who have been saved”).

This text, although it could be thematically and literally related to v. 17, presents the book’s major theological statement of victory. The final message of the book of Obadiah is one of victory and salvation: “The kingdom will be the LORD’s.” This theme is also echoed in the last book of the Bible (Rev 11:15). The international war against Edom (v. 1) will end in the recognition of the kingdom of God once and for all. The victorys”s not a mere nationalistic reawakening but the symbol of divine sovereignty. This affirmation reveals the theological justification of the message of Obadiah. God’s victory includes the restoration of God’s chosen people and the judgment of their enemies.

This final verse of the book makes several important theological statements: God will raise up deliverers to fulfill God’s purpose in history. That victory will be an ultimate triumph over those who oppose the divine will. And victory exemplifies Yahweh’s rule in history.

 

 

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REFLECTIONS

The study of the book of Obadiah illumines some important issues for today’s church and believers. It presents a somber criticism of the lack of solidarity, it offers a word of hope for God’s people, and it shows the importance of consciously applying religious traditions to the current scene.

1. Commitment to Meeting Human Needs. When they observe the behavior of the Edomites, believers see an example of the way God responds to the lack of solidarity with and commitment to the needy, the excluded, and the persecuted of society. The people of Judah were going through a grave crisis, and the Edomites, rather than sympathizing with and responding to the needs of their neighbors, betrayed them in a disgraceful way. They did not heed the cries for help on the part of the people of Judah, and they participated in the plunder and destruction of their neighbors. The Edomites not only ignored the requests for help from Judah, but they also collaborated with the Babylonians. Divine judgment will be the consequence of that unsympathetic attitude.

That theological perspective of the book of Obadiah holds out a great challenge to modern believers: What theological and political posture are we to assume in the face of the needs of the poor, the excluded, and the destitute of society? The prophetic message of judgment on Edom stems from their attitude, first passive and then aggressive, regarding Judah’s misfortune. That theological perspective has repercussions today. The lack of solidarity is concretely manifested in the act of joining groups that despoil and wound the needy and underprivileged of society. Such attitudes invite the judgment of God.

A fundamental value found in Latin American liberation theology is its emphasis on the contextualization of the Christian message.28 Theology ought not to be an academic exercise divorced from the everyday reality of the people but a critical reflection of the life experiences of God’s people. Theology, from that liberation theology perspective, encourages and engages in concrete demonstrations of the principles upon which the kingdom of God is founded. According to those criteria, Obadiah presents a vital theological and pastoral challenge. Seeing the people’s needs, God’s people must react with a sense of responsibility and solidarity. Intercessory prayer is important and welcome when it is accompanied by tangible acts of love that eliminate the causes that foment, favor, and perpetuate conditions of injustice among the destitute of society. The lack of concrete demonstrations of love constitutes an act of betrayal of both God and the people in need.

Obadiah’s prophecy challenges believers to address real problems, such as racism and the oppression of socially excluded groups, such as ethnic minorities and homeless persons. The church and believers, faced with those social realities, can neither remain silent nor identify with the system that excludes or oppresses certain segments of society. In a social crisis that ignores the sorrow and pain of large sectors of the poor, and living in a society unwilling to project itself into the future with pluralism and multiculturalism, believers and the churches must provide sufficient space for the creation of more just and equitable institutions. The church institutions themselves must be transformed by kingdom of God values in the midst of society. To ignore the plight of the indigent is one of the reasons why God judged Edom. True theology responds to the needs of the people. If it cannot speak to the daily reality of the community, it is not good theology.

2. Theology of Hope. A monumental contribution of Obadiah to believers is the affirmation

 

 

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and development of a theology of hope. That theology is grounded in the conviction that God is with the people and has the ability and the will to intervene in the history of Israel. The theology of hope is not based on a utopian expectation but rather on the assurance and the confidence that God accompanies the people. That theology is the inspiration for the work of rebuilding the city. The theology of hope does not encourage believers to accept calamities passively; rather it mobilizes them to build a church and a society that show justice to and are supportive of the needy. Such a theology challenges us to dismantle and transform creatively the existing institutions that undermine the kingdom of God.

The theology of hope is demonstrated in concrete, practical ways. The creation of institutions that do not discriminate on the basis of social background, nationality, or ethnicity is one practical way of demonstrating faith and theological commitment. Hope is not just a topic for speculation, for preaching, or for theological reflection; rather it is the basis for liberating actions. Speculation does not contribute substantially to the affirmation of life and justice; only real demonstrations of love can transform the human being and significantly affect society.

As believers accept the challenge of Obadiah’s message of hope and commitment, they develop the ministry of the church. The community of believers is the basic environment for the development of programs of solidarity and hope that modern society needs.

3. The Kingdom of God. The book of Obadiah ends with an important theological affirmation: “The kingdom shall be the LORD’s.” This declaration links the prophet’s message to the future. The last word of the prophet is not one of destruction and judgment, but a message of hope. At its end, the book provides a positive announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God. The judgment of Edom will vindicate and exalt God’s people. Mount Zion, the symbol of the presence and the revelation of God, will be the capital of a restored nation.

The theme of God’s working in the future and God’s role in the implementation of the kingdom must not be confined to sermons that stress the eschatological virtues of biblical theology. The building of the kingdom requires people to translate the theological principles of the kingdom into programs that will benefit believers, churches, and humanity in a tangible way.

The creation of the kingdom requires the transformation of our own life situation. It requires the investment of economic and intellectual resources of the church to produce programs that will benefit God’s people in particular and humanity in general. The God of the future demands that believers become involved in the development of initiatives that demonstrate the divine commitment to people with needs.

4. Contextualization of the Message. One hallmark of Obadiah’s message is the way in which it takes old prophetic themes and adapts them to new exilic realities. The prophet does not woodenly repeat the traditional messages of prophets such as Jeremiah. Obadiah revised the oracles in the light of the new social and political realities of the people, and he transformed those messages so as to guide and to educate the community. The true prophetic word is not a repetition of what other people have said; instead it is the result of a careful analysis of the situation, the serious evaluation of the old prophetic traditions, and the humble acceptance of God’s revelation.

The repetition of earlier messages does not guarantee that God’s word will be proclaimed. Divine revelation is inseparably linked to real situations. God never addresses humanity as “to whom it may concern”; God calls specific individuals and peoples to respond to historic, concrete, and definite situations. The intimate relationship between human need and divine revelation is a fundamental quality of the prophetic message.

God’s revelation to North American society at the end of the twentieth century is different from the one received at the beginning of the century. Hence, leaders and congregations must be willing to allow present needs to determine the congregational programs and homiletic

 

 

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topics. Obadiah’s message is a good example of the importance of the intelligent adaptation and contextualization of God’s message.

One of the challenges North America faces is the development and creation of a multicultural, multilingual, and pluralistic society and church. That kind of church is distinguished by the participation of all of its sectors, respect for divergent opinions, and the incorporation of minority groups into the decision-making processes.

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Posts 1250
Josh | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Feb 17 2012 3:40 AM

Hi Dan....

I think this thread is much better! Now everything is in one spot. What interests me about this set is that it has commentary on the Apocrypha. I was wondering if you would share a snippet from Bel and the Dragon and Susanna? Thanks. Smile

Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Feb 17 2012 10:46 AM

Joshua G:

Hi Dan....

I think this thread is much better! Now everything is in one spot. What interests me about this set is that it has commentary on the Apocrypha. I was wondering if you would share a snippet from Bel and the Dragon and Susanna? Thanks. Smile

Sure I will post Susanna later today sometime (part of it anyway)….

 

-Dan

Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Feb 17 2012 10:48 AM

SUSANNA

VERSES 1-64

 

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COMMENTARY

The story of Susanna stands in some of the Greek versions as the first of the Daniel stories, before the Hebrew Daniel 1, but after chapter 12 in others. The motivation to place the story before the Daniel 1 was undoubtedly because Daniel is portrayed as a very young man (who is wise beyond his years) in this story.

There are significant differences between the style of the story of Susanna and the Hebrew/Aramaic stories in Daniel 1–6 (the non-miraculous 

 

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form of deliverance, the internal Jewish matters, among others). Further, Susanna differs from the other two additional works included in the Greek canon of the book of Daniel mainly because of its focus on the subjects of women, sexual abuse, and internal corruption in the Jewish community.

It is often suggested that even though the story of Susanna is considered the most sophisticated and well-developed of the three additions to Daniel (the Song of the Three, for example, seems a hodgepodge of literary styles; Bel and the Dragon are clearly two separate stories), it was rejected by those rabbis who determined the canon because the court procedure was improper23 and because the authority of elders is seriously questioned (especially in the LXX version). It can be argued, however, that there are important reasons why it is significant that Susanna appears in the Daniel collection. First, it presents a female model of courage in a community that needs all of its resources and in which all persons share the threat of political exile and occupation. Second, Susanna includes a significant criticism of internal communal corruption, similar to that found in Ezra and Nehemiah, where it is also directed against corrupt or corruptible leaders of the community. Furthermore, the story of Susanna gives us an interesting episode in the life of the young Daniel, the legendary hero.

Many theories have been suggested for the origin of the story. These include that it was a midrash on the evil prophets mentioned in Jeremiah 29; a late polemic between Pharisees and Sadducees on court procedure; and a folk tale that exhibits well-known themes in folklore, such as the wisdom of the elders overturned by a child.24 No single view, however, has commanded wide agreement. While Susanna is a tale that has clear similarities with the themes of Daniel 1–6, there is nothing within the story that allows a clear date or even a sociopolitical context for the Jewish community that treasured and maintained this story as a part of its religious lore.

The story of Susanna affords us the opportunity to raise questions that have not previously arisen in the study of the book of Daniel—most important, the issue of women’s rights and place in society. Indeed, besides Susanna there is only one other significant woman in the entire Daniel corpus: the queen mother, who makes her appearance in Daniel 5. There seems little evidence that Susanna was written with any aspect of the queen mother in mind as the “other woman” of the Daniel tradition. But was Susanna written with Daniel even in mind? Some scholars wonder whether Daniel originally had a role at all in an earlier form of the Susanna legend—perhaps references to him being added only when the story was made a part of the Daniel tradition at about the time of its translation into Greek (c. 100 BCE).

However, this account of life in the exilic community from a woman’s perspective gives us the opportunity to consider a Jewish woman as doubly a symbol of resistance—both to the oppression of exile and to male domination within the Jewish community—and as a model of the kind of spiritual tenacity necessary for faithful resistance in circumstances of exile or occupation. It seems hard to deny that Susanna as a woman within Jewish society is meant to mirror the Jew in foreign society. She is called to resist oppression within that society as the Jews were generally called to resist oppression from outside. Her resistance, her ability to speak truth to power, is honored in this story, as well as the young Daniel’s clever courtroom technique in defending her.

Mieke Bal has asserted that there is a “dominant reading” of biblical texts and interpretative strategies that is “a monolithically misogynist view of those biblical stories wherein female characters play a role, and a denial of the importance of women in the Bible as a whole.”25 Part of this dominant reading, according to Bal, is to dismiss certain aspects of texts and stories that seem to be “meaningless details,” particularly where women are concerned. But attention to such details may have the effect of inverting previous perspectives. Such an analysis of the Susanna story, for example, has been provided by both Bal and Glancy, who focus important attention on Susanna as a woman whose actions are interpreted according to her “appearance” to the “male 

 

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gaze.”26 Another way that one can become attuned to such details is through a survey of the literature on violence against women. This commentary will have occasion to relate the study of Susanna to feminist and other sociological studies of rape and violence against women.27

Glancy notes that Susanna is largely the passive victim and the crime that stands “behind” the story is violation of possessions and honor of men—in this case Joakim the husband. Brownmiller argues that male possession laws are the foundation for most modern rape laws in Western society in that rape “was first and foremost a violation of male rights of possession, based on male requirements of virginity, chastity, and consent to private access as the female bargain in the marriage contract.”28

Similarly, then, Glancy notes the intriguing symmetry between Susanna, the “violated wife,” and Joakim’s privileged garden:

What is at stake in the story is not Susanna’s physical well-being as she is threatened with rape and death but the honor of Joachim’s household. When garden and wife are closed against intruders, Joachim’s honor is secure. When the garden is open to intruders, or if the wife is open to a young lover, the entire household is ashamed, its honor lost.29

Glancy is surely correct in her insistence that modern readers often go along with the assumption of the story that the crime is attempted seduction rather than attempted rape—mainly because the modern reader is also beguiled by Susanna’s reputed beauty. Seduction seems, from such a reading, “natural” or “normal.” As Glancy puts it, the narrative of Susanna “relies on a code that represents femininity in terms of ‘to-be-looked-at-ness.’ ”30 Is it an overstatement to call what happens to Susanna rape? The elders, as we shall see, do not physically force themselves upon her. But the difficulty with calling their actions “seduction” is that this term does not adequately express the unequal power dynamics between Susanna and two respected (male) leaders of the community. While their confrontation may not have involved physical contact, in a real way it was overpowering to Susanna and would be referred to in modern terms as sexual harassment with important power dynamics involved. Brownmiller comments:

All rape is an exercise in power, but some rapists have an edge that is more than physical. They operate within an institutionalized setting that works to their advantage and in which a victim has little chance to redress her grievance.31

Given these dynamics, it is important to proceed with an assumption that we are dealing with what ought to be interpreted as attempted rape.

Glancy’s analysis also alerts us to the significance of “seeing,” “gazing,” and “staring” in this story. The reader is invited to imagine the beauty of the bathing Susanna, for example, and thus to relate to the gaze of the hidden elders, who “burn with lust.” Significantly, Daniel catches the deceit of the elders precisely on what they have done, and not on what they have seen. The focused attention of the criminal elders on Susanna is so intent on the attempted rape of her that they give no thought to anything else.

Finally, there is the curious reversal of roles for the figure of Daniel. Susannah is celebrated in this story as the persecuted Jew—persecuted by fellow Jews no less than by the Babylonians—and it is Daniel who assumes the role of the God-sent savior. Indeed, one would have to say that Daniel assumes the role of the angelic messenger—the God-sent salvation in virtually all the other Daniel stories. All of these details will be discussed at more length in the following analysis.

Verses 1-4, Introduction and Setting Among the Babylonian Exiles. The first character to whom the reader is introduced in this story is Joakim, the husband of Susanna.32 He is among the exiles in Babylon, but is apparently 

 

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rather well situated. The text describes him as rich, possessing a home with a fine garden. That Joakim is described as having married Susanna and built his fine home while in exile may well be a nod in the direction of Jeremiah’s advice in his letter to exiles that they marry and build houses (and plant gardens) so that their numbers will not decrease while in exile (see Jeremiah 29).

We know from the book of Ezekiel (chaps. 14 and 20) that elders met in Ezekiel’s home for important gatherings, much as the writer of Susanna reports the elders’ meeting in the home of Joakim. While this detail may be dependent on sources such as Ezekiel, there is reason to believe that it was a significant memory of the sociological circumstances of the Babylonian exiles. This form of limited self-governance in exile is an important indicator that not only were the exiles able to maintain a familiar form of governance, but also that they settled in large enough groups to make this a viable social form.33

The Greek term used for Joakim’s garden (paradeisov" paradeisos) is a Persian loan word from which we also get the English word “paradise” (see 2 Chr 33:20; Neh 2:8). There is another term that generally refers to a small garden (a vegetable garden? see Neh 3:16, 26). When this term is used together with the Greek term for a “paradise” (Eccl 2:5; Sir 24:30-31), it gives the reader the impression that the “paradise,” in contrast to the smaller garden, is a large area kept in a somewhat natural state of beauty. Note that the Garden of Eden is called a “paradise.”

It is significant that Susanna is described as being both beautiful and God-fearing. Is the reader meant to understand that these attributes go together or that they are traits that somehow balance each other? Is feminine beauty a potential danger in a male-oriented reading of these verses? It is not unusual for matriarchs of Israel to be described as beautiful (the description of Sarah [Gen 12:14] and Rachel [Gen 29:17] use the same Greek terms; see also 1 Sam 25:3; 2 Sam 11:2; Ezek 16:13; Jdt 8:7). This very beauty, however, is taken almost inevitably as a foreshadowing of trouble (see Tob 3:14-15; 6:12). In her  work on rape and violence against women, Susan Brownmiller notes the frequency with which rape cases are reported in the media with a comment about the “beauty” of the victim:

The murder of a beautiful young woman is no more regrettable, no greater tragedy, than the murder of a plain one, except in a culture that values beauty in women above other qualities. By putting greater store in the murder of a beauty, beauty acquires the seeds of its own destruction . . . thus the myth that rape is a crime of passion touched off by female beauty is given great credence, and women are influenced to believe that to be raped, and even murdered, is a testament to beauty.34

In contrast to, or in connection with, this beauty, Susanna “fears the Lord.”

The phrase used to describe Susanna as one who “feared the Lord” brings this text into an interesting relation with Sirach. The importance of “fear of the Lord” is repeated frequently in Sirach (Sir 1:13-14; 2:7-9; 6:16; 10:19-20; 21:6; 32:16; 34:14, 16), suggesting a possible relationship between the writer of Susanna and the wisdom tradition in late post-exilic Israel. Susanna, in short, practiced the way of the wise. Many readers, however, regard Sirach as blatantly misogynist (see Sir 25:16-26; 26:5-12; 42:9-14), so one must carefully note the contrasting positive view of a woman in Susanna. In short, one can make too much of wisdom connections (as has occurred frequently since such a suggestion was originally made by von Rad).35 Furthermore, it is noted that Susanna’s parents raised her in the knowledge of the law of Moses. This mention of the law of Moses is rather unique (and not present in the LXX version), but here in Susanna it serves as one piece of an important frame; the parents will be mentioned again in v. 62.

Verses 5-6, Introduction to the Corrupt Elders. Two elders are singled out and are introduced as being newly appointed judges. Verse 5 also features an unknown prophetic saying that is often related to Jer 23:14-15 and to the accusation against false elders in Jer 29:21-23.

The Greek term used here for “wickedness” (ajnomi"a anomia) is used to translate a variety of Hebrew words that are rendered in English 

 

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variously as “sin,” “transgression,” and “iniquity.” Judgment is expressed against elders in Isa 3:14 and 9:15, and such leaders of the people were certainly vilified by Ezra (Ezra 10:14). The internal issues of wickedness suggest that Susanna was written in the Hellenistic era at a time when internal factions among the Jewish people began to tear apart the community and divide it into mutually antagonistic parties (a situation well established by the beginning of the New Testament era). It is this internal emphasis that gives Susanna its unique context in the rest of the book of Daniel.

Verses 7-12, The Lust of the Elders. Susanna takes daily walks in Joakim’s garden—a detail that is essential to the development of the story. As she walks, she is seen by the two elders, who seeing her “desire” her (the term ejpiqumi"a [epithymia] is used for “covet” in Exod 20:17 LXX). The term epithymia runs throughout the story (vv. 8, 11, 14, 20, 56) and is a significant term that appears in wisdom tradition as well. According to Sirach, one is to “desire” wisdom and avoid the cheap lust of foolishness (Sir 16:1; 24:19). Consider also the wisdom context of the advice offered in 4 Maccabees:

Self-control, then, is dominance over the desires [epithymia]. Some desires are mental, others are physical, and reason obviously rules over both. (4 Macc 1:31-32 NRSV)

And why is it amazing that the desires of the mind for the enjoyment of beauty are rendered powerless? It is for this reason, certainly, that the temperate Joseph is praised, because by mental effort he overcame sexual desire. (4 Macc 2:1-2 NRSV)

Verse 9 contains an interesting interrelation of phrases and ideas. The elders do three things: (1) suppress their consciences; (2) turn away their eyes from heaven; and (3) forget their duty to administer justice. The term used in the first phrase, “suppressed” or “perverted,” is common in wisdom literature (see Prov 6:14; 10:9; 11:20; Sir 19:25; 22:23). Perversion of judgment is also known in prophetic literature (see Isa 59:8; Mic 3:9; Hab 1:4).

The phrase “to look into heaven” is not common in the Bible, but similar ideas certainly occur. The book of Isaiah contains a call to vigilance for God’s near deliverance (Isa 51:6) and describes Hezekiah as being weary from “looking into heaven” (Isa 38:14). Similarly Daniel “looked up” from fasting when he turned to God (Dan 10:5). Isaiah 33:15 suggests that people who survive God’s judgment are those who “shut their eyes from looking on evil.” Presumably, then, the phrase is a way to talk about trusting in God, and turning away from heaven is seen as the equivalent of the other two phrases in the verse. Moore notes, incidentally, that “heaven” could also be a replacement for “God” as is the case in the New Testament use of “kingdom of heaven” instead of “kingdom of God.”36 In general, the context reminds the reader of prophetic condemnation of the leaders of the Jewish community.

Verse 12 brilliantly establishes the importance of the “gaze,” a dark sense of watching, in this story. The specific term used here is also used in Ps 37:12, where it is translated into English as: “The wicked plot against [or “watch for opportunities against”] the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them” (NRSV). Note that the wicked also “watched” Daniel to accuse him in Dan 6:12. In the story of Susanna, this gaze is intensified.

Verses 13-14, The Plot Is Set. When, in v. 13, the two elders discover each other heading back to look once again upon the beauty of Susanna, these false judges ply their trade on each other! They “examine” each other with the acumen of lawyers and discover the truth about themselves. They agree to keep each other’s secret, and thus the second act of secrecy appears in the story (the first being the unnoticed watching of Susanna by these same elders, a watching that led to their taking their eyes off heaven). Throughout the story, secrecy is contrasted with openness, as the lustful gaze is contrasted with “seeing” in the sense of knowing the truth. The elders, however, now work in collusion. Brownmiller comments on modern cases:

When men rape in pairs or in gangs, the sheer physical advantage of their position is clear-cut and unquestionable. No simple conquest of man over woman, group rape is the conquest of Men over Women. It is within the phenomenon of group rape, stripped of the possibility of equal combat, that the male ideology of rape is most strongly evident. Numerical odds are proof of brutal intention. They are proof, too, of male bonding . . . and proof of a desire to humiliate the victim beyond the act of rape through the process of anonymous mass assault.37

 

 

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Verses 15-27, The Main Events of the Story. The main events of the story must begin with the elders’ secret entrance into the garden (a third act of secrecy). The writer does not specify when and how these men enter the garden, only that they are there when Susanna prepares to bathe. With the mention of Susanna’s bath, the reader is reminded of David’s walk on the roof of his palace and his lust for Bathsheba as he gazed on her bathing (2 Samuel 11). Like Susanna as well, Bathsheba is described as beautiful. Collins cites a number of other cases in Jewish tradition of men who are filled with desire when watching women bathe.38 The LXX does not include the bath scene at all, however, but instead related that the elders desire her merely from watching her on her occasional walks in the garden.

Unlike David, whose position and power did not necessitate hiding, the elders watch Susanna in secret. Since the elders are in hiding, the maids who attend Susanna do not see them, and so the maids innocently shut the doors of the garden, leaving only the two elders and Susanna in the garden without further witnesses. At the moment the doors are shut the elders become like David. They now have the power of the male over the female, of an elder over a young person, and of judges within the community.

In vv. 19-21, the elders speak as if Susanna can freely choose whether to comply with their desires—but she is not free. It is, rather, an act of coercion. Moore points out that the LXX is much stronger in the insistence of the elders and their initial approach to Susanna—suggesting rape.39 If Susanna is unwilling to have sexual intercourse with each of them, then the judges will use their powerful weapon of false accusation—the word of a trusted official over a mere woman. False accusation by the powerful was the same weapon used against Daniel (Dan 6:25). It is worth pausing to reflect on the fact that false accusation is a threat only when there is an unequal distribution of power. Susanna’s word is not equivalent to the word of the two male judges. Moreover, there are two of them to dispute Susanna’s accusations—two is the required number of witnesses for a capital case (Deuteronomy 19).

In vv. 22-23, Susanna knows that she is threatened with being given over “into the hand” of her oppressor. Daniel, too, suffered the threat of being “in the hand” of his oppressor (Dan 3:15; cf. Deut 7:24; 32:39; 2 Kgs 18:29-30, 33-35; Jer 21:12; Dan 11:41; Mic 4:10).

When faced with such overwhelming power over her, Susanna responds with the cry of the oppressed, “with a loud voice” (v. 24; see also vv. 42 and 60). Susanna thereby also fulfills Deut 22:24, which states that if a woman is threatened with rape within the city (that is, where she could be heard) she must call out; otherwise, she is suspected of complicity.40 The same Greek term used here is used of the Jews crying out from the oppression of Pharaoh (Exod 2:23; 14:10 LXX), and it is the same “weapon” used by Hagar in the wilderness, when she cries out to God (Gen 21:16), who delivers her. Similarly, the Jews cry out for mercy from the king in 3 Macc 5:51. This is not to suggest, however, that this outcry is a special or unique term, but the recurrence of the theme is hardly coincidental. To call out with a loud voice occurs in other important contexts as well. In Num 20:16, the call of the people in slavery is answered by God’s “sending an angel” (an obviously intriguing passage in the context of angelic deliverance in the Daniel tradition); and in Deut 26:7, the call is directed to the “God of our ancestors,” a term noted in the Song of the Three (see also Jdt 4:9, 12; 5:12; Ezek 11:13, where Ezekiel pleads with God not to bring an end to the people).

But as Susanna cries out to God, the elders cry out to the other Jews. The elders make their accusation at this point in Theodotion, but in the LXX, they do not make their accusation public until the tribunal has been gathered. She has presented her fate to the only power that she now has: the delivering power of truth and, ultimately, of God. So Susanna joins Daniel and Mishael and Hananiah and Azariah, among many others, in becoming a model of piety and trustfulness in the context of exile and apparent defeat.

In response to Susanna’s cries, the people in the house come to “see.” But they do not see; 

 

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they only know what the elders tell them. Curiously, it is not said that Susanna tries to tell another version of the events at this point in the story. She is calm before her accusers. The elders’ version of the story is believed instantly; Susanna’s youth and femininity (and beauty?) disqualify her immediately in the face of the older male judges. Even the servants are ashamed of her.

Verses 28-33, The Humiliation of the Oppressed. It is only at this point in the story that we hear of Susanna’s children. When summoned to appear before the judges, Susanna comes with her parents, husband, and children. Although in the Theodotion text the husband is not mentioned specifically (Did he refuse to risk humiliation?), he is noted in the LXX version. Furthermore, as Collins points out, it is significant that they gather back at the house of Joakim—that is, the scene of the crime—so that they can all see the trees about which Daniel will soon question the “witnesses.”41 Why is the family included at this point? Is it because it is precisely the integrity of the family that is at issue here? In circumstances of exile and occupation and colonization, family takes on heightened importance. Memmi, for one, does not necessarily celebrate this fact, suggesting that the family becomes the only place where self-governing authority is still possible.42 But we know that the familial structure was economically important too. Hence the tremendous importance given to the crisis of intermarriage in Ezra–Nehemiah.43

In the Septuagint version of the book of Susanna, she is stripped before her accusers. The intention of the translators was probably to convey that she was stripped naked, at least to the waist. (Being stripped for adultery is attested in Ezek 16:37-39; Hos 2:3, 10.) But there may be more going on here; Susanna has not even been adequately tried before this condemning act of stripping her is called for. The elders desire that Susanna be unveiled, so that they might “look” at her again. No reason is given for the order that Susanna be unveiled. Is her beauty supposed to be taken as further evidence against her by the court that has been called into session? Are we readers invited to be sympathetic to the elders’ lust because of her reputed beauty? Why do they demand this humiliation of her? The Greek terms used here are correctly rendered in English as “feast the eyes” (NRSV). The same complex term is used in Ps 78:29 in reference to being satiated, filled. The Old Greek adds the element of the elders’ lust in looking at her. Thus Susanna is not merely overpowered; she is to be humiliated (note the discussion of the humiliation of the defeated in the Commentary on Daniel 5). 

Verses 34-41, The Denunciation of Susanna. Verse 34 relates that the elders, rising to tell their stories, lay their hands on Susanna’s head. Is this a way of identifying the guilt of the accused? In Lev 3:2, 8, 13 and 4:4, 11, 15, the officiating priest lays his hand on the sacrificial offering, an action intended to transfer punishment of guilt.44 If this is true, then once again her guilt is presumed in their first act, before they even begin to tell their version of the events.

For the significance of “looking into heaven,” see Commentary on v. 9. Here, Susanna’s looking to heaven means trusting in the Lord. To trust in the Lord is an important post-exilic expression for faithfulness. God, according to Nebuchadnezzar, delivered servants who “trusted in him” (Dan 3:28) since no harm came to Daniel in the lions’ den “because he had trusted in God” (Dan 6:23). Sirach teaches the reader to “consider the generations of old and see: has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?” (Sir 2:10 NRSV; see also 11:21; 32:24; see also the trust in God noted in 2 Macc 8:18; 3 Macc 2:4; 4 Macc 7:21). In the post-exilic context, trusting in the Lord is clearly a concept related to the power of God to deliver in circumstances of overwhelming threat. Once again, the writer uses terminology that equates Susanna’s plight with the most serious of threats to Jews by foreigners in the book of Daniel and elsewhere.

The accusation brought against Susanna in vv. 36-41a is adultery. The elders, so they claim, saw her lying with a young man, who escaped when the elders presented themselves to the young 

 

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couple in the course of sexual intimacy. The Greek terms used here make the sexual nature of this accusation clear (see Gen 19:5; 39:10; and Jdt 12:16). In the Theodotion version, the alleged young man was too strong for the elders to restrain him, while in the LXX the young man escapes in disguise. In the Theodotion version, the elders claim to be overpowered, but in reality it is Susanna who is overpowered by the elders’ story. The judges are believed, and Susanna is convicted. The reader is invited to experience indignation at this injustice and to side with, if not identify with, the female against the authority of the male elders.

Verses 42-51, Susanna’s Cry and Daniel’s Arrival. Once again, Susanna is portrayed as the oppressed “crying out” to God. This is obviously an important theme in the story and, as the commentary has indicated, throughout the Bible—especially in the post-exilic period. But what is of further interest here is precisely what Susanna cries out. The phrase “O eternal God” is not widely attested in the Bible (Gen 21:33; Isa 26:4; 40:28), but it is found rather extensively in the book of Daniel (Dan 3:33 [v. 100 of The Song of the Three]; 4:31 [Theodotion]; 7:14, 27; 9:24; 12:2). It appears to be the case that this is yet another of the ways of referring to God (“the living God,” “God of heaven,” etc.) that became popular in the period of exile and occupation.

A second interesting phrase in this prayer is the reference to God as the “knower of secrets” or the “one who knows things hidden” (author’s trans.). This aspect of God is of obvious importance in a story where evil and corruption have been associated with persons, ideas, and thoughts that are hidden. Truth will be a revelation in the sense that it will be released from its captivity at the hands of the powerful. Susanna knows their deceit, of course, and now finally protests her innocence (v. 43). Susanna, once again, is similar to Daniel (see Daniel 6).

Verse 44 is deceptively short, but politically powerful: “The Lord heard her cry.” Compare the hearing of God in stories of two other women of Jewish history and lore: Hagar (Gen 21:12, 17) and Judith (Jdt 4:13; 8:17). In v. 45, God’s action is to stir up trouble for human leaders once again—God’s resistance to human oppression and incompetence. Daniel, now in the role usually expected of an angelic messenger, is “stirred” by the Spirit of God (see Judg 5:12; Isa 51:9, 17; 52:1; Dan 7:4; 11:25; 12:2; 2 Macc 13:4).

Daniel calls out, in prophetic tones, that he will not be a party to the shedding of innocent blood (cf. Jer 7:6 as a classic example of this phrase in prophetic literature; it is used extensively as an image of killing the innocent, especially God’s chosen messengers). Daniel describes the people as “fools.” Jeremiah, too, condemned his listeners as fools (Jer 5:21), and the image of the fool runs through Sirach as the antithesis to the godly, the pious, and the wise: “The mind of fools is in their mouth/ but the mouth of the wise is in their mind” (Sir 21:26; see also Sir 4:27; 8:17; 16:23; 21:14).

Daniel calls on the judges to judge properly. The witnesses have not been thoroughly examined. This is necessary in Jewish law,45 but is the reader to presume from the story that Daniel is reacting to the improper conduct of the trial or to some knowledge he possesses of the events that he has not yet revealed? Should the reader assume that Daniel was clever enough to sense something wrong about the elders’ story or that such knowledge comes with being “stirred” by God? Whatever the reason for Daniel’s coming to Susanna’s defense, the other elders recognize in him a wisdom beyond his years.46 Daniel is invited to come and to finally reveal what has been hidden from everyone but Susanna, the two corrupt judges, and Daniel himself.

Verses 52-59, The Examination of the Judges and the Truth Revealed. Daniel separates the two false judges, intending to examine each of them in turn. He requests that each judge be brought to him separately. What is interesting is that Daniel greets each of them with hostility. 

 

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The first is called “an old relic of wicked days.”47 (Since the “day of adversity” is noted in Isa 50:9; 51:6; Jer 16:19; and Amos 6:3, one may wonder whether “the evil days” that are referred to here are the days leading up to the exile. After all, it was a central tenet of deuteronomistic theology that the exile was brought on by the sins of the people, and the leaders particularly.) Daniel delivers a searing condemnation of the generation of the exile in words similar to those of Jeremiah or Isaiah. In v. 53, Daniel lists the sins of leaders in a manner that is highly stylized in prophetic speech (see Isa 5:23; 29:21; Jer 7:6; 19:4; 22:3, 17) but is also noteworthy in wisdom literature (Prov 17:15; 24:24). 

Verse 54 leaves no doubt that sexual impropriety/adultery is the accusation here (cf. the situation in Judith 12 that uses some of the same Greek terminology). Daniel’s asking the elder about what kind of tree under which this alleged sin took place allows for a clever wordplay in Greek. The type of tree the elder names is called sci’nov (schinos; NAB and NRSV, “mastic”), and Daniel follows this up with a condemnation that calls for the false witness “to be cut in two”, or sci"zw (schizo, v. 55). Moore, interestingly, suggests that we maintain the wordplay even in English and, therefore, supplies “clove tree” and “cleave” in the first instance, and “yew” and “hew” in the second instance.48 It is also noteworthy that an angel appears as an agent of judgment in Daniel’s condemnation of the lying elder.49

Verse 56 mirrors the preceding questioning, this time of the second elder. Once again, Daniel meets the false witness with hostility, and once again the specific vocabulary of abuse is noteworthy: Daniel calls him a “son of Canaan” (NAB and NRSV, “offspring of Canaan”). Both Ezra 9:1 and Neh 9:8 use “Canaanite” as a term of derision, referring to the peoples traditionally conquered by Joshua at the Israelites’ entry into the land; by Ezra’s time, the term had long since ceased to be an accurate description of an actual, contemporary cultural/religious group.50 It is possible that Ezek 16:3 is intended to be a similar slur in the context of delivering a judgment. However, the use of “Canaan” as the name for the people who dwelled in Palestine before the Israelite settlement was common in the late Hellenistic literature (see Judith 5; Bar 3:22; 1 Macc 9:37). Its use here, strikingly, seems to be intended as an ethnic slur. Again, in this accusation, lust is given the blame for leading the judge into sin. The wisdom associations of this idea have already been noted (it plays a role in the beginning of the story, v. 14, and at the end, v. 56), but note also that “corruption” also turns up at the beginning and ending (vv. 9 and 56). There is a circular sense of “just rewards” in the story of Susanna; the lying, lustful elders are condemned for what they gave themselves up to in the beginning.

The contrast between the daughters of Israel and the daughters of Judah is quite interesting, although somewhat obscure. Are we to see in Daniel’s statement a reference to the well-known northern propensity to mix with Canaanite religious ideas on a scale supposedly not tolerated in the southern kingdom before the exile? Collins doubts this, because Susanna herself is called an Israelite earlier, and he suggests that perhaps the later Samaritan split is what is referred to here.51 This would be a post-exilic religious development in the Jewish community. The precise nature of the Samaritan split, however, is still quite controversial,52 so this must remain an enigmatic reference in the story.

When questioned about the kind of tree under which they witnessed Susanna’s “adultery” taking place, the second elder answers, “Under an evergreen oak” (v. 58). The reader is struck by the difference in the testimony of the elders and joins the surrounding community, as if sitting in a modern courtroom, when they all come to know the truth of the matter. The second elder, too, is condemned by Daniel to face the executing angel of God, who stands ready with sword in hand.

Verses 60-64, Reaction and Conclusion. The people cry out, but this time in jubilation. 

 

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God is celebrated as the one who saves those who hope in God (see Pss 33:18; 42:5, 11; 69:6; Sir 34:13; 49:10; 2 Macc 2:18; 7:20; 9:20; 4 Macc 17:4). Verses 61-62 participate in the role-reversal that is typical of the Daniel stories—the guilty are condemned, and the innocent are vindicated.

Five verses seems a lot of text to dedicate to the happy ending of this story, but the passage serves to justify the conclusion that putting the world right and vindicating the innocent are extremely important aspects of the story. This is an idealistic ending—the restoration of the community under the law of Moses. And it is precisely these last five verses that represent the vision and the hope of the writer of the story of Susanna.

The LXX has a rather nice thought at the end:

On account of this, the youths are the beloved of Jacob, in their singlemindedness. Let us also watch out for capable young sons, for youths will be pious, and there will be in them a spirit of knowledge and understanding for ever and ever.53

Given Susanna’s courage, obviously we should amend this quotation to read that we should watch out for capable sons and daughters! Collins suggests that this ending has the tendency to focus the story on youth vs. elders, rather than Theodotion’s emphasis on the courage of Susanna. But we should note that the general themes of innocence, guilt, and truth are all seen as significant in the conclusion of the story. This should not distract the reader from the central elements of the story as a whole—that is, the oppression of the powerless by the powerful.

REFLECTIONS

Germaine Greer has suggested two categories of rape: “grand rape” and “petit rape.” The former is what we ordinarily associate with forcible rape. The latter, however, is a form of rape in which “the seducer in fact has some disproportionately unfair advantage over the woman. He need not threaten her, but it is his superior power which induces her to acquiesce against her will.”54 Clearly, the difference between seduction and rape is not so clear, especially in a case like that of Susanna.

Only when one reads literature on rape does one begin to realize how complicit one becomes in Susanna’s abuse by “understanding” (read: excusing) the near rape of her as just a symptom of the social circumstances of exile. Such a view diminishes Susanna’s suffering and marginalizes her as a possession of her husband and as a temptress (only because she is beautiful). But it is only when we understand the story about rape, when we confront the sobering impact of using the term itself, that the story actually unfolds with all its power as a part of the Daniel corpus about resistance.

Susanna is approached by two men who try to exert their influence, power, and authority over her. The distribution of power and choice is clearly weighted in favor of these elders. She must either give herself to them or face death as a falsely accused adulteress. Susanna’s courage, her turning to God in the face of overwhelming danger, is, therefore, the equivalent to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah standing before Nebuchadnezzar and refusing his command to bow down and pray to him.

The story of Susanna invites us to consider injustice within as well as outside of our religious life. Thus the context of exile is almost an ironic twist—as if to say to the reader, “The Babylonians aren’t the only sources of injustice here.” Finally, we must remember that the story is not only about the sin of the elders, but also about the corruptibility and foolishness of the entire exiled community. The elders are not the only fools identified by the young

 

 

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Daniel. The community in the story of Susanna is ready to judge her without a trial, and she is marched through a kangaroo court. The community, too, is showing signs of internal corruption and lack of fortitude. Daniel calls for solidarity as well as wisdom when he labels them fools for condemning “a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts” (v. 48 NRSV). Note, further, the enigmatic saying “This is how you have been treating the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not tolerate your wickedness” (v. 57 NRSV). It has been speculated that this verse refers to conditions before the exile, or perhaps to the Samaritan split (i.e., Samaritans=north/Israelites). In at least one significant passage, “daughters” is a metaphor for the people as a whole. In Ezekiel 23, the northern kingdom, called Oholah (Samaria), and the southern kingdom, called Oholibah (Jerusalem), are condemned for having committed “adultery” with Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt. If Daniel intends a similar metaphor, then the “daughters” are the people as a whole, corrupted by the “foreigners,” implied in his calling the corrupt elders “Canaanite” (v. 56). Susanna’s treatment, then, is severely condemned by Daniel in terms that suggest that the elder’s behavior is equivalent to idolatrous behavior of the people as a whole in previous eras.

It is clear that Susanna goes through all the steps of the otherwise oppressed male Jews in the Daniel tradition: confrontation with an overpowering threat, calling out to God, angelic/miraculous delivery, and punishment of the accusers. Reflection on this detail calls on us to face a most uncomfortable reality in the modern church: We can become so wrapped up in the faith and justice issues of the world that we fail to address the insidious presence of injustice within our own fellowship. 

The continued second-class status of women within some churches, and particularly the continued refusal of some faith traditions to accept a woman’s call to equal leadership in ministry, is simply an acceptance of the world’s judgment of women, and it makes a mockery of the church’s claim to seek justice and the full expression of the kingdom of God within our world.55 Those who would continue such suppression and oppression, even in the church, ought to keep in mind that the story of Susanna emphasizes that “the Lord heard her cry”! 

 

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Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 20 2012 6:57 PM

Proverbs 27:1-22, On Friendship and Paradox

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COMMENTARY

The twenty-two proverbs here gathered are the last in the first half of the Hezekian collection (see Commentary on 25:1), and they have much the character of a proverb miscellany. Two topics do receive emphasis, however: friendship and paradoxical twists in human relations. The proverbs of this section are generally joined as pairs, but in some instances they are connected in “leap-frog” or “plaited” fashion, with one saying linked to the second saying following (see also Proverbs 29). The poem in 27:23-27 rounds off the subcollection; compare the poems in 23:29-35; 24:30-34; and 31:10-31, which ends the entire book.

27:1-2. These verses are linked by a common term; in Hebrew, “praise” and “boast” are the same word (llh hAlal). Verse 1 sounds much like Ecclesiastes, with its pervasive focus on the limits of human life and knowledge. The advice (an admonition with motive) is obvious and has parallels in many societies. For instance, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Yet we frequently ignore such obvious common sense. The proverb in 1 Kgs 20:11, with its surrounding narrative, gives similar advice in the context of preparing for battle: “One who puts on armor should not brag like one who takes it off” (NRSV). Confidence regarding the future must be realistic, modest, and grounded in the fear of the Lord (31:25, 30; see Commentary on 20:24). Only God is master of the future (16:1, 9; Jas 4:13-17). Thus Jeremiah urges the wise, the mighty, and the rich to boast only in knowing Yahweh (Jer 9:23-24; for “knowing” God, see Jer 22:13-16).

Verse 2 is another “obvious” admonition. It, too, is routinely ignored by people who may be insecure, feel undervalued, or are vain and proud—perhaps all at the same time. This admonition gives no grounds for the advice, but a little observation shows how much people resent others who are “full of themselves” or who “toot their own horn.” Self-praise is generally counterproductive. On the other hand, some Christian bodies fail to affirm their various, diverse members, perhaps for fear of “making” others proud (see Commentary on 12:8). In such communities mutual praise grows silent and unity of spirit flags. The words here for “another” and “stranger” also describe the “strange” or “foreign” woman (see 2:16 and Reflections at 5:1-23).

 

 

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27:3-4. Another pair, these verses are linked in form and in presenting a crescendo of emotions culminating in jealousy as the most unbearable (see Gen 49:7). The images of v. 3 generate a paradox: Heavier for humans than stone or sand is the “immaterial” burden of a fool’s provocation (see Job 6:2-3; Sir 22:14-15). “Provocation” can also refer to “anger” (see v. 4) and to “grief,” such as what a foolish youth can give parents (17:25; see 21:19). In v. 4, “jealousy” arises out of an offended, properly exclusive love’s being violated (6:34; see 14:30). The rhetorical question, “Who can stand?” expects the answer, “No one.”

27:5-6. These verses are a pair of paradoxes on the “tough love” that is sometimes required in faithful relationships. The pair is linked by repetition of the root for “love” (bha )Aheb, “friend” in v. 6), so that v. 6 comments on the paradox of v. 5. The word translated “profuse” or “multiplies” (rt[ (Atar) is uncertain, but may mean “excessive” in the transferred sense of “false.”290 Kisses from an enemy are the ultimate betrayal (Matt 26:48-50).

27:7-8. Although v. 7 at first glance appears isolated, it shares an alliterative use of n (nun) with v. 8 and continues the sequence of paradoxes. In juxtaposition with v. 8, there may be an allusion here to honey as an erotic metaphor for the “strange” or “foreign woman,” whose end is “bitter” (see Commentary on 5:3-4; 9:17; 24:13-14). If this is correct, then vv. 7-8 have been paired editorially (note also the mention of jealousy, love, and kisses in vv. 4-6 and of the foreign woman in v. 13b [NRSV margin]; cf. 6:32-34; 7:13, 18). The satisfied husband is content and does not wander like an errant bird from the nest (see 7:19). People controlled by lust or hunger cannot or do not discriminate.

Verse 7 can also stand independently as an astute observation into human behavior and as a suggestive metaphor with many applications: “Appetite is the best pickle,” and “Hunger is the best cook.” In contrast, the wealthy may have a spoiled appetite. At a deeper level, the inversion of “bitter” and “sweet” serves as a metaphor for moral and spiritual confusion. The wise should be able to tell the two apart, because they know the proper order of things (Isa 5:20-23). In extreme cases, as survivors of war and famine know, all-consuming hunger can utterly confuse human judgments of what is right and what is wrong (see 2 Kgs 6:24-31).

When read as an independent saying, v. 8 evinces a profound regard for human roots in place and history. It has a parallel in Isa 16:2-3, which refers to the homelessness of exile (“home” here is lit., “place”).

27:9-10. These verses form a pair linked by the key word “friend” ([r rea(). The LXX adds “wine” to those things that make the heart glad (see 27:11; Ps 104:15). Wisdom also knows, however, that too much love of good things is folly (see 21:17). The Hebrew of v. 9b (vpn-_|A-tx[m wh[r qtmw ûmeteq re(ehû me(azat-nApes) is notoriously difficult. The NRSV thus opts to translate the LXX, which provides a good antithesis to v. 9a. There are good reasons for attempting to make sense of the Hebrew, however. The image of sweetness has already appeared in v. 7, in collocation with “appetite”/“soul”/ “person” (vpn nepes), a combination also appearing in v. 9b. Verse 9b, as noted, is also tied to v. 10 through repetition of “friend” (for this term, see Commentary on 17:17-18). The Hebrew may be translated either as in the NIV or as “a friend’s sweetness (gladdens) more than one’s own counsel,” with the verb from v. 9a doing double duty.291 On this reading, “sweetness” refers to a quality of speech or counsel (see 16:21, 24; 24:13-14; Ps 55:14). Some suggest that “sweetness” (qtm meteq) actually means “counsel.” Thus, “a friend’s counsel [with a pun on “sweetness”] is better than one’s own advice”—“two heads are better than one.” The line remains uncertain.

Verse 10 is an admonition that insists on solidarity both in the extended family and among friends and neighbors (see Commentary on 17:17-18). Although siblings are one’s most natural allies, one needs to avoid overreliance on them or (in the extended sense of “brother”) on clan and covenant partners (see 25:16-17). The somewhat unusual addition of a third line (see 25:13) sharpens the point that family alone is not enough for well-being. It observes realistically that a dis-

 

 

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tant brother can do less good than a close neighbor, a thought that partially corroborates the earlier observation on wandering from one’s “place” (v. 8).

27:11. This verse concludes the first half of the twenty-two verses (see Commentary on 23:15). Like v. 10, it is an admonition, addressed to “my son” and urging him to be wise (see Commentary on 10:1). For the expression “makes the heart glad,” see Commentary on 27:9. The admonition reflects an intense sense of family solidarity and the mutual pride of the generations in one another (see 17:6). In Israel’s patriarchal honor-and-shame culture, one needed to be able to answer those who sought to bring shame on the family (for the idiom, see Ps 119:42). Thus the honor of a “father’s house” is preserved.

27:12-13. With minuscule variations, v. 12 duplicates 22:3, and v. 13, another admonition, repeats 20:16. Together these verses may partially spell out what the parent in v. 11 understands a wise son to be. A son who does not look ahead (v. 12) is likely to end up in the predicament described in v. 13. The variant in v. 13b refers to the foreign woman, which may be an editorial attempt to connect this passage with chaps. 1–9.

27:14. The focus turns from the “stranger” (v. 13) back to the “neighbor” of v. 10. It portrays a humorous failure of fittingness (see Commentary on 25:20; 26:1-12), where a blessing is received as if it were a curse, because it is delivered at the wrong time (“early in the morning,” perhaps a gloss, but see Sir 22:6) or in the wrong manner (“with a loud voice”).

27:15-16. Verse 15 is related to a number of sayings on the quarrelsome wife (see Commentary on 21:9, 19; 25:24), and the entire verse is an expansion of 19:13b (see vv. 12-13, which are also variants of other sayings). Verse 16, however, has not been satisfactorily explained, though its connection with v. 15 is patent.

27:17. This verse is another saying on friendship, with a leap-frog link to v. 19. The saying is simple and profound with its metallurgical metaphor of sharpening (the translations assume minor repointing of the verbs). “The wits of another” is literally “the face of his friend” ([r rea(; see Commentary on 27:9-10). “Face” is puzzling, but it may be explained as a continuation of the metaphor of sharpening, since the working edge of a sword or knife is called its “face” (Eccl 10:10; Ezek 21:21).292 Another solution is to presume a different root for the second verb and translate, “one man makes the face of his friend glad” (cf. 15:13a for a similar idiom).293 But this damages the parallel and point of the sharpening metaphor.

27:18. The writer assumes that every person has an honor or glory appropriate to his or her calling, no matter how humble, and that faithful service receives its reward. Often this is an increase in status and responsibility, as in the well-known stories of Joseph and Daniel in foreign courts. See the Commentary on 26:1 for the meaning of “honor” and its social misapplication.

27:19. This saying is a somewhat cryptic, non-verbal sentence; lit., “as water, the face to the face, so the man’s heart to the man.” The translators have supplied “reflects,” assuming that it or something similar is implicit. The translations of v. 19b reveal the major interpretative problem in the verse. Does a man’s heart (see Excursus, “The ‘Heart’ in the Old Testament,” 60-61) reflect the man (!dah hA)AdAm) to himself (NIV)? On this reading, one comes to self-knowledge by internal self-examination. Or does one heart reflect another person’s heart (NRSV)? The latter reading is preferable, because it reinforces the link in form and meaning with v. 17 and the theme of friendship, which dominates this section.

27:20. This verse is simple but deep. For “Sheol” and “Abaddon” see Commentary on 15:11. The grave is never satisfied or filled with the generations of the dead; it never says, “Enough” (30:15b-16).

27:21-22. Both sayings concern the possibility of personal refinement. Verse 21 forms an envelope on “praise”/“boasting” with vv. 1-2 (see also 12:8; 31:30). It uses a metallurgical image to portray the process by which persons are tested. Verse 21a is a duplicate of 17:3, but v. 21b heads in another direction. The thought seems to be that praise is a test of a person’s mettle. Will it “go to one’s head,” or will the person remain even-keeled with realistic self-assessment (11:2)? Verse 22 uses the image of a mortar and a pestle to show the impossibility of separating fools from their folly.

 

 

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REFLECTIONS

1. “Open rebuke” may be the means by which a true friend wounds a loved one, as a surgeon wounds a patient to do good in the end (27:5-6; see 28:23; Deut 8:16). Rebuke can be given and received in a spirit of wisdom (13:18; 15:31-32; 25:12). Though painful, it is better than hidden love, which remains useless, like some treasure buried in a field (Matt 13:44; 25:25). It is not just the thought that counts. Rather, if actions speak louder than words, then they speak immeasurably louder than mere thoughts. Love must manifest itself in wise, appropriate action, because we humans are embodied creatures, made of earth and air. To assert that only one’s heart or soul matters is a form of gnosticism that devalues God’s good creation. It is true that Paul championed faith without works, but he did so only to assert the indispensability and sufficiency of grace. Nonetheless, Paul also insisted on faith with works, endurance based in hope, and love that labors and suffers in concrete, visible ways (1 Thess 1:3; cf. Rom 5:1-5). The paradox of Prov 27:5-6 is explored in Shakespeare’s great tragedy King Lear. Though even his fool knows better, Lear prefers false flattery to Cordelia’s silent, but honest, love.

2. To stray or wander away can have a variety of causes (27:8; Sir 29:18-28; 39:4). In the biblical story, Cain is the first to wander the earth (Gen 4:12-16). Cut off from the roots that nourish us (geography, family, nation, culture, and community), we are diminished. In these realities, we find our home, our work, our vocation, our blessing. The rootlessness of modern life is an affliction all the more acute because we often suffer it unawares and confuse it with freedom. And yet, Abraham left his home to find a new home, a new city whose maker and builder was God (Gen 12:1-3; Heb 11:8-10). A basic tension of human life is that we are earthlings, made from the earth (Gen 2:7); and yet we have no abiding home here, until all things will be made new in a new creation in which “righteousness is at home” (2 Pet 3:13).

3. Friendship is a major concern of Proverbs 27. Verse 17 focuses on the sharpening effect friends have on one another, presumably because they are not afraid to exercise tough love (27:5-6). Verse 19 treats a related aspect of friendship, the mutuality of self-knowledge and knowledge of the other. We know ourselves as we know, and are known by, others. The self refracted through another self becomes richer and is more clearly seen. Through such a dialectic of personal knowledge, two souls can be knit together in love (1 Sam 18:1-4). In another cultural setting, Aristotle observed that the good person relates to a friend as to oneself, for a friend is “another self.”294 This mutuality of hearts and souls should not be restricted to voluntary friendship. It is utterly essential to the state of being one flesh in marriage. On a much larger scale, when God renews the chosen people, they will be given “one heart and one way” (Jer 32:39 NRSV).

4. The comparison of Sheol to the insatiable human eye (27:20) should give pause on two counts. The Preacher says that the eye is never satisfied with riches (Eccl 4:8; see 1:8), even though death is inescapable. More than that, it is as if the eye feeds on death, and this may be the main point. The “lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16 NKJV) turns the good things of creation into something deadly to the self. Advertising in our industrial-capitalistic society ceaselessly stimulates visual desire and promotes unwearying covetousness of things and persons (as objects for sex or control). Delitzsch quotes an old Arab proverb, “Nothing fills the eyes of man but at last the dust of the grave.”295

Posts 15
Ellis I. Washington | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Feb 22 2012 8:08 AM

I for one, really am anxious to see this published if, for no other reason, the diversity of authorship that is sorely missed in the selection of resources currently offered by Logos.

Posts 2527
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Feb 22 2012 8:37 PM

The 97 contributors make up a rich mosaic including top evangelical, catholic and mainline protestant scholars. I have scene several times too people asking about a good commentary on the Apocrypha and while something like anchor covers more books, I love the treatment of the Apocrypha (deutercanon to our Catholic brethren). So often like the lange commentary you are left with a very second hand treatment of the books. In the NIB they are treated as books worthy of study and application, for while many  in the church do not accept them as scriptures I wish more people war like Luther who considered them solid edifying works that he commended Christians to read, much as the Church of England has done. Whether they were ever treated as Scripture during Jesus' time they were part of the culture of religion in which our faith was born. The churches early Old Testament was the greek text which included them, and i prefer to have them in my Bible and am very happy that the NIB includes them. Hopefully a few more will take the leap of faith and get this work into production. I will try to post another sample later this week. By no means is this some perfect commentary but as far as I am concerned it would be enough if it is all I had, and I can not wait to get it on my computer be it in Olivetree or Logos.

-dan

 

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