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

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Feb 23 2012 6:15 PM

AMOS 5:21-27, WHAT DOES GOD REQUIRE?

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COMMENTARY

Amos has said that frequenting the sanctuaries is equivalent to rebellion against God and seems to have ridiculed the offering of sacrifice (4:4-5). He has also claimed that God is not to be found at Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba (5:4-5). Now comes a fierce divine rejection of the way the Israelites have been worshiping. God wants no part of their holy days, of their offerings, or even of their hymns of praise. God wants justice and righteousness.

Is the subject of the passage what is wrong with worship? It was interpreted that way for many years, along with similar texts in Isa 1:10-17; Jer 7:21-23; Hos 6:6; and Mic 6:6-8. It was said that the prophets condemned ritual in favor of pure, spiritual worship, but that interpretation stumbles over the fact that Isaiah also says that God even refuses to hear the prayers of his contemporaries. There is general agreement now that the point of these passages is not what is wrong with worship, but what is wrong with the worshipers. “Let justice roll down like waters” (v. 24) and the comparable conclusions in the other prophets are statements of the preconditions for acceptable worship. Amos does not intend to replace ritual with social action. Rather, what goes on in society must correspond to what is said and done in worship. Amos tells us that God does not accept the worship of those who show no interest in justice in their daily lives.

Once again his vigorous use of imagery appears. Many of the wadis in Israel are dry most of the year, and when it rains they are subject to flash flooding. The wadis are no metaphor to use for justice in the gate, then. Justice should be like the constant streams whose life-giving water can be depended on every day of the year. The verb in v. 24 is a jussive—i.e., it has the force of an impersonal command. No promise, however conditional, is attached to it. It stands, near the very middle of the book, as God’s unconditional requirement, if life is to continue. To extend Amos’s metaphor, since Israel has failed to maintain justice, it will be the torrent in which they will drown (cf. 5:8b).

The last three verses of the chapter are fraught with problems. Some scholars think v. 26 belongs with v. 25; others read it with v. 27. The tense of the verb in v. 26 has been taken as past, present, or future; and v. 27 has been read as both past and future. If the question in v. 25 calls for a negative answer (and it is hard to read it otherwise), how can that be correlated with the Pentateuch, which speaks of many sacrifices in the wilderness? Harper records eight different explanations of the verse. The translation of v. 26 remains uncertain, especially the translation of twks (sikkût) and @wyk (kiyyûn). Harper lists six different interpretations of this verse.51

Since Jer 7:21-22 also seems to speak of wilderness as a time without sacrifice, there may have been an alternate wilderness tradition in Israel, now preserved in only these two places. Amos and Jeremiah may have been referring to a belief that the sacrificial cult was largely of Canaanite origin, as in fact seems to be true. An alternate reading takes the question to mean, “Was it only sacrifice that you brought me . . . ?”

The ancient versions all translate v. 26 in the past tense (cf. Acts 7:42-43), but there is no other hint in the OT that Israel remembered having practiced this kind of idolatry in the wilderness. It might refer instead to the immediate past, to idolatry in Samaria, and this is probably what the NIV intends. Other interpreters take it as an interrogative past tense, continuing the rhetorical question of v. 25 and expecting a negative answer: “Did you lift up . . . ?” But most translators connect it instead with v. 27, making it a reference to the future, to carrying idols with them into exile. The two most commonly suggested renderings of the words sikkût and kiyyûn are represented by the NRSV and the NIV translations. The NIV takes the words to be derivatives of common Hebrew nouns, while the NRSV considers them to be distorted forms of the names of Assyrian astral deities. If “Sakkuth” and “Kaiwan” are the correct readings, this raises the question of how early the northern kingdom became acquainted with those cults. Neither approach solves all the problems of this verse, which remains the most difficult one in the book of Amos.

The chapter concludes with the explicit threat

 

 

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of exile. “Beyond Damascus” need not be taken as a specific reference to Assyria as the enemy, since Assyria is never mentioned elsewhere in the book. At that time, “beyond Damascus” was just the most likely direction for a deportation from the northern kingdom to take place.

REFLECTIONS

By this point in the book it has become clear that Amos expects the disaster that God will bring upon Israel in the near future to be so extensive that Amos must speak of the nation’s death. It is a terrible thought. Consider any of the small nations of the world today, and imagine being a citizen of a neighboring country and going to that small nation to inform its people that soon they would no longer exist as a nation. Worse yet, imagine trying to convince them that this was the will of their god. How could such destruction and death be the will of any god? That is the theological problem Amos and the other pre-exilic prophets created for their people, and the problem remains for us. Let us try to read Amos this way, and then let the rest of Scripture add something to Amos.

Amos was convinced that Israel soon would fall prey to an invader. Israelite theology had taught him to see the hand of God in every event, but he might have theologized that in two different ways. The invader (and Amos does not seem to know it will be Assyria) might be seen as the enemy of God and God’s people, and Amos might have spoken of God’s forthcoming judgment of them, as later prophets did in their oracles against the nations (e.g., Isa 37:22-29; Jeremiah 50–51; Ezekiel 25). Instead, Amos was inspired to recognize that the daily life of Israel had completely given up the ethical standards of the Yahwistic religion. Whether he thought in terms of “covenant theology” or not, he clearly saw the treatment of the poor in Israel as a fundamental rejection of the relationship that Yahweh had established with Israel, which required obedience not only in worship but also in the maintenance of a just society. We might describe his evaluation in this way: It was an unhealthy society, so sick it could not survive much longer. But Amos spoke in terms of God’s activity in history. The death of Israel would not be from “natural causes”; it would be God’s work. We must not then conclude that God prefers to work via killing and burning.52 God allows human beings to chart their own courses, then finds ways to work through, or in spite of, what they do. The Assyrians would have come against Israel anyway, for their own reasons, and the later prophets will insist that God judges the Assyrians for their cruelty, but God has also found ways to accomplish the divine purpose through even such sinful acts. Amos shows no indication that he knows what that ultimate purpose is (unless 9:15-16 is a hint of it). He speaks of death, but later prophets saw beyond that to new life to be created by God even out of the turmoil and agony of empire building in the ancient Near East.

1. The Meaning of Exile. Theological reflection on the place the exiling of God’s people plays in the message of the whole Bible leads to conclusions that reach far beyond disasters that occurred in the eighth and sixth centuries BCE. Amos dealt with more than an eighthcentury crisis. His message is in continuity with the New Testament’s depiction of the predicament of humanity as a whole, at least as Paul described it. At first, Israel’s loss of the promised land does not appear to be a subject of any interest to New Testament writers, but there is a trajectory concerning the human dilemma and what God is doing about it that can be traced briefly here, from Amos to Paul.

Israel’s earlier traditions may have included threats of insecurity and loss of prosperity in the promised land if the people disobeyed the God who had given it to them.53 Amos, however,

 

 

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seems to have been the first to claim that they might lose the land itself. He speaks of exile, the deportation of most of the Israelite population to some other country, in 4:3; 5:5, 27; 6:7; 7:11, 17; 9:4. A promise of restoration from exile appears at the very end of the book (9:15), but that may not be as old as the time of Amos, for a theology of exile and restoration is not developed within the book. When the book was produced the idea was evidently still too new to have produced any theological reflection. A short time later, Hosea found a way to speak of it in terms of Israelite theology: Exile becomes a reversal of the classical history of salvation—back to the wilderness (2:14; 12:9) or back to Egypt (Hos 8:13; 9:3, 6). Even though Hosea knew that the actual physical location of the exile would be Assyria (Hos 9:3; 11:11), theologically it would be the negation of the exodus. That raised the question as to whether there might be a new exodus (Hos 11:10-11), a theme developed later by Judean prophets (e.g., Ezek 20:33-44; Isaiah 43).

Deportations, the scattering of whole populations, have occurred again and again throughout history. The twentieth century produced the term “political refugee” as a new way of speaking of exile. Only one such exile has produced a new people, committed to living in obedience to their God, with a Scripture that was the direct result of that exile experience, and that was the Judean exile in Babylonia during the sixth century. Amos does not foresee that, however. The exile of the northern kingdom populace produced no such results, but the Judean prophets who followed Amos saw exile as death, as he did. That God must work through death—of a nation historically; of the Son of God on the cross; or of the sinful self, as Paul put it (Rom 6:4; 7:4; 8:10; cf. Col 2:11-14)—is one of the great mysteries of our troubled relationship with God, which Amos puts on our theological agenda. The New Testament insists that the question is not, Was Israel so bad they had to die? Neither was it, How could the first-century Jews be so bad that Jesus had to die? The question is, What is so wrong with us that Paul must speak of God’s work on our behalf as calling for us to die and rise with Christ? Amos already anticipates that question.

2. Justice as the Basis for a Healthy Society. Justice is probably the word most often associated with Amos because of 5:24, but the word itself occurs only in 5:7, 15, 24; 6:12. Without question, it is the perversion of justice that Amos has diagnosed as the major cause of Israel’s fatal illness. This has brought the book out of its relative obscurity in Jewish and Christian history, with the rise of the social gospel late in the nineteenth century and of liberation theology late in the twentieth. Amos should not be distorted into a social gospel tract, however, for Amos was not a reformer; neither was he a liberation theologian, for “the end has come upon my people Israel” is a strange kind of liberation.

The intensity of his condemnation of the oppression of the poor and the weak has rightly been taken to heart by reformers, however. Any society that can be diagnosed the way Amos saw the northern kingdom can truthfully be said to be one that will not continue to provide abundance for the few at the expense of the many for very long. We are likely to think first of the deficiencies of economic systems, because of the Marxist critique of capitalism and then the failure of Marxist systems; but it is important to notice the strong emphasis Amos puts on failures of the legal system. We are living in a time when respect for legal systems is breaking down, because those systems obviously are not working as they should. The prophets, beginning with Amos, had in Israelite tradition a legal system based on principles of equality to which they could appeal. They were not creating new ethical standards, but were holding up the failures of the present order against the standards of law, which were being widely ignored. Here is a parallel between us and the prophets. Western civilization also has such a legal tradition, which can in fact be traced back in part to the Old Testament. The prophets challenge us not to proclaim the end is near because of our current failures, but to continue to remind our society of our classical principles of justice and to expose the failures to put them into practice, which still leave the poor and the weak without justice.

 

 

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Amos has no program for change; it was too late for that. He offers an explanation of what has gone wrong and why it is so wrong that God must intervene in a drastic way. Later generations would see that he was right when he said the end was near, and they would accept his explanation of it as true. For them his words became an imperative to take his advocacy of the law with the utmost seriousness, as they saw what failure to establish justice had done. The exilic and post-exilic Jewish communities set about to make sure their society was such that no prophet like Amos need rise again. As long as we are not convinced it is too late and believe we still have a chance, we also should read the book the way those exiles read Amos—as a challenge not to make the mistake ancient Israel made.

 

 

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Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Feb 24 2012 7:35 PM

Acts 20:17-38, PAUL’S SPEECH OF SUCCESSION

 

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COMMENTARY

Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders at Miletus brings to fitting conclusion his controversial mission to the city of Ephesus. Because it is his only speech addressed to believers, it carries paradigmatic value for the readers of Acts. We may insinuate what Paul says to the Ephesian elders into other stories in which Paul makes pastoral house calls to organize and encourage fledgling Christian congregations. His sermon topics concerning Christian leadership and character, in which he is exemplary, are particularly relevant themes of Paul’s ongoing mentoring ministry.

S. Walton has noted the centrality of the Miletus discourse to the ongoing debate over whether Luke used any of Paul’s letters when writing Acts.643 In contrast to Paul’s missionary speeches or legal briefs, this one addresses a pastoral setting similar to his letters, many of which convey similar concerns and interests.644 For this reason an analysis of this speech may prove to have special importance in understanding the relationship between the Paul of Acts and the Pauline letters.645 All the speeches of Acts are composed by Luke, and this one in particular is a piece of his finished portrait of Paul; however, its topics and theological conception are substantially Pauline,646 so much so that C. Hemer thinks it possible to consider it Luke’s précis of Paul’s actual words, of which Luke was an auditor.647 While the majority of modern commentators remain uncertain about whether Luke witnessed this event or had direct access to any of his letters, they concur that he at the very least used Pauline sources to compose a speech that substantially agrees with the Pauline letters in its portrait of Paul and presentation of his message.648 What must be added to this conclusion, however, is that Luke conveys an idealized representation of a canonical Paul whose Miletus

 

 

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message he intends to function as formative of Christian mission well into the future.649 

The question of the speech’s literary genre is also pertinent to any discussion of its wider role within the NT canon. There is virtual unanimity among commentators that this is Paul’s farewell speech, serving to publish his “last will and testament” to a gathering of close associates and friends.650 There is one problem with this consensus: Paul does not die in Acts. For this reason, I am inclined to consider this speech more narrowly as a “speech of succession,” occasioned by Paul’s departure from Ephesus when it is appropriate to charge newly appointed leaders to continue his work in his absence. In this sense, it functions within Acts in a manner similar to the opening narrative, where details of the apostolic succession of Jesus are given (see 1:3-14; also 12:1-17; cf. Luke 22:14-38; 24:36-53).651 In that earlier story, Jesus prepares his apostles for their future ministry in light of his departure (1) by reviewing and interpreting his past suffering, proofs of his resurrection (cf. 20:7-12), and his message of God’s kingdom (see 1:3); (2) against the horizon of his future ascension/departure from them (1:2); (3) and in retrospect of John’s promise of the Spirit (1:4-5), (4) the Lord charges his apostles to bring a Spirit-empowered witness of him to restore Israel as a light to the nations (1:6-8). (5) The succession is completed with Jesus’ departure into the heavens (1:9-11). The purpose of Jesus’ final speech to his apostles is not to bid them farewell but to commission them for a future mission that continues what he has begun to do and to say as Messiah (see 1:1).652 

If the interpreter considers Paul’s Miletus speech and departure as roughly analogous in form and function to the Lord’s final speech to his apostles, then the following sketch of topics emerges (see below):653 (1) Paul rehearses his past ministry, relating his suffering and testimony (20:18b-20) (2) against the horizon of his future departure from them (20:21-25) and (3) in retrospect of his ministry among them (20:26-27). (4) Paul then charges the Ephesian elders to care for the church of God (20:28-35). (5) The succession is completed with Paul’s departure from them (20:36-38). Paul’s purpose is pastoral preparation; his aim is to equip his successors to continue what he has begun to do and say in Ephesus, knowing that his departure from the city and its Christian congregation is now final (20:25).

These various literary and redactional conclusions point to the value of this speech in framing an approach to Paul’s epistolary witness. What the Paul of Acts says to his successors in Asia forms a rhetorical ethos that cultivates the living reader’s confidence in his exemplary persona and trustworthy instruction and has lasting importance for the church catholic in every generation. By extension, then, if the Paul of Acts has lasting importance as the spiritual exemplar and theological mentor of God’s people, then the Pauline letters supply his theological primer and personal testimony to their living readers who are confident of his lasting importance in their Christian formation. In this regard, the themes of his speech suggest touch-points with his letters that help to fashion a coherent theological understanding of their collective witness to “the whole counsel of God”–for example, faithful and humble leadership, costly suffering of consecrated service to God, congregational welfare over personal gain, threats against the church.654 

Paul’s discourse also concerns those who are responsible for transmitting and interpreting his legacy to others in his absence. His previous mission in Ephesus laid a foundation, and his gospel defined its theological boundaries; yet, this deposit of God’s grace is under constant threat, and spiritual vigilance is required of those who are custodians of it. These Pauline inheritors are charged to imitate their mentor’s faithfulness no matter the cost, without which his precious legacy has no future. By extension, if the Pauline letters are the textual precipitate of Paul’s legacy, then their future in the church is predicated on faithful interpreters who firmly embrace Paul’s testimony to

 

 

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God’s grace and imitate his faithful service to God’s calling. The responsibility of interpreting Paul for the next generation of believers is no longer a matter of casting lots or of holding ecclesial office, but of good character and orthodox belief in faithful imitation of Paul.

20:17-18a.  This brief introduction to the speech sets its stage and tone: Paul “sent a message” (metakalevw metakaleo) to Ephesus asking that the “elders [presbuvteroi presbyteroi] of the church” meet with him in Miletus. Luke assumes that a council of elders leads in the formation of Christian congregations from the very beginning of the mission to the nations (see 11:30; 14:23; 15:6; 16:4). The use of metakaleo suggests that this is a meeting according to God’s plans, which gives it an air of importance (see 10:32). 

20:18b-27.  The first half of Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders concentrates their attention on his legacy. It is enclosed by an apologia of his past ministry at Ephesus, which he characterizes as faithful both to his prophetic calling (vv. 18b-21) and to his congregants (vv. 26-27). Sandwiched between is a prophecy of his future suffering in Jerusalem (vv. 22-24) and an assertion on this basis that he will not return to Ephesus (v. 25).

20:18b-21.  In a single Greek sentence, the Paul of Acts defends his Asian mission, centered in Ephesus, in two integral movements. The first appeals to the entire body of evidence of “how I lived among you” (cf. 1 Thess 2:1-2; 5:10-11; Phil 4:15)–a life characterized by humble service to the Lord and by costly endurance of “the plots of the Jews” (v. 19; cf. 2 Cor 1:3-11). While testimony of his “humility”655 reflects Paul’s commentary on his inward affections (cf. 2 Cor 10:1; 11:7; 1 Thess 2:6), the appeal to consider his suffering, which resulted from various plots against him, is more empirical and invites his auditors to evaluate the hard evidence in his favor. The reader too can participate in this review by recalling the narrative of his Ephesian mission in consideration of Paul’s struggles there (see 19:8-10; 20:3; cf. 20:33-34).

The second broad movement concerns the disposition of his pastoral obligations to the Ephesian church. Paul’s description of prophetic tasks performed is exemplary of Christian leadership for the church’s future; he will later recall these same images as characteristic of ministry that continues his legacy in his absence. He asserts that in general he “did not shrink from doing anything helpful.” On the one hand, Paul does not shrink from his calling to teach the congregations (“house to house”; see 15:16-17; cf. Rom 16:5; Phlm 21) his mission has founded–unlike Judas, for example, whose betrayal of Jesus was a repudiation of his divine appointment to care for the messianic community (1:16b-17). On the other hand, Paul does not shrink from the message he publicly proclaims “to Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus” (v. 21; cf. Rom 10:8-13). Not only is there a practical apostasy that Paul avoids in his regular ministry among believing households; there is also a theological apostasy that Paul avoids in defending the truth claims of the gospel, which he summarizes by the Lukan catchwords “repentance” and “faith.”

20:22-24. The shift from apologia (retrospect) to prophecy (prospect) is signaled by the appearance of the phrase kai; nu`n ijdou` (kai nyn idou, “And now I . . .”). Even as Paul’s faithfulness is made evident by his costly devotion to the tasks of the prophet-like-Jesus, he is also faithful or “captive/compelled” (v. 22) to/by what the “Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me” (v. 23). Details of a particular revelation from the Spirit to Paul are not mentioned. In fact, he claims that he does not know what will happen to him in Jerusalem (cf. Rom 15:30-32). Commentators have long noted the parallelism between Paul’s prophecy and the Lord’s prediction of his passion in Jerusalem. While this is certainly characteristic of Luke’s typological shaping of his narrative and perhaps is a subtext of this part of Paul’s speech, the prophecy is still much too vague to assert that Paul’s final Jerusalem visit is of a type with the Lord’s. Paul did not die there, nor does he know what will happen to him there.

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Jerusalem is no different from what he expects in every city, since the Lord prophesied that his mission would result in Paul’s suffering for his sake (see 9:15-16). This is the inevitable effect according to Acts of preaching a message that he characterizes as “the good news of God’s grace” (see 15:7-11). Further, it seems more likely that the compelling motive of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem is as a religious pilgrim in keeping with his observance of Jewish practices (see v. 16) and not as a Christian martyr. While he can claim that he does not count his life of any value (v. 24a; cf. 2 Cor 4:7—5:10; 6:4-10; Phil 1:19-26), the revelation to which he refers must be the vision in the Spirit that indicates that Rome is the city of his destiny (see 19:21). Only Paul and the readers of Acts know that it will be Rome, with a layover in Jerusalem, where Paul will “finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus” (v. 24b; cf. 1 Cor 9:24; Phil 3:8-13).

20:25.  For these reasons, Paul’s statement of departure does not predict a Jerusalem “passion.” His emphatic assertion that none of them will ever see his face again must be understood in terms of his earlier vision of a new mission field in Rome, which therefore requires his departure from and a succession of his leadership in Asia. That his farewell concerns the Roman mission and not a Jerusalem passion is indicated by repetition of the central task of his prophetic vocation in Ephesus–“proclaiming the kingdom” (see 19:8)–and recalls Jesus’ paradigmatic prophecy about the inspired witness of his successors that includes teaching about God’s kingdom (see 1:3, 6; 14:22; 28:23, 31; cf. 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Thess 2:12; Col 1:13) at the “end of the earth” (see 1:8).

20:26-27.  Paul concludes his personal reminiscence by again declaring that he did not shrink from his prophetic obligations in proclaiming the gospel in Ephesus (see v. 20). The striking declaration that he “is not responsible for the blood of any of you” (v. 26; cf. 1 Thess 2:10) recalls his earlier indictment of unrepentant Jews in Corinth (see 18:6), which presumed that they no longer could excuse their rejection of God’s gospel on grounds of their ignorance of its claims and Scripture’s warrants. Paul’s preaching ministry has clarified God’s script of salvation’s history and so to refuse his message is to refuse God’s invitation. In this new setting in which Paul addresses believers the issue is not the salvation of his auditors but their assumption of Paul’s mission in Ephesus. Whether or not the foundation he has laid in that city continues to be built upon is no longer in his hands; his departure signals the official beginning of their own ministry in his absence.

The addition of a final summary of Paul’s gospel, “the whole purpose [boulhv boule] of God” (v. 27; cf. Eph 1:11), delineates the theological boundaries of this ecclesial foundation. Elsewhere in Acts boule denotes God’s sovereign purpose that is worked out in the Messiah’s mission (see 2:22-23) and now in the church’s mission under the aegis of the Holy Spirit (see 4:28; 5:38; 13:36; cf. Gal 1:4; Eph 1:9, 11). There is no Pauline teaching that deviates from God’s boule; therefore, Pauline teaching is “canonical” in congregations founded by him. The implication is that God views any deviation from his catechesis as apostasy and subversive of God’s scripted plans for salvation’s progress into the future of Ephesus.

20:28-35.  The second half of Paul’s speech shifts from a description of his past and prophecy of his future to consideration of his succession in Ephesus by the elders of the church. He charges the elders (here called ejpivskopoi [episkopoi, “overseers”] without change of meaning) with their ministry in ever-vigilant expectation of coming dangers (vv. 28-31). He goes on to exhort them to follow his and the Lord’s example of leadership within a community of goods that cares for the poor (vv. 32-35).

20:28-31.  Paul’s rehearsal of the dangers that will face the elders following his departure is enclosed by his charge for them to “keep watch [prosevcw prosecho] over yourselves and over all the flock” (v. 28; see also 5:35b) and to “be alert” (grhgorevw gregoreo) to his pastoral example (v. 31). The image of a shepherd watching over his flock is a familiar biblical metaphor of the leader’s provident care over Israel (cf. Exod 10:28; Deut 4:9; Ezek 14:11-12; Jer 23:2; Hos 5:1; Mic 5:4; John 10:11-16; 21:17-17) of which the Paul of Acts is exemplary. He presumes their competence to do so because “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,” which not only suggests the mediation of the Spirit’s power for ministry (see 1:8) but also the Spirit’s authorizing “mark” in their lives that others have recognized (see 6:3-4).

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God” seems clear enough, it is confused by the following relative clause “he bought [peripoievw peripoieo] with his own blood [dia; tou` ai{mato" tou` ijdivou dia tou haimatos tou idiou],” which is obscure both in plain meaning and in its purpose in the speech.656 That God acquires (peripoieo) a people by saving them from destruction is a biblical idea and probably Paul’s meaning here (cf. Ps 74:2). But that God did so by means of God’s own blood is very difficult to understand theologically. A few commentators think that i[dio" (idios) connotes here a term of endearment for a near relative, or “one’s own” (= one’s own Son, so the NRSV). Others suggest that Luke combines fragments from two Pauline formulae about “the church of God” and “Christ purchases the church for God by his blood” but in a jumbled way. He may have been grammatically careless at this point because of his lack of theological interest in the efficacy of Christ’s blood in saving people from their sins. Even if Acts does include a theology of the cross elsewhere, it is clearly not of the robust variety found in the Pauline letters.657 In any case, the general sense of Paul’s vague phrase is that the church has extraordinary value for God and for this reason the elders must take their calling with utmost seriousness.

The ethos shaped by the inclusio of Paul’s charge to pastoral action is of a countercultural community whose beliefs and practices are set against the social norm–which is certainly in line with the preceding narrative of his controversial Ephesian mission. Paul recognizes that his departure will occasion a serious challenge to the purity of that ethos. Two potential dangers are noted: False teachers will come as “savage wolves” from the outside (v. 29) and “from your own group” inside the flock of God (v. 30). The catchphrase echoes the Lord’s reference to “savage wolves” (Matt 7:15; 10:16; Luke 10:3; John 10:12), which connotes “false prophets” within Israel–teachers of Israel who reject the messianic word. The phrase has a similar meaning in Paul’s speech, except that now it is his proclamation about God’s kingdom that establishes a rule of faith that measures doctrinal purity within the church: The “savage wolf” is any teacher who distorts the truth of Pauline teaching (see 13:10; cf. Phil 2:15).

Paul’s warning of false teaching within the church is unusual in Acts. The repetition and variety of references to Paul’s teaching in this speech underscore the importance of theological purity in maintaining and transmitting the Pauline legacy to the next generation of believers. Further, Paul calls upon the memory of the elders to remember “that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears” (v. 30; cf. 2 Cor 2:4). Luke’s characteristic use of hyperbole again underscores the value of Paul’s personal example, which also carries canonical status within the ongoing community.

20:32-35.  A rhetorical shift from warning to encouragement is once again marked by the kai; nu`n (kai nyn, “and now”)–“and now” Paul’s concern for an effective succession is made more apparent to his auditors. These final lines of the speech combine blessing (v. 32) and exhortation (vv. 33-35) similar to the benedictions of Pauline letters. The main thread of Paul’s speech remains fixed on his “message” (lovgo" logos) of God’s grace (see v. 24; see also 14:3; 5:32). The edifying connection of Paul’s gospel with the “building up” (oijkodomevw oikodomeo) of his successors (cf. Rom 14:19; 15:2; 1 Cor 3:9; 8:1; 10:23; 14:3-5, 12, 17, 26; 2 Cor 10:8; 12:19; 13:10; 1 Thess 5:11) for their future “inheritance” (cf. Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 3:18; 4:30; 5:21; Titus 3:7) reflects Pauline themes expressed in Lukan vocabulary.

In the context of Acts, however, the use of oikodomeo to encourage the spiritual formation (“build up”) of elders glosses the earlier use of ajnoikodomevw (anoikodomeo) in Amos’s prophecy of a “rebuilt” Israel (see 15:16) to remind the reader that God continues to fulfill the promise of a restored Israel’s mission to the nations (see 15:17-18) even in Paul’s absence through the ministry of spiritually restored elders. In this regard, Paul’s concluding admonitions reflect the concerns expressed by James concerning whether the mixing of uncircumcised Gentiles with repentant Jews in the synagogues of the diaspora will result in the attenuation of the Jewish legacy within the church (see 15:20-21, 29). Even though Acts has carefully

 

 

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depicted Paul and, therefore, his legacy as Jewish, the reader should note the implied connection between his final exhortations and the cautionary notes sounded earlier by James regarding the social solidarity of the community. If the principal concerns of James, however, are to maintain this sense of solidarity by abstaining from the pollutants of pagan religion, Paul’s concerns are more ethical and echo the social practices of the community of goods (see 2:42-47) within an acquisitive culture such as Ephesus (see 19:25b-27): The dispossession rather than “coveting” of property is the measure of one’s spiritual authority (v. 33; see 4:32-35);658 and working with one’s hands to earn one’s keep (v. 34; see also 18:3) is motivated by the evident need “to support the weak” (v. 35). As with the content of what is taught, these moral norms are in imitation of Paul and obedient to the Lord’s command, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”659 The purpose of appealing to Jesus is to underscore the practical truth that the community’s solidarity is only as strong as its commitment to its own “weak” (see 4:32-35; 6:1-7). Finally it  is not because of his example but because of the command of Jesus that Paul can also say that “we must [dei` dei]”–a divine necessity–help the poor and the powerless. This practice remains the social mark of the community of goods in whose life the kingdom of God has been restored by God’s grace.

20:36-38.  This concluding panel casts a poignant image of a fond farewell. The sheer weight of emotive terms Luke layers into this scene–“much weeping,” “embraced Paul and kissed him,” “grieving especially because . . . they would not see him again”–highlights the theme of Paul’s departure from Ephesus in the speech itself (vv. 25, 29) and all that is staked out because of it. It is a mistake to conclude, however, that since Luke writes from a perspective after Paul’s death he must, therefore, be writing about Paul’s death. As has been argued earlier, the Paul of Acts addresses the importance of an orderly succession of ministry in Ephesus that is occasioned by Paul’s departure for a new mission elsewhere (= Rome; see 19:21) and not by his so-called passion in Jerusalem. The finality of Paul’s farewell, when “they brought him to the ship,” simply makes more urgent the elders’ (and the reader’s) compliance with his instructions.

REFLECTIONS

“Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (20:28 NRSV). There are few biblical passages more instructive of the role and character of church leaders than this one. Both in what he assumes and by what he says, Paul supplies the church of every age with the essential role model and curriculum for a course in leadership training. In describing his own trials and temptations, Paul insinuates himself into his successors minds as their prophetic exemplar: They, too, will encounter similar attacks both within and outside the congregation and must deal with them as he has. Paul assumes in his absence the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit in the congregation–the Spirit who both calls and, therefore, enables its leaders to survive these attacks and to flourish as a result.

The primary marks of the Christian leader correspond to the primary problems Paul anticipates will always threaten the Christian leader: purity, possessions, power. The peculiar definition of each envisages the nature of the countercultural community that these people have been called to lead. Those who are called by God and nurtured by God’s Spirit to lead a people belonging to God should neither be trained nor be measured by secular standards of leadership. Thus, for example, the quotient of one’s purity is measured by faithful ministry of the word of God (20:20). Especially in the Pastoral Epistles, congregational leaders are instructed to teach “sound (or “healthy”) doctrine” to others, ever alert to avoid theological error and to squelch its

 

 

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dissemination from other sources (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-7, 10-11; 4:6-10; 2 Tim 1:8-14; 2:2; 3:1-9; Titus 1:9-11). The effectiveness of the gospel to initiate people into life with God is subverted by theological compromise. Beware of the “wolves” within and without the congregation who might threaten the purity of our rule of apostolic faith (cf. 20:29-30).

The messianic career of Jesus is the subtext of Paul’s speech: He is the model the Paul of Acts follows (cf. 20:24), who in turn bids the Ephesian elders to follow his example (20:31). Strategically, then, he concludes by quoting Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (20:35). Perhaps of greater practical importance to Paul than doctrinal purity is how leaders use their possessions (cf. 1 Tim 6:3-10, 17-19). No interpreter of Acts denies the importance of intelligent and articulate preaching (see 19:16-34); yet, Luke knows that the world will consider such preaching specious if the church says one thing and lives another. The abstract truth of a word about God’s grace is tested in the real world by whether or not the handling of our goods is also gracious rather than greedy. The motive of Christian ministry must never be monetary and momentary. Those put in charge of the spiritual formation of believers must not covet their possessions (20:33); indeed, they are to make money to redistribute it among the poor (20:34-35). In the simplicity of one’s lifestyle and the sharing of one’s goods the truth of God’s generosity toward us all is made more concrete.

The third mark of the Christian leader according to Paul is how that person handles personal power. Most of us can rehearse with regret the moral failure of various Christian leaders. The media sometimes gloat in telling of these failures as though it impugns the integrity of the church’s witness in the world. Perhaps it does. All too often these failures are prompted by an “arrogance of power” when those placed in positions of influence have used their high standing to coerce others to do their bidding. The leader who imitates Paul’s example is drawn to ministry by the Holy Spirit to serve the redemptive interests of God and the needs of God’s flock. The prophetic leader of a countercultural community is one who serves others and sets aside as unseemly the ambitious acquisition of power or pretension of self-importance. The disturbing effect Jesus had on the power brokers of his world was due to the presence of God in places where life was being shaped by norms and values contrary to God’s kingdom. The kingdom preaching of the incorrigible Paul had a similar effect on the rich and famous of his day (cf. 20:22-25). So it is in our day that the mark of competent leadership is the disturbing effect a faithful life will have on those whose definition of power places personal ambition over justice and grace as God has defined it in Jesus.

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Mathew Voth | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Feb 24 2012 8:24 PM

Just a warning. We might not need to buy it by the time you're done ;)

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Keep Smiling 4 Jesus :) | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Feb 24 2012 9:14 PM

Mathew Voth:

Just a warning. We might not need to buy it by the time you're done ;)

Since => New Interpreter's Bible (12 vols.) (NIB) has 11,591 pages, hoping enough pre-orders are placed before 5 % (579 pages) are posted for forum promotion.

Once enough pre-orders are placed to change status from "Almost There" to "Under Development"; not know how long will take to prepare this resource for shipping.

Keep Smiling Smile

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Feb 26 2012 5:51 AM

Keep Smiling 4 Jesus :):
Once enough pre-orders are placed to change status from "Almost There" to "Under Development"; not know how long will take to prepare this resource for shipping.

 

Who knows there, could be a few weeks to a few months, all depends on the place it gets in the queue.

-dan

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Keep Smiling 4 Jesus :) | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 27 2012 8:34 AM

Noticed Logos tweet: The New Interpreter's Bible (12 vols.) is now available on Pre-Pub!

Keep Smiling Smile

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Brother Mark | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 27 2012 9:23 AM

Keep Smiling 4 Jesus :):

Noticed Logos tweet: The New Interpreter's Bible (12 vols.) is now available on Pre-Pub!

Allow me to add my congratulations and hearty expression of gratitude to Logos for placing this resource in the soon-to-be-available category (and ending the siege engine of lengthy excerpts on the forums!).  

 Cake

"I read dead people..."

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Keep Smiling 4 Jesus :) | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 27 2012 10:26 AM

Noticed NIB progress is a bit closer to changing status from "Almost There" to "Under Development"; more pre-orders are needed.

Logos January Newswire included NIB pre-publication price drop, a rare occurrence.

Keep Smiling Smile

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JAIN THOMAS | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Feb 27 2012 10:50 AM

I really need this resource because I love this so much

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Feb 29 2012 9:50 AM

JAIN THOMAS:

I really need this resource because I love this so much

I KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL…. Hopefully enough people will decided to give it a chance to get it into pre pub ASAP...

ECCLESIASTES 3:1-15, REFLECTIONS ON THE MEANING OF TIME

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COMMENTARY

3:1-8. This is perhaps the best-known passage in Ecclesiastes, the beloved list of things for which there is a proper time. The topic of time was a favorite one with wisdom writers. In Sir 39:16-34, as also elsewhere in Qohelet (e.g., Eccl 3:14-15; 6:10), time marches strictly to God’s command. But not here. In these verses, God plays no explicit role in setting the “seasons” and “times.” In this passage, Qohelet does not say why things occur at their appropriate times. They just do. Only as he reflects further in the enigmatic ensuing prose passage (vv. 9-15) does the Teacher invoke God’s role in the matter of time.

The distinctive style of the passage may indicate that Qohelet drew it from another source. The seven verses 2-8 contain fourteen antitheses,56 encompassing twenty-eight experiences known to all human beings, all organized under the twofold synonymous heading, “For everything [phenomenon] there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (v. 1). Like 1:3-11, this pericope is simply a list of empirical observations. Except for the bracketing words “be born . . . peace,” the list offers no order of importance or any other evaluation at all other than the principle stated in the heading. None of these times and seasons is a pregnant, potential-filled kairov" kairos. The “times” are moments of human-scale appropriateness intricately interwoven with implicit cosmic orders. The first item on the list, “a time to be born, and a time to die” (v. 2), is clearly out of human hands, but the rest involve human choices. The wise person’s task evidently is to know when the right time has come and to move visibly with whatever invisible program there may be.

In v. 3, the reference to “a time to kill and a time to heal” seems to give society two ways to respond to individual transgression. The first is capital punishment; the second is the work of physicians and other kinds of helpers to improve the life of an ailing person. Since sickness was regarded as a punishment from God, some may have thought nothing should be done for the sinner/invalid. Qohelet, however, seems to affirm the right of physicians to intervene in the sequence of cause-and-effect and to heal when it is time to do so.

The medieval midrash Qohelet Rabbah interprets the reference to scattering and gathering stones (v. 5a) as a strict parallel to embracing (v. 5b)—i.e., both are metaphors for sexual relations. Given the fact that stichs a and b of each verse in the series are closely related to stichs c and d of each verse, this seems preferable to taking v. 5a as a reference to the preparation of a field of rocky Palestine for farming (see Isa 5:2).

Surely the teaching that there is “a time to keep, and a time to throw away” (v. 6b) intends to do more than simply warn “pack rats” to get serious about cleaning out the attic. In a broader sense, this antithesis suggests that both prudence and providence—that boundless outpouring of help to other people—are genuine human virtues. If v. 7a refers to the ancient Israelite mourning custom of rending garments (see Gen 37:29; 2

 

 

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Sam 13:31), then v. 7b would authorize the family to sew the rips back up again when the mourning was over. Mourning customs could also explain the coupling of v. 7ab with v. 7cd, “a time to keep silence and a time to speak,” for as Job 2:13 suggests, silence was appropriate in the presence of bereavement. If, on the other hand, the picture is of a sewing bee, even in that context silence might, from time to time, be golden. When Ben Sira thought about this subject, he too tied talk to time: “The wise remain silent until the right moment” (Sir 20:7 NRSV).

The culminating v. 8, which raises the human experiences of love and hate, war and peace, reverses the order in the final clause, putting peace in the position of a “punch line.” Thus do peace and birth (v. 2a) bracket the entire list. By this simple device, their antitheses, death and war, are demoted to realities that, though both profound and universal, have neither the first nor the last word.

3:9-15. In the prose section, which follows the poem of vv. 1-8, the notions of the rhythm and rightness of time are pursued further. “What gain have the workers from their toil?” the Teacher asks in v. 9. His answer takes the form of religious truth claims about human endeavor. In 1:13, the “business” that God gave human beings to do is “unhappy” or even “evil.” Not so in v. 10, because now Qohelet has supplied an important context for human striving: It all takes place within “suitable” (hpy yA peh) time. God “has made everything suitable for [NIV, beautiful in] its time” (v. 11 NRSV) and has given human beings a sense of having a place in the stately unrolling of the universal (“everything”), predetermined providential plan of God. The good news is that the (presumably) good God has provided direction, even finality, to the course of history (vv. 14-15). The bad news is that people “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (v. 11). Withholding this knowledge is within the sovereign authority of God. By refusing to show the trump cards of the future, God keeps humanity—who want to know good and evil (Gen 3:22), who want to have an unassailable name (Gen 11:4), who want to compete with God—in awe and submission. It goes without saying that what cannot be known by human beings also cannot be changed by them. Verse 11 is the very epitome of one of Qohelet’s principal themes: the impossibility of knowing what is truly going on in the world (see the section “The Ideology of the Book of Ecclesiastes,” 282-85, in the Introduction; see also Eccl 6:10-12; 7:14, 27-28).

Both the NRSV and the NIV take the much debated word !l[h (hA(olAm) in v. 11 to refer to time (NRSV, “sense of past and future”; NIV, “eternity”; cf. Eccl 3:14). Taken this way, the picture is of human creatures endowed by God with a keen consciousness of the passage of time, yet not endowed with the capacity to make any sense of it. In Murphy’s words, v. 11b “is a fantastic statement of divine sabotage.”57

The other meaning of the word hA(olAm, “world,” has been advocated in modern times by such scholars as Ewald, Voltz, H. L. Ginsberg, and Gordis. Although the latter meaning of the word is largely a development in post-biblical Hebrew (see Sir 3:18; M. ’ Abot 4:17), Ecclesiastes uses a number of other words of which the same could be said. For Gordis, this meaning yields a teaching that reinforces his proposal that enjoyment of life is at the heart of the message of the book: “He has also placed the love of the world in men’s hearts, except that they may not discover the work God has done from beginning to end.”58 Scott relates the term back to the root sense of “that which is obscure, hidden,” and translates, “Yet he has put in their minds an enigma.”59 Whitley suggests “ignorance.”60

In favor of viewing hA(olAm as “eternity” (NIV) are the facts that this is the usual meaning of the noun in the Hebrew Bible and that the context establishes “time” (v. 11a) as the subject under discussion. The problem is to arrive at the exact nuance of time in this sentence. “Eternity” can be misleading, too, if a reader thinks of immortality or the spiritual contemplation of divine timelessness rather than history in its most inclusive sense. The paraphrase of the NRSV suggests frustration with the One who fixed the times of all things and gave humankind a sense of that reality,

 

 

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yet who withheld the timetable from those who might otherwise have understood it. Faced with this problem, Rankin argues for a revocalization of hA (olAm to !l[h (hA (elem), “forgetfulness.” The sense, then, would be that although God made everything excellent in its time, God also burdened people with “the inability to remember and record all the generations of human history,” thereby depriving them of the means of making history comprehensible.61

Within the awful incomprehensibility of the big picture (v. 14), however, God has made a “gift” of the possibility of human happiness. It is a gift made to “all” (lk kol, v. 13)—a teaching that omits the deterministic reservation voiced in 5:19 and 6:12 that God “enables” only some to enjoy life. As Gordis has pointed out, Qohelet teaches that “joy is God’s great commandment for man.”62 Verses 2-13, therefore, are ethical teachings. When the Teacher says, “Be happy and enjoy . . . eat and drink and take pleasure in . . . toil” (vv. 12-13; see 2:24), he means that to accept God’s gift of life is to be obedient to the will of God.

REFLECTIONS

In 3:1-8, the Teacher does not describe the inexorable cycling of times as another absurdity, nor does he frame it with despair. On the contrary, he endorses it. Time is not out of joint: “For everything there is a season.” Here at last he finds solidity and dependability. It is good that there is order in life. It is good that there is a time to die that stands over and against the time of birth, for to have it any other way would be to admit that there is no order at all but only arbitrary and erratic events. In 3:1-8, the Teacher is able to affirm that the polarities within which life must be lived are both discernible and secure.

One can wax enthusiastic about the moral possibilities of some of the items on Qohelet’s list of things for which there is a proper time. For example, that there is “a time to keep, and a time to throw away” (v. 16) invokes the two virtues of prudence and providence. It is good to know that the cosmic orders provide a place for saving against a future rainy day (even ants do it! see Prov 30:25). Qohelet seems to open the door to prudential moral behavior.

There is also a time to throw away. Now, the virtue we call generosity is about throwing away, about the unstinting pouring out of good things on those around about. We call God’s generosity “providence”; the Bible also knows that human behavior can be providential. The idea reaches a keen point in Jesus’ difficult teaching “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48 NRSV). Taken by itself, that verse has served some people as a disastrous invitation to excessive scrupling and perfectionism. But taken in context, it is clear that the God-like perfection (i.e., “reaching the mark”) that Jesus advocates is in human giving, “throwing away.” The context of the saying in the Sermon on the Mount reads, “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt 5:45-46 NRSV). For the Gospel writer, perfection consists in being like God in pouring out providential generosity onto others. In teaching that there is a time for divestiture, Qohelet, too, opens the door to providential moral behavior.

Similar discussions can be advanced about the other antitheses of the poem, as if they invited the individual to be sensitive to appropriate times for action and then to act, morally, perhaps decisively, to kill, to heal, to keep silence, to speak, to love, to hate, to make war, and to make peace. However, if we read this list through the lens of predetermination, as vv. 9-15 suggest we do, a number of things change radically. First of all, there can be no quarrel with any members of the list, such as hate and war. If everything occurs on the God-given schedule, then this list cannot be weeded. Second, there is little real possibility of moral action. If a time

 

 

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to make love is not a matter of a conscious human choice to act appropriately, but merely a matter of a timetable set forth in advance by God for organisms or even for human individuals, then there can be no question of moral agency in the lovemaking, but simply answering responses to the call of the hormones. All of the earlier remarks about perfection in giving (v. 6b) become simply nonsense. There simply comes a time to throw stuff away, no doubt because of the approach of death.

Commentators and preachers alike have generally not wanted to consign the beautiful poem of 3:1-8 into the grim jaws of necessity, and they have warrant. The uniqueness of its style and its logical coherence invite attention to this pericope in its own terms. Even if only for heuristic reasons, much can be gained by reading it independently of context—at least of vv. 9-15—and thereby seeing it in a different light from that given it through the (tinted) lens of predetermination. If one reads the poem with the understanding that the fixed orders provide structure rather than calendar, then individual human moral decision making is possible. One can then hear in this poem a challenge to be wise, to be ethical, to discern when one’s actions are in keeping with God’s time and then to act decisively.

Reading vv. 1-8 through a positive lens focuses on the grace inherent in the periodic structure of life. What would the gift of life be, for example, without the concomitant gift of death (v. 2)? Without the knowledge of death, life would lose its urgency and savor. Without death no poetry would be written, no music composed, no monuments raised, no children begotten. This is not to say that people actually welcome death, except those in the most dire states of emotional and physical distress. Nevertheless, a healthy acknowledgment that “there is a time to die” leads people “to improve each shining hour.” In that sense, even if taken as a list of grim necessities, Qohelet’s hymn serves as a gift of truth. And truth is grace!

A predestinarian rereading of the poem of 3:1-8 does seem to occur in the prose context in which the poem is now placed within the book of Ecclesiastes. For example, v. 15 situates life squarely in the middle of an endlessly repetitive and rigid scheme that cancels any intention by vv. 1-8 to make place for human free will: “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is.” No innovation or creativity seems to be possible under those rules! Yet, the Teacher maintains a slight ambivalence even in this passage. The key to this *** in the armor of predisposition is the declaration “it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” (v. 13, italics added). Not only is this option available to all, as opposed to only those who have been specially enabled for the task of enjoyment (contra 5:19; 6:2), but also it seems to be phrased in terms of a choice. If there is a choice, there is also the possibility of moral behavior. If there is a choice, then the Teacher’s student can be as happy and as wise as the Teacher, if the student chooses gratefully to accept the small daily pleasures of life as gifts of God.

The tension between a radical predisposition of all things into an inexorable sequence of times and seasons, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, a small but secure place for human choice has troubled adherents of Islam—that most predestinarian of the Western religions. The tension is exemplified in the seventy-third stanza of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:

With Earth’s first Clay

They did the Last Man knead,

And there of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:

And the first Morning of Creation wrote

What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

In this view, nothing happens that was not already determined on the day of creation. That cannot easily be squared with any human initiative in happiness. What a way to make a world!

 

 

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Omar’s sad yearning to reorganize the world along very different lines, expressed in his 99th stanza, might have struck a chord of response in Qohelet, too:

Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire

To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,

Would not we shatter it to bits—and then

Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Mar 1 2012 11:34 AM

1 MACCABEES 4:36-61, THE CLEANSING

OF THE TEMPLE

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COMMENTARY

After his victories, Judas goes up to Mt. Zion. The victory march to God’s holy mountain is part of an ancient mythic pattern describing the battles of the divine warrior, as exemplified in the great hymn of victory at Exodus 15. The Temple is where God dwells, the connecting point where heaven and earth meet, a stabilizing force for the maintenance of the proper order of creation. With the Temple desecrated, the world of the Jews was askew; therefore, it was essential that the Temple be reconsecrated and the world put right.

4:36-37. The enemies have been crushed by the divine warrior (v. 30; cf. Exod 15:3). The term “dedicate” or “renew” (ejgkaini"zw egkainizo) is used to describe Solomon’s dedication of the Temple (1 Kgs 8:63; 2 Chr 7:5 LXX), the dedication of the Temple under Ezra (Ezra 6:16-17), Asa’s repair of the altar (2 Chr 15:8), and Nehemiah’s dedication of the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 12:27). The expression “go up” (ajnabai"nw anabaino) is the language of the psalms (Pss 24:3; 121:4). The wholeness of the community is emphasized as all the army goes up. So, too, when Solomon dedicated the Temple, all the people of Israel assembled (1 Kgs 8:1-5).

4:38. The author refers to the desecration described earlier (1:31; 2:12). He draws on descriptions of a defeated city to heighten the emotional effect: Micah had foretold how the temple mount would become a wooded height (Mic 3:12), and Isaiah graphically depicted the desolate state of a destroyed land (Isa 34:13-15). The author moves from the outer court, with its altar, to the inside of the Temple, with its courts and chambers (1 Chr 9:23-24; 28:11-18).

4:39-40. The mourning ritual is described as it was at 1 Macc 2:70; 3:47. The trumpets are to be blown to serve as a reminder before God (Num 10:1-10). The scene is reminiscent of the restoration of temple worship under Asa (2 Chr 15:8-15), when trumpets and horns were blown as the people renewed their covenant.

4:41. The citadel, called the Akra, overlooked the sanctuary from the south (see 1:33). It was still under the enemy’s control, and thus troops were required to protect the priests purifying the Temple.

4:42-43. The purity required of priests is described in Leviticus 21. Priests are to delight in the law, as God delights in covenant faithfulness (Mic 7:18; for a statement of such delight, see Psalm 118). The defiled stones were part of the desolating sacrilege (1:54; cf. Jer 32:34), like the stones in a leper’s house (Lev 14:40); thus they had to be put in a place that must be avoided if one is to remain ritually pure.

4:44-46. The altar of burnt offering could not be treated like the altars of idols (Deut 12:2-3). It was sacred and yet desecrated. So, just as the remaining parts of the bull used for a purification offering are still sacred, even though they have absorbed the sanctuary’s impurities and must be put in a clean place (Lev 4:11-12), so also the altar can be kept on the temple hill—a clean place—until a prophet determines what should be done (see 14:41; Deut 18:15, 18-19).

The phrase “until a prophet arises” has sometimes been given an eschatological interpretation because of phrases found in the Qumran literature: “[the men of holiness] should not depart from any council of the law . . . but shall be ruled by the first directives which the men of the Community began to be taught until the prophet comes and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.”68

 

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 In the Damascus Document from Qumran, there seem to be two moments, for God raised up “the Teacher of Righteousness,” but one still had to wait until there arose “he who teaches justice at the end of days.”69 This last figure may be identified with the eschatological high priest, the Messiah of Aaron,70 since part of the role of priests was the teaching of the law (Deut 33:10). Since the phrase at 1 Macc 4:46 (and 14:41) echoes the language of Deut 18:15, there is no need to read it as eschatological. It is also similar to the phrase found at Ezra 2:63 (= Neh 7:65), “until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim” (NRSV), which has no eschatological meaning. Thus the author of 1 Maccabees expects the proper restoration of a normal functioning community, and such communities have a prophet. The phrase at 1 Maccabees envisions that when God sends a prophet, as God had promised for every generation (Deut 18:15-19), the prophet will solve all the knotty problems. The author longs for the restoration of the time when the full functioning community of Judah had priests, kings, and prophets, with the prophet functioning as a counterweight to the power of the king (see 1 and 2 Kings). It is interesting that the author of 1 Maccabees speaks of a prophetic figure rather than a priest or a teacher; perhaps it may hint at the author’s view of his own role.

4:47-51. The altar is rebuilt according to the regulations found in Exodus and Deuteronomy (Exod 20:25; Deut 27:5-6). The temple furnishings, stripped away by Antiochus IV (1 Macc 1:21-24), are restored according to the stipulations of Exodus 25–27.

4:52-55. On December 14, 164 BCE, the birthday of Antiochus IV (see 1:59; 2 Macc 6:7), the daily offering was resumed (Exod 29:38-42). When Daniel had asked how long the prohibition on the regular burnt offering would last, the angel had responded, “For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings” (Dan 8:14 NRSV), or 1,150 days, about three and a half years, which corresponds roughly to the extent of the desecration of the sanctuary, according to 1 Macc 1:54–4:55. The correspondence of time was taken as an indication that God was behind the action. The rejoicing is similar to that at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (2 Chr 5:11-14) and at the dedication of the city wall by Nehemiah (Neh 12:27). Under Judas, deliverance prospered (3:60) and is confirmed in the restoration of the temple worship.

4:56-59. The Feast of Dedication is patterned after the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:33-36) and the dedication of the Temple by Solomon (1 Kings 8) and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29). Mention of burnt offerings (Lev 6:8-13), sacrifices of well-being (Leviticus 3), and thanksgiving offerings (Lev 7:11-15) is also made at Hezekiah’s restoration of worship (2 Chr 29:31-35). The Temple is restored to its former glory, and the disgrace is removed (cf. 1:39-40). Judas, his brothers, and “all the assembly of Israel” (all true believers) determine that this feast should be an annual celebration.

4:60-61. The author concludes this section by describing the defensive measures taken to ensure that the Gentiles would not repeat what they had done at Jerusalem (1:31; 3:45, 51), or attack from the south (4:29). The refortified walls are not those of the whole of Jerusalem, but of the temple mount itself. The Akra remained in enemy hands.

REFLECTIONS

Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the first Temple in Jerusalem shows an awareness that if heaven and earth cannot contain God, still less could the Temple that Solomon had built (1 Kgs 8:27). Yet a community requires a place to gather in order to worship together. When a church building or other place of worship is destroyed by a hurricane or by a fire, the community rallies around the congregation and starts to find ways to rebuild. We all need a familiar place, familiar songs and practices. Whenever there is a change in liturgy, opposition arises, as in the sixteenth-century Year of Grace rebellion in England and the opposition to the Second Vatican Council decision to replace Latin with the vernacular in Roman Catholic worship. Some worshiping communities still prefer the resonances of the King James Version 

 

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of the Bible to more accurate contemporary translations. People like what is familiar, what is traditional. That is how the community is accustomed to meeting God. The reintroduction of purified worship in the Temple reflects that same human tendency, for religion is not just intellectual—the whole person is involved. That means that we are moved by the hymns and the familiar gestures and words of prayer, by the familiar sights and sounds, the traditional stories. Through such human interaction, the religious culture is transmitted from one generation to another.

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Mar 1 2012 5:37 PM

Mark 2:1-12, Healing the Paralytic

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COMMENTARY

This episode combines the formal characteristics of a healing miracle with those of a pronouncement story. The healing miracle describes the cure of a paralyzed man in response to the faith shown by his friends: (a) severity of the illness and his being carried on a pallet by four men (v. 3); (b) the request for healing, implied in the men’s making a hole in the roof of the house to let him down before Jesus (v. 4); (c) action by the healer and word of forgiveness (v. 5) and command (v. 11); evidence of the cure in that the man rises and carries away his pallet, to the amazement of the crowd (v. 12). A controversy over Jesus’ claim to forgive sin erupts in the middle of the healing miracle (vv. 5-10). The successful healing serves as the response that defeats the argument offered by the scribes.

The juxtaposition of a healing miracle with a debate over Jesus’ authority to forgive sin raises a question about the pre-Markan history of the tradition. A variant story of Jesus’ healing a paralytic in John 5:1-9 has the man healed by the command to carry his pallet off. Only after the man has been challenged by the Jewish authorities for violating the sabbath does Jesus find him in the Temple and warn him to sin no more (John 5:1-14). The Johannine example shows that it is possible to separate the debate over sin from the healing of a paralyzed person. However, if Mark 2:5b-10 were originally an independent tradition that has been woven into the miracle story, then the statement about forgiveness must have replaced some other word of reassurance.106 The miracle ends with the common assertion that all were amazed and gave glory to God (v. 12). However, that conclusion hardly incorporates the scribes, who are locked in controversy with Jesus over forgiveness.

Mark uses the immense popularity of Jesus with the crowds, established in the summary statements (1:27-28, 32-34, 45; 2:2) to create an obstacle for the men seeking a miracle.107 They cannot get near Jesus, and their determination to do so exhibits the faith that moves Jesus to heal the man (v. 5a). In the healing of the leper, the form of the petitioner’s request exhibits appropriate piety concerning God’s power. This story adds a different dimension to the miracle stories: faith as a condition of healing. Faith may be understood merely as a variant of the earlier petition. In many ancient miracle accounts, the faith attributed to the petitioner means that the individual recognizes the deity’s ability to grant the request.108 The Markan stories have an additional dimension to this faith. Whenever faith appears in the healing miracles, the persons involved must overcome physical or social obstacles (5:21-24, 35-43; 10:46-52). Their faith is directed toward Jesus as the one who is able to exercise God’s healing power. Lack of faith limits Jesus’ ability to perform miracles in his native village of Nazareth (6:5-6a).

Jesus’ statement that the man’s sins are forgiven hardly follows from the request for healing, as we have seen. Some interpreters try to avoid the implication that Jesus usurped God’s prerogative (Exod 34:6-7; Isa 43:25; 44:22) by suggesting that the statement was intended to reassure the man that God would forgive him (as in 3:28; 4:12). Or they point to Old Testament passages in which illness is associated with sin (2 Sam 12:13; 

 

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Ps 103:3; Isa 6:7). Jesus’ defense, however, does not respond to the charge of blasphemy with an appeal to Scripture. Nor does he respond directly to the charge that he claims God’s authority. The Gospel’s readers might also wonder why he does not refer to the forgiveness that was associated with John’s baptism (1:4). God remains the agent of forgiveness in that context.

Jesus’ words to the man may be understood as an expression of similar assurance about the forgiveness that comes from God. However, he responds first with a saying that depends on the assumption that it is more difficult to tell the man to walk than to say, “Your sins are forgiven” (v. 9). The logical juxtaposition is unclear. Both are statements about powers that belong to God. The latter would be more rapidly disconfirmed if the man were not cured.109 By juxtaposing the issue of forgiveness and the command that Jesus will give the man, Mark makes it clear that the healing is a sign that the man has been forgiven.

The evangelist has expanded Jesus’ words with a saying about the authority of the Son of Man (v. 10). The term translated “authority” (ejxousi"a exousia) appears in earlier crowd reactions to Jesus’ exorcisms (1:27). A similar Son of Man saying is attached to the assertion of freedom from sabbath restrictions in Mark 2:28. Both sayings use the title “Son of Man” to claim a present authority that sets Jesus and his followers over against Jewish authorities. The textual tradition is uncertain in locating the phrase “on earth.” Some place it after “Son of Man,” others at the end of the clause. The phrase seems intended to contrast God, who is in heaven, with the Son of Man. Since the Son of Man figure in Dan 7:14 is a human who ascends to the divine throne, the use of Son of Man here presumes a Christian identification of Jesus as Son of Man. The distinction between God and Jesus as Son of Man is maintained by the specification of the appropriate sphere in which the Son of Man exercises authority: on earth.

With the exception of Mark 2:28, all other references to the Son of Man appear after the passion prediction in 8:31. The authority of the Son of Man in that context is established only after the Son of Man is confessed as the one who died on the cross and who will come to judge the world. The coming of the Son of Man in judgment will vindicate Jesus against those who maliciously accuse him of blasphemy at his trial (14:62-64). His death on the cross atones for the sins of humanity (10:45). Although Mark’s readers were certainly familiar with the passion and future judge types of the Son of Man saying, nothing in the narrative prompts the reader to supply that use for the sayings in chapter 2. The judgment saying in Mark 8:38 correlates the attitude people take toward Jesus in this world with the attitude the heavenly Son of Man will take toward them in the judgment. In that context, people encounter Jesus on earth—that is, in this evil generation, and the Son of Man in heaven. Thus the present-authority form of the Son of Man saying found in these passages is quite unusual.110 Mark has probably derived these two sayings from his tradition. The crowd recognizes that God is the final source of the miracle they witness (v. 12).

How the expression “Son of Man” came to be used to designate Jesus remains the subject of scholarly debate. The phrase is never used by others as a confessional statement about Jesus in the Gospel. Jesus uses the expression as a form of self-reference. As a colloquial Aramaic expression, “son of man” (vna rb bar )unAs) could be used as an indirect third person.111 In that case, a saying about the authority of the Son of Man may have been used by Jesus to imply that “a person” or “humans” have such authority. When “Son of Man” is juxtaposed with Jesus, the evangelists intend the expression to refer to Jesus’ special status. Passion predictions treat the suffering of the Son of Man as a paradox, challenging conventional views of power, authority, and honor (8:31-33). A final group of sayings describes the Son of Man as one who comes in glory with the angels of God to execute judgment (8:38). The apocalyptic picture of the Son of Man as judge can be linked with the vision of “one like a son of Man” in Dan 7:13-14 (other elements of Dan 7:13-14 are used in Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62). In that vision, the seer sees a heavenly figure with a human form ascending to God’s throne and being endowed with an eternal rule over the 

 

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nations. As the representative of the righteous persons who have suffered persecution, the Son of Man heralds the destruction of their persecutors (Dan 7:21-22, 27).112 Echoes of the heavenly Son of Man, who represents the suffering righteous, provide the most plausible source for the use of the expression in reference to Jesus. Even so, “forgiveness of sins” represents an innovation in that tradition.

Mark’s reader is familiar with Jesus’ authority to heal. In its present form, this story portrays healing as evidence of Jesus’ authority to forgive sin. In what some interpreters take as ironic reversal, Jesus argues that it is “easier” to pronounce forgiveness of sins than to heal a paralyzed person. By applying the common rule of argument, if the greater case holds, so the lesser. Jesus insists that if he heals the man, then his enemies must recognize his authority to forgive sin. Jesus has already demonstrated something of divine omniscience by recognizing the sins of the man before him and the hostile thoughts of his opponents. The scribes’ charge of blasphemy, made against Jesus, though without credible evidence, at his trial (14:64) could warrant the death penalty. Jesus takes the initiative in unmasking the inner thoughts of the scribes. His ability to know what is in the human heart is another attribute reserved only to God. Although Jesus’ demonstration of divine authority does not convert his enemies, the crowd responds appropriately by glorifying God.

REFLECTIONS

1. Jesus began his ministry with an attack on the powers of demonic possession and illness (1:21-45). The approach of God’s rule meant healing of severe physical afflictions, which separated persons from the larger human community. In this story, another barrier falls: that of sin. Resistance to Jesus’ words and actions of forgiveness shows that the separation of the sinner from God is not the only barrier created by sin. Humans divide themselves into categories of “righteous” and “sinners,” but Jesus rejects that division. The “righteous” think they know the conditions under which persons may expect to receive mercy from God. Those who experience God’s mercy and compassion are already trying to shape their lives by God’s law. Their desire for holiness is not wrong. The failure occurs when the scribes mistake Jesus’ ministry to sinners as blasphemous disregard for God’s holiness.

2. Jesus establishes a pattern of holiness that invites the outsider into fellowship. Forgiveness is essential to the new community around Jesus. The story of the paralytic also reminds us that forgiveness is central to healing. Psychoanalysis has taught the twentieth century that deep-seated, irrational guilt and self-hatred can generate imprisoning physical symptoms. That story highlights another important feature of the social context of illness: The faith of the paralyzed man’s four friends initiated the healing encounter with Jesus. For many people, the most difficult part of enduring a severe illness is helplessness, the need to rely on others for one’s basic functions of daily life.

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 5 2012 9:45 PM

1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, Aborted Trips and the Parousia

 

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COMMENTARY

With the first subunit (2:17-20), Paul explicitly notes the last local opposition that occurred during the foundational visit—namely, the abrupt forced separation of the leaders from the church. With language that expresses the depths of sorrow, Paul now describes the distress of this separation (v. 17) and laments the futility of his efforts to return (v. 18). He also neutralizes any possible discouragement about the aborted visits with a declaration of benefits accruing to another visit or arrival: the parousia, a future grand visit or arrival similar to that of Hellenistic kings and rulers (vv. 19-20).75

The account in the book of Acts seems to suggest that the departure of the leaders from the Thessalonian church was caused by Jewish agitation (Acts 17:5-9). However, Acts' reckoning of the events of Paul's work in Thessalonica is difficult to reconcile with Paul's own account in several ways. For one, as has already been noted (see the Introduction), Paul's Thessalonian converts included Jews and Gentiles according to Acts 17:1-4, but only Gentiles according to 1 Thess 1:9-10; 2:14-16. Second, although 1 Thessalonians seems to involve Timothy explicitly in the foundational work at Thessalonica (1:1; 3:1-2, 6), Acts directly mentions the difficulties Paul and Silas encountered in Philippi and Thessalonica but only directly notes Timothy when the three leaders are together in Beroea (Acts 17:14). Third, because the form of the word “alone” (mo;noi monoi, 3:1) is plural in Greek, Paul gives the impression that he and presumably Silvanus were in Athens when Timothy was sent to the Thessalonians. Acts gives the impression, however, that (after Beroea) Silvanus and Timothy did not join up with Paul until they arrived in Corinth (Acts 18:5).

However one seeks to reconcile these accounts, Paul seems less interested in naming the exact cause of the separation than in indicating the heavy toll it exacted on the entire leadership team and on his personal life. Having already noted the great anguish of the separation for the church (v. 14), Paul uses vv. 17-20 to show the effect of the separation from the vantage point of the foundational leaders. The expression “we were made orphans” sufficiently translates the Greek word that lies behind it (ajporfanisqe;ntev aporphanisthentes, v. 17); however, the NRSV adds “by being separated from you” (v. 17), although these words are not actually a part of the Greek text. Still, Paul's lament that his leadership team became orphans aptly catches the sense of deep grief caused by the separation.76

An indication of the depths of their grief is also shown in the way Paul heaps passionate phrases on top of one another to describe the attempts to return to Thessalonica. A literal translation of v. 17 would read: “As for us, brethren, when we were made orphans from you for a short time, in person [prosw"pw prosopo] not in heart, we even much more and with great longing made every effort to see your face [pro;swpon prosopon].” 

As if the intensity of the leadership team's resolve is still not dramatized enough, however, Paul shifts from a description of the collective effects of the separation and recent endeavors to visit to his own personal strivings: “I, Paul...” (v. 18b). Shortly, as he continues to deal with the effects of the separation, Paul will similarly shift from the foundational leaders' inability to “bear” the separation to his own personal inability to do so (3:1, 5). For now, however, he seeks to expose the constancy of his effort to get back to the church. And constancy or persistence, as we have seen, is a recurring theme throughout the entire letter.

Exactly how often Paul tried to return is not known, for the expression “again and again” (lit., “once and twice [kai; a{pax kai; di;v kai hapax kai dis],” v. 18b) connotes an “indefinite number of occasions”77 (cf. Phil 4:16). Exactly what blocked his way is also not known, though some scholars speculate about a possible embargo or a physical malady.78 What we do know, however,

 

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 is that Paul's categorizing the obstruction as an effort of Satan is strategic on at least two levels.

On the one hand, this categorization reiterates Paul's apocalyptic ideas already noted in the letter. In his “already/not yet” apocalyptic understanding of reality, Satan is a deceiver who can take on the form of an angel of light, as can his envoys (2 Cor 2:11; 11:14). He is also a tempter (1 Cor 7:5; cf. 1 Thess 3:5) and one whom “God will shortly crush” (Rom 16:20). Thus, having already mentioned the “persecution” or “eschatological woes” (qli'yiv thlipsis, 1:6) in which the church received the word of God, Paul now highlights again the manifestations of the old age with a reference to the continuing hindrances of Satan. Once more, however, if the church recognizes that the intensity of the opposition described in vv. 14-16 is actually an indication of the imminence of God's wrath, the believers would likely recognize as well that Satan's repeated hindrances also signal the approaching end. 

On the other hand, the categorization also anticipates Paul's next subunit, in which he will speak again in an oblique way about an evil force. In 3:5, Paul notes his former fear that the “tempter had tempted” his young church in the wake of his departure. Given that Satan was known as a tempter in Paul's apocalyptic worldview, it is likely that Paul is still speaking about the reality of the old age's pressure on believers (now with respect to the church). Indeed, Paul's use of the term “persecution” (qli;yesin thlipsesin, 3:3-4) also reinforces the apocalyptic context out of which Paul speaks. If he, indeed, is making the connection, he is also linking himself (and the other members of the leadership team) more solidly to his church. Both faced the pressures of the old age in the foundational moments of the work at Thessalonica; and the pressures continue.

Paul's reflections in vv. 17-20, however, do not end with his lament about the separation or his musings on Satan's hindrance. Because Satan's repeated hindrances would have signaled the imminence of the end to the Thessalonian addressees, Paul could not dwell on the hindrances alone. It is understandable why he would then launch out of the deep pathos of lamentation about the separation and aborted visits and shift the audience's thoughts to another visit or arrival, the parousia. 

The word “parousia” has two essential meanings: “presence” (2 Macc 15:21; 3 Macc 3:17; 2 Cor 10:10; Phil 2:12) and “arrival” (Jdt 10:18; 2 Macc 8:12; 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 7:6-7).79 Howard notes that the word “came to have particular associations with the arrival of a central figure.” The word indicated both “the physical act of arrival” and “the attendant circumstances in which the ruler was honored.” It is generally believed that the early Christians adopted these “particular associations” to speak about Christ's coming. It is likely, moreover, that the term “would have evoked the image of the return of a triumphant conqueror in the Hellenistic world and the idea of a coronation on that occasion.”80

For Paul, mentioning the parousia potentially had two results. First, with the imagery of a crown (v. 19), i.e., the laurel wreath won by an athletic victor, Paul could obliquely imply the success of his mission (cf. 1 Cor 9:25; Phil 4:1; 1 Thess 2:19). Presupposing the parousia as a time of mission assessment (cf. 1 Cor 4:10-15; 2 Cor 1:14), Paul makes the claim that the church will be his “crown of boasting” (cf. 1 Cor 9:25; Phil 4:1). That is, it will not disintegrate. The word of God that is still working in the believers will continue to do so (v. 13b), and the church will be the evidence of Paul's faithfulness to God in the call God assigned to him. Second, and related, because Paul and the Thessalonian believers will be together at the parousia, Paul is now neutralizing the present inability to get to them because of Satan's hindrances. Ultimately, he is suggesting that a reunion will occur between the foundational leaders and the church in spite of Satan's plots, even if that reunion must wait until his Lord's glorious parousia, the final blow to the manifestations of the old age. Indeed, he has joy (3:9) now as he thinks about the church in the light of that reunion. The church's joy was inspired by the Holy Spirit (1:6), God's pledge of all that is to come in the new age's consummation. Paul has joy as well as he thinks of that consummation. Satan has blocked his way, but not his joy.

 

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REFLECTIONS

Joy comes in a number of forms. Some works of visual art evoke joy: the marvelous landscapes of Edward M. Bannister or the magnificent Water Lilies of Claude Monet. Some sights evoke joy: a view of the Mediterranean Sea from atop the Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseilles or the snow-capped peak of Mt. Ranier above Seattle's foggy mists. Some musical compositions or performances evoke sheer joy: Bach's Flute Concerto, Kathleen Battle's sweeping rendition of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” or the voices of the three tenors, José Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti.

Thefts, nature's path of destruction, and death, however, can deprive us of the beauty of these joys. Yet the joy of which Paul speaks has no favorite season beyond which it can be felt no more. It neither originates from nor depends on transient forces. It can be experienced by women and men who can claim it personally in their lives, but it is not an isolated, private joy. It is both a hope for concrete benefits in the future and a present reality. 

This is the joy that breaks through the gloomiest of days to buoy the otherwise disheartened. This is the joy that comes not from changing circumstances, but from a constant presence in the believer's life, the Holy Spirit. This is the joy that arises out of sights that are sure but not yet fully seen or realized. This is the joy that can stir the heart of a man to write “It Is Well with My Soul” even after the loss of family members at sea, as if to transform incomprehensible sorrow through a tireless declaration of the believer's peace in God. This is the joy of bruised and berated black bards who defied their circumstances with the simplest, yet weightiest, of words: “This joy that I have, the world did not give it to me.” This is the joy of Archbishop Romero, whose last letter before his assassination spoke of the “spirit of joy at being accorded the privilege of running the same risks as [the poor], as Jesus did by identifying with the causes of the dispossessed.”81 This is Paul's view of joy.

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 6 2012 4:28 PM

DANIEL 3:1-30, POLITICAL ATHEISM AND RADICAL FAITH

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COMMENTARY

3:1, The Statue. This chapter begins abruptly with the construction of a statue. The dimensions of this statue are certainly odd; the height is ten times greater than the width, giving the impression that it is a pole-like structure. Montgomery suggests that we should understand that it is a stele (that is, a tower of stone, like an obelisk) with a carving of a figure or covered with inscriptions. We are not told that the statue is of Nebuchadnezzar himself, but the text certainly allows this impression, particularly noting that the statue in chap. 2 is in the form of a human being. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 220 CE) suggested that Nebuchadnezzar actually sought to build the image that he saw in the previous dream, being overly impressed with his reign’s being represented by gold.

This statue, then, is made of gold, the substance of highest commercial value. In his recent work, Dutch theologian Ton Veerkamp speaks powerfully of the use of gold and its meaning, as well as the location of “Dura.” Veerkamp believes that the present form of Daniel 3 took its redactional shape in the Seleucid period, and thus writes that the statue portrayed in Daniel 3 is “a golden monstrosity. . . . Medium of exchange, deposit of value, measure of worth—gold was the gravitational center of the Hellenistic economy. The King of Kings made an image of it—he established the economy and made from it a cult object—he made a fetish of gold. The Empire establishes Gold as a god of the whole world—that is the meaning of what is here described here.”99

Basing his analysis on his proposal that “Dura” (which can mean “plain”) is in fact the famous Dura-Europos (270 miles northwest of Babylon), Veerkamp notes that although this Dura was not significant in the Babylonian period, it was a place of significant activity for Antiochus III and Antiochus IV, because it was located along important trade routes and was the site of a temple to Zeus. Veerkamp supposes that the writer unites the crisis of the Jews under Nebuchadnezzar with the height of Seleucid power, the latter’s rule being one in which gold reigned; but a Seleucid era insertion of the reference to Dura would have this impact just as effectively. Other scholars, however, are more cautious about the reference to Dura, noting that the term is used for many locations. The Greek historian Herodotus also goes to some length to describe what he had heard about the amount of gold in the religious shrines of the Babylonians, including statues and tables for sacrifice.100  Finally, Brown has noted that already in the fifth century BCE, gold was becoming the “primary circulating source of value.”101 

 

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Lacocque draws attention to the Greek versions, which insert a date for this event as the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar—in other words, the year of his conquest of Jerusalem. Thus the statue went up in the year the Temple came down—false worship as opposed to true worship.102

Although not always using of gold, Mesopotamian regimes certainly built monstrous images; this is clear to any visitor to the British Museum, where Nineveh’s massive winged bulls are on display and to this day communicate very powerfully the message they were originally meant to convey: the power of an empire. Collins, on the other hand, suggests that a memory of Nabonidus’s construction and restoration of the statue of Sin, the moon god, at Harran (which apparently infuriated the priesthood of Marduk in Babylon) may be behind the motif of the Babylonian monarch’s erecting the statue.

Is the construction of the statue an act of pride? Does the story suggest that the Babylonian monarch wanted to be divinized? If so, is there any historical precedent for this? Judith 3:8 records a legend that Nebuchadnezzar certainly did want to be looked upon as a god, and the grandiose claims of the Mesopotamian rulers could easily give this impression, even if it is not technically accurate. Whether Nebuchadnezzar ever erected such a statue is totally beside the point. The point was that he could—he could amass that much gold; he could assemble the leaders; he could demand obedience and threaten horrible punishment—and this is the plausibility (that is, a political plausibility) that the stories of Daniel are based on.

3:2-7, The Command of Obedience. 3:2. As if to remove any doubt of what the gold is to symbolize, there follows a gathering of all the highest officials of the government—the representatives of Babylonian power and prestige—called by Nebuchadnezzar to announce his cult of gold. The book communicates the great size of the court, Persian as well as Babylonian, and the various levels of administration by its use of lists of various types of officials. Note also, however, that the Jewish writers are familiar with the terminology of governance. Rosenthal notes that the first few terms are borrowed from Mesopotamian (Akkadian) languages, while most of the others are from Persian terms, such as the words translated in the NRSV as “counselors,” “treasurers,” “law officials,” “magistrates/police chiefs,” and the general category of “all who rule/have authority.”103 The presence of treasurers is, of course, particularly interesting for the origin of Nebuchadnezzar’s “image of gold.” In his attempt to suggest a date, Collins proposes that the use of Persian names requires a long enough period of time for the language of the Persians to sink in to the Jewish population,104 but all minority peoples learn the vocabulary of authority very quickly (see Introduction).

3:3a. This verse repeats the list, in response to Nebuchadnezzar’s command. This frequent repetition of orders, usually repeated word for word, gives the impression that all the minions of the Babylonian emperor obey his whim to the letter. This is what he wanted, and this is exactly what happened.

3:3b-4. The herald cries in a loud voice, a term also used in association with the military; thus it is a commanding voice. The address is directed to the “peoples, nations, and languages.” The vastness of the territories under imperial control is suggested here. Empires of the ancient Near East frequently claimed to control massive numbers of the peoples in the known world. The Assyrian monarch Sennacherib wrote: “Sennacherib, the great king, king of the universe, king of Assyria, king of the four quarters. . . . ”105 Nebuchadnezzar II, in one of the Wadi-Brisa inscriptions, claims to have made Babylon “foremost among all the countries and every human habitation,”106 while in the so-called Cyrus Cylinder, Cyrus claims, “I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four rims of the earth.”107 Such is the rhetoric of power, perhaps reaching a zenith in Roman rhetoric of Roman rule: “Cities now gleam in splendor and beauty, and the whole earth is arrayed like a paradise.”108 

 

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3:5. Scholarly comment on the musical instruments is interesting because of the presence of at least one Greek term, sumfwniva (symphonia [hynpmws sûmponyâ ]; NIV, “pipes”; NRSV, “drum”), usually taken to be some primitive form of bagpipe. But Lacocque’s comments on the instruments are also interesting. “The flute” (NIV, NRSV, “pipe” [atyqwrvm masrôqîtA)]) was a simple peasant’s instrument (Judg 5:16), while the “lyre” (NRSV, NIV, “zither” [swrtyq qayturôs ]) would be made of precious metal or ivory and would be an aristocrat’s instrument.109 Both the sambyka (NRSV, “trigon”; NIV, “lyre” [akbs sabbukA)]) and the symphonia have bad reputations with the Greeks, the former repudiated by Plato and the latter an instrument that inspired Antiochus IV to dance in what was seen as a shameful public spectacle. It may be that the instruments themselves, and the social class associated with them, suggest a kind of universal demand on all peoples (poor and wealthy) to be obedient to the king.

3:6. Punishment by fire is not entirely unknown, as seen in Jeremiah 29. As Collins notes, punishment by fire became the “eschatological punishment par excellence in the post-exilic prophecy and apocalyptic literature.”110 (Note the destruction of the beast in Revelation as well as in Daniel 7.)

3:7. The peoples are to “fall down” (lpn nupal, a position of submission) and “do honor” (dgs sugad ; the NRSV translates this as “worship,” but this will be somewhat problematic, as noted below) when they hear the music. As earlier in the story, the repetition fits exactly, and the people respond as they are commanded. As Nebuchadnezzar wants it, so shall he have it—except for one slight problem: Jewish resistance breaks out again.

3:8-12, The Denunciation of the Jews. Here, the story begins to get interesting. The setting is the presence of the king. The Chaldeans (the use of this term for Babylonians is perhaps intended to be ethnically specific, rather than to refer to court astrologers) accuse the Jews of disobedience and insolence before the king. The literal phrase used for “accusation” (@whyxrq wlka )akalû qarzêhôn) is rather interesting: “they ate bits off,” which is an Akkadian idiom meaning “to accuse.” The Chaldeans remind the king of the decree he has made, repeating all that was stated before with one interesting exception: The Jews also “do not worship your gods.” This was not, of course, part of Nebuchadnezzar’s original decree about the statue, but it adds to the sense that the Jews are guilty because they are foreigners—merely conquered exiles—who were trusted by the king (as in Esther). The king’s rage is perhaps to be understood to have arisen not only from the disobedience of the command to fall before the statue, but also from the fact that the judgment of the king is brought into question for having appointed these four Jews to positions of importance in the first place. Thus betrayal is added to insubordination.

The motif of the evil counselors vs. the Jewish court officials runs through many of these stories and suggests some ethnic tensions between the tellers, and hearers, of these stories and the surrounding peoples. In his analysis of the Daniel stories, Meinhold was particularly alert to this sociopsychological aspect of the stories.111

Interestingly, the term translated “worship” (of your gods [jlp pulah]) is different from that used for “worship” (of the statue [sugid]) in v. 5. The latter term can be read as “honor”—that is, that the statue was to be honored. When Nebuchadnezzar fell before Daniel in 2:46, he honored Daniel, but did not worship him in the same sense that the Jews did not worship the gods of Nebuchadnezzar.

It seems odd that the king does not know that these Jews will not worship the Babylonian gods, irrespective of their attitude toward the golden statue. This is further indication of the isolation of these stories from one another at some point before they were joined together. The stubborn refusal to compromise their faith is reintroduced in story after story. It seems that almost each time, the king needs to learn something about these Jews, including those aspects that were introduced already in a previous story. That Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah worshiped the Hebrew God should hardly have been news to Nebuchadnezzar. In any case, as a result 

 

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of the accusation, the Jews will be brought before the king.

3:13-18, The Appearance Before the King and Jewish Defiance. 3:13-14. The king, once again in a “furious rage,” summons the insubordinate Jewish exiles. As with many of the Daniel stories, the turning point occurs in the presence of, or before the king. The setting of these crucial scenes is obvious given the power and majesty of the emperor. To actually stand before this ruler who commands such authority and wealth is an awesome fate. Thus in v. 14 the question is put to the young Jewish men, and now regards two accusations: “You do not worship my gods . . . and . . . honor my statue?” (cf. Bel and the Dragon in the Commentary on the Additions to Daniel, 185-94).

3:15. Nebuchadnezzar offers the Jews one last chance; thus this verse is full of the folkloric repetition of lists that is typical of Daniel. What is interesting is the final phrase, which has been translated variously as “and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands” (NRSV) and “who ever is the god who could rescue you from my power?”112 Nebuchadnezzar’s rule and authority are such that only a god can deliver the accused Jews. The Babylonian ruler is a man of great arrogance. Porteous writes, “We see here the worldly power absolutely confident that there is no limit to its authority.”113

3:16-18. The reaction of the accused Jews is to declare their independence from royal authority. Their response in v. 17 is a statement of faith, proclaiming the existence of the God who can deliver them—indeed, there is one with greater authority than Nebuchadnezzar. Such is their faith. But their belief has consequences. Verse 18 is a statement of the resulting action: If their God does not deliver them, still they “will not worship the golden statue.” They boldly express civil disobedience to the law of the king.

Verse 18 contains one of the most powerful statements in the entire book of Daniel, with consequences reaching far beyond this little story: “But if not. . . . ” They profess that their God is able to deliver them, but even if not, they will not obey the king’s commands. This is a statement of faith against the appearance of defeat. The most infuriating aspect of radical faith is its adamant refusal to be impressed with the obvious—namely, the subordinated status and powerlessness of the Jews before the mighty emperor—and their steadfast adherence to an alternative reality: God reigns. Nebuchadnezzar’s response is hardly unexpected in the face of this open defiance in the name of faith.

3:19-27, The Salvation of the Jews. The strength of those who overpower the Jews in order to cast them into the furnace is impressive. Again, the specific vocabulary used for this action suggests a military association. The garment terminology (“robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes”) has caused some difficulty, but the Aramaic has an almost rhythmic, rhyming quality to it, reminding one of a phrase like the English “lock, stock, and barrel.” In any case, taking care to point out that they are wearing clothes when they are placed in the furnace will allow the later observation that their garments do not even smell of smoke, let alone look burnt.

A key to this description of their impending execution is the binding. Binding is the symbol of police authority par excellence. In his analysis of symbols of power carried by each Roman soldier, Wengst noted that handcuffs “stand for the maintenance of the new situation brought about by force of arms.”114 In Daniel 3, the act of binding the young Jewish men is repeated (1) when the three are cast into the furnace; (2) when the king asks if his order has been fulfilled, including the binding (v. 24); and (3) when Nebuchadnezzar sees the men walking, unbound (v. 25). Furthermore, as in 2:15, the king’s decree is punctuated by his hysterical rage, without regard for clear thought. The death of those who would kill the Jewish exiles recalls similar reversals of fortune, such as one finds in the book of Esther, but the motif may be used here to convey the absurdity of the king’s rage, which results in the senseless loss of his own officials who were killed by the flames when they threw the three Jews into the furnace.115 

 

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Verse 24 introduces another of the most interesting aspects of the story. The “fourth person” whom the king sees inside the furnace has given rise to considerable scholarly debate. The Aramaic reads literally “son of god.” Was this intended to be a reference to an angel? Perhaps the reference is to a special presence of God with the three young men? The Aramaic word @yhlaArb (bar-  )ulAhîn) is typically taken to refer to a member of the “sons of god,” who are collectively known as the “host of heaven” (Gen 6:2; 1 Kgs 22:19; Job 1:6; 38:7; Ps 148:2). There is also frequent mention of the presence of a court of heaven in the Ugaritic/Canaanite materials.116 Goldingay suggests that Old Testament promises of heavenly aides to protect God’s people become concrete here (cf. Pss 34:8; 91:11).117 Collins relates the fourth person to the “Angel/Messenger of Yahweh” who protects Israel in Exod 14:19 and who guides Israel (Exod 23:20), helps Elijah (1 Kgs 19:7), and destroys the Assyrian army (2 Kgs 19:35; Isa 37:36).118 This seems particularly suggestive in the light of the appearances of Michael as the protector of the Israelite people during the exilic experience (Daniel 7; 10–12).

What is further interesting is that the presence of the fourth figure and the survival of the three young men in the fiery furnace brings forth a statement of faith by Nebuchadnezzar, who calls them, “servants of the Most High God” (v. 26). The phrase “Most High God” (ahlaAyd yhwdb[ (Abdôhî dî-)ulAhA)) is a form of reference used for the God of the Jews in many exilic and post-exilic writings.

Many scholars have suggested an interesting resemblance to the near burning of Croesus by Cyrus, who wanted to know if gods would come to Croesus’s rescue.119 But fire imagery has other associations with the exilic experience in the Bible. Isaiah 48:10 refers to the exile itself as a “refining fire,” and many scholars have pointed to the imagery of Isa 43:2 as obviously related to this story: “When you walk through fire you shall not be burned,/ and the flame shall not consume you” (NRSV).120 If this Isaiah passage was in the mind of the storyteller, the implication that the exile (which is compared by Isaiah to the exodus) was like a fiery threat ought once again to give pause to those who argue that the exile was “not that bad.”

3:28-30, Glorification of the Jews, Promotion, and Proclamation. 3:28. Nebuchadnezzar not only honors the trust of the Jews, but also emphasizes that his decree has been successfully disobeyed. This theme of changing the supposedly unchangeable decree of the king is noted throughout Daniel (Dan 2:9; 3:19; 5:6, 9; 6:18; 7:7; note also the theme in Ezra 2:21; 6:9, 11, 16; 7:25). The defiance that appears to be obvious—in other words, the political “atheism” of the Jews in their refusal to bow to the symbols of Babylonian power—is a key point to the teller of the stories. Those who hear these stories learn to see a new reality that is informed by the “Most High God.”

3:29-30. Now the proclamation is made throughout the many lands under Babylonian rule that God’s signs and wonders are great and mighty. More important, God’s kingdom and the sovereignty of God are everlasting. In the face of the mistaken power of Babylon, even Nebuchadnezzar is made to recognize his limitations before this God. But the humbling of the mighty emperor was instigated by the civil disobedience of three who lived by another reality, because they served another sovereign.

REFLECTIONS

1. Fanon reminds the reader of Daniel of the power and impact of symbols of colonialism and imposition of foreign culture: “The colonial world is a world where the settler makes history and is conscious of making it . . . a world of statues: the statue of the general who 

 

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carried out the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge. . . . The first thing the native learns is to stay in his place, and not to go beyond certain limits.”121

Memmi echoes this observation: “The few statues which decorate the city represent (with incredible scorn for the colonized who pass them every day) the great deeds of colonization. The buildings are patterned after the colonizer’s own favorite designs; the same is true of the street names, which recall the faraway provinces from which he came. . . . Traditions and acquirements, habits and conquests, deeds and acts of previous generations are thus bequeathed and recorded in history.”122 Memmi insists that there is a certain inevitability to such displays in the mind of the conqueror, because “he loves the most flashy symbols, the most striking demonstrations of the power of his country. He attends all the military parades and he desires and obtains frequent and elaborate ones; he contributes his part by dressing up carefully and ostentatiously. He admires the army and its strength, reverses uniforms and covets decorations . . . this corresponds to a deep necessity . . . to impress the colonized is just as important as to reassure oneself.”123

It is possible, in the light of what Fanon and Memmi reveal, to look on the ruins of ancient Babylon with a new eye—an eye to the impact that such sights would have had on those whose suffering formed the very bricks of this ancient wonder of the world. Yet, Fanon writes that the inward life of the colonized person is quite different: “He is overpowered but not tamed; he is treated as an inferior but he is not convinced of his inferiority . . . the settler pits brute force against the weight of numbers. He is an exhibitionist. His preoccupation with security makes him remind the native out loud that he alone is master. The settler keeps alive in the native an anger which he deprives of outlet.”124

In Daniel 3, the statue as a symbol of power communicates the power of this story, but Daniel 3 itself communicates the inward conviction that the Jewish population is not powerless or without recourse. As is often the case with the Bible, the reader must turn to the world of subordinated peoples, minorities, the displaced and threatened, to learn how to ask socially appropriate questions of a book that reflects an exiled or politically occupied people.

Nebuchadnezzar’s statue stands for political and economic power. As such, it only weakens the message of Daniel 3 to reduce it to merely a pious lesson about idolatry or the fall of the proud, as if to relate it to any proud person of any station in life. Daniel 3 is about a particular kind of pride that comes from a system that derives its prestige and power from the suffering of others; in short, it is the unique pride of the wealthy and the powerful. Who else can erect golden monuments? Along this same line, it is perhaps somewhat dangerous to see in chap. 3 any sympathetic portrayal of Nebuchadnezzar (who is portrayed, in the words of Fanon, as both an “exhibitionist” of power and the raging executioner).125 To suggest that chap. 3 has a sympathetic portrayal of the emperor at the end is merely to point out that in the end the monarch’s power is humbled, defeated because of the statue’s powerlessness over the Jews; and thus the monarch is transformed. There is no sympathy with tyranny in Daniel 3; there is only the possibility of change.

2. Is Daniel 3 a martyr legend? Porteous suggests that martyr legends can indeed result in the last-minute salvation of the heroes as well as their death,126 but Collins prefers to suggest that Daniel 3 is an emergent form of a martyr legend that will be fully developed in a test like 2 Maccabees 7.127 In any case, a martyr legend is intended to promote action—to embolden faith—and in the case of Daniel 3, to call people to active, nonviolent resistance to the symbols of worldly power and its religious expressions. In short, it is a call to political atheism. 

 

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Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Mar 7 2012 5:13 PM

EXODUS 19:1-25, AT MOUNT SINAI 

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COMMENTARY

This extensive, complicated chapter serves as an introduction to the meeting between Yahweh and Israel at “the mountain.” Cast in liturgical form, its work is the preparation by Israel to be properly qualified for worship of Yahweh. Rhetorically, the central portion of the text reports a theophany—a disciplined account of the powerful, disruptive, cataclysmic coming of God into the midst of the community. The chapter begins with a geographical note (vv. 1-2), followed by a speech of God to Moses (vv. 3-6). The remainder of the chapter is constituted by a series of transactions that make the meeting possible (vv. 7-25). We may note three factors operating in this long and not well-ordered narrative of preparation.

First, the meeting is an entry into “the holiness” for the purpose of worship. Such an entry and meeting is a high-risk venture for which careful preparation must be made. This focus on worship makes this chapter pivotal for the entire book of Exodus. On the one hand, this act of worship implements the long-standing, oft-repeated demand of the liberation narrative: “Let my people go that they may worship me” (cf. 5:1; 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3). On the other hand, and in a very different way, this careful preparation anticipates the detailed enterprise of “sanctification” in Exodus 25–31 and 35–40, whereby a meeting is made possible for Israel.

The fact that this narrative is cast in liturgical categories permits the narrator to hold together two different aspects of Israel’s meeting with God. On the one hand, this is a dangerous, once-for-all event, never to be repeated. On the other hand, 

 

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this is a model meeting that serves as a paradigm for all future covenantal confrontations.

Second, while the meeting is “at the mountain,” there is a great deal of movement up and down the mountain. Thus Moses goes up (v. 3) and comes down (v. 14), while the people stand at the foot of the mountain (v. 17). Yahweh descends (vv. 18, 20), and Moses goes up (v. 20) and comes down (v. 25) as commanded in vv. 21, 24. Thomas Dozeman has proposed that movement up and down the mountain in the several literary sources articulates different “geographies of power” among the several parts of this community.94 Thus the movements up and down are at least scene changes, and likely intend to portray power relations concerning who has access and who stands over whom.

Third, the cast of characters is also complicated. God and Moses are clearly the central protagonists. In addition “the people” are given direct access to God. The elders (v. 7), Aaron (v. 24), and the priests (v. 24) are also specified in their several roles. These various references may indicate, as Dozeman suggests, that in different sources, the distribution of power is differently portrayed; “the people” indicates a broadly based democratic shape of power, “the elders” indicates authorized lay leadership, and the “priests” (Aaron) are a sacerdotal alternative to lay leadership.

 19:1-2.   These two verses provide a narrative setting of time and place for the meeting to follow. Israel arrives at Rephadim in 17:1 (cf. 17:8), but 18:5 has a narrative episode at the mountain. These verses thus place the meeting at Sinai in the context of the wilderness sojourn. Moreover, the “third full moon” suggests that for this narrative, the events of 15:22– 18:27 do not take very long. In any case, the purpose of these verses is to make the mountain the context for what follows. It is futile to try to identify the mountain geographically. More important is the affirmation that the mountain is the place where earth touches heaven, where the human realm makes contact with the abode of God (or the gods). The place thus is laden with holy presence.

19:3-6  God speaks to Moses, abruptly and with sovereign power. This speech is likely the most programmatic for Israelite faith that we have in the entire tradition of Moses. It divides into two parts.

First, v. 4 is an indicative statement recalling the entire narrative of liberation. It affirms that Egypt is now past tense to Israel and that unambiguously the initiative of God has changed Israel’s destiny. This verse fully and completely summarizes the memory of the exodus, which is the ground of all that follows. Israel has witnessed God’s decisive combat against and triumph over Egypt. Moreover, Yahweh, with enormous power, has taken Israel up, out of Egypt and bondage. Remarkably, the “flight out of Egypt” has not had as its destination the mountain, the land, or any other place, but “to me.” That is, the goal of the exodus is presented as a flight from Pharaoh to Yahweh, from one master to a new one.

The metaphor of an eagle for Yahweh’s rescue of Israel from bondage is compelling. According to Deut 32:11-14, the eagle (Yahweh) is a nurturing, protective agent who carries, guides, feeds, and protects (cf. Exod 15:4-10, 13-17). The predominant note concerning the eagle here, however, is one of majestic, devastating power (cf. Deut 28:49; Jer 48:40; 49:27). Thus the image holds together majestic power and protective nurturing. The exodus required both power to override the grip of Egypt and nurturing to sustain when there was no other sustenance. Later on, the same image is used in Isa 40:31 very differently, for now Israel itself is like a powerful eagle that does not grow weary or faint (cf. Ps 103:5). That eagle, however, derives its strength from attentiveness to Yahweh, the one who creates and authorizes soaring eagles (cf. Job 39:27).

This extraordinary memory (v. 4) now turns to anticipation of life in devotion to Yahweh (vv. 5-6). Two facts of this anticipation interest us. First, the future of Israel is governed by an “if” and by a powerful infinitive absolute; Israel’s future is conditional. Everything depends on Israel’s readiness to listen ([mv sm (; cf. 15:26) and to keep covenant. This strong conditional surprises us after the indicative of v. 4. It is as though the generous God of exodus has abruptly become the demanding God of Sinai; and so it is. While Yahweh’s initial rescue is unconditional and without reservation, a sustained relation with Yahweh is one of rigorous demand for covenant. Indeed, 

 

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the long Sinai text that follows is a statement of condition whereby this rescued people can be a community of ongoing covenant.

The second element of the statement is a promise of Israel’s special status. On the one hand, Israel (assuming the conditions are met) is Yahweh’s especially prized, peculiar possession. One can see in this verse the faith of Israel, struggling with the tension between universal claim (“all the earth is mine”) and the special election of Israel. Indeed, these verses may indicate that Yahweh’s own life is a struggle over this tension. Yahweh is indeed the creator who possesses and governs all creation, all peoples. Yahweh also, however, has a special, intimate relation with Israel.

On the other hand, Israel (assuming the conditions are met) is to occupy a position in the world that partakes both of sacral significance and political authority. The two nouns used are specifically political references, kingdom and nation. Their modifiers, however, move in a sacerdotal direction, priestly and holy. Israel is to be a community in which worldly power and holy purpose converge.95 Israel thus has an unparalleled vocation, and Sinai is the meeting whereby that vocation is to be given and accepted.

Verses 5-6 are extraordinary, because they manage in a single utterance to voice both an unthinkable purpose that foresees a people the like of which has never existed, and an unaccommodating condition affirming that Israel’s peculiar status is endlessly derivative and never possessed. Israel’s holy distinctiveness depends on moment-by-moment listening to the God who commands and authorizes. Whenever Israel ceases to listen and to keep covenant, and presumes upon its “status,” it forfeits its claim in that moment.

These three verses, as James Muilenburg has shown, provide the primary themes and the elemental structure for “Mosaic faith.”96 In the long, sacerdotal section beginning in Exodus 25, this link between promise and demand is not forgotten. Israel is to be holy and priestly; obedience to commands is pivotal even in the sacerdotal tradition, which takes such a high view of Israel (cf. 25:16, 22).

19:7-8.   As the go-between, Moses carries Yah-weh’s message of vv. 4-6 to the waiting community. While the narrative introduction identifies “the elders” as the addressees of Moses, it is “the people” who answer. Israel’s answer is a vow and pledge of loyalty to the commands of Yahweh. Israel has sworn to “really listen” and to “keep covenant” (cf. v. 5). Israel has agreed to its identity and status as subject and vassal of Yahweh, in the full expectation that it will become a new kind of kingdom and a new kind of nation, one marked by priestly, holy marks. This pledge not only binds Israel unequivocally to Yahweh, but also sets Israel apart from all other peoples.

The oracle of Yahweh, voicing saving memory (v. 4), command (v. 5a), and promise (vv. 5b-6), is matched by the oath of Israel (v. 8). Together the oracle and the oath constitute the foundational acts of Israel’s existence. In this moment, a new people is born into the world. Never before has such an offer been tendered to any people; never before has such an oath been taken. It is on the basis of this oracle and oath that preparations for the meeting now begin.

19:9-15.   When Yahweh has the oath reported in Yahweh’s own ears by Moses, Yahweh announces a stunning resolve: Yahweh will “come to you” (v. 9). The statement is direct and unconditional. We can see that this initial promise of presence, in the final form of the text, looks ahead to Exodus 25–31, which is preoccupied with the presence of God. Even in this direct statement, however, the intervention of Yahweh is immediately hedged about by “a dense cloud.” Even God’s direct presence will be shrouded in mystery and shadow. The most that is intended is that God will speak and Israel will hear. No possibility of Yahweh’s being seen is offered.

The intent of Yahweh’s direct speech to Israel is not to secure obedience. Yahweh’s speech is offered, remarkably enough, only as a way to certify and legitimate Moses, so that Israel may “trust” Moses’ words. This text thus has one eye on the authority of Moses and the enduring “office of Moses.” The problem of believing Moses has been present in the narrative very early (4:1-9), but seemed resolved in 14:31. The subsequent protests against Moses (16:2-3; 17:2) suggest that because his requirements are so rigorous, issues of authority inevitably recur. This verse makes 

 

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clear that Moses’ radical vision is indeed Yahweh’s vision.

Yahweh’s resolve to “come to you” is a guarded one, protected by “a dense cloud.” As Yahweh takes such precaution that Yahweh’s own holiness should not be trivialized, so Israel must make adequate, careful ritual preparation for this spectacular meeting (vv. 10-15). This is not a spontaneous, intrusive, surprising confrontation, but a paced meeting that will be carefully choreographed. On the one hand, such intentionality suggests that the narrator’s imagination is under the influence of regular worship, so that every meeting with God, including this one, is imagined in this form. On the other hand, this preparation is so that the initial Sinai meeting can be replicated and reenacted, much as Passover replicates exodus or as Eucharist replicates the “last supper.”

The work of preparation is to become “holy”— qualified to be in the presence of the holy God (vv. 10, 14). The prescribed preparation consists primarily in ritual cleansing. (On such washing, see 30:17-21. The act of ritual washing has become essential as a dramatic enactment to separate the sphere of worship from all other spheres, to assert that this meeting is different and one must be different to be there.) One can detect here the beginning of the distinctions of “clean and unclean” and “holy and profane,” which will come to dominate later sacerdotal thought in Israel (cf. Lev 10:10; Ezek 22:26). One cannot approach this meeting carelessly, as though it were continuous with the rest of one’s life.

Around the central preparation of washing, we may observe three other facets on “sanctification.” First, the reference to “the third day” likely means as soon as all things are ready and is not to be taken as an exact number. The reference to the third day is perhaps taken up by Hos 6:2, which in turn is influential in the gospel narrative concerning the resurrection of Jesus on the third day. Indeed, “the meeting” of Easter is not unlike a replication of the meeting of Sinai, whereby life begins anew.

Second, the dire warning culminating in “shall surely die” (tmwy twm môt yûmAt, v. 12) underscores the danger of the meeting and the otherness of God’s holiness. Not only is God’s “person” dangerous but even the mountain as God’s habitat constitutes a great risk for Israel as well. Contact with Yahweh’s holiness can be pursued only under intense discipline.

Third, in addition to the general notion of cleanness, the final line of v. 15 gives a powerful masculine tilt to the narrative, for contact with a woman will either profane, weaken, or render them impure. While we can only abhor the sexist reference in this text, which treats women as troublesome and men as “proper worshipers,” even this rigorous tradition notices the odd and freighted connection between religion and sexuality; a connection that still operates powerfully among us. That inescapable connection is worth notice here, even though we might propose a very different adjudication of the issue.

19:16-25.   Yahweh does what Yahweh says. Yahweh had announced an appearance to Israel (v. 9), and now that meeting happens on the third day as Moses had promised.

What an arrival it is, beyond anything Israel has ever experienced (vv. 16-20). There has been preparation, but the coming seems to override and disregard it. The narrative strains to find language to portray the disruptive, cataclysmic upheaval caused by the entry of God’s own holiness. There are hints here of a storm God, causing thunder and lightning. There is evidence of a cultic rendition with the blast of trumpets. The “thick cloud” seems to join these other two accents. All of these images together are enough to cause the camp to tremble (v. 16), to make the entire mountain shake violently (v. 18). There is now set loose sources of energy, power, and authority so enormous and so fearful that the intended “containers” of God’s presence are unable to contain.

The coming of the holy one is unutterable. There are no adequate words, yet all we have left from the meeting is a text. The narrator wants us to see so much. In that hidden holiness, however, as words fail to utter, so vision fails to show, and all that is given is fire, smoke, violent movement, and a trumpet louder and louder. Yahweh is an alien presence, a foreboding, threatening, and de-stabilizing otherness. The narrator wants to take us up in awe and terror, in the presence of the holy one who is beyond all portrayal.

One more time, echoing vv. 12-13a, Yahweh warns Moses about the danger (vv. 21-25). The warning may be pictured in three concentric circles. First, the whole of the mountain is kept (or 

 

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made) holy (v. 23). Second, the people are warned not to look (v. 21; vv. 12-13 warn them not to touch). It is not denied that God has a visible form. To see that form, however, is enormously dangerous (cf. 33:22-23)! Third, even the priests, the ones who confidently operate in the zone of God’s holiness, are warned to be careful. They must not be complacent or comfortable in the presence of this God. Twice the term “break out” ($rp pAraz) is used (v. 22, 24), as though Yahweh is a contained poison, almost substantive, that will break out to contaminate, destroy, and kill. One is struck in by the tumbling out of words and phrases in these verses, without a coherent picture or presentation. As the speech is untamed, so the God who comes in Israel is untamed, and on the loose.

REFLECTIONS

1.  The mountain is no ordinary place (vv. 1-2). It is the dangerous environment of holiness, the place where the ordinariness of human, earthly life has contact with the holy that destabilizes and consequently transforms. We have trivialized “mountaintop experiences” as though they are romantic opportunities for religious self-indulgence. This account, against any such domestication, portrays the mountain of holiness as a dangerous meeting place that will leave nothing unchanged. In his study of theophany, Jörg Jeremias has identified two constant factors in theophanic narrative: a cataclysmic coming and a decisive after-effect of transformation.97 Care must be taken not to reduce, trivialize, or routinize theophany, which here attests to God’s terrible confrontation with Israel.

2. Israel’s life begins in an oracle of God that is abrupt and without any antecedents (vv. 4-6). Israel is formed by the sovereign speech of Yahweh. This God is as majestic as an eagle, terrible in power, protective of its own treasured people. We are left with the wondrous image of being carried safely (albeit dangling dangerously) out of the reach of bondage.

The gospel premise of v. 4 is matched by a massive gospel demand of v. 5a. The “if” of v. 5 looms large in Mosaic faith. It is easy to treat the promise of v. 4 and the demand of v. 5 as a dialectic of gospel and law. The imposition of these categories, however, can be distorting. It is enough to see that Mosaic faith, i.e., the canonical core of the Bible, is vigorous in its requirement. The powerful verb “really listen” (“obey”; [mv sAma(), perhaps with an allusion to the tradition of Deuteronomy (cf. Deut 6:4-9), insists that biblical faith focuses on ethical reality. Communion with “the eagle God” takes the form of adherence to the powerful purpose of God, soon to be specified at Sinai but already evidenced in the exodus.

The memory and the demand lead to the promise of vv. 5b-6. As the mountain is not ordinary and this God is not ordinary, so this people is destined not to be ordinary. The community of faith (synagogue, church) is given a vocation to be a distinct presence in the world on behalf of the world. Specifically, the priestly vocation of this community is to ponder and mediate the presence of the holy God in the midst of the nations, acting to resist any profanation of life that dismisses and banishes the powerful inconvenience of God.

The language of this promise is taken up in 1 Pet 2:9-10, in an attempt to characterize the early church.

3. Israel’s response is an appropriate answer to the oracle (vv. 7-8). Israel must decide to accept its odd identity and destiny in the world, and that decision is for complete obedience. The oracle and responsive oath seem to be something like the initial questions asked the bride and groom prior to taking their vows, when each party states the intention and resolve for 

 

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the relation. In these verses, Yahweh and Israel make an initial commitment to each other that is to be explicated in what follows.

4.  The preparation of vv. 9-15 is ordered and severe. Our conventional trivializations of God make God in practice too available, too easy, and too immediate. We drop to our knees or bow our heads, and we imagine that God is eagerly awaiting attention. Or we drop in casually for worship, assuming that God is always there. Most of our worship takes place well short of the mountain, where we can seize and maintain the initiative, imagining God at our beck and call.

This meeting with Yahweh is clearly not one between “buddies.” It is more like a meeting with an inscrutable, remote sovereign in which there is a scheduled preparation, a schooling in required steps, and an ordered ushering from chamber to chamber as the awe intensifies.

As the monarch enters the room only after everyone else is appropriately in place and waiting, so Yahweh comes only where disciplined readiness is evident. The text asserts that the holy God of Sinai will not come into the midst of our casual indifference. Some other god might, but it will not be this powerful God of liberation who rescues, demands, and promises.

5.  The meeting (vv. 16-25) is cast as a theophany, a cataclysmic confrontation that destabilizes all conventional certitudes. In a society “explained” by the commonalities of the social sciences and received in the assurances of the “therapeutic,” theophany is so raw and ragged that we scarcely have access to it. Theophany is by definition disruptive. As an alternative mode of discourse, it employs dramatic images in order to say what cannot be said and to witness what cannot be portrayed.

This raw, pre-rational mode of discourse is crucial for what is uttered in Scripture. First, the pivot points of the Bible are narratives of theophany that witness to the utter holiness of God. Note, for example, the great prophetic encounters with God (Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel), the pivot points in the life of Jesus (birth, baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, and resurrection), and the break points in the life of the church (Pentecost, apocalyptic vision). Our reading of the Bible is often poverty-stricken, either because we exclude these texts as beyond our “realism,” or because we trivialize their discourse with our banal exposition. These texts propose that our lives should also be structured by these pre-rational, dangerous comings of God, which lie beyond our capacity for explanation and control.

Second, theophany belongs to a faith-ordered human life. Our lives are not to be lived on a flat plane of bourgeois control. We are visited by the holy in both disruptive and healing ways. What Abraham Maslow too easily calls “peak experiences” are indeed definitional for human life. Persons flattened by modernity require a daring mode of discourse and a more venturesome field of images, whereby intrusions of the holy can be accepted as belonging to our human life. Theophanic texts provide access to experiences in the ongoing life of God to which we have no access without such speech. Israel’s sense of humanness does not arise simply from political liberation but from this theophanic incursion that reorders its life.

In the end, however, theophanic discourse primarily serves neither a liturgic agenda nor notions of human personhood. Theophanic discourse is required in order to speak adequately about the character of this holy God who intrudes dangerously and disruptively in order to transform. This God lives neither in easy intimacy with us nor in remote sovereignty over us, but in odd ways comes and goes, seizing initiative and redefining reality.

In this dramatic narrative, Yahweh seizes initiative to establish the relation. This text concerns the freedom of God utterly untamed and undomesticated. In the face of all of Israel’s preparations, God is loosed in a sovereignty that evokes trembling. There is something here of Barth’s “otherness,” an other who is decisively present and who insists that all else must be ordered and reoriented around this coming.

This text seems odd in the bourgeois context of Western Christianity. It witnesses to an 

 

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extraordinary mountain, an extraordinary God, and an extraordinary people. It invites a reconsideration of our profanation of life whereby we manage and control and leave for religion only innocuous fringes. It models an endangered community that is willing to entertain holiness at its center. The narrative is so dramatic that we may miss its uncommon affirmation. In v. 27, the people “meet God.” In vv. 18 and 20, God “comes down.” This is an entry of heaven into earth, and earth is never again the same. This is an entry of holiness into Israel, and Israel is never again the same. The unloosing (breaking out) of holiness is so odd for us; the only thing odder is that in chapter 20 this holiness is fully mobilized around succinct and measured demand. The God of Sinai is a revolutionary sovereign who invites this prepared people to come under the discipline of the revolution (cf. Luke 1:17).

Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 9 2012 10:42 AM

Numbers 5:1–6:27, Camp Legislation to Prevent Defilement

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COMMENTARY

The legislation in Numbers 5:1–6 builds on the arrangement of the camp and the census in chaps. 1–4. The sections are tied together around the common problem of how Israel is to live in the presence of divine holiness. In chaps. 1–4, the holiness of God in the tabernacle gave rise to the social organization of Israel, the arrangement of the camp around the tent of meeting, and the role of the Levites. Chapters 5–6 present legislation to protect the holiness of the camp from impurity.

Biblical impurity and its relation to holiness requires definition. The holiness of God creates two different contrasts: sacred versus profane and pure versus impure.61 The contrast of sacred versus profane is the contrast between the holy and the common. It has dominated Numbers 1:1–4. Holiness separates by its very nature. God is holy; humans are not. They are common or profane. Thus care must be taken in bringing the two together. Humans must conform to divine holiness, symbolized as completeness. The quest for holiness requires taking on the order of holiness. The priestly writer’s concern for order in the camp (chaps. 1–4) represents the desire to conform to holiness.

The dangers of physical and social impurity to the camp are central in chaps. 5–6. God’s holiness remains the central theme. But the contrast is not between the sacred and the profane. It is between health and disease. The quest for completeness is replaced with medical images. Holiness is health. It must be protected from infection, contamination, pollution, and impurity. Contact with a corpse or the acquiring of a skin disease defiles. The medical language also describes the ethical life of Israel. Evil actions are contagious disease 

 

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that pollutes and eventually kills the social body like cancer in a human body. The most basic contrast between holiness and impurity is life and death. The holiness of God is life. All forms of impurity, whether physical disease or immoral behavior, are death. The two are incompatible.

The laws of impurity in chaps. 5–6 are arranged in relationship to the tabernacle. They move from the outside of the camp (5:1-4) to the inside of the camp (5:5–6:21). The laws that focus on life within the camp (5:5–6:21) move in closer orbits toward the tabernacle at the center. Numbers 5:5-10 represents the broadest circle in the camp. It explores social relationships that defile. Numbers 5:11-31 narrows the circle. It turns attention to defilement within marriage relationships. Numbers 6:1-21 represents the smallest circle. It addresses the special human-divine relationship resulting from the Nazirite vow. This vow is the only way a non-priestly Israelite could attain a holy status. The section closes in 6:22-27 with the priestly blessing on the congregation. It is God’s response to the purity of the camp. Comparison to Lev 9:22 indicates that the priestly blessing emanates from the door of the tabernacle, thus completing the movement toward the center of the camp.

Divine command and fulfillment reinforce the overall design of chaps. 5–6. The list of impurities in 5:1-4 requiring a person to be placed outside the camp is introduced by divine command in v. 1 (“The LORD spoke to Moses”) and concludes with the notice of fulfillment in v. 4 (“The Israelites did so . . . as the LORD had spoken to Moses”). The different laws concerning relationships in the camp are introduced with divine command (“The LORD spoke to Moses,” 5:5, 11; 6:1). They lack the formula of completion, however. The reason may be that they constitute ongoing legislation for the camp, rather than specific requirements to be implemented at the time of command. The priestly blessing on the congregation and the camp in 6:22-27 replaces the formula of completion.

5:1-4. This section is structured into four parts. It begins with the divine command in v. 1. The content of the command is stated in vv. 2-3a. Three forms of impurity threatening the purity of the camp are listed: (1) a skin disease described in Hebrew as t[rx (sara(at); (2) abnormal bodily discharges from the genitals; and (3) contact with a corpse. Any male or female with these conditions threatens the purity of the camp and must be expelled. Verse 3b states that the purpose of the legislation is not to protect people from disease, but to protect God’s holiness from these threatening conditions. Verse 4 closes the unit by underscoring the completion of the command by the congregation.

The laws in vv. 1-4 stress that the life-giving power of holiness must be protected. But what exactly is being protected, and where is the conflict? Mary Douglas has argued that laws of impurity are symbolic of larger cosmological realities.62 From her perspective, the point of conflict in Num 5:1-4 is not the specific diseases, but what they symbolize. The holiness of God at the center of the camp gives life that is whole and complete. The order of the camp is an outgrowth of divine holiness; as such, it reflects this abundant life. The camp symbolizes a whole new age of salvation. Following the interpretation of Douglas, we might conclude that the diseases and other impurities listed in v. 2 represent the disruption of the unblemished order of holiness symbolized by the camp. In other words, they represent different forms of “dirt” that must be removed to protect the order (or cleanliness) of the camp.

Jacob Milgrom takes the work of Douglas a step further. He concludes that each of the three forms of impurity listed in v. 2 represents the power of death in somewhat different ways.63 Thus, according to Milgrom, the conflict addressed in vv. 1-4 is not simply order versus disorder, but the life-giving power of holiness versus death. The contamination to camp members by contact with a corpse clearly illustrates the conflict between holiness and death.

Defilement from skin disease addresses the same conflict. Although this condition is translated “leprosy” (t[rx sara(at), the term most likely encompasses a variety of skin disorders described in more detail in Leviticus 13:1–14. Once again, it is not the health consequences of the disease that force a person from the camp, but its association with death, which is incompatible with holiness. The story of Miriam in Numbers 12:1 provides illustration. When she acquires sara(at as punish

 

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ment for opposing Moses, Aaron exclaims that her condition makes her like one of the dead (12:12).

The contrast between holiness and death is also the rationale for the impurity of discharge. The Hebrew word for “discharge” (bwz zôb) simply means “one flowing.” Comparison to Leviticus 15:1, however, makes it clear that the context concerns abnormal discharge from the genitals of either males or females. Abnormal flowing of blood and semen, the sources of life, also symbolizes death.

In summary, vv. 1-4 outline two forms of power and their spheres of influence: life-giving holiness and death. Holiness emanates from God and is located in the tabernacle. Its sphere of power is the camp. The incompatibility of holiness and death demands that all signs of the latter be banished from the camp.

5:5–6:21. The perspective shifts in Num 5:5–6:21 from signs of death that must be banished from the camp to relationships within the camp that are incompatible with holiness. The topic changes from ritual impurity to moral offenses. The goal of the laws also appears to change. Their aim is no longer to remove threatening persons (or conditions) from the sphere of the holy, but to keep offenders within the camp. Thus restoration for violations of camp holiness is an important aspect of the legislation in this section.

5:5-10. These verses deal with the breakdown of community relationships. The first part of v. 5 underscores the broadly based social dimension of this law. It is addressed to all men and women in the camp. The violation described in v. 6 with the Hebrew phrase !dah tafj-lkm wc[y yk (kî ya(asû mikkol-hatto)t ha)adam) occurs only in this verse. It could be translated as “wrongs committed against another human” or as “wrongs committed by any human.” The difference is whether the last word in the phrase, “the human” (!dah ha)adam) is interpreted as a subjective genitive (“wrongs committed by any human”) or as an objective genitive (“wrongs committed against another human”). Similar language occurs in Lev 6:1-7 (Lev 5:20-26 MT), where the former interpretation is intended. But the phrase in v. 6 is not exactly the same. The details of restitution in vv. 6-10 suggest that the sin being addressed is one of defrauding a neighbor, which favors the translation “wrongs committed against another human.”

The issue in these verses is not secular crime, however, but the violation of the sacred. The closing phrase of v. 6 makes this clear. It states that cheating and stealing “break faith with Yahweh.” The Hebrew word “to break faith” (l[m ma(al) in conjunction with the preposition “with/against” (b be ) is precise in indicating some form of sacrilege. God tends to be the offended party when this syntactical construction is used. Thus, for example, Moses is told by Yahweh in Deut 32:51 that he must die on Mt. Nebo and not enter the promised land, because Moses “broke faith [ma(al] with [be] God” when he angrily struck the rock, instead of sanctifying God in the people’s midst (see Numbers 20:1). The reason for the sacred dimension to community relationships in Num 5:5-10 is that the camp is the sphere of holiness. Holiness permeates all action.

The sacred character of the law is reinforced at the close of v. 6 when the offender is described as “incurring guilt.” The Hebrew word for “guilt” (!va )asm) is a central term in the priestly description of Israel’s cultic system. Guilt is a legal condition. It describes a situation resulting from illegal action. The removal of the condition of guilt requires ritual purification and restitution. The word is used no fewer than four times in vv. 6-8. A verbal form of the Hebrew word )asm is used in vv. 6 and 8, while a noun form occurs in vv. 7 and 8. The noun has at least two meanings in priestly writing. It can designate a particular kind of sacrifice that is meant to alleviate guilt (as it does in 6:12); more specifically, it can indicate the actual content that is required for restitution. Verse 7 illustrates this latter meaning when it states that the one who has stolen must make full repayment “for what he has stolen” (the Hebrew translates literally, “his )asm).64

The Hebrew verb meaning “to be guilty” is stative. Such verbs do not describe action, but the state or condition of something resulting from action (e.g., you cannot “cold” someone, but you can “be cold”). The stative aspect of the Hebrew verb is rendered in English as “is guilty” or, as in the case of the NRSV translation of v. 6, “incurs guilt.” What the NRSV translation suggests is that defrauding in the camp becomes sacrilege that gives rise to a condition of guilt, which is incom

 

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patible with holiness.65 The imagery is medical. Such a person infects the camp with pollution, and a contaminated camp is incompatible with a holy God. The infected person must be cured. The offender must make confession, pay back the principal amount of what he or she stole, and add 20 percent (v. 7). These actions alleviate the condition of guilt created by the theft. Health is achieved. The offender is allowed to remain in the camp and continue living within the sphere of God’s holiness.

A slightly different interpretation of vv. 6-7 has been offered by Jacob Milgrom, who argues that the Hebrew verb “to be guilty” can take on a psychological dimension when used without an object (as is the case in v. 6). In such instances, Milgrom suggests, the more accurate translation is “feel guilt.”66 Verses 6-7 state, according to Milgrom, that the offender must first feel guilt (become aware of his or her sin). Only then is confession meaningful and the reparation of guilt efficacious.

Verse 8 clarifies that restitution of theft remains a requirement even after the death of the injured party. The reason given for this requirement is that ultimately God is the offended party. Verse 8 closes by adding that God allocates the guilt offering to the priests. Verses 9-10 comment on the legislation of v. 8 by clarifying which priests receive the donation. The donation belongs to the priest who collects it.

5:11-31. These verses narrow the focus from relationships between all persons in the camp (vv. 5-10) to marriage. The danger of defilement is no longer defrauding in general, but adultery. The law is stated at the beginning (vv. 12-14) and the end (vv. 29-30) of the legislation.67 It is aimed at a wife, who is suspected of “going astray.” The verb “to go astray” (hfc satâ) in vv. 12 and 29 can mean wickedness in general (Prov 4:15), but v. 13 makes it clear that sexual infidelity is intended. If the charge is true, such a wife is described as being unfaithful to her husband (v. 12) and thus defiled (v. 29).

The phrase in v. 12 indicating unfaithfulness (l[m ma (al) to (b be) a husband is unique, since (as noted in the Commentary on 5:6) this expression tends to be used to indicate sacrilege, with God as the object. The repetition is certainly meant to relate the two laws. The unique usage in v. 12 may also be intended to indicate that adultery is a violation against God and, hence, a threat to the holiness of the camp. Such a broad interpretation of v. 12 is supported by v. 29, where the act of “going astray” is explicitly said to result in defilement (amf tame)), thereby associating adultery with sacrilege. Genesis 20:6 provides an additional instance of adultery as sacrilege. Abimelech’s potential sleeping with Sarah is described as sin against God. The religious dimension of the law is indicated by its frequent use throughout this section (vv. 12, 13, 14 [twice], 19, 20, 27, 28, 29).

Verses 15-31 outline a judicial ritual for determining the guilt or innocence of a suspected adulteress. The rationale for the ritual is that adultery is sacrilege. A woman guilty of such an action threatens the camp with contamination, not because she is ritually unclean from sexual intercourse, but because she is ethically unclean from violating her marriage relationship. The aim of the detailed ritual, therefore, is not to assuage a husband’s jealousy (an infraction of civil law), but to avoid defilement of the camp (an infraction of sacred law). The magical character of the ordeal (vv. 15-28) for determining the guilt or innocence of the woman underscores the sacred dimension in which the law is meant to function.

Verse 15 states the condition for the ritual ordeal. A husband who suspects his wife of sexual infidelity must bring her to the priest along with a special offering, described as a “grain offering of jealousy” and a “grain offering of remembrance.”

Verses 16-18 outline cultic instructions for the ritual ordeal. The priest places the woman before God (v. 16). He takes “holy water” and mixes it with dust from the floor of the tabernacle in an earthen vessel (v. 17). He also loosens the woman’s hair and puts the special offering of jealousy and remembrance in her hands (v. 18).

Verses 19-26 prescribe an oath and accompanying sacrifices. The priest recites an oath while holding the mixture of water and dust in his own hands. The oath functions as a curse if the woman is guilty. Her “womb will discharge” and her “uterus will drop.” The woman accepts the oath 

 

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on herself by stating, “Amen, Amen” (vv. 19-22). The priest then writes down the words of the oath, washes the parchment in the mixture of water and dust, and makes the woman drink the potion while he sacrifices the grain offering of jealousy and remembrance (vv. 23-26).

Verses 27-28 indicate that the woman’s reaction to the potion will determine her guilt or innocence. If she is guilty, the curse of the oath will take effect. If innocent, she will be immune to the curse and continue to conceive children.

The ritual contains technical language that is no longer clear to modern readers. The various descriptions of the offering in v. 15 (“offering of jealousy,” “offering of remembrance,” and “bringing iniquity to remembrance”) lack precise parallels. Reference to “holy water” (!yvdq !ym mayim qedom) in v. 17 is not explained and occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. Perhaps the combination of water and dust symbolizes life and death. The symbolic significance of loosening the woman’s hair in v. 18 may indicate mourning (Lev 10:6), a state of defilement as in leprosy (Lev 13:45), or shame.

Even more problematic is “the water of bitterness that brings a curse” (v. 19). The description of this potion is important for interpreting the entire ordeal, since it is the centerpiece of the ritual. Yet no clear consensus has emerged concerning the meaning of the word !yrmh (hammarîm). It is translated as “bitterness” in the NRSV and “bitter” in the NIV, from the root consonants rrm (mrr), “to be bitter.” Other Hebrew roots have been suggested, which result in very different interpretations, including “water of rebellion” from the root yrm (mri, “to rebel”)68 and “water of instruction or revelation,” from the root hry (yrh, “to teach”).69

The effect of the potion on the woman raises further questions. If the woman is innocent, she will be immune to the negative effects of the potion and will “be able to conceive children” (v. 29). If she is guilty, the potion will make her womb discharge and her uterus drop (vv. 21, 27). Interpreters are divided on the matter of whether the woman is pregnant. If pregnant and guilty of adultery, the phrase would mean that the potion induces an abortion. Innocence would result in a full-term delivery. If the woman is not pregnant and guilty, the phrase would indicate that the potion renders her physically unable to have children.

The process of the ritual has also prompted conflicting interpretations. Some scholars question whether the text is describing one ritual or a combination of distinct rituals and offerings. Martin Noth separated the text into a meal offering and a drink offering. He also identified three different forms of divine judgment. Holy water held secret power of judgment. The oath, in the form of a curse, could also trigger divine judgment. And the writing of words in a book was yet a third form of judgment.70 More recent interpreters tend to view the text as describing one complex ritual.71 But even here there is debate about whether the ritual should be characterized as an ordeal.

Such a magical ritual ordeal is unusual in the OT. There are other rituals from the ancient Near East in which guilt or innocence of a person is determined by a water ordeal. In the Code of Hammurabi, for example, a person accused of sorcery must go through a river ordeal to determine guilt or innocence,72 as must a wife accused of adultery by a third party.73 The closest parallel in the OT is Exod 32:20, where a similar ordeal may be implied when Moses makes the Israelites drink water mixed with powder from the destroyed golden calf. Perhaps the drinking of this mixture determined who would be killed by the Levites (Exod 32:25-29).

Tikva Frymer-Kensky questions whether Num 5:11-31 should be categorized as a trial by ordeal. She notes that the trial by ordeal includes two important features: The god’s decision is manifested immediately, and the result of the ordeal is not the penalty for offense, requiring that the society execute judgment. Numbers 5:11-31 departs from both of these features. The divine decision is not immediately known at the end of the ritual, and the execution of judgment is reserved for God alone.74 The second point is made explicit in v. 31, which states that the “woman shall bear 

 

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her iniquity.” The Hebrew of “to bear iniquity” (hnw[-ta acn nasa) )et-(awonah) means that any punishment must come from God and not from the husband or the larger society, thus protecting the woman, to a certain degree, from her husband’s jealousy.

The drinking of a magical potion certainly provides a strong parallel to the trial by ordeal. The differences highlighted by Frymer-Kensky, however, are significant. At the very least, they accentuate the theological aim of the priestly writers to address the danger of defilement to the camp, which in the end must be determined by God alone, and not by the people.

6:1-21. These verses describe the Nazirite. The name “Nazirite” comes from the Hebrew verb rzn (nazar), meaning “to separate.” Verse 3 states that a Nazirite is potentially any woman or man from the congregation who makes a vow to be separate or dedicated to God for a period of time. The act of vowing is described with the Hebrew alp (pala)). When used in conjunction with the word “vow” (rdn neder), it means simply “to fulfill a vow.” The verb may indicate the need for an explicit statement by the person making the vow. Martin Noth thought that the verb also expressed an extraordinary pledge to God, since the verb can also mean something marvelous.75 The consequence of such a vow was certainly special ordination. It resulted in lay Israelites’ achieving a holy status. This special relationship between God and humans is the last to be explored in Numbers 5:1–6.

The holy status of Nazirites means that such persons are divine property during the period of their vow. They are separated out for God. The holy state of Nazirites may exceed that of regular priests. Nazirites occasion a third type of relationship that, if broken, would defile the camp. The purpose of priestly writers in these verses is to address potential problems of defilement that might arise in conjunction with the Nazirite vow. The particular details of the vow and the circumstances under which someone becomes a permanent Nazirite (e.g., Samson or Samuel) are not mentioned. Instead, vv. 1-8 provide enough conditions for addressing two potential situations of defilement. The first concerns accidental contamination from a corpse (vv. 9-12). Exposure to a dead family member, for example, contaminates a Nazirite, rendering such a person unable to fulfill the vow. The second (vv. 13-20) is guidelines for ending the vow and thus leaving the holy state of a Nazirite. The unit closes with a summary in v. 21.

Verses 1-8 describe the requirements for temporary Nazirite vows. Three restrictions characterize Nazirites during the period of their vow.

First, Nazirites cannot consume wine or any grape products, including raisins (vv. 3-4). The rationale for this prohibition is not given. George Buchanan Gray has suggested that abstinence from grape products represents a rejection of the settled agricultural life represented by Canaanite culture.76 The story of the drunkenness of Noah (Gen 9:18-29) reflects a similar suspicion of Canaanite civilization. A rejection of agrarian culture in the Nazirite vow may be intended to symbolize intensified dependence on God.

Second, Nazirites cannot cut their hair during the period of the vow (v. 5). The story of the Nazirite Samson (Judges 13:1–16) illustrates how hair symbolizes strength. Refraining from cutting the hair during the period of the vow and offering it in sacrifice during the closing ritual (Num 6:18) most likely symbolizes the Nazirites’ total dedication to God during their vow.

Third, the Nazirite cannot touch a corpse (v. 6), because the Nazirite is holy during the period of the vow. Holiness and death are incompatible. Nazirites would lose their state of holiness through contact with a corpse. The Nazirite vow takes precedence over all other relationships, including family. The Nazirite, therefore, is forbidden even to attend the funeral of a parent or sibling (vv. 7-8).

Once the requirements of the Nazirite vow are spelled out in vv. 1-8, the remainder of the text explores the dangers of defilement to those who undertake the vow. Verses 9-12 focus on cleansing from accidental defilement. Verses 13-20 outline proper procedures for ending the vow.

The cultic instructions in vv. 9-12 address the problem of corpse contamination to a Nazirite. Exposure to a corpse defiles a Nazirite, making him or her unable to fulfill the vow. The obligation of the vow remains in place, requiring the Nazirite to repeat the period of consecration. 

 

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Verses 9-12 are aimed at decontaminating both the sanctuary and the Nazirite, so that the person could begin the vow anew and thus fulfill the obligation to God. The text states that a contaminated Nazirite must undergo a seven-day period of purification, at the end of which his or her hair must be shaved (v. 9). On the eighth day, two turtle doves or pigeons are presented to the priest for sacrifice at the door of the tent of meeting (vv. 10-11). The first sacrifice is a sin offering, which purges the sanctuary from pollution. The second is a burnt offering, which may invoke divine presence. After rededication, the Nazirite presents a guilt offering of a one-year-old male lamb for expiation for the broken vow. Then the vow begins anew (v. 12).

A second situation in which Nazirites are vulnerable to defilement is the ending of their vow. Verses 13-20 outline the proper ritual for avoiding contamination when leaving the holy state of the Nazirite. The location of the rite is the door of the tent of meeting (v. 13). A complex series of sacrifices is required, including a burnt offering, a sin offering, an offering of well-being, and grain and drink offerings (vv. 14-15). The question arises as to why such a complex ritual is required and, more precisely, why a sin offering is necessary at the close of the period of the vow. Jacob Milgrom, who cites the medieval commentator Ramban (1194–1270 CE), is most likely correct that “self-removal from the sacred to the profane realm requires sacrificial expiation.”77 During the sacrifice, the consecrated hair of the Nazirite was shaved and destroyed in the fire to ensure that it not become the cause of some future defilement (v. 18). The priestly portion of the sacrifice is described in vv. 19-20; the unit ends by stating that after the ritual, the Nazirite can again drink wine.

6:22-27. A priestly blessing on the congregation closes the section on camp defilement in Numbers 5:1–6. The blessing in vv. 24-26 has been woven into its present framework (vv. 22-23, 27).

The act of blessing is deeply rooted in Israelite culture. It bears a wide range of meaning. On the one hand, Jacob’s stealing of Esau’s blessing and the latter’s inability to acquire another from his father, Isaac (Gen 27:30-38), provides a glimpse into the near magical power of blessing. In that story, to bless is to bestow power for fertility and well-being, which, once spoken, takes on a life of its own. On the other hand, the expression of divine blessing appears to be no more than a stereotypical exchange for “Hello.” The book of Ruth provides an example of how the invocation of divine blessing was part of the everyday language of greeting, for example, when the harvesters welcome Boaz with the words, “The LORD bless you” (Ruth 2:4).

The cultic use of divine blessing, as in vv. 24-26, functions someplace between the two examples noted above. The cultic use of the priestly blessing was widespread by the late monarchical period. Similar cultic language is richly attested in other liturgical literature. Psalm 129:8, for example, concludes with a priestly blessing on the worshipers, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you. We bless you in the name of the LORD” (see also Pss 128:5; 133:3; 134:3). The Hebrew inscription “the LORD bless you and keep you and be with you” was found on a jar at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the upper Sinai, dating from the eighth-century BCE. This inscription indicates the use of a blessing very similar to Num 5:24-26 already in the middle of the monarchical period. The discovery of the priestly blessing in a burial cave in the area of Jerusalem known as the Valley of Hinnom (contemporary Keteph Hinnom) is even more striking. The blessing is written on two silver amulets that date from the late seventh century BCE. An amulet is an object believed to give magical powers of protection against evil to the one who wears it. The discovery of such an amulet in a grave raises further questions of whether the priestly blessing was meant to function in association with the dead. Baruch Levine suggests that the priestly blessing may have protected the dead on their way to Sheol.78

The priestly blessing has a simple structure, consisting of three lines, each of which contains two verbs: bless-keep (protect), shine-grace, lift-peace. The name “Yahweh” appears once in each line, in association with the first of the paired verbs.

Yahweh bless you and keep you;

Yahweh make his face to shine upon you

  and be gracious to you;

Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you—

  and give you peace

 

 

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Two readings are possible from this structure. The six verbs could be interpreted to describe distinct actions of God. They can also be interpreted in pairs. The first verb in each line summarizes an activity of God upon the worshiper, and the second describes the results of God’s actions. The use of the name “Yahweh” as the subject for only the first verb in each sentence favors the interpretation in which the verbs are paired.79 The result is a threefold blessing. The first emphasizes concrete gifts—blessing and security (guarding). The second stresses the hope that God will be well disposed toward the person (to lighten or shine upon the worshiper) and thus temper judgment with mercy (to be gracious). The third asserts that God will pay attention (lift his face), thus providing fullness of life (peace). David Noel Freedman notes a variety of subtle stylistic devices in the Hebrew that aid in carrying out the meaning of the priestly blessing. These include a progression in the numbers of words (3, 5, 7) and consonants (15, 20, 25) in each line. The progression is framed by an opening (“The LORD bless you”) and a closing (“and give you peace”) cola of the same length (7 syllables in Hebrew).80

Numbers 6:22-23, 27 frames the priestly blessing within the context of Numbers 5:1–6. These verses take the form of divine instruction for the Aaronide priesthood. Numbers 6:22-23 indicate that the blessing is meant to function as a concluding benediction (vv. 22-23) to the instruction for camp purity in chaps. 5–6. Numbers 6:27 clarifies that it is God (rather than the priests) who blesses Israel.

The literary setting has puzzled scholars,81 prompting some even to suggest that the text has been displaced from Lev 9:22, where Aaron is also described as blessing the people from the door of the tent of meeting.82 But the function of the blessing as a concluding benediction on the camp and the congregation does correspond to other cultic uses of the priestly blessing in the Psalms (e.g., Psalm 129:1), suggesting that its present context is less arbitrary than many have suspected.

The overall design of Numbers 5:1–6 provides additional guidelines for interpreting the priestly blessing in its present context. The placement of the priestly benediction at the door of the tent of meeting follows naturally upon the inward movement of the laws of defilement. These laws began with contamination requiring expulsion from the camp (5:1-4), followed by three types of relationships within the camp with the power to defile. These relationships moved in an ever-closer orbit to the tabernacle at the center of the camp—from defrauding in general (5:5-10), to adultery (5:11-31), and through to the Nazirite vow (6:1-21). The location for expiatory rituals has tended to follow the same movement. The laws of defrauding and adultery require that the offender be presented “to the priest” (5:9, 15), while the defiled Nazirite must go “to the door of the tent of meeting” (6:10, 13). The door of the tent of meeting is also the location for the priestly blessing on the congregation (see Lev 9:22).

The priestly blessing has at least two functions in its present literary context. It provides yet another safeguard against defilement by blanketing the camp with the power of divine blessing. It also concludes Numbers 5:1–6 with a description of the ideal camp. The ideal is where God pays particular attention to persons, where blessing and security drive out the power of death, and where the achievement of wholeness and peace is possible.

REFLECTIONS

1. The priestly writers encourage us to reflect theologically on the role of the church in health care. Medical care in modern society is increasingly separated from the life of faith. Doctors operate and prescribe medicine to combat disease. Ministers support the emotional needs of the family and the patient. We acknowledge the importance of both for human health, but the vocations are clearly separated between the physical and the spiritual. The priestly writers would have a difficult time understanding our clear separation of roles. Religion and 

 

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health are more closely interwoven in their worldview. Their starting point in Numbers 5:1–6 is God as the source of both physical and moral health. Thus religious laws of defilement embrace both bodily and social diseases. Both are signs of death equally opposed by God.

What would it mean to translate the priestly worldview into our life? Their teaching on social defilement is not all that different from our own. We understand the power of social disease in the contemporary church. We employ the power of God to combat violence, greed, racism, the breakdown of the family, and many other illnesses that plague our society. And we expect God to bring about social change. Our expectations for God are less concrete when we shift from social to physical disease. The priestly teaching on physical defilement and the role of God in healing is more of a challenge. Yet their view of holiness requires that the church be actively involved in health care.

Employing the power of God to combat physical disease does not put the church in opposition to any other form of medical care. Cancer treatment requires operations and chemotherapy. But priestly writers would say that the church also has its own medicine to combat illness. And the New Testament witness to Jesus supports them. Jesus was a healer. It is one of the few things that both his followers and his opponents could agree about (Mark 4:20-27). This power is passed on to his followers. The sacraments of the church are a repository of Jesus’ healing power. The water of baptism makes us new. The blood and body of Jesus flow in our veins through communion. These sacraments are resources for health to be dispensed freely by the church. Many churches have additional rituals of healing, some involving oil. The priestly writers infuse all dimensions of life with holiness. They encourage us to combat social and physical disease with the same expectation of change. Racism and cancer are both signs of death equally opposed by God.

2. The priestly laws of defilement are aimed at creating a healthy community. The details of their laws do not apply to the modern world. Skin diseases, semen, menstrual discharges, and contact with the dead are not the significant points to communicate when teaching Numbers 5:1–6. Two principles are important for healthy community. First, laws of defilement are universal to the human condition. They are not aimed at certain classes of people or races. All persons are liable for defilement. Second, the laws of defilement are inclusive in their intent. They are aimed at keeping people in the camp within the sphere of holiness, and not driving them away. Disease is identified so that it can be cured. It is not used to exclude anyone. This is especially evident with the laws of defilement within the camp (Num 5:5–6:21). They are aimed at restoration, not expulsion. It is also true with the laws requiring a person to leave the camp (Num 5:1-4). The larger body of priestly law includes rituals for reentry into the camp for those who have suffered skin disease (Leviticus 13:1–14), those who have had bodily discharges (Leviticus 15:1), and those who have been contaminated from contact with a corpse (Numbers 19:1). A healthy community has God at its center, cares equally for each member, and is socially inclusive.

3. The ritual ordeal of the suspected adulteress (Num 5:11-31) confronts the contemporary reader with a host of obstacles for interpretation. Much of the language of the text is no longer clear even to experts. The role of magic in the trial by ordeal is foreign to contemporary religious practice, and the unequal treatment of a husband and a wife regarding fidelity in marriage is viewed as unjust in contemporary society. Thus Numbers 5:1–6 forces the reader to think clearly about principles of interpretation. The central task is to determine how Scripture that is historically specific can function authoritatively for a contemporary reader, to whom the text may not only be unclear in its details, but even immoral in its prescribed practice as well.

The starting point for teaching this text is the association of adultery with sacrilege in Num 5:12. As noted in the commentary, the phrase “to break faith with” indicates that God is the offended party. Thus, even though the husband brings the woman to the priest in a “spirit of jealousy” (Num 

 

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5:13-15), the ordeal focuses on God and the woman, not the husband. Jealousy on the part of a wife is not mentioned. The limited focus on the husband’s jealousy reflects the patriarchal society of ancient Israel. The priestly writers most likely shared the belief that sexual activity of a woman is an offense against the man, whether it be the woman’s father or her husband (Deut 22:13-29).

Tikva Frymer-Kensky may be correct that the shift in focus from husband to God as judge is meant to protect the woman from her husband’s jealousy in a patriarchal society. The principle underlying the ritual is that the accused is innocent until proven otherwise by God, in spite of jealousy. The aim of the ritual is to maintain the marriage relationship in a society where men are in sole control. Our ideal of marriage departs from the priestly writers. We seek an even distribution of power between the husband and the wife. But the aim of the priestly writers—to maintain a marriage even at the moment of jealousy—remains an important principle. But their limited application to men is too narrow for us. A contemporary interpretation would expand the principle to include a “spirit of jealousy” in both the husband and the wife. The destructive power of jealousy can infect both men and women in our society in ways that priestly writers could never have imagined.

4. Drinking “the water of bitterness” presents another obstacle in the interpretation of the trial by ordeal. The ability of the priest to make a potion that releases supernatural powers borders on magic, and “magic” is a bad word in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The God of the exodus cannot be manipulated through incantations or through sorcery (Deut 18:9-14). The power of Jesus cannot be induced through divination or bought with money (Acts 8:9-25). These confessions appear to conflict with the drinking of a magical potion. Why the aura of magic in warding off defilement? What is it about holiness and defilement that forced priestly theologians to incorporate rituals that did not easily fit into their own central beliefs?

Interpretation must focus on the power of God in the ritual. The point of emphasis is not on the ability of the priest to manipulate God with the use of a potion. It is, rather, on the tangible way in which holiness infiltrates the body of the woman. The setting of the ritual as self-curse focuses only on negative consequences. The requirement that a wife invoke God to destroy her uterus because of a husband’s jealousy is so offensive that we are inclined to stop the process of interpretation. The underlying rationale, however, is worthy of reflection: The ingestion of holy water has health consequences (v. 16). It is the attempt of the priestly writers to communicate the physical effects of holiness that has pushed them to the limit of their theological discourse. Christians continue to share in their uneasy quest. We, too, confess that holiness is physical and that it infiltrates our bodies through tangible sacraments of water, wine, and bread.

5. The Nazirite vow provides a model for temporary leadership that is grounded in community. The Nazirite vow is a special calling of laypersons for a designated period of time. The content of the Nazirite vow does not appear to be the central point, and the priestly writers provide no reason for undertaking the Nazirite vow. What is emphasized is that laypersons take on a special calling for a limited period of time. It is done in public, and not in private. It is official, requiring rituals of commencement and conclusion, and it has communal and life-style consequences. The Nazirite is required to separate from everyday routine. Separation is not retreat from the world; Nazirites are not hermits. They remain part of the congregation, but their holy status brings them in a closer orbit of the tabernacle at the center of the camp. The Nazirite vow is a suggestive model for laypersons in the contemporary church to commit themselves to a special ministry for a limited period of time.

6. The priestly blessing (Num 6:22-24) is the most familiar passage in Numbers 5:1–6. The central message of the blessing is stated in the closing Hebrew word, !wlv (salôm), translated “peace.” In English, “peace” connotes the absence of war. It can also describe a state of tranquility. These meanings are also in the Hebrew. But the peace of God in the priestly blessing embraces even 

 

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more aspects of life, including good health, security, inner harmony, wellness, material prosperity, and a long life. The broad and rich meaning of “peace” in the priestly blessing reinforces the role of holiness in the life of Israel to bring about both social and physical health.

It was noted in the Commentary that the priestly blessing provides an ideal vision of the camp and that it functions as a conclusion to the laws of defilement in Numbers 5:1–6. The ideal of the priestly blessing continues in contemporary Jewish and Christian worship. It is included in most lectionary cycles as a topic for preaching. The blessing of God also continues to be the last word in many of our Sunday liturgies as a closing benediction.

The central task in preaching this text is to explore what blessing means. Is the bestowal of a blessing sacramental, or is it no more than a socially polite activity? What is it that we recieve at the close of a worship service? Is real divine power transmitted in blessing, or is the preacher simply telling us that the worship service is nearly over? The latter point creates a problem for interpreting the priestly benediction. Notice how the introduction to the priestly blessing (Num 6:22-23) stresses that only priests can bless. It is not a casual activity. The conclusion (Num 6:27) indicates how close the text is to the world of magic. The author must clarify that the priest does not possess the power to bless independently of God. The need for such clarification underscores that divine blessing has independent power that can be let loose in the congregation.

Posts 221
James Thompson | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 9 2012 11:35 AM

Dan Francis:
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,

How far out are we from publication do you estimate? I've followed your support/promotion of this series and am heavily leaning toward a purchase. I just hate being on hold so long after I've ordered it.

Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 9 2012 12:56 PM

James Thompson:

Dan Francis:
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,

How far out are we from publication do you estimate? I've followed your support/promotion of this series and am heavily leaning toward a purchase. I just hate being on hold so long after I've ordered it.

I would love to know that myself. Someone from Logos should be able to tell us, but i have no idea is it 10 more, 5 more, 300 more…  I plan to try to encourage people of the worth of this series by placing a passage or chapter of every book of the Bible up. Will continue till it goes into preproduction.

 

-Dan

Posts 286
Mathew Voth | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 9 2012 12:56 PM

James, your order gets us one step closer. You know what to do.

Posts 1509
Josh | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 9 2012 4:58 PM

I've been curious about this....

Dan, what is the permitted noncommercial user copyright guidelines for individuals concerning the amount of text that can be copied collectively without the publishers expressed written permission?

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