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

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 9 2012 9:38 PM

Joshua G:

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?

That is a good question, if amazon and google are any indication i would guess a fair amount. I am not too worried over it… i certainly won't be posting anything close to even 5% of the work even if i do have one from all 74 books of the alexandrian canon. If i get a letter from abingdon asking me to cease I would of course, but considering this is basically set out to encourage people to buy it I can not see why they would object… the one objections might be to the 2 complete biblical books  but they were still very small parts of the more massive tomes. Only time i ever really had contact with them was complaining that the pre pub price was unreasonable and that it had been stalled out for a long time, i do know i was told the only thing i could do is convince more people to purchase it. Thankfully the price did come down several months later to a most reasonable price but still need more interested. I wish they would have just gone ahead like some other companies have in the past and simply paid to have it put into logos, I did a very extensive survey on bible software from abingdon before registering the NIDB, which is simply web browser based. They know folio is more or less dead, I know MS tried to kill it off shortly after they acquired it, and thought it has been sold, I am not sure of the level of support being offered.

-Dan

Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 10 2012 6:20 PM

DEUTERONOMY 26:1-19, LITURGY AND THANKFULNESS

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COMMENTARY

The significance and attractiveness of the two liturgical confessions that bring to a close the main legal section of Deuteronomy can scarcely be overrated. Each provides an illuminating glimpse into the minds of the deuteronomists and reveals why this law book has been so influential in the development of both Jewish and Christian thought.

It should be noted that Deuteronomy 26:1 provides a carefully structured inclusio to balance the opening of the more directly worded instructions for the establishment of a central place of worship in chap. 12. There the primary importance of the sanctuary is declared, with its controlling position in shaping the life of the community in all its aspects. It is described with relative simplicity as a place at which prayers could be made and to which offerings could be brought. It was to be a sanctuary where God would become accessible to the people by the presence there of the divine name. In chap. 26 we have a concluding resumption of the theme concerning the central place worship was to have in the life of every member of the Israelite nation. Whereas chap. 12 provides the means and institutional structure for the religious dimension of Israel’s life, chap. 26 fills this structure with content and ideas. And whereas chap. 12 determines the outward pattern and location of worship, chap. 26 determines the shape of the liturgical prayers, confessions, and theological meaning of worship.

Most of all this content is set out as an expression of the thankfulness with which Israel was to celebrate before God the immensity of the gift that the divine choosing, calling, and preservation of the nation had made possible. From a literary and historical perspective, it should be noted that, contrary to the widely canvassed view of ~Gerhard von Rad99 that this confessional recital of God’s gracious dealings with Israel had an early origin, its relatively late deuteronomic composition must be fully recognized.100 It marks a late, and revisionist, view of the meaning of worship for Israel, rather than a very early one. It is pervasively and characteristically an expression of the deuteronomic understanding of worship and of the embedding of all social relationships and moral seriousness in this.

To be an Israelite was to be a beneficiary of a long history of God’s gracious providence and care, which had made slaves into free and prosperous citizens. This is the message that echoes through the confessional recital of the past in 25:5-10a. This summary account has been constructed and worded on the basis of the outline history of Israel’s origins, now contained in Genesis–Numbers. Clearly only a part of the present tradition was available to the deuteronomists, although the main structural outlines had been established in the form with which we are familiar.

26:1-4. The introductory rubric explains the 

 

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circumstances in which this confessional recital was to be made. A token gift of the firstfruits of the harvest was to be placed in a basket and handed to the priest at the central sanctuary (v. 2). The priest was then to place this basket of gifts before the altar as a gesture acknowledging that the produce belonged to God. It represents a part of what God had given to the worshiper. The occasion for this action was evidently intended to be the Festival of Ingathering, which took place in the late summer (14:22-29). The whole procedure, which is carefully specified, is an open acknowledgment that the land itself is a gift from God. It has acquired this religious significance because it was the land that had been promised on oath by God to the nation’s ancestors (v. 3).

The handing over of the basket of fruit and produce is only one part of the prescribed act of worship. Probably rituals that were not all that dissimilar had been performed in honor of the local Baals by non-Israelites. As important as the presentation of the gift was the confessional declaration showing how the land had been given to Israel’s ancestors when they were landless and impoverished.

26:5-10a. These verses contain what can best be described as Israel’s confession of faith. It was a kind of creed, declaring the story of God’s actions that had shaped the nation’s faith. It anchored Israel’s possession of the land to its knowledge of God and tied both to events from the nation’s past. In this fashion, Israel’s faith was inseparably linked to the territory on which the produce had been grown and elicited from the story of the past a message concerning the nature and purpose of God. It was this message that gave assurance, faith, and hope for the future.

Such a confession defines the Being of God in an oblique manner by affirming and recalling those actions through which God had become known and accessible to Israel. It transforms a simple act of giving into an assertion of the gracious and generous nature of God and avers yet again the dependence of the worshiper on God for the sustenance that makes life possible. It renounces, by implication, any claim upon God other than that of God’s own gracious and outgoing nature. Israel had been brought into existence by divine grace and continued to be saved by grace alone. In this simple thanksgiving ceremony, the declaration of that grace was reaffirmed as Israel’s continually renewed confession of faith.

The detailed elements of the historical summary that constitutes this creed are brief and are drawn from the outline part of the story that binds together the narrative of the present books of Genesis to Joshua. The “wandering Aramaean” (the phrase dba ymra [)arammî )obed] conveys the sense of “vulnerable” or “destitute,” since a landless person was without security of food and protection) was Jacob, who had sought refuge from famine in the land of Egypt. It was while he was in Egypt that his descendants had grown to such numbers that they were reckoned to constitute a “nation.” For the deuteronomic authors of this creedal confession, the sheer growth in number of the Israelites is regarded as the primary factor that had elevated them to nationhood.

This affirmation draws attention to the unexpected omission in the recited account of Israel’s beginnings of any mention of the covenant made on Mt. Horeb (Sinai). In the exodus story, it is especially the revelation of God on the sacred mountain and the making of the covenant between the LORD God and Israel that elevated Israel to the status of nation (Exod 19:5-6). Yet here this status is seen as having already been conferred by the growth in number of Jacob’s descendants. Surprisingly the report of the making of the covenant on Mt. Horeb is passed over in silence.

For von Rad and Noth, this failure to make reference to the Horeb event was seen as a significant guide to the manner in which Israel’s tradition concerning its past had been built up, with the tradition of the revelation on 

 

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Mt. Horeb being grafted in at a relatively late stage.101 It is questionable, however, whether this omission is particularly significant and whether it represents a valid conclusion that can be drawn. In any case, once the fact that this creedal recital of the story of Israel’s origins is seen to be a deuteronomic composition, then the basis for drawing such conclusions is largely removed.

The reason for the absence of any reference to the events of God’s revelation on Mt. Horeb must lie in the theological motives that led to the formulation of this historical summary as a concentration on God’s reaching out to Israel. The Horeb revelation, with its code of commandments, together with the entire deuteronomic legislation, which gave sharper definition to the demands of the covenant, belonged to the sphere of Israel’s response. In this regard, the entire law code of Deuteronomy 12:1–26 is viewed as a spelling out of the content and purpose of the revelation made on Horeb. The covenant at Horeb and the covenant made in the plains of Moab (29:1) are not two different covenants, but two occasions for affirming what is viewed essentially as one covenant relationship, brought about by God’s election of Israel. Seen in such a light, the purpose of recalling how God had stretched out a mighty hand to bring Israel out of Egypt “with a terrifying display of power and with signs and wonders” (v. 8) was aimed at showing that all Israel possessed had been given to it. Israel’s duty to obey these laws was a necessary way of responding to all the privileges to which its continued existence on the land bore testimony. God was Israel’s inescapable benefactor to whom it both had been and forever would be totally indebted. Without God, Israel was nothing.

We cannot leave aside consideration of the centrality of the importance of land for the larger perspective of the theology of the deuteronomists. Throughout the years in which the deuteronomic movement came into being and through which it had flourished and gained maturity, the threat of the loss of the land had grown in scale to be a major threat. For much of the nation, it had already become a reality by the time this confessional recital was composed. The roots of this aspect of deuteronomic theology are traceable to the shock and alarm that had arisen when the first Assyrian depredations of Israel’s territory had occurred during the latter half of the eight century BCE. By the beginning of the sixth century, when the deuteronomic movement reached maturity, very little of the original territory that had constituted the Davidic-Solomonic empire remained under the control of Jerusalem. In reciting the tradition of how the land had originally been given to Israel, each surviving member of this once great nation was recalling what had been his or her ancestral inheritance.

This fact lends added force to the emphasis on the manner in which Israel had been brought out of Egypt, “with signs and wonders.” This distinctive deuteronomic formulation (cf. 4:34; 6:22; 7:19; 11:2-3; 29:2; 34:11)102 reflects directly the central theme of the plague narrative (Exodus 6:1–12) and of the providential wonders by which Israel had been sustained in the wilderness. Such actions on God’s part served to provide evidence that the LORD was indeed God and that the exercise of divine power was the reason for Israel’s escape from Egypt, survival in the wilderness, and conquest of the land. It had not been in Israel’s power to achieve these victories, since they were gifts conferred by the power of God.

Such a theological message clearly had taken on a special relevance at a time when Israel was contemplating the greatness of the past and was staring a more ruinous present in the face. By recalling the gracious divine purpose that had brought Israel into being in the first place, a firm basis for hope for the future was established.

26:10b-15. The second of the confessional recitals by which Israel was to affirm the giving of firstfruits of the land to God and the tithe of the produce for the upkeep of the Levites and the care of the destitute is more functional. The requirement that Israel should tithe the increase of all its produce annually was established in 14:22, whereas here the tithe is reckoned only at the end of a three-year period. The annual levy is then counted as the firstfruits. No specific reference is made to the requirement that this offering be presented at the central sanctuary, as laid down in 14:23 and 15:20, although this should probably be taken for granted.

Throughout the chapter the emphasis is firmly placed in demonstrating that the giving of this triennial tithe for the upkeep of the sanctuary servants and the destitute (for the three categories of the needy: resident aliens, orphans, and widows; cf. 1:16; 14:29) was to be fulfilled “in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me” (v. 13) and was not a voluntary act of charity. To this extent the confessional recital represents a stringent declaration of the importance of the tithe as a visible expression of Israel’s observance of the law. This con-

 

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forms also with the requirement that a full declaration be made that the commandments had been kept in their entirety. The offerings had not been spoiled by having been eaten, or set apart, while the worshiper was in an unclean (cultically unacceptable) condition.

In this fashion the offering of the triennial tithe became an act of wider significance than simply providing support for the ministers of Israel’s worship and giving charitable assistance to the poor. It was a public expression of the religious good standing and the law-abiding faithfulness of the worshiper. To have been negligent in this offering would have had serious consequences for membership within the community as a whole. The effect was clearly twofold: It both reinforced the importance of the tithe as a sign of the willingness to keep the commandments in their full range, and it ensured that the tithe was not reduced to a mere optional extra that could be treated with indifference.

There is a measure of dignity and open-ended expectation in the prayer with which this second confessional recollection of the past is made: “Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven . . . and bless your people Israel” (v. 15). The past could be remembered with gratitude; the present could be viewed only with anxiety and alarm; the future could now be striven for and secured by renewing obedience to God’s commandments.

26:16-19. The concluding section affirms that the covenant between God and Israel, the laws for which have been set out in the preceding chapters and give to this covenant a human dimension, has been agreed upon, sealed, and ratified.103 Both parties to the covenant are fully aware of the terms and consequences relating to it and have willingly agreed to abide by them. Israel is therefore already bound to the commandments and has been so since its entry into the land.

From a literary perspective, this section completes the framework to the laws that began in 12:1, and it links directly to the exhortation by Moses (11:1-32) for Israel to keep the commandments. The preparatory period in the wilderness has come to an end, and now the promises and expectations for the future need to be fulfilled. There is, therefore, a note of dramatic finality about the time reference: “this very day.” The time of preparation is over. The period of fulfillment has begun when obedience must prevail.

From a formal perspective, there can be little reason to doubt that the pattern of covenant making portrayed here, together with much of the terminology employed, has been drawn and adapted from international treaty making between nations and cities. To such treaties, God, or the respective deities named by the signatory parties, could be invoked to act as witness and guardian. The fundamental difference here is that the LORD God is one party to the covenant and Israel is the other. There is no invoking of third parties to act as witnesses or patron overseers, because the LORD God acts throughout as initiator, guardian, and witness to it.

At the same time, there is a solemn and serious intent behind the securing of agreement from all the people of Israel. This is further reinforced in the following section (27:1-10) by affirming that Moses was accompanied by the elders of Israel (27:1) and the Levites (27:9), who act as the people’s representatives. All Israel has been drawn into the covenant with the LORD as God since its entry into the land.

We should not overlook the point that the strongly worded formula insisting that “this very day” saw the covenant bond between Israel and God inaugurated is repeated in each and every day in which Israel continues to exist. A renewed immediacy of the commandments is brought into being every time they are read and remembered. By them Israel must live, and no letup in their importance is contemplated. So the repetition of the today formula in vv. 17-18 carries forward to each new day Israel’s obligation, which forms its response to God’s covenant making.

It is significant that not only has Israel been bound to God by the covenant and has thereby become committed to keeping the commandments, but also God is bound by what is promised from the divine side. Israel will be set high above all nations (v. 19). The formula that follows is ambiguous whether the reference to “fame, praise, and honor” refers to Israel (NRSV and NIV) or to God (NEB and REB).

Clearly the text displays a certain level of reticence in suggesting that Israel has a claim on God by which the LORD is bound to bless them 

 

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and to keep them secure in their land. The divine initiative and sovereignty are carefully protected. Nevertheless, the covenant implies that the bond between Israel and God carries obligations for God as well as for Israel. It is God who has taken the initiative to deliver, uphold, and render holy the people of Israel.

REFLECTIONS

Few passages in the book of Deuteronomy have attracted quite so much attention as the short confessional recital of Deut 16:5-10a. The reason for this lies in its history-centered emphasis. It portrays God as “the God who acts” by constructing a brief review of particular past events relating to Israel’s origins, which paints a picture of the love, purpose, and power of God. Without defining the attributes of God in the conventional language of classical theology, it nevertheless infers and implies many of those attributes. So the worshiper can sense that he or she knows God because of events that bear directly on the worshiper’s own experience and perceptions of the world.

Moreover, because these events are related directly to the situation of the worshiper, making reference to the land on which the crops offered to God had been grown, a bridge is built between the past and the present and between God and human beings. The realization that it was my ancestor who was landless and destitute and that it was my forebears who were slaves and my predecessors who first entered and took possession of this land made faith personal and real.

Seen in this light, the importance of well-planned worship and a well-structured liturgy becomes obvious. Such worship forms a continuous bridge between the generations and between the unseen world of God and the known earthly realm of home and work. Worship becomes a process of bonding in much the same way that an infant becomes bonded to its mother—through care and contact. Far from such worship’s being an optional extra, it fulfills a vital role in life. It establishes an indispensable sense of identity, relating the individual to the larger community in which life has to be lived and generating a sense of orientation and hope to the environment and its future. All this in a mere half dozen verses!

To contrast this emphasis on the action of God in directing events with other, especially Canaanite, religious traditions—suggesting that whereas they represented gods of nature, Israel worshiped a God of history—has undoubtedly been a serious misinterpretation of the situation. Undoubtedly it was a widespread feature of much ancient Near Eastern religion, as indeed of religions generally, to claim that a god, known by whatever name, had the power to initiate and control events. It is hard to see how it could have been otherwise if the deity concerned were not regarded as impossibly remote and inaccessible. It belongs to the most basic notion of divinity that gods possess power over events, persons, and processes in this world. At most the contrast suggested has relevance in relation to a degree of emphasis on historical processes or the natural order. In a very real way, most of the world’s great religious traditions have focused attention on the power of God, or the gods, to intervene directly in human activities and affairs, either at a national or a personal level. We can understand that a deity who did nothing at all for human beings would attract few worshipers, since it is the consciousness of divine power that lies at the heart of faith.

It is scarcely adequate as an interpretation of the specific setting in Deuteronomy 26:1 to contrast the idea of a God of history with a God of nature, since the chapter is directly related to the offering of the fruits of the soil. The very fact that the Israelite worshiper was commanded to recite this short summary of Israel’s early history as an accompaniment to the presentation of a harvest thank offering relates the gifts of nature very directly to the land and to the historical events through which Israel had come to possess it. It is very much a scholarly 

 

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abstraction to separate too sharply God’s power in nature from God’s power in history, since these are simply modern abstractions by which we grasp our experience of the world in its totality.

Absolute contrasts between history and nature and between the God of history and the gods of nature, therefore, are mistaken. We can discern a remarkable wholeness and balance in the Israelite confession of faith. God is related personally and directly to each Israelite’s actual situation. Faith is tied indissolubly to the demands, tasks, and necessities of daily life. The world of faith and the world of food, clothing, and territory are one world.

A similar significance attaches to the omission in this confession of any reference to the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. In view of all that has been noted concerning the importance of the concept of covenant law to Deuteronomy and the fact that this chapter is clearly intended to serve as a kind of summarizing conclusion to the specific legal parts of the book of Deuteronomy, it becomes unthinkable to suppose that the author quite intentionally bypassed any reference to the giving of the law. Only by taking the confession out of its present context altogether could this assumption be made. To some degree, it is probably this fact that has led the author to give added emphasis to the law in the shorter second confession (26:12-15). This was to be recited in accompaniment to the offering of the triennial tithe, where the bringing of the tithe is a public act of avowing that the worshiper intends to keep the commandments in their entirety.

Overall the recital of God’s providential care, which has given Israel the land, and the acknowledgment that there are laws that belong to the covenant by which Israel must respond to God belong together. Law and grace are two parallel manifestations of God’s commitment to Israel. Obedience to God is not a way of gaining God’s favor, but a proper way of responding to it. It is because all of life’s most precious assets can be seen as having derived from God that an obedient path of rightly using these assets is a proper human response.

In the theology of Deuteronomy, special importance attaches to this linking together of law and grace in that the book is deeply committed to emphasizing both concepts. It is because God is gracious that God gives the law. To emphasize one aspect to the detriment of the other or to take objection to Deuteronomy because it places the Ten Commandments so high in the divine scheme of things would be to distort the balance the book expresses. All the more does this become evident when we take full account of the way in which the central law code of the book (chaps. 12–26) is given a historical framework and an epilogue that looks to the future of Israel.

The very structure of the law code in chapter 12 begins with instructions for the building of a sanctuary and the setting up of an altar where God’s presence would continue to be made available to Israel. This sanctuary would be the location of the divine name, making God accessible to the people, but at the same time providing a center of focus for the people and the place to which prayers could be offered. The same law code then concludes here with a resumption of the instruction to bring to God a thank offering. Law is set within a context of prayer and worship, which themselves form part of the armory of grace that has been given to Israel.

 

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Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Mar 11 2012 4:59 PM

JOSHUA 20:1-9, TOWNS FOR REFUGE

COMMENTARY

It may seem at first that chaps. 20–21, the related lists of towns for refuge and the levitical towns, form an addition to the deuteronomistic Joshua, since its conclusion (21:43-45) apparently duplicates the conclusion at 19:51. But 19:51 concludes the grants of land in Canaan, and 21:43-45 concludes the whole of the allocation that began in 13:1. Chapters 20–21 include settlements on both the east and the west sides of the Jordan; thus they mirror the description of the eastern tribal territories in chap. 13.

Moreover, both chap. 20 and chap. 21 have a deuteronomistic logic in that they fit the known purposes of Josiah’s reform. The towns of refuge are designed to enhance the central power’s control of cycles of violence. Clearly Josiah’s reform was not 

 

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meant to eliminate or even to reduce violence. But one of its purposes was to take as much as possible of the violence that did occur out of the hands of families and commonalities and put it in the hands of the state. In Athens, Draco’s reform in 621 BCE, the year after Josiah’s reform, had as its main purpose the melioration of the vendetta.

The levitical towns contribute to Josiah’s control of and solicitude for the Levites. Conceivably the levitical towns are the vestige of a genuinely ancient institution, perhaps going back, as many have suggested, to the house of David’s patronage of a scattered tribe of militant supporters (a hypothesis that is often overly romanticized). Barred from holding arable land (thus limited to pastureland) and, therefore, from turning into a landholding elite, as dependents of the centralizing monarch they could serve in the role of dispersed and intimidating trustees of the central shrine’s law, well known for their militancy and readiness to use violence. However, whether these two chapters are primarily deuteronomistic or priestly in their present form is another question.

The tension between clan justice, especially as expressed in the blood feud or vendetta, and the prerogatives of central justice, with its interest in the supposed dispassionate weighing of evidence and circumstance, is an age-old theme. In industrialized societies, where large middle and influential upper classes have the benefit of well-developed systems of law, courts, and police, it is sometimes easy to forget how fragile and tenuous the maintenance of social order can be. In theory, people who are relatively poor or racially stigmatized enjoy the same benefits, but their lives often come closer than do those of well-off whites to the disorder, lawlessness, and capriciousness that characterized most societies before the modern era.

Under such circumstances, the blood feud functions as a form of primitive justice. According to the basic principle, in the absence of police and courts households undertake to avenge the murder of one of their own. The responsibility for revenge falls on kin in the same proportion as for redemption from debt, so that in Hebrew the “redeemer” (lag go)el) is also the “avenger.” Justice is a private matter. In practice, blood guilt serves more often as the basis for a negotiated settlement with compensation than as a justification for answering one killing with another. People usually—not always—prefer to work things out rather than pursue the potentially endless cycle of revenge and counterrevenge. This is important, because it relates directly to the purpose of the biblical towns of refuge, which represent a kind of compromise between private justice and monarchic justice, which in the deuteronomistic conception is overseen by a controlled magistracy.

While the institution of assigned urban asylums seems to make sense, it has the look of idealistic central planning often found in biblical law. The term used for “asylum” (flqm miqlat) occurs only in reference to these towns in priestly texts (Numbers 35:1; 1 Chronicles 6:1; and priestly parts of Joshua 20:1–21). There are no stories or historical accounts in the OT in which such towns appear. Elsewhere in the OT, asylum is provided by altars, as prescribed in the ancient law in Exod 21:13-14 (cf. 1 Kgs 1:50; 2:28). Outside of deuteronomistic or priestly legislation, such altars might be available practically anywhere. It is likely that the idea for asylum towns originated with the deuteronomists, forced on them as a repercussion of their radical law of centralization: The monarchy must support asylum; if altars outside Jerusalem are now illegal and, therefore, no longer available for asylum, something must take their place, and that something cannot depend on the availability of altars (cf. Deut 19:6, which recognizes distance to asylum as the problem).

Moses’ order for asylum towns is given in two places, Deut 19:1-13 and Num 35:9-34. The deuteronomistic law calls for assigning three towns in the three main regions of highland Canaan, and another three towns if the east bank of the Jordan is conquered. The conquest of the east is described in Deut 2:26–3:17, so the three asylum towns there are designated already in Deut 4:41-43, one for each tribal territory. They are apparently major towns in the seventh century BCE, but none is mentioned in Joshua other than in chap. 21, where all the towns of refuge appear also in the list of levitical towns. The towns to the west are assigned by region rather than by tribe; Hebron and Shechem are the traditional centers of their regions (“Ephraim” [20:7] is used broadly, since Shechem belongs to Manasseh [17:2]), and Kedesh in Galilee serves for the 

 

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deuteronomist the same northern urban and strategic functions as Dan did for the kings of Israel.128 Killers who flee to one of these towns turn their case over to the magistracies of both the asylum town and the town of the person killed.

There is nothing in the priestly law that indicates the existence of asylum towns before Josiah’s reform, even though there is no doubt that earlier monarchs wanted to control the vendetta. The protection of Cain at the beginning of the J strand (Gen 4:1-16) is an early reflection of this concern. However, several significant elements appear in the priestly law that are not in the deuteronomistic law. One is that the killer’s justification for initial asylum is strictly defined rather than being left mostly to the town’s magistrates. Second, the case is quickly brought to trial before the “congregation,” the priestly concept of the collective of all Israel. Third, killers judged innocent of murder by the congregation may return to their asylum and must remain there “until the death of the high priest,” when they can return home.

Both versions of the law of asylum are evident in Joshua 20:1, but an important textual variation affects the interpretation of these two versions and their origin. In the LXX, 20:4-6 is almost entirely missing; there the text of 20:1-3, 6 states simply that the towns required by Moses are to be designated so that the killer “without intent” (NIV, “accidentally”) may flee there until there is a trial before the congregation. The phrase “by mistake” (NIV, “unintentionally”) is missing from the LXX. Now “without intent” occurs in Numbers 35:1 and “by mistake” in Deuteronomy 19:1. It has also been noticed that the LXX text looks like it is based entirely on the priestly version of the law and that the longer MT version shows apparent deuteronomistic additions that have no part in the priestly law, not only “by mistake” (there is no “or” in the Hebrew text), but also the negotiations between killer and town magistracy by which they must make a preliminary judgment in the case, before it goes before the “congregation” (20:4-5).

Some have regarded the magistrate’s preliminary judgment as seriously inconsistent with the priestly law. Believing that the LXX version of Joshua 20:1 preserves a consistent understanding of the law, they reason that it represents, excepting one or two phrases, the earlier form of Joshua 20:1, and therefore that the earlier form follows the priestly rather than the deuteronomistic law.129

It is important to remember, however, that people have an interest in making an institution like the asylum towns work and in order to do so would have to be willing to give a killer the benefit of the doubt in a preliminary trial. With this in mind, the simpler explanation is that the MT of Joshua 20:1, the version familiar from the translations, represents the text’s pre-LXX form (a deuteronomistic text with later priestly supplements) and that the shorter LXX text represents the alterations of a later scribe who had no particular need to see the system work. This scribe was disturbed by an apparent inconsistency between Deuteronomy 19:1 and Numbers 35:1 and, assuming that with the more determinate priestly law at the magistrates’ disposal no preliminary trial would be needed, removed it, along with the vague “by mistake.” In sum, the deuteronomistic version is more workable, the priestly version more defined, organized, and indeed centralized, but at the same time more theoretical; the MT represents the usual combination of the two on a deuteronomistic base, the LXX a revision in the direction of priestly strictness.130

REFLECTIONS

People who live in the so-called developed world, especially those who are not poor, may tend to take for granted the degree of basic law and order, or social peace, that they enjoy as the result of belonging to a comparatively democratic, wealthy, and well-policed society. There is vast room for improvement in the policing of society in developed countries, but compared with early agrarian and present-day poorer societies, the majority of their inhabitants 

 

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are fortunate. Because we do not have to worry daily about ongoing vendettas, we may underestimate the boon that any attempt to control them, as with the town of refuge, represented. Such refuge may have been indispensable in the absence of effective alternatives.

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Forum MVP
Keep Smiling 4 Jesus :) | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Mar 11 2012 5:51 PM

Dan Francis:
Thankfully the price did come down several months later to a most reasonable price but still need more interested.

Concur => New Interpreter's Bible (12 vols.)  needs more pre-orders to change status from "Almost There !" to "Under Development".

Thankful placing a pre-order does not charge credit card.  When resource ships, then card is charged, plus have 30 day option to seek a refund.  Although with so many NIB samples, should know whether NIB would be a useful addition to your Logos library.

Keep Smiling Smile

Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 12 2012 12:32 PM

Judges 10:6–11:11, Israel, the Lord, and Jephthah

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COMMENTARY

The two scenes that begin the Jephthah narrative function as mirror images. In the first scene (10:6-16), the Lord rebuffs Israel for asking for help after the Israelites had earlier rejected the Lord: “You have abandoned me and worshiped other gods” (10:13). In the second scene (10:17–11:11), Jephthah rebukes the elders of Gilead for asking for his help after the elders had earlier rejected him. His words closely resemble the words used by the Lord: “Are you not the very ones who rejected me?” In spite of the initial rebuke, however, both scenes end with the Lord and Jephthah responding favorably to the pleas for help. Although similar, these paired scenes also illustrate a crucial distinction. The Lord responds graciously to Israel’s cry of distress with no appreciable benefit to the Lord. In fact, Israel increasingly rejects the Lord in favor of other gods in spite of the Lord’s favor. On the other hand, Jephthah’s response to the cries of distress leads to his elevation from the status of a rejected son of a prostitute to “the head and commander” of the people of Gilead. God acts out of unrequited love, while Jephthah acts out of self-interest.

10:6-16. The Jephthah cycle opens with the usual introductory description of Israel again doing “what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” However, the nature of the evil involving the worship of other gods has worsened. In the previous era of Gideon, Israel had worshiped only Canaanite or Amorite gods (6:10, 25; 8:33). In the era of Jephthah, the Israelites extend their religious devotion to a virtual supermarket of foreign gods from Canaan, Aram, Sidon, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia (v. 6). As punishment for their increasing disloyalty, the Lord allows the foreign nations of Philistia and Ammon to oppress Israel for eighteen years. As in the other judge episodes, the Israelites “cried to the LORD” for help (v. 10; see 3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:7).

But this time the Israelites add something to their typical cry for aid. They speak words of repentance and remorse for their sinful ways: “We have sinned against you” (v. 10). Israel has never confessed its sin in this way before in the judges stories. Unfortunately, the condition of the people has deteriorated to such a state that the Lord receives these words of repentance as a shallow ploy to manipulate God. The words do not convince the Lord in the light of the repeated backsliding of Israel in the past. God had saved the Israelites from seven different oppressors in the past. Yet, each time the Israelites had rejected the Lord and returned to worshiping the gods of those same oppressing nations (cf. v. 6 and vv. 11-12). Thus the Lord comes to a startling and terrifying conclusion: “therefore I will deliver you no more” (v. 13). The divine pronouncement is Israel’s death sentence. Without God’s presence and deliverance, Israel is doomed. The Lord urges Israel to “go and cry” for help from these other foreign gods that Israel had repeatedly worshiped. “Let them deliver you” (v. 14).

The Israelites are persistent, however, and beg God with a second word of repentance (v. 15). Moreover, the Israelites bolster their words with action: They “put away” their alien gods and worship the Lord. The next line is crucial, but its meaning is debated. The Lord “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (v. 16). Many commentators assume that Israel’s actions and words have convinced the Lord of Israel’s genuine and deep remorse. This profound repentance, they argue, is what causes the Lord to alter the earlier pronouncement of never again delivering Israel. Another biblical example of this divine change of heart in response to human repentance to which these commentators point is that of the city of Nineveh in the book of Jonah. The inhabitants of Nineveh repented after hearing Jonah’s words of doom, and their repentance caused God to spare the city from destruction (Jonah 3:10; see Jer 18:7-8). Many commentators conclude that the same dynamic is at work here.44

However, the Lord’s reaction in v. 16 is more ambiguous and indeterminate than such an interpretation allows. The verb translated “to bear” (rxq qasar) often carries connotations of frustration, loss of patience, anger, and exasperation (Num 21:4-5; Zech 11:8-9). It is the verb used when Samson becomes so exasperated with Delilah’s constant nag-

 

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ging that he reveals the secret of his strength (16:16). Thus one might well read the Lord’s response in v. 16 not as God’s joyful agreement to deliver Israel because of its genuine and sustained repentance. Rather, the Lord knows that this repentance will again be temporary and shallow, but the Lord in total exasperation and anger “cannot bear to see Israel suffer.” It is Israel’s suffering, not Israel’s deep repentance, that motivates any potential change in the Lord’s plans.45 We assume that God will somehow reluctantly intervene. However, the text does not say that the Lord immediately raises up a deliverer as in the earlier judge stories. The reader is left to wonder how God is involved in the next series of events and whether those events will lead to Israel’s deliverance from its enemies. As we shall see, this ambiguity about God’s role in the judgeship of Jephthah is the first of a number of indeterminate moments in the story of Jephthah the judge.

10:17–11:11. The next scene opens with the Ammonite army getting ready to fight Israel. Meanwhile, the Israelites in the Transjordan region of Gilead are frantically scrambling to find a military leader who is willing to fight the Ammonites. They offer a reward to the one who will step forward: “He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead” (10:18). The narrator interrupts the flow of the story to introduce a “mighty warrior” named Jephthah. Jephthah is an Israelite from Gilead, but he has some deficits according to Israel’s social code: He is “the son of a prostitute,” an outcast from his family, and a leader of outlaws who raid villages in the foreign “land of Tob” for a living (10:1-3). Jephthah’s character reminds us of the ill-fated Abimelech, who was the despised son of a concubine (8:31), in conflict with his other brothers (9:5), and the leader of outlaws (9:4). These associations with the negative figure of Abimelech do not bode well for Jephthah’s future, but in the end (unlike Abimelech) he will be called one who “judged Israel six years” (12:7).

In 11:4, the narrator returns to the story about the Ammonites’ making war on the Israelite people of Gilead. Although the Gileadites had earlier rejected Jephthah as one of their own, the elders of Gilead beg Jephthah in their distress to return home and save his people from the Ammonite oppressors. Just as Israel had earlier rejected God and then returned to call on God for help, so also the people of Gilead return to call on Jephthah for help. Jephthah asks a legitimate question: “Are you not the very ones who rejected me?” But the Gileadites insist and offer Jephthah the position of leader “over all the inhabitants of Gilead” if he conquers the Ammonites. Jephthah then accepts the offer to fight the Ammonites with a condition that links his mission with the Lord’s plan: if “the LORD gives them over to me” (11:9). This is Jephthah’s first vow involving the Lord; his second vow will be more problematic (11:29-40). The elders of Gilead then pledge, “The LORD will be witness between us,” and the deal is struck “before the LORD at Mizpah” (11:9-11). This sudden cluster of references to “the LORD” suggests to the reader that Jephthah may indeed be the Lord’s chosen agent to deliver Israel in spite of his questionable character. Our interest is piqued and focused on this ambiguous character, who is both “mighty warrior” and “son of a prostitute,” both pious adherent to the Lord and shrewd negotiator for his own interests.

REFLECTIONS

1. Israel’s words of repentance and God’s refusal to accept the repentance as sufficient or genuine invite reflection on the role of human repentance in motivating God’s forgiveness and acts of compassion. God often does accept repentance and a change of heart as sufficient grounds to grant a person or group mercy and compassion. The psalmist reminds us that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;/ a broken and contrite heart,/ O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17 NRSV). God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah in a similar vein: “At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break 

 

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down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it” (Jer 18:7-8 NRSV).

Yet even in cases of true repentance and God’s change of mind concerning judgment, the repentant people sometimes must still suffer negative consequences from their misdeeds. For example, God forgave the Israelites for their worship of the golden calf at Mt. Sinai (Exod 32:10, 14). However, some of the Israelites still suffered death and a plague for their sin (Exod 35:25-28, 34-35). Later in the wilderness, Moses’ appeal to God’s merciful nature caused God to forgive Israel’s sin of refusing to enter the promised land of Canaan (Num 14:10-20). But again severe consequences accompanied the forgiveness: The old generation of Israelites would have to die in the wilderness, and God would allow only a new generation of Israelites born in the wilderness to enter the land of Canaan (Num 14:21-35).

At other times in the Bible, words and even actions that display human repentance have no effect on God. At times, the people have become so corrupt and disloyal at their core that no hope for true and sustained repentance seems possible. An important example is God’s indictment of Israel’s shallow repentance in Hos 5:8–6:6. Israel utters words of repentance, but God knows these words are manipulative, hollow, and not heartfelt. God seems genuinely at a loss on how to turn Israel around:

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?

What shall I do with you, O Judah?

Your love is like a morning cloud,

like the dew that goes away early. (Hos 6:4 NRSV)

A classic example of Israel’s shallow repentance is recorded in Jeremiah 34:1. The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed doom on the city of Jerusalem and its king, Zedekiah. As a result, the king issued a decree setting all Israelite slaves free in accordance with a widely ignored biblical law that commanded the periodic release of all Israelite slaves. The king hoped the freeing of Israelite slaves would demonstrate to God that Zedekiah and his people were truly repentant. This in turn would motivate God to deliver Israel from the Babylonian army, which had surrounded the city. However, when the Babylonian army got up and left for a time to attend to another crisis elsewhere, the Israelites immediately rescinded the decree and took back all their slaves once again. God angrily denounced Israel’s shallow repentance and promised that the Babylonian army would return to destroy Jerusalem (Jer 34:12-32). Israel had become so rebellious at its very core that it was no longer capable of sincere and sustained repentance. That is the situation in which we find Israel in Judg 10:10-16. At this point, Israel has rejected the Lord so many times after the Lord’s repeated interventions to save Israel that Israel can no longer be trusted.

The Bible is well acquainted with the full range of human responses to God’s compassionate and loving nature. Sometimes God’s love causes a person to see the error of his or her ways and to begin a whole new life of faithfulness and obedience (Luke 19:1-10). More often, God’s promise and love may begin a process of slow growth and change, with ups and downs that offer glimpses of genuine repentance that may not be fully realized on this side of the grave. Major biblical figures like Abraham, Jacob, and King David, for whom we have more biographical detail, offer realistic examples of lives of faith that sometimes falter. At other times, an individual or community may reach a point of such degradation or entrapment in misguided rebellion or sinfulness that they may be incapable of true and lasting repentance. Like an addict who will say anything to get another fix or an abuser who will deny everything to avoid exposing an awful secret, people can become almost hopelessly entangled in their self-delusions and manipulative ploys. The only resort to genuine transformation in such cases is to “hit bottom” so that the lie is exposed, the truth is set free, and the old pattern reaches an end. In such extreme cases, only then does new life have a chance to emerge as a genuine possibility. This is where the book of Judges is heading. Israel will hit bottom in chapters 17–21 as the 

 

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social fabric of Israel will disintegrate and its sense of faith and morality will descend into chaos. People of faith need much wisdom and much humility when they try to discern at what point they and those with whom they minister stand on the continuum of human repentance. Is it genuine, partial, or a shallow manipulative ploy? In some cases, we may need to leave judgments concerning the genuineness of human repentance to God’s wisdom when our own insights in such matters reach their limits.

2. One of the most remarkable features of the Lord’s response to Israel’s shallow repentance is that the Lord does not simply abandon Israel entirely. Instead, the story reports that God “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (10:16). This is a word of grace in the midst of human failure. Even though Israel deserves to be oppressed by the very nations and foreign gods whom they had worshiped, the Lord is moved to save them from the punishment the Lord had imposed. The manner of God’s salvation in this particular case is not immediately apparent. Such bewilderment and unclarity are often what we experience when we stand in the midst of a time of trial and suffering. Where is God in this? How will God act to save? In the midst of our wonderment, we can be supported by the knowledge that God cannot bear too long to see God’s people suffer, no matter how deserved the suffering may be. We can hope and expect that God will not allow us to undergo more difficulty or trial than we can endure with God’s help (1 Cor 10:13).

3. God has used many unlikely people to accomplish God’s purposes throughout the book of Judges. God’s agents have included a left-handed assassin named Ehud, a woman judge and prophet named Deborah, a non-Israelite woman named Jael, and a timid Gideon, who was the weakest of the weak. Yet Jephthah appears to be the most unlikely person of God among them all. He is the son of a prostitute, an outcast from his own family, and the leader of a band of outlaws. He is also a sly negotiator as he gains for himself the position of leader of all Gilead in return for his willingness to fight Ammon. At the same time, he acknowledges the Lord’s role in giving him victory over Ammon (11:9) and brings his political covenant with the elders of Gilead into the realm of religious faith (11:11). We are left wondering at this point whether Jephthah, at his core, is a genuinely good and faithful person who has simply made the best of the unfortunate circumstances of his life, which were beyond his control. Or is Jephthah a cynical politician who is looking out only for his own interests, using religion to mask his quest for political power and position? Even by the end of the story of Jephthah, we will not be able to answer these questions definitively. Jephthah will remain an ambiguous character. Yet God will use him to judge Israel for six years (12:7), and Jephthah will be listed in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews as one of Israel’s heroes of faith (Heb 11:32). God does not use plastic saints but flesh-and-blood sinners to work God’s will in the world. That may be a comforting word of reassurance for those who yearn to be useful to the purposes of God and yet who know all too well their own failures and inadequacies.

Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 13 2012 10:07 AM

2 Samuel 12:15b-25, The Death of the Child of David and Bathsheba

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COMMENTARY

This segment of the text leaves the didactic style of Nathan’s prophetic oracle and returns to a storytelling mode. This section may be the original continuation of 11:27b, before the prophetic addition of Nathan’s confrontation with David. The death of David and Bathsheba’s child becomes only the first of a series of tragic experiences of death and/or violence in David’s family. Moreover, we now understand these experiences in the light of Nathan’s pronouncement of God’s judgment on David. David’s confession reclaims his own life, but such reclaiming is costly. David’s own life continues in the midst of the deadly realities he has himself introduced into his own personal story. The first costly experience of this deathly presence in the royal household comes in the death of the son conceived in David’s adulterous liaison with Bathsheba. Nathan had already said that the child would die (v. 14). Verses 15b-23 narrate the events surrounding the child’s death. Verses 24-25 anticipate a new future and new life with the birth of Solomon, whom the Lord loves and who will become the first king in an ongoing dynasty from David.

12:15b-23. The opening of this bitter story leaves no room for doubt: “The LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill” (v. 15b). The death that David brought to another family now enters his own. In the view of this narrator, there was a cost to be paid, and the Lord is the agent exacting the moral cost of David’s deathly crimes. Since the price is the life of a child, we may find this view of God difficult to understand and accept, but the text does not address this issue.

The narrative focuses on David. By now we should not be surprised at this. David is clearly attached to the child and pleads with God for the child’s life (v. 16a). The conception of this child altered the life of king and kingdom. To have lost so much and then lose the child as well seems unbearable. David refuses food, keeping vigil through the night, and his servants become distressed, urging him to eat (vv. 16b-17). After seven days, the child dies, and the servants are afraid to tell David. They fear that his grief will deepen and that he may even do himself harm (v. 18). David perceives the reality of the moment without being told. He asks his whispering servants if the child is dead, and they confirm that it is so (v. 19).

It is at this point in the story that David’s actions confound his servants (and readers). Custom dictates that mourning should begin, with its attendant lamentation and ceremonies of grief. Instead of these expected practices, David begins a series of purposeful activities not usually associated with a time of mourning (v. 20). The verbs dominate the story: David rose, washed, anointed himself, changed clothes, entered the house of the Lord, worshiped, went to his own house, requested food, and ate. In short, David resumed his life and the practices of his customary routines.

His servants, who were disturbed over David’s unrestrained distress during the child’s illness, are equally dismayed at his behavior after the child’s death. David has reversed the usual custom. His servants cannot restrain themselves. “What are you doing?” they ask (v. 21). David’s response shows a remarkable ability to face the realities of life and death and his own complicity in those things that make for life and death. He fasted and wept while the child was ill in petition for the graciousness of God and in hope that God’s mercy would grant the child life (v. 22). But when this was not to be, David accepted the reality of death and rejected fasting and weeping in favor of relinquishment and resumption of life (v. 23). He refuses to bow to the power of death and accepts his inability to restore his son. “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (v. 23b).

Walter Brueggemann has seen in this story one evidence of a new portrait of humanity that emerges in the story of David. David is the model of God’s “trusted creature” who acts with boldness and freedom to claim the gifts of life with which humanity is trusted.

David’s reaction to the death of his child and thus to the reality of all death is not to be viewed as stoic resignation. . . . David has a fresh view of the meaning of life and death, where his proper hopes and proper fears are to be located. This is more than a violation of common practice. It is an act of profound faith in the face of the most precious tabus of his people. David had discerned, for whatever reasons, that the issues of 

 

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his life are not to be found in cringing fear before the powers of death, but rather in his ability to embrace and abandon, to love and to leave, to take life as it comes not with indifference but with freedom, not with callousness but with buoyancy. . . . For him there is none of the conventional paralysis in death. He knew death belonged legitimately to history, and he had no illusions about entering some kind of faith which did not know death.301

12:24-25. David’s affirmation of life in the face of death is followed by a report of new life. In rapid succession, David comforts Bathsheba, goes to her, lies with her, and she then bears a second son (v. 24a). This is the first time since Bathsheba was introduced (11:3) that she is named in her own right and not referred to as “the wife of Uriah.” In the birth of this second child, she becomes more than the occasion for David’s sin. In fact, Bathsheba is later to play a very active role in helping this son succeed to the throne of David (1 Kgs 1:11-31).

This son is named Solomon (v. 24b), a name usually associated with the word !wlv (salôm, “peace,” “wholeness”). This is an ironic name in the light of the events that preceded his birth, but perhaps it should be seen as the “peace/wholeness” hoped for in the new beginning of his birth. That this is a genuine new beginning with hope of a new future is affirmed by the notice that “the LORD loved him” (v. 24b). Further, God sends the prophet Nathan, this time as a bearer of hope rather than judgment. Nathan names the child “Jedidiah,” a name that means “beloved of the LORD [Yahweh]” (v. 25). This name is not used elsewhere about Solomon and may be considered a private name, while “Solomon” was to be the child’s throne name as Israel’s third king.

The consequences of death and violence unleashed by David’s sin are not yet played out. Tragic events lie ahead, but this notice already foreshadows that the promise of dynasty to David will remain firm and that Solomon need not carry into his own reign the judgment given to his father. Indeed, this may be part of the purpose of this entire narrative: to show that the sins of David have been judged and paid for. Solomon and the Davidic dynasty are free from guilt.

REFLECTIONS

1. This is a difficult story for modern readers in the church. We do not wish to think that the lives of innocent children are exacted by God as punishment for a parent’s sin. But this text assumes that all things ultimately come from God, including the illness of this child. From this point of view, all deaths are a part of the mystery of God’s providence. God can and does use the circumstances of our lives to further the purposes of divine grace and judgment. This story does not, however, make a generalized claim about the deaths of all children.

The emphasis in this story is on David, who thought he could be the controller of life and death for his own ends, but must now discover that he is not autonomous and cannot control life and death, even though he is the king. Life and death exist in human history as a part of the mystery of God’s providence, and not as a matter to be taken into human hands.

What also offends modern readers is the total focus on David. It is David who is the subject of this narrative—his loss, his grief, and finally his response in the face of the tragic cost. The child and Bathsheba are only elements of the plot in this episode of David’s story, and they are not even named. This storytelling is simply endlessly fascinated with David and his meaning for Israel. This is less an intentional belittling of other characters in the story than a mark of the enormous importance David came to hold for Israel. That attention still focuses on David even in these episodes of sin, judgment, loss, and pain is a remarkable testimony to the ability of Israel’s storytellers to face the realities of David’s weakness and vulnerability while yet affirming his vitality and importance in Israel’s story. This suggests that the tradition about David has something to teach us in observing his vulnerable moments and not simply in celebrating his triumphs.

 

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2. This story reminds us that in the community of faith, life always has a further word to speak. There is something about the death of a child that heightens the offense of death. Life is unexpectedly cut short. Such a death seems unnatural, unfair. It is surely this same sense of offense that leads David to his severe pain and grief when faced with the potential loss of his son. David’s grief and our own when faced with the reality of such untimely death is an appropriate acknowledgment of the reality and power of death in our human existence. It is an expression of our vulnerability and a recognition that we are not autonomous and in control. Even a life of piety and faith does not give us safe conduct around the necessity of facing death’s power. The death of a child brings us more unexpectedly and harshly into the presence of that power. In our own grief, in our care of others in their grief, we must allow for the acknowledgment and voicing of the pain that comes with death’s power. We must refuse to deny the reality of death’s power.

But David’s response to the death of the child is an important word to us about the power of life, which does not take away the offense of death. It simply refuses to let death have the final word. Death invades and inflicts its pain, but life goes on. In grieving the death of a child, it is all too easy to let that child’s death become the most important thing about him or her. But even in a foreshortened life, the gift of that child’s life among us is more important than his or her death. If, like David, we dwell not on death but on life, then we align ourselves with the importance that the gift of a life be remembered and affirmed. That life need not be eclipsed by letting death have the final word. To go on with life is not heartless or stoic and does not require us to deny the pain of loss. It is to affirm that the power of life is stronger than the power of death, and if we live that as true for our own lives we can affirm it as true for our children who die before us.302

For Christians, this understanding is at the heart of resurrection faith. Christ’s resurrection does not remove or nullify the offense of the cross. Resurrection is simply God’s refusal to let death have the final word. There is a further word of life that God speaks in the face of death and against the power of death (see Romans 6:1). David claimed the power of life at the very moment that death seemed to prevail. To read his story is to understand that we can do the same.

 

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Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Mar 14 2012 4:56 PM

1 KINGS 3:1-15, SOLOMON'S PRIORITIES AND HIS GIFTS FROM GOD

1 Kings 3:1-3, Solomon's Alliance with Egypt

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COMMENTARY

This episode comes on the heels of Solomon's takeover from the now-deceased David. The new literary unit begins immediately with Solomon's marriage alliance with an unnamed king of Egypt, probably Pharaoh Siamun (c. 978–959 B.C.E.). It was a diplomatic deal sealed by Egypt's cession of the newly conquered city of Gezer to Solomon as a dowry, according to the historical notation of 9:16. Politically, the marriage signaled Solomon's rise to prominence in the international arena. He was leading his tiny new nation into the realm of world-class diplomacy, and the ruler of the powerful Egyptian Empire had to come to terms with him, even giving the Egyptian princess to him. That was a remarkable achievement since, according to one of the Amarna letters, the Egyptians did not like to make such concessions on their part: “From time immemorial no daughter of the king of Egy[pt] is given to anyone.”22

In terms of the overall agenda of the narrator, however, this alliance surely foreshadows problems in which Solomon and his kingdom would soon become embroiled. The narrator hints at this by mentioning the Temple of the Lord that is still to be built and the fact that the people were sacrificing at the “high places” (local cultic installations) because the Temple had not yet been built.23 The narrative presents Solomon's marriage alliance with Egypt as the first of his acts after the kingdom was firmly established in his hand.

The Egyptian princess is brought into the City of David. Solomon apparently could not wait to bring her in, for he had not yet built his own palace and certainly not the Temple, which would have made possible the centralization of worship in Jerusalem according to the stipulations in Deuteronomy (Deut 12:13-14). The defense of the city, too, had been put off. The implication is that the consequent syncretism had compromised the security of the nation, so much so that no walls could ever shield it from destruction in the end.

The narrator no doubt intends the reader to come to the story with the Torah of Moses in mind. Thus the episode may be viewed against the backdrop of the deuteronomistic prohibition against marriages with foreigners, for such alliances would cause the people to turn away from following the Lord and, consequently, lead to destruction (Deut 7:3-4; Josh 23:11-13; 2 Kgs 8:18). It is probable, too, that one is to think of the warning in Deut 17:16, put in the mouth of Moses, that a king must not “cause the people to return to Egypt.” Indeed, Israel's return to Egypt is an inevitable outcome of Solomon's action, and the division of the kingdom would be a prelude to its complete disintegration (see 11:26-40).

The Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem is said to be a temple (tyb bayit; lit., “a house”) built for “the name of the LORD” (v. 2). For the deuteronomist, the “name of the LORD” is a virtually independent entity that stands in place of the actual presence of the deity in the sanctuary (so NIV: “Name” rather than “name”). By recourse to the notion of the “Name” that represents God's presence, the theologian is able to associate the deity's presence with the sanctuary without ever implying that the deity is confined to that physical structure (see 8:27-30). The Temple is a place where God's name may be invoked, and so that presence may be brought about as and when God wills, but the Temple is not the house of God per se.

Solomon “loved the LORD,” the editor tells us in characteristic deuteronomic language (Deut 6:5; 10:12; 30:16, 20), inasmuch as he was “walking in the statutes of David his father” (v. 3). Yet, that positive judgment seems to be tempered by the observation that he also offered sacrifices and burnt incense at the high places (v. 3b). Again, to the narrator, Solomon is setting a dangerous precedent. Indeed, by the end of the account of Solomon's reign, what is emphasized in the narrative is not his love of the Lord but his love of foreign women, the result of which was the syncretism that ultimately led to the destruction of the kingdom (see 11:1). (See Reflections at 3:4-15.)

 

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1 Kings 3:4-15, God's Self-revelation and Gifts to Solomon

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COMMENTARY

Solomon goes to sacrifice at Gibeon, a Benjaminite city, identified with the modern village of el-Jib, on a hill about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem. Gibeon is chosen because “that was the great high place” (NRSV, “that was the principal high place”; NIV, “that was the most important high place”), its reputation as a sacred location is corroborated by the chronicler, who portrays it as a place where “the tabernacle of the LORD” or “the tent of meeting of God” was (1 Chr 16:39; 21:29; 2 Chr 1:3, 6, 13). Yet, it is peculiar that Solomon should seek to worship at the high places or the particular one in Gibeon, for the ark, the very symbol of the Lord's presence, was in Jerusalem, as v. 15 confirms. He went to Gibeon to worship, even though the ark was already in Jerusalem! Solomon cannot be easily exonerated for having gone to that great high place.

The account of Solomon's encounter of God at Gibeon has been compared with other dream accounts in the ancient Near East, especially that of Tuth-mose IV of Egypt (c. 1421–1413 B.C.E.), a dream in which the crown prince receives a divine promise of kingship.24 As in the report of Tuth-Mose IV and a number of other royal dream accounts, this episode in the book of 1 Kings provides divine legitimation for the ruler in question. Not only does the very appearance of the deity confirm Solomon's favored position in this case, but it is also implied in the narrative that he is king of all Israel, both because he is the scion of David, as southern (Judean) dynastic ideology dictates, and because he is divinely endowed with charisma, as northern (Israelite) notions of leadership would have it.

Solomon's request is sometimes viewed as part of an ancient Near Eastern royal coronation ritual, where the king is given the privilege of a special petition to the deity (see the royal psalms, Pss 2:8; 20:4-6; 21:2). This is suggested by the litany-like reply of God (v. 11):

“Because you asked for yourself this thing,

but you did not ask for yourself longevity,

you did not ask for yourself wealth,

you did not ask for yourself the life of your enemies,

but you ask for yourself discernment to hear what is just.”

Moreover, the king's reference to his youth should be seen not as a chronological datum, a historically reliable indication of Solomon's actual age at the time of his accession. Rather, it is to be understood as a formulaic assertion of divine election, suggesting that Solomon is chosen despite overwhelming odds; although he is only a youth (cf. Jer 1:6) and incapable of leading his people (see Num 27:17; Deut 31:2; Josh 14:11; 1 Sam 18:13; 29:6; 2 Kgs 11:8). References to one's youth are quite common in ancient Near Eastern propaganda, where kings, especially those who come to the throne as usurpers, frequently call attention to divine election in and despite of their youth. So the original dream account may have been a part of a larger propagandistic work composed to legitimate the kingship of Solomon.

Accepting this pro-Solomonic perspective, modern interpreters have observed that the king's request for wisdom to govern (fpv sApat; lit., “to judge”) his people (v. 9), rather than for the more selfish and worldly desires of longevity, riches, honor, and victory over enemies, indicates the depth of his character. Here is, as it were, a model of faith that seeks first the good of God's kingdom, the just and proper rule of God's chosen multitudes, rather than one's private interests, and because of that righteous attitude, Solomon is richly blessed (vv. 13-14; cf. Matt. 6:33; Rom 8:28-30). Yet, the elevation of wisdom over against other values is hardly unique in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, in the wisdom tradition, longevity, honor, and material possessions are all seen as benefits that derive from wisdom (Prov 3:13-18). These things are given to anyone who acquires wisdom. So it only makes practical sense that one should seek wisdom first; all the other benefits will follow.

The account of Solomon's experience at Gibeon makes clear, however, that his wisdom was not something that he acquired through his own efforts. Nor was it an innate quality he was born with. Rather, wisdom was given by God upon Solomon's proper response to God's invitation. All the other benefits, too, were not merely the derivatives of wisdom. They were, rather, also graciously given by God without 

 

 

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Solomon's asking, the only condition being, according to the narrator, obedience to God's way (v. 14).

Then Solomon awoke from the dream and returned to Jerusalem. Whereas he had been worshiping at the high places and had gone to Gibeon to worship, he returned in the end to Jerusalem, where the ark was (v. 15). And there, in addition to the burnt offerings that he offered at Gibeon and other high places, he offered !ymlv (sulAmîm; NRSV, “offerings of well-being”; NIV, “fellowship offerings”), probably referring to communal sacrifices accompanied by public feasting.

REFLECTIONS

Solomon's fame is legendary. Most modern readers know, as the ancient reader also did, that his reign was long and exceedingly prosperous and that he was well known for his wisdom. This account seems to confirm all that. Indeed, the original account may historically have served as political propaganda—an account to aggrandize Solomon.

Whatever the original intention of the episode, however, the editor-narrator now sets forth his own explanation. Neither Solomon's legendary wisdom, which made him an effective ruler in the eyes of all the world, nor his other attainments of longevity, wealth, honor, and victory over his enemies, is due to his own righteousness. It is true that he loved the Lord, and it is true that he came before God with the proper attitude of humility. That is neither the beginning nor the end of the story, however. In fact, it was God who came to Solomon first, despite the fact that the king had endangered the integrity of the kingdom by bringing it into alliance with Egypt. Solomon, too, was slow to build the Temple and the defenses of the city, because he was more interested in his own marriage to the Egyptian princess and in building his own palace. He worshiped at the high places, which faithful reformers like Josiah later on had to eliminate. Yet, God came to him with an open invitation. God took the initiative, while Solomon was yet in sin and darkness, as it were.

The passage as a whole seems to convey mixed messages about Solomon. It appears to vacillate between commendation and condemnation of him. On the one hand, Solomon seems to be favorably portrayed, as the builder of the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, as one who loves the Lord, who walks in “the statutes of David his father,” who has his priorities right inasmuch as he asks for wisdom rather than worldly attainments for himself. And this attitude is explicitly affirmed by God (3:10-14). On the other hand, the salutary character and actions of Solomon are colored by the unsavory effects of his decisions. He built the Temple to be sure, but not before he had brought a foreign wife into the City of David, in contravention of deuteronomic law. He planned to construct the Lord's house only after he had built his own, and, in the meantime, his people burned incense and offered sacrifices at the local cultic installations—something that the establishment of the Jerusalem Temple would have obviated. He loved the Lord, yet Solomon offered sacrifices and incense at the high places, again in violation of deuteronomic law. The pious Solomon, who is given wisdom by God to be a wise ruler, stands in stark contrast to the unscrupulous Solomon of the earlier chapters, who is supposed to be already “wise” enough to know how to deal with all who might threaten his place (see esp. 2:6, 9).

Many commentators are inclined to see Solomon's approach to the Lord as something of a paradigm for faithful prayer. In his petition before God, he first acknowledges God's grace to him (3:6), recognizes that he is undeserving of God's special favor (3:7), and then asks for God's gift of wisdom so that he can carry out his duty as ruler of God's people, the chosen people (3:8-9). His thoughts are, it seems, noble; his primary desire is to seek the good of the kingdom. Accordingly, because of his appropriate attitude, God grants his wish for that gift, along with other benefits that he does not explicitly request. In other 

 

 

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words, because he seeks first the kingdom of God, all these things are added unto him (see Matt 6:33).

Solomon's attitude of humility before God is admirable, and there is, indeed, a practical lesson about faith and prayer that one may learn from this story. Yet, the most salient point of the passage is surely not that one should emulate Solomon. If it were so, the passage would be theologically banal. Those who view the story as exemplary are, in fact, forced to concede that the picture of Solomon here, contradictory as it is to other characterizations in other passages, represents only “the ideal Solomon . . . as he ought to have been, not necessarily as he was in historical reality.”25 Moreover, that interpretation would make sense only if one were to isolate the episode of Solomon's encounter at Gibeon from the opening subunit about the more selfish and thoughtless first acts of his reign (3:1-3). Whereas the words of his prayer may indicate that his priorities were right in that he put God and duty before self, there is hardly any way to exonerate him in his marriage with the Egyptian princess and in his putting the building of his own house ahead of the construction of the centralized Temple in Jerusalem and the defenses of the city. Finally, such a reading makes no sense in the light of the larger context of chapters 1–11, for the devastating effects of Solomon's selfishness for the kingdom as a whole are plainly laid out at the end.

The lectionaries typically include only 3:5-15 (omitting even v. 4, which should properly be included on literary grounds), but not the preceding verses. Thus truncated, the text calls attention only to the self-revelation of God, the divine invitation, Solomon's admirable response, and the fact of God's gifts. Such a truncation, however, misses the theological tensions that the juxtaposition of these accounts poses: It is the very human, selfish, negligent Solomon who benefits from God's self-revelation and gifts. Solomon loved God only in a qualified way. Still, the deity appeared to him. Such is the nature of God in Scripture: God responds to the imperfect love (3:4), the sincere if inadequate response of mortals, with undeserved blessings, only to summon one yet again to love and to obey (3:14).

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Mar 15 2012 11:24 AM

2 Kings 20:1-11, Hezekiah's Illness and Recovery

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COMMENTARY

The temporal introduction (“in those days”) vaguely links this passage with the preceding unit (chaps. 18–19)—namely, the time of Hezekiah and Sennacherib (v. 1). The narrator becomes more precise in v. 6, however, in placing the story at the time of Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem—that is, in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign, 701 B.C.E. (v. 6; cf. 18:13).

When Hezekiah becomes critically ill, the prophet Isaiah comes to him with the word of the Lord, telling Hezekiah to give his last injunction (cf. 1 Kgs 2:1),147 for he will not recover (v. 2). Hezekiah does not accept that fate, however. He prays fervently for God to remember (cf. Ps 132:1) his wholehearted devotion and faithful conduct before the Lord (v. 3). Thereupon, Isaiah, who 

 

 

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has scarcely left Hezekiah's presence (v. 4), is told to return to the king with the promise that God has heard his prayers and seen his tears, and thus will bring healing to the sick king so that he can go again to the Temple (v. 5). Hezekiah is given an extension of his life span: He will live fifteen more years (v. 6a). It is important to note here that reprieve and recovery for the king are linked to the same good fortune for Judah (v. 6b). The fate of the king and the fate of the city are bound together.148 God will deliver both the king and Judah from the hands of the Assyrian king for God's own sake, as well as for the sake of David. Read in its larger literary-theological context, the deliverance of Jerusalem can be understood as being partly God's specific response to Sennacherib's blasphemous challenge and partly the manifestation of God's grace extended to David. Thus Hezekiah's personal recovery is the working out of God's will in microcosm. Isaiah then makes a poultice of figs and applies it to Hezekiah's boils to heal them (v. 7).

Hezekiah requests a sign as a confirmation of the promise of his recovery (v. 8). Unlike his father, Ahaz, who had refused to ask for a sign even when invited to do so by Isaiah (Isa 7:11-13), Hezekiah wants a sign from the Lord. Isaiah's response to the request comes not as a straight-forward announcement of the sign, but initially in the form of a question: “The shadow has advanced ten steps, will it return ten steps?” (vv. 8-9; cf. Num 20:10; Ezek 37:3). The “steps” here refer to the “steps of Ahaz” in v. 11, which the NRSV, following most interpreters, takes to be a sundial (“dial of Ahaz”), presumably a series of steps on which the movement of a shadow cast by the sun marked the hours of the day. Hezekiah replies that it is natural for the shadow to lengthen ten steps, but not for it to retreat ten steps (v. 10). When a shadow has been cast, it ordinarily will not recede. Isaiah then prays to God, and the shadow on the dial miraculously retreats after it has advanced (cf. the miracle of the sun's standing still in Josh 10:12-13). The miracle is dramatized in the recovery of Hezekiah. Isaiah had already proclaimed that Hezekiah is about to die (v. 1). Yet, when Hezekiah prayed to the Lord (v. 3), Isaiah was commanded to turn back (v. 5) and tell Hezekiah that fifteen years had been added to his life (v. 6). So, too, even though the shadow has already advanced ten degrees on the “steps of Ahaz” (i.e., time has passed), Isaiah prays to the Lord, and the Lord turns back the shadow (v. 11). Even if the word of death or destruction has been proclaimed, it is possible, through prayer, to turn back that word of judgment. (See Reflections at 20:12-21.)

2 Kings 20:12-21, From Assyria to Babylon

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COMMENTARY

This story is loosely connected to the present context by the temporal phrase “at that time” (v. 1). The Mesopotamian ruler with whom Hezekiah deals in this case is not the king of Assyria, as in chapters 17–18, however, but the king of Babylon, the power that within a century would defeat the Assyrians and invade Judah, capture Jerusalem, and send the Judeans into exile. According to the narrator, Babylonian emissaries had made overtures to Judah when Hezekiah was ill (v. 12), although nothing is said of the purpose for their having come to Jerusalem. The chronicler has them coming to learn about the sign that had been given to Hezekiah (2 Chr 32:31). Whatever the case, they are willingly received in Jerusalem and are shown all its resources (vv. 13, 15). When Isaiah learns what has transpired, he predicts that the day will come when the Babylonians will return to take all the wealth of the city and the king's descendants will be taken as captives to Babylon (vv. 16-18).

The king's response is somewhat enigmatic.149 Taking the Hebrew text at face value, it appears that Hezekiah has two responses. The first is the public one that he states to Isaiah: “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good” (v. 19a). That response is consonant with Hezekiah's image of a compliant, pious king who is ready to accept God's judgment. The other response, however, made known to the reader by the narrator, is Hezekiah's private response: “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (v. 19b). Apparently Hezekiah is willing to take the judgment, since it does not affect him directly. During his own reign, he seems to think, there will be peace and security. The publicly pious king is 

 

 

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willing to accept the judgment of God, knowing full well that it does not affect him personally.

With that shocking assessment of the private side of Hezekiah, the narrator simply moves on to give the standard closing summary of the king's reign, calling attention to his famous public project—namely, the provision of a water supply through the cutting of the Siloam tunnel.

REFLECTIONS

1. In both obvious and subtle ways, this lengthy report addresses the issue of trust, a term that appears numerous times in the text. It begins with a portrayal of a king who trusted God as no other king had done before him (18:1-8). That trust entailed bold and decisive compliance with the will of God, and it brought divine favor. In contrast, those who did not trust God did not survive (18:9-12).

2. Despite the introductory verses of the story, the narrator seems to know that such talk of trust in God and its payoffs is difficult to work out in the “real world.” In the real world, even those who trust in God are confronted with political realities. For all his trust in God, Hezekiah had to suffer humiliation at the hands of a foreign invader, and he even had to strip the Temple of its wealth, removing gold from the doors and doorposts of the Lord's house in order to pay off the bully (18:13-16). Trust in God will not necessarily stave off actual political threats. Trust in God may not have immediate or manifest results.

3. The text implicitly concedes that the rhetoric of trust in an invisible God is difficult to authenticate in the nitty-gritty of worldly affairs. People may speak of trust in God while they work on political solutions, their trust being in military alliances and the like (18:19-25). By the same token, talk of God's blessings is often difficult to corroborate. In the face of war's atrocities and the deprivations that people suffer, it is tempting to respond to the invitation of the most powerful ruler in the world to “make a blessing” with him and to go on an exodus with him from one's God-given place (18:30-32). It is tempting to believe his claim that it is he who would provide us with the necessities and luxuries of life. In view of the verifiable evidence of military might, and in view of the absence of any divine resistance to such demonstrations of power, it is tempting to believe that God cannot rescue us from such political and military power (18:33-35). In such circumstances, the people of God may, indeed, have no answer and ought not to try to give one (18:36). There is no answer in human disputation. In such circumstances, the only answer, if one is forthcoming, is a word from God—difficult though that word may be to verify (19:1-7). Thus this story asserts that prayer can make a difference.

4. The silence of God may prompt arrogant individuals to believe that they are in a place to challenge God directly, to believe that they are in control of the destiny of the world. Such people miss the point, however, that even they may actually be instruments of God. Their power and their every plan may, indeed, be known to God and may be utilized in the working out of God's will in the world (9:8-34). When all is said and done, it is God who will have the last word. The text, therefore, invites the reader to believe that even in the face of the atrocious manifestation of military power—indeed, even evil, destructive power—nevertheless, the sovereign Creator of the world is in control.

5. The story of Hezekiah's recovery from a deadly illness is something of a parable about the possibility of life even when death is all too certain. The Hebrew word translated as “recover” in the NRSV (20:1, 7) is also the word for “live.” Hezekiah was about to die, but his faith made the impossible possible (20:3-6). For the individual, as well as for the people of God as a larger community, there is hope in trusting God, even if no hope seems possible 

 

 

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(20:6). Even if the shadow has been cast and it has lengthened ten times, God can reverse it (20:8-11). This is the kind of trust that the text challenges the reader to have. The grace of God through faith makes it possible for death to be overcome (Rom 3:21-31; 4:2-4; Gal 2:1-10). This is at the heart of the gospel story in the New Testament.

6. Readers may prefer that the story of Hezekiah ended with his miraculous recovery by grace through faith, for that would make a wonderful theological denouement. That is not the final word, however. Hezekiah's trust in God does not seem so firm after all. He, who has been portrayed as a model of faith and piety, turns to the Babylonians, for reasons that the narrator does not bother to explain. When confronted with a prophetic word of judgment (a prediction of the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the consequent exile), Hezekiah responds with appropriate humility in public, declaring the word of the Lord to be “good” (v. 19a). Publicly he is still the humble and obedient king. He accepted the word of the Lord. The narrator tells us, however, that his private thoughts may not have been entirely commendable. Hezekiah was more concerned, it seems, with his lame-duck reign than with the long-term consequences of his misplaced trust in the Babylonians. Interpreters from time immemorial have been uncomfortable with this negative portrayal of Hezekiah at the end of the mostly positive assessment of his reign. One must not try to exonerate Hezekiah for the sake of literary coherence, however. If anything, the presence of this story after the crescendo in 20:1-11 is a powerful reminder to the reader not to hold any human being, however attractive, however faithful, as a model. The Bible is not finally a story about faithful people but a story about a faithful God. The story of the lapse of pious Hezekiah is a lesson to us about post-recovery life: Despite one's experience of God's wondrous, life-renewing grace, there remains the possibility—indeed, the likelihood—that one may not fully trust God. As the apostle Paul warns us: “If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (1 Cor 10:12 NRSV).

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 16 2012 12:34 PM

2 Chronicles 17:1-19, Finding God in Obedience and Blessing

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COMMENTARY

The presentation of Jehoshaphat's reign in 1–2 Kings often involves relations with the northern kingdom (1 Kgs 15:24b; 22:1-50; 2 Kgs 3:4-27). Here he is considered in his own right as a Judahite king. This chapter functions as an introduction describing his rule. The following chapters either endorse the high assessment of Jehoshaphat or provide exceptions to the general tenor of his reign. Only at 17:1, 3 is there use of the 1 Kings narrative (1 Kgs 15:24; 22:43).

17:1-5. The gist of the section is provided here in summary form. It is structured with a spiritual center (vv. 3b-4) and a framework of divinely authored success (vv. 1-3a, 5). Jehoshaphat's life was characterized by loyalty to God. The accolade of spirituality is bestowed on him: He “sought” the Lord. An even more glowing testimony will be given in 22:9: “He sought the LORD with all his heart.”

The observation is clarified by a comparison and a contrast. Jehoshaphat lived up to the chronicler's ideal of appropriating his father's faith, keeping the spiritual flag flying in the next generation. The chronicler follows 1 Kgs 22:43 in comparing him with Asa. But his own representation of Asa required him to distinguish between Asa's “earlier” period of faith, described in chaps. 14–15, and his later period of decline in chap. 16 (NRSV, following the shorter reading of the LXX [cf. v. 4a]; the NIV retains the MT's “David” and then gives the unlikely rendering “in his [= Jehoshaphat's] early years”). Jehoshaphat is compared to his sinful northern contemporary Ahab in oblique terms. The chronicler presupposes knowledge of the final chapters of 1 Kings, where Ahab's devotion to Canaanite religion is narrated. By contrast, Jehoshaphat exemplifies devotion to the Torah. Such spirituality invited the Lord's presence in blessing, which is described in terms of military defense in vv. 1b-2. As in 11:5-12, the royal defense system was a mark of divine help, making Judah a strong nation. Blessing is further elaborated in v. 5, in terms of consolidation of his rule and riches and honor.

17:6-9. Verses 1-5 offer a digest of the rest of the chapter, where its themes are amplified. Jehoshaphat's adherence to the religious purity of the Torah, and so to that of the Temple, is illustrated in v. 6b with loose reference to Deut 7:5; 12:2-3. As in 14:3, the chronicler is writing idealistically and so does not use 1 Kgs 22:43, which he will cite later in 20:33. The compliment in v. 6a refers literally to a high heart. Elsewhere it connotes pride (“He took pride in the service of the Lord” [REB]). It here refers to high ideals and serves as a headline for both v. 6b and vv. 7-9. The king's wider commitment to the Torah finds illustration in vv. 7-9. The dating in Jehoshaphat's third year may be simply a literary device for the close of a short period of time.258 An itinerant team of teachers is envisioned as 

 

 

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having been commissioned by the king. Here and in the related 19:4-11 the chronicler appears to have drawn from a source describing Jehoshaphat's judicial reforms. In this case, the promulgation of the royal law code was doubtless in view, and the chronicler adapted it anachronistically into a concern for the Torah, or Pentateuch.259 In the light of 15:3, teaching and Torah went together—naturally so, since Torah relates to directions for life's journey, as was noted at 6:16, 27. A team of Levites and priests, backed by royal officials to lend authority to the enterprise, was dispatched throughout Judah on a teaching mission. There are post-exilic similarities with Ezra's commission from the Persian king in Ezra 7:6, 11-26 and with the expository task of the Levites in Neh 8:7-8. Here was a further example of Jehoshaphat's high ideals, instructing the people in divine revelation so that it might govern their lives. Such activity corresponds to Asa's concerns expressed in 14:4.

17:10-12a. The blessing mentioned in v. 5b is amplified in vv. 10-11. The gift of Solomonic peace, enjoyed by Asa in 14:1, 6-7, is combined with fear typical of a holy war, such as foreigners had of Asa (14:14). Another of Solomon's blessings, tribute from other nations (9:14, 23-24), appears in v. 11, while the increasing prominence of the king echoes that of David in 1 Chr 11:9, where it is accompanied by the formula of divine presence. Here was a noble scion of the Davidic dynasty.

17:12b-19. The theme of troops and fortified cities, broached in v. 2, is now expanded. Fortresses and military “supplies” were part of the defense system, which was manned by a standing army (vv. 13, 19b). As backup there was a large conscript army, whose commanding officers are listed in vv. 14-18. Along with the notice in 14:8, vv. 14-18 probably derive from a royal military census list that was available to the chronicler.260 Doubtless the word #la ()elep), here rendered in terms of thousands, referred there to much smaller units, though the chronicler has maximized them. In v. 14, the conscript army available in wartime seems to be equated with the standing army stationed in Jerusalem. The list was not adequately coordinated with its new context.

REFLECTIONS

1. The blessings of the divine presence enjoyed by a spiritually minded king are the topic of this chapter. In principle this theme corresponds to Paul's promise that the presence of the God of love and peace would attend in blessing those who pursued such virtues among their fellow Christians (2 Cor 13:11). A similar promise appears in Phil 4:9, that continuance in apostolic teaching and practice would secure the presence of the God of peace. We who want God to be with us in our lives are here given clues as to how to achieve such a blessing.

2. The theme of 17:1-5 is seeking and finding. The narrative develops the spiritual principle enunciated by Azariah in 15:2, “The LORD is with you, while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you” (NRSV). The chronicler encourages his own constituency to commit themselves to God. The king's success is traced back to his dedication to the Lord. Seeking God, he found evidence of God's goodness flooding his life. For the chronicler, a living faith and well-being went together, and exceptions only proved the rule. Jehoshaphat stands as a spiritual role model for the chronicler.

3. The developments described in 17:6-19 are prefaced by a reference to Jehoshaphat's high ideals or spiritual ambitions. A strikingly similar reference occurs in the New Testament in the exhortation of Col 3:2, which literally may be rendered, “Think high things.” Ambition is a virtue when practiced within the guidelines of “the ways of the LORD.” The king's high aims were achieved in the twin areas of love of God and love of neighbor (17:6b, 7-9). The 

 

 

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community was encouraged to take seriously the standards of the Torah for their lives. The chronicler's own communal ideal is transparent here.

4. The muster list at the close of the chapter describes one of the officers as “a volunteer for the service of the LORD” (17:16 NRSV). He evidently volunteered and rose to a responsible rank, but interestingly his work is described in religious terms. A word with the same root occurs in a royal psalm at Ps 110:3, which speaks of the king's subjects as volunteers to serve him in his divinely authorized campaigns. Similarly, the New Testament urges Christian slaves as they serve their masters to “work willingly for the sake of the Lord” (Eph 6:7 NJB; cf. Col 3:23). Happy is the person whose job is his or her hobby, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw. Even happier is the person whose daily work is dedicated to God and done to please the Lord.

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Mar 17 2012 10:24 AM

EZRA 1:1-11, IMPERIAL PERMISSION TO GO HOME

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COMMENTARY

1:1-4. The return from the Babylonian exile took place primarily because of the intervention of divine and human agents: Yahweh “stirred up” (ry[h he(îr, in the hiphil) the spirit of Cyrus II, king of Persia, who issued a decree authorizing the Jews' return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple. Whether or not the book of Ezra is a continuation of the books of Chronicles, it presupposes the story told there, including the burning of the Temple and the exiling of all those who had survived Babylon's sword (2 Chr 36:19-20). Twice previously, according to Chronicles, the Lord “had stirred up” the spirit of foreign kings or nations to carry out judgment against Israel (1 Chr 5:26; 2 Chr 21:16).

Cyrus had come to power already in 559 B.C.E. and had rapidly extended his control from Anshan (Elam) to Persia, Media, Lydia, and Assyria. In October 539 B.C.E., he had conquered Babylon and assumed authority over the exiled Jews; this event, from the point of view of the author, inaugurated a new era, the “first year” of Cyrus (v. 1). By issuing a royal proclamation backed by a written copy, the king became part of a larger plan that fulfilled a prophetic word of Jeremiah. Although the books of Chronicles limit that promise to a seventy-year captivity (2 Chr 36:21; cf. Jer 25:11-12), the author of Ezra may also have thought of Yahweh's promise to bring Israel back to Jerusalem (Jer 29:10; 51:1, 11). Perhaps the author also saw here the fulfillment of the prophecies of Second Isaiah, who had hailed the Lord's commissioning of Cyrus and predicted that Cyrus would set the exiles free and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple (Isa 41:2, 25; 44:28; 45:1, 13).

The edict of Cyrus is also cited in Aramaic in 6:3-5, often taken to be a more authentic source, and it is paraphrased in 5:13-15. The proclamation recorded in chap. 1 is more suspect historically because it is written in Hebrew, refers to Yahweh by name, orders gifts for the Temple and its cult, and in general describes an exodus-like return 

 

 

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from exile.11 After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus did not use the title “King of Persia” (v. 2) for himself in any of his extant inscriptions. While commentators are divided on the authenticity of the document cited in vv. 2-4, they agree that at least in some details it was shaped by Jewish advisers in the Persian court or by the biblical author. The attribution of his worldwide rule to the Lord (v. 2) does not mean that the king had become a Yahwist, but only that he was accommodating himself to Jewish religious presuppositions. Similarly, in the famous Cyrus cylinder, Cyrus reported that Marduk, the god of Babylon, had chosen him and declared him to be ruler of all the world.12 The title “the God of Heaven” was attributed to Baal Hadad in pre-exilic times. After the exile it was occasionally used also by Jews with reference to their own God, especially when they were speaking to foreigners (Neh 1:4-5; Dan 2:37-44; Jonah 1:9). Because Yahweh was the God of heaven, Yahweh's actions had effects well beyond the geographical borders of Israel.

In distinction to the version of the decree in 6:3-5, the proclamation in chap. 1 grants permission for the Jews to return to Jerusalem—a possible argument for its authenticity. Cyrus's wish that God would be with them, however, may echo Jerusalemite traditions (Ps 46:7, 11; Isa 7:14). To “go up” (hl[ (Alâ) to Jerusalem is multivalent; it could connote a pilgrimage, compare the return home to the exodus (in both cases the people “go up” [(Alâ] to the land; this usage is preserved in the modern term hyl[ [aliyah], used for Jews who emigrate to modern-day Israel), or it may indicate that in leaving Babylon one would follow the course of the Euphrates toward the north before descending to Israel.

The term “survivors” (ravnh hannis)Ar, v. 4), with reference to the exiles, has the theological connotation of “remnant” (1 Chr 13:2; 2 Chr 30:6; 34:21; 36:20; Neh 1:2-3). These survivors were to be supported by their non-Jewish neighbors, much as the Israelites of the first exodus received aid from the Egyptians (Exod 3:21-22; 11:2; 12:35-36). Second Isaiah also drew a typological comparison between the first exodus and the return to the land as a second exodus, but he suggested that those leaving for home should not accept gifts from the Babylonians (Isa 52:11). In addition to financial aid and logistic supplies for the returnees, Cyrus included voluntary offerings for the Temple itself (see 1:4; 3:5; 2 Chr 31:14; 35:8).

1:5-8. Verse 5 recognizes that not all the exiles did return, but only those “whose spirit God had stirred” (wjwr-ta !yhlah ry[h he(îr hA)ulohîm et-rûhô), a clause that echoes the Lord's stirring up of Cyrus in v. 1. The exact number of those who returned is unknown (see Commentary on 2:1-70), but it is likely that the majority of the exiles stayed in Babylon. Josephus noted that many did not want to exchange what they had acquired in exile for a more uncertain future in the land.13 The list of returnees in v. 5 begins with the “heads of families,” who are sometimes called “elders” in Ezra–Nehemiah. “Families” (twba tyb bêt )Abôt; lit., “fathers' [houses]”) were an important sociological subdivision within the tribal system, to which an individual would be related by genealogical descent. In pre-exilic times a “family” referred to a group composed of all living persons, except married women, who were descended from a person who was still living. During the restoration period, however, the term was used to refer to conglomerates of such households, more like the “clans” of pre-exilic times.14 The families in 2:3-19 averaged about 900 people apiece.

The tribes of Judah and Benjamin (v. 5) comprised the primary population groups of the province called Yehud (2:20-35). Among the clergy who returned were the priests and the Levites. In the Pentateuch, the priests were descendants of Aaron (Num 3:10), to whom the Levites were assigned as helpers or clergy of a secondary rank (Num 3:5-9). Verse 6 presents an idealized picture that again echoes themes of the first exodus: Non-Jewish neighbors readily followed the invita-

 

 

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tion of Cyrus by providing material aid and voluntary gifts for the Temple. The provision of animals (NIV, “livestock”) recalls the numerous livestock that accompanied Israel at the first exodus (Exod 12:38).

Cyrus contributed to the return by restoring to the Jews the temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem (v. 7; cf. 2 Chr 36:10, 18) and placed in the temple of his god (so NIV; NRSV, “gods”), Marduk. The restoration of the vessels is part of the king's decree in 6:5. These vessels provide real and symbolic continuity between the new Temple and the destroyed Temple (cf. 2 Chr 13:11). The return of the vessels may be compared with Cyrus's restoration of divine statues to their original temple cities in other countries. Israel's aniconic tradition meant that there were no statues of Yahweh that could be returned. Temple vessels are mentioned again during Ezra's return (7:19; 8:25-30, 33-34). “Mithredath,” the treasurer to whom Cyrus handed the vessels, is a typical Persian name meaning “the gift of [the god] Mithra.” The word “treasurer” is also a Persian rather than a Hebrew word. Jerome transliterated it freely as “Gabazar” in the Vulgate, and this eventually led to the creation of the name “Caspar” and its assignment to one of the magi (Matthew 2:1).

Mithredath relayed the vessels to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. Sheshbazzar, although a Jew, has a Babylonian name with the meaning “May Shamash protect the father [of this child].” Outside of this chapter Sheshbazzar is mentioned only in 5:14-16, where he is given the title of governor and is credited with laying the “foundations of the house of God.” Sheshbazzar is not to be identified with Shenazzar, one of the five sons of King Jehoiachin, listed in 1 Chr 3:18. Since he is called governor and since Nehemiah refers to a number of his predecessors as governors (Neh 5:15), it seems that the province of Judah may have been independent and may have had an officially designated Persian governor right from the start. Albrecht Alt, however, proposed that until the time of Nehemiah Jerusalem was under the governorship of Samaria.15 No one knows what happened to Sheshbazzar or when he was replaced by Zerubbabel. Some commentators conclude that the author of Ezra, like Josephus, identified these two governors as one person since he mentions Zerubbabel without introductory comment in 2:2. The term “prince” (aycn nAZî); v. 8) does not necessarily designate a descendant of the Davidic line, even though Ezekiel used the term to refer to the royal leader of the eschatological Israelite community in Ezekiel 40:1–48. “Prince” is used in Exod 22:28 (cf. Num 7:84) to refer to a leader of one of the tribes. The more general meaning of “leader” fits the context in Ezra 1:8.

1:9-11. The inventory of temple vessels probably comes from a source available to the author. The varying translations in the NRSV (“basins,” “knives,” “other silver bowls”) and the NIV (“dishes,” “silver pans,” “matching silver bowls”) reflect scholarly uncertainty about the correct meaning of these words. The first of these words (ylfrga )agartulê, “basins”/“dishes”) has five consonants (an unusually long word in Hebrew) and may be a Persian loan word. The term “knives” (!ypljm mahalApîm) follows the translation provided by the Vulgate.16 Instead of “other silver bowls” the RSV reads “two thousand four hundred and ten bowls of silver,” based on 1 Esdr 2:13, but it is unclear how the word !ynvm (misnîm), now preserved in the HB, could be understood as 2,000. In any, case the total for all the vessels given in v. 11 (5,400) does not equal the total of the figures given in vv. 9-10 (2,499). The individual figures in the RSV differ from the MT (1,000, 1,000, 29, 30, 2,410, 1,000) and total 5,469 (see 1 Esdr 2:14), which is close to the number 5,400 given in Ezra 1:11. Only vessels of gold or silver are mentioned in v. 11; perhaps articles of bronze, such as the bronze sea (2 Kgs 25:14-17), had been melted down during the destruction or were not considered valuable enough to be included in this list.

Verse 11 emphasizes that Sheshbazzar “brought up” (hl[h he(ulâ, in the hiphil) the vessels, but along with them were “brought up” (twl[h he(Alôt) the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem. The term “exiles” (hlwg gôlâ; sometimes “children of the exile”) is used frequently in Ezra 

 

 

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and Nehemiah as a designation for the post-exilic community. According to the chronicler, the land had been vacant during the exile (2 Chr 36:20-21).

REFLECTIONS

In many respects the restoration of the Jewish community in Palestine was a more or less insignificant event in one corner of the vast Persian Empire, which stretched from Greece toward the east, beyond modern Afghanistan. The account in this chapter ignores the contributions to the post-exilic community of those who had never gone into exile and who had maintained worship of the Lord in the meantime back home (Jer 41:5; Zech 7:5). Instead, the author saw in the return of the exiles the providential hand of the Lord, the same Lord who had been the power behind Israel's captors. In judgment and in grace, the author experienced the same God, who had been faithful in both of these actions.

The restoration of the community was a sign that the prophetic word of God remained true and reliable. That word had also been important for the deuteronomistic historian (Deut 31:16-17, 20; Josh 21:45) and especially for Second Isaiah, who affirmed that the word or promise of God would stand forever (Isa 40:8). When church and government are as impermanent as the grass that withers and the flower that decays, there is sometimes no evident reason why faith should still be the best alternative and why God's promises should be trusted. But the author of Ezra–Nehemiah confessed that Yahweh had faithfully fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah and had enlisted the great Emperor Cyrus in the divine plan.

God's actions and God's word lent legitimacy to the struggling and tiny community in Judah, whose uneven history is recounted in the following chapters of Ezra and Nehemiah. Despite all its warts and blemishes, despite failures by leadership and individual members, this little community, gathered around its Temple, was God's people. In going up to Jerusalem it had repeated symbolically the trip out of Egypt taken by its forebears. Unbelieving neighbors back at the time of the exodus and now at this return from exile recognized the legitimacy of the community through financial and material support. While continuity is established theologically by God's words and actions, human faith also needs tangible signs or cultural expressions to experience true continuity and a feeling of being at home. The temple vessels, so familiar and yet obscure enough to have the meaning of most of their technical terms forgotten, linked together the pre-exilic and the post-exilic communities.

The imperial government permitted, even encouraged, the return home. Sometimes Cyrus has been hailed as a unique individual, a cultural breakthrough, whose generosity toward the captive Jews went beyond any expectations. As Amélie Kuhrt has shown, however, his policies of restoring people and cults were also in his own best interest and were designed to keep peace within the empire.17 All the restored gods were to “pray daily to Bel and Nabu for my [Cyrus's] length of days.” In a number of ways his imperial policies continued those of the Assyrians, who have a well-deserved, almost universally negative public reputation. Still, without Persian state support—humanly speaking—the restoration would never have happened. There were dangers in the cooperation between the Persians and the Judeans, of course, as there always are in the interplay of church and state. The priestly community was willing to go along with the status quo and to live dependently within the Persian Empire. Perhaps that was a wise course; perhaps it was the only feasible course. But one wonders what had happened to belief in the old promises of the land or the promises to David. Acceptance of the political status quo can also be a sign of little faith.

Those who returned were affected by public displays of divine initiative and political 

 

 

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permission, but they were also people whose inner spirit God had stirred up. Some of their colleagues stayed behind in Babylon to retain their acquired status, perhaps because they had lost the vision. Some—how large a number we do not know—said yes to the invitation to go home. In this combination of divine empowerment and human decision among those who returned is reflected the paradox that Paul expressed so memorably: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12b-13 NRSV). Our claim to being saved by grace alone carries with it the correlary assumption that God's grace empowers us actively to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Mic 6:8).

Sheshbazzar, the leader of this returning group, was no Moses. Whether appointed by the king or elected by the people, he had achieved leadership and responsibility. He was “prince” and “governor”; he was the person responsible for receiving the temple vessels and carrying them home, and his tasks included initial work on the Temple. But Sheshbazzar never makes a speech in the Bible, apparently delivered no law or performed any miracle. We do not even know how his career ended. And yet, without him, would the community in Judah have ever restarted at all? Such nondescript leadership is often significant for the people of God today. Each week Christians gather in congregations across the land, without fanfare or public notice, and then go forth into ministry in daily life to turn the other cheek, to care for the lonely and the marginalized, to forgive as they have been forgiven, to love their enemies. A stanza in a hymn by Daniel March points out the significance of such Sheshbazzars (cf. Exod 17:11-13):

If you cannot be a watchman,

Standing high on Zion's wall,

Pointing out the path to heaven,

Off'ring life and peace to all,

With your prayers and with your bounties

You can do what God demands;

You can be like faithful Aaron,

Holding up the prophet's hands.

Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Mar 18 2012 9:53 AM

NEHEMIAH 9:1-37, A GREAT DAY OF REPENTANCE

Nehemiah 9:1-5a, Preparations for Confession

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COMMENTARY

After a one-day interval following the solemn assembly (8:18), the Israelites gathered for another liturgical ceremony on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month. This day of fasting and confession is not part of the regular Jewish calendar, although periodic fasts during exilic and early post-exilic times are mentioned elsewhere (Zech 7:5; 8:19). The text reflects a mood appropriate to the Day of Atonement, unmentioned in Ezra–Nehemiah, which falls on the tenth day of the seventh month (see Lev 23:26-32). The alternative locations for this chapter proposed by Clines and Williamson would put this ceremony on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month of Ezra's first year; Rudolph's suggested arrangement of the text would date the ceremony to the twenty-fourth day of the first month in Ezra's second year.177 In the present context, the date was set at a time when the eight-day Festival of Tabernacles (8:18) would have been completed.

Fasting, wearing sackcloth (see 1 Chr 21:16; Dan 9:3; Jonah 3:5), and placing dirt or ashes on one's forehead (Josh 7:6; 1 Sam 4:12; 2 Sam 1:2; Esth 4:1; Job 2:12) are regular parts of mourning rites in the Old Testament and may suggest that the worshipers felt themselves to be under a sentence of death. The “seed of Israel” (v. 2; “those of Israelite descent,” NRSV and NIV; cf. Ezra 9:2), who had separated themselves from all foreigners and not just from foreign women as in 

 

 

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Ezra 10:1, corporately confessed their own sins (see vv. 33-37) and the sins of their forebears (see vv. 16-30). The whole ceremony lasted six hours, or about as long as the reading of the law in 8:3, and this festival of penance was divided into equal sections of reading from the book of the law and confessing sins before Yahweh (v. 3). The antecedent of “they” in v. 3 would seem to be those of Israelite descent, but it could also refer to the Levites in the following verses. Five of the eight names in the two lists of Levites in vv. 4-5 are identical (though not in the same order). Did one of these groups of Levites perform public displays of grief while the other group put the community's thoughts into words? Or was there originally only one group of Levites, with the second group arising because of the conflation of variant readings? The first group stood on the “stairs of the Levites” (v. 4; so correctly NRSV against NIV); these stairs served the same function as did the raised wooden platform in 8:4. In distinction to chap. 8, these Levites do not teach the people; rather, they serve as leaders of song and prayer, as often in the books of Chronicles (1 Chr 16:8-36; 2 Chr 8:14). The second group of Levites ordered the assembly to stand and bless Yahweh (cf. Ps 106:1). (See Reflections at 9:5b-37.)

Nehemiah 9:5b-37, The Great Prayer of Repentance

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COMMENTARY

Neither the NRSV nor the NIV understands the prayer as poetry, though Rudolph and Gunneweg do, and it is printed as poetry in BHS.178 The prayer displays rhythm and meter only sporadically and may be considered a kind of poetic prose, with a series of Hebrew puns in vv. 20, 24, and 27. The prayer begins with a call to praise in v. 5b (cf. Psalm 106:1) and ends with a final paragraph consisting of petition (v. 32), confession of sins (vv. 33-35), and complaint (vv. 36-37). In between comes a historical retrospect (vv. 6-31). The prayer praises Yahweh for righteousness of judgment on Israel and functions in part as a “doxology of judgment,” much like the hymn whose stanzas have been distributed throughout the book of Amos (Amos 4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6). Its closest formal parallel in the Bible is Psalm 106:1 (see also the so-called historical Psalms 78; 105; 135; 136). The recital of Israel's past sin climaxes with the great distress in which the people now find themselves. Blenkinsopp finds similarities between Nehemiah 9:1 and the Words of the Heavenly Luminaries from Qumran, Baruch 1:15–3:8, and the Prayer of Manasseh (this text, however, is individual rather than communal).179 The prayer is composed almost entirely of citations of or allusions to other biblical texts. The writer seems to have known the Pentateuch in its entirety.180

9:5b-31, Historical Retrospect. The outline of this section offers important clues to the overall meaning of the chapter. First, the prayer recites God's providential care in creation (v. 6), the election of Abraham (vv. 7-8), and the exodus from Egypt (vv. 9-11). During this time there was no hint of human infidelity. Verses 12-21 then discuss the complex divine-human relationships during Israel's wilderness wanderings: God's 

 

 

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providential care (vv. 12-15); the rebellions of the ancestors in the wilderness (vv. 16-18); and God's continued guidance in spite of their rebellion (vv. 19-21). Finally, vv. 22-31 review the life of the ancestors in the land. After the dramatically successful conquest (vv. 22-25), the people became disobedient and were punished, they prayed, and they received divine deliverance throughout the period of the judges (vv. 26-28). The last verses of the historical retrospect report sin and punishment during the monarchical period and bring the account down to the (implied) time of the poem's origin during the exile.181 Despite the present captivity, God's mercy and righteousness endure (vv. 29-31).

According to this prayer, the period of the judges, just as in the book of Judges itself, consisted of a series of cycles in which sin and punishment were followed by petition and deliverance. The period of the kings in vv. 29-31, just as in the books of Kings, consisted of a truncated cycle: repeated sins that eventually led to the loss of land. At the end of the books of Kings the reader may be tempted to ask: “If we were to cry out, would there not be deliverance for us?” In other words, an implied cycle of petition and deliverance is also there. In Nehemiah 9:1, too, after the historical retrospect come a petition (v. 32), a confession of sins (vv. 33-35), and a complaint about their present condition that functions as a kind of appeal for God to act based on pity for them (vv. 36-37). In short, the prayer asks for the cycle of deliverance to resume.

9:5b, Hymnic Introduction. Because this verse addresses God in the second person without an appropriate introduction, and because the preceding phrase, “from everlasting to everlasting,” is awkward both in Hebrew and in the literal translation of the NRSV, it seems advisable to add a clause after “your God” to solve both difficulties: “Blessed are you, O LORD, our God” (the NIV glosses over the problem by inserting the words “who is”). This original reading, which forms the first line of the prayer, was later lost by haplography, the omission of one or two identical or similar letters, groups of letters, or words found together.

9:6, Creation. The praise of the Creator should begin with the following translation: “You, O LORD, are the only God.” The translations in the NRSV and the NIV suggest instead that there is only one Yahweh, which is not likely to have been a major point of dispute when this poem was composed. The Hebrew cosmos presupposed in this verse was tri-partite: heaven, earth, and sea (Pss 69:34; 96:11; cf. Rev 21:1, the new creation, in which there will be no sea). God's creative action produced this cosmos, and God created and preserves all living beings—in the heavens, on the land, and in the sea. The “host of heaven” connotes either the stars or the members of God's heavenly council (cf. Pss 103:21; 148:2). The worship performed by the host of heaven stands in sharp contrast to the disobedience of Israel.

9:7-8, The Election of Abraham. Abraham is selected by the author to represent the traditions of Israel's ancestors in Genesis 12:1–50. The prayer applies the word “chose” (rjb bAhar) to Abraham, based no doubt on the terminology of Deut 4:37; 10:15, although his election is described with other words in Genesis. The verb “brought out” (axy yAzA)), used of God's guidance of Abraham from his southern Mesopotamian home in Ur of the Chaldees (cf. Gen 11:28, 31; 15:7), suggests a kind of deliverance, or exodus, also for him (see Exod 20:2; 32:11-12). The reference to the gift of the name “Abraham” recalls Genesis 17:1, where God changed Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's to Sarah to mark their new covenantal status. Abraham was faithful (cf. the “righteousness” of Abram in Gen 15:6), and God made with him a covenant—the only covenant mentioned in this prayer—whose primary content was the promise of the land (see Gen 15:18-21; 17:7-8). The list of pre-Israelite inhabitants of the land in v. 8 resembles the other nine biblical lists (Gen 15:19-20; Exod 3:8, 17; 33:2; 34:11; Deut 7:1; 20:17; Judg 3:5; Ezra 9:1), but is not identical to any of them (see the Commentary on Ezra 9:1-5). Just as foreigners ruled Israel at the time of the writer, so also a multitude of foreigners had occupied the land in the ancestral period. Nevertheless, in spite of their presence, the promise to give the land to Abra-

 

 

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ham's descendants had been fulfilled—God kept the promise, and this fulfillment demonstrated God's righteousness, or faithfulness, to the relationship with Abraham (see Gen 15:6).182 In the Hebrew text, v. 6 begins and v. 8 ends with the pronoun “you,” referring to God, as does the whole historical retrospect in v. 31.

9:9-11, Exodus. The survey of the exodus event reports that God saw the affliction of the people's ancestors—no doubt much like their own affliction—and heard their cry. Perhaps the author is suggesting that God will soon hear the plea of the Levites, who had just cried out with a loud voice (v. 4). Through the plagues God brought judgment on Pharaoh's officials and all his people. God's reputation or name, earned through the event of the exodus and the crossing of the Sea of Reeds (v. 10), endured to the time when this prayer was offered. According to two of the pentateuchal source documents, the divine name Yahweh had been revealed to Moses in the course of the events leading to the exodus (Exod 3:13-15 Email; 6:2 [P]). The Egyptians had acted arrogantly in the time of oppression (v. 16); the prayer gives no hint of Israelite disobedience in Egypt (cf. Ezek 20:8).

9:12-21, Wilderness Wanderings. In vv. 12-15 four providential acts of God are mentioned: the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire (Exod 13:21); the giving of the law on Sinai (Exodus 19:1–24); manna from heaven for the hungry and water from the rock for the thirsty (Exod 16:4; 17:6; Num 20:8); and the command to enter and possess the promised land, based on a divine oath. Only observance of the sabbath is mentioned as a specific ethical requirement, a typical exilic and post-exilic concern (10:31; 13:15-22; Isa 56:2, 4, 6), also highlighted in the survey of Israel's history in Ezekiel 20:12-13, 16, 20-21, 24.

The confession of sins begins in v. 16 with the mention of the presumptuous acts of the ancestors (the NRSV errs in distinguishing “they” from “our ancestors in this verse”). The sins of the ancestors are compared to those of their erstwhile Egyptian oppressors in that “acted presumptuously” (v. 16, referring to the ancestors) and “acted insolently”(v. 10, referring to Pharaoh and his servants) translate the same Hebrew verb (dyz zîd). The ancestors even stubbornly desired to return to slavery in Egypt (v. 17).183 Their behavior contrasts markedly with the character of Yahweh: a God ready to forgive, one who is gracious and merciful (v. 17), a theme that recurs at the end of the historical retrospect in v. 31. God's patience—slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love—continued even during the making of the golden calf (v. 18; cf. Exodus 32:1) and the committing of great blasphemies.

God did not abandon them (vv. 17, 19), but in fact inaugurated a second era of providential guidance in the wilderness (vv. 19-21), which repeats the themes of vv. 12-15: the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, the gift of God's good Spirit to instruct them (functionally the same as the giving of the law in vv. 13-14), and the provision of manna and water.

9:22-31, Life in the Land. The fourth providential act (v. 15), the command to enter the land, is developed extensively in vv. 22-25, the first part of the section dealing with life in the land. The conquest began with victories over Sihon and Og in Transjordan (Num 21:21-35; Deut 1:4; 2:16–3:11). Both the conquest and Israel's subsequent population explosion were fulfillments of promises to the ancestors (Gen 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; Deut 1:10-11). The victory over the Canaanites was solely God's doing; Joshua is not even mentioned. Only the descendants of the exodus generation were able to enter the land. The prayer does not seem to expect or call for any armed appropriation of the land in the future. The people's delight in the abundance of the land is matched by a recognition that all this stems from God's goodness. Even the words “became fat” (v. 25) denote unbroken prosperity without any of the negative connotations of Deut 32:15. Indeed, the obedience of the ancestors continued until the end of the period of the conquest (see Judg 2:7).

Verses 26-31 offer a cyclical picture of Israel's subsequent history of disobedience, and they depict a constantly downward spiral. The offenses were egregious, but the charges are not specific: 

 

 

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rejection of the law, killing of the prophets, and doing great blasphemies. There is actually little historical evidence for violence against the prophets in the Bible (2 Chr 24:20-22; Jer 26:20-23),184 and this charge may have grown as a rhetorical heightening of the people's rejection of the prophetic word. Two times the prayer recounts a complete cycle of sin, punishment, petition for help, and deliverance, roughly corresponding to the period of the judges (vv. 26-28); the third cycle (vv. 29-31) has not yet advanced to the people's cry (but see v. 32). God's manifold mercies had led to the raising of saviors (v. 27; cf. Judg 2:16, 18) and the sending of prophets to bring the people to repentance (v. 29; cf. v. 26 and 1 Kgs 18:4, 13; 2 Kgs 17:13). Punishment in each cycle consisted of being turned over to the power of foreign peoples (vv. 27, 28, 30).

Verse 29 returns to the idea of presumptuous behavior, but now in the monarchical period (cf. vv. 10, 16). The accusations against the people are still rather colorless—disobedience of the commandments, stubbornness, failure to listen to the admonitions of the prophets. They rejected the very commandments that would give them life (Lev 18:5; Deut 30:15-20; Ezek 20:11). Despite God's patience and the sending of the Spirit through the prophets to warn them (2 Chr 36:15-16), the people had refused to listen. But even the present punishment by the peoples of the lands did not mean a complete end, as Jeremiah had promised (Jer 5:18; 30:11), nor did it bring abandonment (v. 31; despite v. 28). God remained a gracious and merciful God until the very hour of this prayer.

9:32, Petition. The transition point between historical retrospect and petition is marked by a transitional “now” (v. 32). God is addressed, even by those under judgment, as “our God,” as in the first (reconstructed) line of the poem (v. 5). God is great, mighty, and awesome, but God is also, paradoxically, the one who keeps covenant and steadfast love, a reference to the covenantal promise of the land to Abraham in v. 8. The petition is forceful in its understatement: “Do not treat lightly all the hardship that has come upon us.” The term “hardship” (halt tulA)â) is used elsewhere to refer to Israel's troubles in Egypt (Exod 18:8; Num 20:14). That trouble has now struck people both high and low—kings, officials, priests, prophets, and the immediate ancestors of those who offer the prayer. It has lasted from the Assyrian domination until the present time (cf. vv. 10, 36).

9:33-37, Confession of Sin and Complaint. Verse 33 has led to the classification of this prayer as a doxology of judgment: “God, you have been righteous in what you have done.” God has acted truthfully, the poet says, but “we” have acted wickedly. We are as guilty as our ancestors. The “we” of this confession includes various segments of society, significantly omitting the prophets from any blame (v. 34; cf. v. 32). Despite God's kingship and great goodness, manifested in the marvelous gift of the land, the speakers admit that they have not served God and so they now have become slaves (vv. 35-36). The very land God gave to the ancestors has become the place of servitude until “this very day.” The writer complains that the rich yield of this land now goes—presumably through taxation and tribute—to the kings who were imposed on them as punishment. This view of the imperial power seems much harsher and much less nuanced and cautious than the usual attitude toward the Persians reflected in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah: “They have power over our bodies and over our livestock at their pleasure” (v. 37). This critical attitude toward the Persians makes Gunneweg's proposal about the later origin of this chapter quite attractive (see the Overview to 7:73b–10:39).185

The speakers of this prayer clearly include themselves among the guilty: These punishments have come on us because of our sins (v. 37); we are in great distress. The pronoun “we” forms the last word of the prayer in Hebrew, just as “you” (referring to God) began and ended the historical retrospect (vv. 6-31). Between those two words, and between those two characters, God and people, the hopes of those who prayed stand in the balance.

 

 

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REFLECTIONS

The truth for one generation is only partly the truth for the next. All of us struggle with how to express the faith of our heritage in the language of our children. The person responsible for having written this chapter did not contest that those who returned from Babylon in the days of Ezra were faithful, nor did he doubt that the joy of the Festival of Tabernacles had drowned out their sorrow. But he wanted to add some qualifications for his own time, when faithfulness to God required separation from all foreigners and the temptations they offered. For his time, acceptance before God required coming to terms with a history of failure. Reading the law needed to be followed by confession of sins and worship of God (9:3).

But his account of Israel's history with God was not just a catalog of misery. The host of heaven worshiped the Creator right at the beginning and thereby set a pattern now echoed by the levitical leaders in the world of the text (9:3). Abraham—should we not add Sarah, too?—had a heart that was faithful to God. The central truth about God is faithfulness to the people; this makes God a promise maker and a promise keeper.

God's mercy is repeated in each generation and many times in one's own life. God's mercy is boundless and, paradoxically, has its limits. One should not expect sin and punishment, prayer to God, and deliverance to go on forever without any change in oneself. Grace is free but not cheap. But even when the cycles of deliverance came to an end in this poem, God did not make a full end, nor did God abandon the people. How many times should a person forgive sister or brother? How many times will God forgive us? Even when the cycles of deliverance come to an end, we dare to pray for the wheel of history to turn toward deliverance one more time.

What is the character of God? God is a covenant maker and therefore promises whatever God's people need for wholeness of life, here expressed as the gift of the land. God is also a covenant keeper. For many people God's awesomeness is manifested in the reversals of life and the mysteries of judgment. And yet we boldly confess in a well-known collect, “God, your almighty power is shown chiefly in showing mercy.” The One to whom we pray for forgiveness is great, mighty, and awesome and, at the same time, the One who keeps covenant and steadfast love (9:32). Are not the latter virtues the surest signs of God's almighty power?

God guides us and protects us night and day, before, during, and after our sin (9:12, 19). God gives us good and just laws that sometimes can be summarized in one imperative. In the time when Nehemiah 9:1 was composed, observance of the sabbath day showed whether one acknowledged God. What would be a comprehensive and concrete imperative for our day? Acceptance of the stranger? Respect for the environment? Peace? Justice?

God's good Spirit comes to offer us instruction and encouragement (9:20a). This good Spirit appears today in our congregational leaders and fellow members, our friends and our relatives, and in all those who love us enough to tell us the truth of the faith. Hunger and thirst according to this prayer were satisfied before, during, and, most important, after sinning (9:15a, 20b-21). Even after sinning, Israel, like the psalmist, lacked nothing (9:21; cf. Ps 23:1). In addition to daily bread in the wilderness, then, God provided clothes that never wore out and ankles that never swelled. Divine beneficence after sinning was more lavish than before.

Before Israel's history of sin began, the command to possess the land required half a verse (9:15b). After the “ancestors acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks,” that promise expanded to four verses (9:22-25)! The earthiness of God's goodness comes to full expression through fertile land, wells already dug, trees in abundance, well-nourished people, reveling in God's goodness. God continually tried to give the people the one thing they now lacked: possession of the land. Salvation must always meet our needs, or it is not salvation for us.

The history of sinning is not just a history of a fallen world somewhere out there or a roll call of notorious sinners. It is not that our parents erred and we are paying the consequences. 

 

 

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No, according to chap. 9, the history of sinning is our history; we did wrong—despite God's faithful actions. The leaders and representatives did not serve God, and therefore, with punishment to fit the crime, the people are now servants, real slaves. Some people can tolerate foreign domination and make a virtue of it, as did the principal authors of Ezra and Nehemiah. But finally, at least for some within Israel, including the author of this chapter—and for many surely today—such slavery could not be tolerated. The alien, yet God-given, kings ruled the bodies and the cattle of those who prayed in chap. 9 mostly in accord with what was pleasing to these rulers (9:37).

What moves God to act? Is it our praise, God's character, God's promises? “You are the LORD, you alone” is the way the poem begins in 9:6.

But the poem ends with “we”—we the slaves, we the exploited, we who are in great distress (9:36-37). Is not God moved by pity for us?

You, God, are one-half of the issue. We are the other half. You and us—in that connection lies our only hope.

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 19 2012 5:43 AM

ESTHER 4:4-17, DIALOGUE BETWEEN ESTHER AND MORDECAI

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COMMENTARY

4:4-6. After a marked absence, Esther reappears in the narrative. For the first time, we have a scene in which she is the central character. Esther as queen has her own entourage of maids and eunuchs who keep her informed about the goings-on in the palace. They also know that Mordecai is her relative; therefore, they must know that she, like Mordecai, is a Jew, and yet her identity remains a secret from the king. The maids and eunuchs now tell her what Mordecai is doing. Her response comes in the form of an unusual Hebrew word, ljljttw (wattithalhal, “and she writhed”), which occurs in this conjugation only here in Esther. In the active conjugations it means “to dance,” but in the reflexive sense it means “to writhe in anguish” and can be connected with the pain of childbirth. For example, the verb occurs in poetic texts, one concerning Sarah as the mother of Israel (Isa 51:2) and one portraying Yahweh as “bringing forth” Israel in travail (Deut 32:18). Mordecai's behavior seems to cause Esther intense distress, and she rushes to respond to news of her cousin's state, but not by inquiring the reason for his actions, as one might expect. Instead, she sends him clothes in place of his sackcloth, which he refuses. Her motivation is open to question. Does she wish to relieve his distress?114 If so, fresh clothes will not help, since Mordecai's outward appearance is merely a reflection of his inner turmoil. Does she wish to enable him to enter the palace, since those dressed in sackcloth are not allowed in? Or does she simply want him to stop his embarrassing behavior? Only after he refuses her solution does she send Hathach the eunuch to find out why Mordecai is behaving this way. Hathach, a new character, appears to be one of the palace eunuchs assigned to Esther. She seems to rely on his discretion, for the ensuing dialogue is intimate, 

 

 

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even confrontational, yet conducted entirely through a third party. No one, neither Esther nor her servants, seems yet to know about Haman's decree, even though it has been posted in the citadel of Susa (3:15). This indicates the kind of sheltered life Esther leads inside the harem and her dependence on the discretion and loyalty of her maids and eunuchs. The dialogue between Mordecai and Hathach takes place in the main city square (a place often associated with rites of mourning; see Jer 48:37-38), in full view of the public. Mordecai, it would seem, is not at this point concerned about discretion.

4:7-8. In these verses, Mordecai demonstrates that he knows the secrets of the palace. He knows the details of Haman's bargain with the king, including the bribe of ten thousand talents. He even has a copy of the decree, which he sends to Esther. Interestingly, the assumption is that both Esther and Mordecai are literate, a fact that might go unnoticed by the modern reader. Mordecai also has a plan of action, which he does not hesitate to communicate to Esther, since, as was stated in 2:20, “Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him.” He assumes that she will obey him now and repair promptly to the king to undo the threat Haman has posed to the Jews. In fact, in the LXX, Mordecai recalls Esther's obligation to him: “Remembering your humble station when you were supported by my hand. . . . Call upon the Lord, and speak to the king concerning us, and save us from death” (the LXX's mention of prayer is typical of that version's attempt to remedy the Hebrew's silence concerning God and religious practice).

4:9-17. The dialogue continues in this passage. Mordecai has assumed Esther's obedience to his command in v. 8, so her first response is something of a shock: She refuses to fall in with his plan. Esther has now been queen for five years and is steeped in palace etiquette (which she has already demonstrated by sending Mordecai clothes in v. 4), and her first response to Mordecai indicates that she cannot obey his command for reasons of palace protocol. Everyone (including presumably Mordecai) knows that to appear before the king unsummoned is to court instant death, and she has not been summoned for thirty days. Therefore, she implies, it is obvious that she cannot carry out Mordecai's plan. It is unclear whether Esther's statement is historically accurate. Josephus accepts it as such, but claims that it applies only to the royal family (to avert the danger of a palace coup?) and supplies the colorful note that men with axes surround the king on his throne to prevent unauthorized access.115 However, Herodotus is ambivalent on the subject. According to him, in the tradition of the Medes, unannounced entry before the king was unlawful,116 but a petitioner might send in a message and request an audience. Esther does not even suggest doing this, leading to the conclusion that this may be a convenient plot device on the part of the author. It is part of the irony of the book that the first queen, Vashti, is banished for refusing to appear before the king when summoned, while the second queen, Esther, is asked to risk death by appearing before the king unsummoned. Also, the fact that Esther has not been summoned for thirty days indicates that her influence is at a low ebb, and she has no reason to believe that her intervention would be efficacious.

Many biblical leaders—for example Moses (Exod 4:10-13), Barak (Judg 4:8), and Jeremiah (Jer 1:6), all male—attempted to excuse themselves when called upon for drastic action on behalf of the Jews.117 The author all but abandons the presence of the go-between to emphasize the importance and intensity of this dialogue. Mordecai is not prepared to excuse Esther so easily. He takes a severe tone, first reminding her that she is Jewish and that the decree applies to her as well. She is not safe in the palace, for it is from the palace that the danger emanates. Then, in v. 14, he threatens her: If she does not act, the Jews will receive succor elsewhere, but she and her family (which means Mordecai) will perish. The expression “relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter” has excited much commentary, for it may contain an oblique reference to God. The AT, in fact, reads, “God will be their aid and their deliverance,” while Josephus and the Targums have taken “quarter” in their MT source as a reference to God.118 This is a 

 

 

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plausible interpretation, but it may also simply refer to another human119 who will help instead of the unwilling Esther. In any case, there seems to be an assumption that something, probably divine providence, is working to save the Jews, whether directly or through human action, and that Esther should choose to cooperate with it. This saves the book from the charge of irreligiosity; God works in the background, through human action. In fact, Mordecai implies (“who knows?”) that Esther's ascent to the throne was providential, in order to save the Jews; so if she does not act, she will be disobeying God's unspoken plan.120 Mordecai, even though he is usually obedient to Persian law, believes that in a conflict between Persian law and the Jewish people, Esther's loyalty must reside with her people.

Esther responds swiftly to Mordecai's pleas. Now that she has been persuaded to act on behalf of the Jews, she quickly comes up with her own plan and carries it out. She begins to give commands, not only to her servants but to Mordecai as well; and she expects to be obeyed. All the Jews in Susa are to gather and observe a three-day fast, while Esther and her maids (it is unlikely that Esther's maids are Jewish) also fast. Fasting, which is an act of petition (2 Sam 12:16-17; Jonah 3:7), is the only overtly religious act in the book of Esther. (Ironically, if the fast did take place, it would have coincided with the beginning of Passover, in direct violation of Jewish law, which forbids fasting on Passover [Exod 12:1-10].) However, since God is not mentioned (although the AT explicitly states that the fasting is directed toward God), its religious character is muted. Thematically, the fast stands in direct contrast to the banquets that occur throughout the book and, in particular, to Haman's feast with Ahasuerus before the fast and to Esther's banquets with the king and Haman after the fast. After the fast, Esther will go to the king, although she again reminds Mordecai that it is against the law for her to do so unbidden. However, she is reconciled to the danger and makes one of the most poignant statements in the book, “If I perish, I perish.” Esther's status, even after having been queen for five years, remains precarious and her relationship with her husband is still uncertain. Esther's position as a woman in a male court is analogous to that of the Jews in the Gentile world, with the possibility of danger ever present under the surface. Esther has no guarantee that she will be successful. However, at this point she has taken responsibility for her own fate and has put the welfare of her people first, an action of which the author resoundingly approves. Mordecai is also satisfied; he leaves to carry out Esther's orders.

Mordecai's action in v. 17 signals the radical transformation the character of Esther has undergone in the last three chapters. When Esther was introduced in chap. 2, she was an orphan girl with nothing to recommend her but beauty of face and form. She was passive and obedient, obeying Mordecai, obeying Hegai, and “pleasing” everyone around her. She charmed the king, not least, one supposes, because she was pliant, unlike the spirited Vashti. Even after her marriage, she continued to obey Mordecai. She is not a character from whom we should expect great things. Now, however, she is transformed. She does not obey orders; she gives them. She is active, a risk-taker, not passively compliant. She is a queen, a figure of royal authority, such that even Mordecai hurries to obey her. Now she is a character in whom the reader can trust. Esther has taken charge, and we can rest assured that the danger to the Jews will be averted, no matter what pitfalls lie ahead.

REFLECTIONS

The actions of Esther in chapter 4 present us with an all-too-human portrait of a person's response when faced with a demand for action in a situation that she neither created nor asked for—a resounding “No!” Often life locates us in situations where we are capable of taking action on behalf of some oppressed person or people, but with possible negative 

 

 

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consequences for ourselves. Esther's consequences are clear and absolute: She faces death. The consequences for us may be less absolute but nonetheless devastating—loss of job, family rupture, embarrassment, to name only a few. It is difficult at such times to overcome the self-centeredness of our everyday lives in order to discern God's call. In chapter 4, the writer acknowledges the difficulty of discerning that call. Mordecai does not know that Esther can or will be able to help—his use of “who knows?” and “perhaps” recognizes the uncertainty of the situation. But Mordecai is convinced of two things: Help will come for the Jews from somewhere, whether from God or from humans, and Esther, given her favorable circumstances, must act. If she does not, she (and her family) will be held responsible for her cowardice. This statement more than anything else in the book of Esther implies belief in the activity of divine providence, even though God remains unmentioned. The author of Esther has captured in a short two verses the dilemma of the average believer: How does one find the courage and faith to do what is right in the face of divine and human ambiguity? Esther's example may give us courage to reach beyond ourselves and act on behalf of others, placing our trust in God.

 

 

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And as an added bonus today we have the snippet taking from the greek additions to Esther below... ESTHER ADDITION D 1-16 (AT 6:1-12; VG 5:4-19) ESTHER APPEARS BEFORE THE KING Link to:  <Page 961 ends>><Page 962 begins>> COMMENTARY This Addition, which follows immediately after Add. C, replaces Esth 5:1-2 in the MT. It is a much better dramatic scene than that in the MT, which is rather anticlimactic. This Addition is the dramatic climax of the Greek Esther and has some of the elements of a Hellenistic romance.19 In it God, the real hero of Greek Esther, gets full credit for the positive outcome. Addition D probably had a Semitic source text, possibly the same as Add. C. Addition D begins on the third day, in accordance with the fast that Esther requested in 4:16. After putting aside the sackcloth she wore in Add. C, she dresses to exploit her best weapon: her beauty. Unlike the MT, where Esther relies on no one but herself, in this scene she again invokes God's help (placing emphasis once more on prayer) and takes with her two maids for support. Esther is evidently a great actress; she looks happy, even though she is petrified (recall that in Add. C she claimed to “loathe the bed of the uncircumcised”; that may be true, but the king is not aware of it!). In vv. 2-5, Esther is the epitome of royal feminine beauty, while in v. 6 the king is the epitome of royal masculine power.20 The two forces stand juxtaposed. While in the MT this scene was rather disappointing because Esther's acceptance by the king seemed so cut and dried, and she seemed not to be in danger, the LXX exploits the dramatic potential of the situation to the full. The king is fiercely angry; both the AT and the OL compare him to a bull, a metaphor for rage. As we saw in chap. 1, the rage of this king is cause for alarm. Esther is, in fact, so terrified that she faints. She has failed completely; she has been neither courageous nor eloquent of speech. This is in contrast to MT Esther, where she is completely successful. This major difference in the two Esthers makes the LXX character “a delicate Victorian,” much less appealing to the female reader than MT Esther, who has the strength of character to act calmly in spite of tremendous danger. If the LXX emphasizes the danger, it also emphasizes Esther's feminine “weakness.”21 Esther's failure enables the true hero to act. God gets the credit for making the king do a complete turnaround; the theme of reversal, now clearly the result of God's activity, reappears. Whereas earlier the king seemed about to kill Esther, now he comforts and reassures her. He reminds her that he is her husband (the Greek word is “brother [adelfov adelphos], meaning “close kinsman”; cf. Cant 4:9-10; 5:1-2) and informs her that the law does not apply to her. Does this mean that all the suspense has been for nothing? Evidently not, for he still touches her neck with the scepter. Esther now seems to have the power of eloquent speech, for she compares the king to an angel of God and confesses her terror. Her use of the phrase “angel of God” is a little strange under the circumstances, since the king is not supposed to know that she is Jewish, but this may be asking for a little too much on the part of the redactor. Esther then faints again, leaving the reader a bit suspicious: Is her emotion genuine or melodramatic? In any case, it has the desired effect upon the king. Moore points out the similarities, mentioned above, of Adds. C and D to the book of Judith, an apocryphal work written in Palestine in the late second century B.C.E..22 Both contain pious Jewish women who exploit their beauty to overcome, with God's help, Gentile enemies for the sake of their people. It is probable that the book of Judith (whose main character may have been created in reaction to the too-secular Esther) influenced the redactor of LXX Esther. Levenson suggests that “both heroines reflect an ideal of womanhood widespread in late Second Temple Judaism.”23 <Page 962 ends>><Page 963 begins>> REFLECTIONS Again in Addition D the redactor of LXX Esther wants to ensure that the reader understands that God, only subtly alluded to in the MT, is present and orchestrating each event of the story. What was left to the perception of the faithful reader of the MT is spelled out by the LXX: God causes the king to accept Esther at the crucial moment. The two versions may be compared to the way in which a person might perceive the same event while it is happening and again at a later date: While the event is happening, things may appear to be coincidences, and events seem to happen at random. Someone might speak of having “good luck” or describe an event as “serendipitous.” Later, the same event, viewed as part of a whole from the perspective of faith, may be seen as God's acting throughout to bring the event to its proper conclusion. Good luck becomes a blessing; serendipity becomes grace. The LXX Esther, which perceives the finger of God in the king's reaction, thus is a later retrospective on MT Esther. <Page 963 ends>><Page 964 begins>>

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Forum MVP
NB.Mick | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 19 2012 6:34 AM

Thank you for this sample, especially the Bonus Item

Running Logos 8 latest beta version on Win 10

Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 19 2012 4:54 PM

Offline for a few days….

here are  several more samples 

 

JUDITH 10:11–13:10a, JUDITH OVERCOMES HOLOFERNES

Judith 10:11-23, Judith Enters the Enemy Camp and Is Taken to Holofernes

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COMMENTARY

10:11-16. Interestingly, the retardation of plot in the preceding scene is followed by the sudden jolt of the present one. There is finally a meeting of Israelites and Assyrians, which has been threatened for most of the book, and the Assyrians appear to be in the commanding position. Judith's plan, which up to now has only been hinted at, is beginning to be realized. The reader sees Judith at work on the enemy, and in her first words she is already lying. The Assyrian soldiers, also struck by her beauty, usher her along with a comical show of respect. The Assyrians begin to speak in an extended irony in which almost every line can be understood in two ways, depending upon whether the “lord” referred to is Holofernes or God: “You have saved your life by hurrying down to see our lord . . . some of us . . . will hand you over to him [lit., deliver you into his hands].” The audience at this point would have been aware of each reference and would not have missed the ironic distance between the show of the troops and their apparent obtuseness about the meaning of their own words. The obtuseness of the characters is an important part of the comic irony in the Gospel of John as well (see John 3:4; 4:11; 9:25).

10:17-23. Here also a vivid description enlivens the narrative. One can almost see the hubbub and excitement spread through the camp as men not only are struck by her beauty, but also marvel at what it indicates about Israelites in general. The soldiers draw the conclusion that the audience would want them to draw: that Israelite women—and therefore men as well—are superior to any on earth. This means of affirming ethnic superiority is typical of much of the writing of this period, both in the dominant Greek and Roman culture, and of the various indigenous peoples. It is found in a very similar way in Joseph and Aseneth 1:4-5, where it is said that Aseneth was “tall and comely, and more beautiful than any young woman on earth. Indeed, she bore little 

 

 

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resemblance at all to Egyptian women, but was in every way more like the women of the Hebrews: as tall as Sarah, as comely as Rebecca, as beautiful as Rachel.” The Genesis Apocryphon (20:2-6) from Qumran is equally complimentary in regard to Sarah.

We first encounter Holofernes in a tent that is parallel to Judith's tent, but rather than a retreat for righteous fasting and praying, it is a palace in miniature, sumptuously decorated with precious stones. It is probably not meant to be effeminate, as its appearance may strike the modern reader, although this is not implausible considering the way Holofernes will later be “unmanned.” Enslin suggests that there may be evident here contempt for the luxury of the Eastern despot and his finery.107 One similarity to Judith's tent that does remain is that Holofernes is generally secluded in it. He meets with his officers in the tent, and while alive always appears in it. This tent has two chambers, and his bedchamber, covered with a canopy, is where he hopes to take Judith to bed and where he will later die. The canopy that covers the bed and separates the chambers will also be of great importance later.

One might wonder whether the structure of the tent is significant. It has at least two chambers, the inner sleeping chamber, separated from the outer chamber by the specially decorated canopy. Is this structure intended to call to mind the Temple in Jerusalem, albeit as a sort of mirror image? The Second Temple consisted of a series of concentric courts, with the Temple itself standing at the center and the altar just outside facing it. Within the Temple was the holy of holies, or inner sanctum, and like the bedchamber of Holofernes' tent, it was separated by a curtain from the rest of the Temple. The curtain was richly decorated, with some of the same colors as those of Holofernes' curtain (Exod 26:31). The curtained area of the Temple was entered only once a year on the Day of Atonement, and then only by the high priest. Judith will enter Holofernes' inner sanctum to kill him, just as the high priest enters the holy of holies, and one might say that she will “sacrifice” him. At this last point the parallel breaks down, however, because the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement is carried out on the alter in front of the Temple, and only some of the blood is carried into the holy of holies. Still, the parallel is suggestive, for the curtain of the Temple was quite symbolic of its integrity and sanctity; in early Christianity, it became a powerful symbol of the access Christ had created to the realm of God (Matt 27:51; Hebrews 9:1–10). (See Reflections at 11:1-23.)

Judith 11:1-23, Judith's Dialogue with Holofernes

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COMMENTARY

11:1-8. Holofernes is as gracious to Judith as she is to him. He does not treat her as a member of a conquered people, but immediately presses her to find out why she has abandoned her village. Judith begins her speech by asking him to “accept the words of your slave,” as if it were a humble petition addressed to God. In a way, it is, as the next sentence continues the double-layered reference to “my lord”: “I will say nothing false to my lord this night.” Judith is equivocating with the truth; she will lie to one lord while being truthful with the other. She must use her two cultivated weapons, her beauty and her deceptive tongue (9:10), to distract and manipulate her oppressor: “If you follow out the words of your servant, God will accomplish something through you, and my lord will not fail to achieve his purposes.” One might argue that here the double entendre gets Judith into a moral gray area when she says, “I will say nothing false to my lord this night.” However, we must understand her intention: Her lies to Holofernes are a form of “truth” to God, since they serve God. This skates very close to lying to God, but that is precisely the point. For the audience, the exhilaration in reading Judith consists in skating close to the edge of moral violations. It is a release of moral tensions. Moore points out that to gain Holofernes' trust, Judith swears by what is holy to him—that is, the name of Nebuchadnezzar—and broadly praises Neb-

 

 

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uchadnezzar.108 Her flattery of Holofernes is shameless and almost as much a violation of the truth as is her lying: “Not only do human beings serve Nebuchadnezzar because of you, but also the animals of the field and the cattle and the birds of the air will live.” In the book of Daniel, the king's protection of the animal kingdom is associated with Nebuchadnezzar both in the words of Daniel himself (Dan 2:37-38) and in Nebuchadnezzar's own grandiose self-image (Dan 4:12). The power of Nebuchadnezzar is elsewhere understood to be a gift of God, and strictly temporary (Jer 27:4-7).

11:9-15. Other than her maid, Judith has only one ally in her stratagem, and that is Achior. Without realizing it—although one might suspect the workings of God—Achior has helped to set up the situation that will lead to the Assyrians' downfall. In chap. 5 he presented the deuteronomic principle that could establish the vulnerability of the Israelites: If they have sinned, then their God will not protect them. Judith reiterates this principle and draws a firm conclusion: Now they have sinned and are about to fall to Holofernes. Judith spins a complicated scenario of the practices of the Bethulians that will violate God's laws. The content of her words is clearly directed to the reading audience; it refers to practices that can only really be understood within the context of Jewish laws concerning temple practices. That God could not countenance a violation in the light of the desperation of the Bethulians' situation is part of Judith's deception. The accommodation of God's law to times of crisis was certainly an accepted view in the Hasmonean state (1 Macc 2:32-41). Also, the violation at hand is carefully chosen to show a deference to the priesthood in Jerusalem. This is the real focus of the religious world of the author and audience of Judith. On the assumption that the author is not trying to present a list of violations of Jewish law that Holofernes would understand, but rather a list that the audience would understand, it appears that killing their livestock might have meant slaughtering the animals without draining the blood thoroughly as Lev 17:10-14 required (see also Acts 15:20). This, at any rate, is what the Latin versions understood by it. Since this is a part of the priestly office in Jerusalem, it matches the other violations. In their desperation, the Bethulians are eating the firstfruits and tithes of wine and oil that should have been reserved for the priests. These are precisely the same offerings that are mentioned at 1 Macc 3:49 when the Maccabee rebels hold an alternative temple service at Mizpeh before the capture and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. The strictness of observance is emphasized by saying that the people could not so much as touch the offerings once they had been consecrated. Tobit 1:6-8 also presents an idealized view of a pious diaspora Jew bringing his offerings to Jerusalem.

The Bethulians are not acting alone, however. Judith's lie incriminates Jerusalem as well, because even there the council has allowed the citizens to do these things; more to the point, the Jerusalem council is prepared to give its permission to Bethulia as well. Bethulia is waiting for messengers to return from Jerusalem, which provides a specific point in time for their transgression to be complete in God's eyes. The precise time line imposed on the action is parallel to the time line that the Bethulians had imposed upon themselves by making a vow to surrender if God had not brought rain within five days. Although Judith says she must pray to learn when the Israelites have violated God's laws, the audience would recognize that the time line for this made-up offense is the same as that for the Bethulians' actual offense.

11:16-18. Judith states her conclusion about these violations of law with a sentence that is a marvelous double entendre: “God has sent me to accomplish with you things that will astonish the world.” The polytheistic religion of the ancient Near East would have held that a people's strength in war was related to the strength of their gods; but monotheism in Israel, and especially the deuteronomic theology, held that Israel's setbacks were not because God was weak, but because God was stronger than all nations and had willed for Israel to be overrun. Thus Judith says that God will inform her when the violation has occurred and will collude with the foreign nations to punish Israel. This theology would be laughable to a real adherent of the Assyrian gods, and in fact Holofernes had rejected it when it was spoken by Achior (5:20–6:4). However, Holofernes readily accepts 

 

 

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it from Judith. Sensing an easy victory over her sexually and over her people as well, he need not quibble over theology.

11:19-23. Judith's language in v. 19 is laden with images from the prophets. Just as Achior spoke like a prophet, and as Nebuchadnezzar had as well, so also does Judith speak. In form her words are like an “oracle of salvation” from Second Isaiah (the section of Isaiah written during the exile, Isaiah 40:1–55. Isaiah 40:3-4, for example, familiar to Christians from its use in the Gospels (Matt 3:3; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23), prophesies that a way will be made for the Lord through the desert to Jerusalem (see also Isa 35:8-10; 42:16; 51:11). Likewise, Judith, in an audacious affirmation of her own role, says, “There I will set your throne,” which is similar to what God promises to David in 2 Sam 7:13 and Ps 89:4. “You will lead them like sheep without a shepherd” picks up a common motif in the HB that is found also in the NT (Ezek 34:8; Zech 10:2; 13:7; Matt 9:36; 26:31). Shepherds are also likened to watchdogs that do not bark in Isa 56:10-11, an image that Judith uses here as well. When Achior had said these same things by “prophecy” (5:21; 6:2), Holofernes condemned him. Here, however, Holofernes and his retinue marvel at Judith's wisdom (vv. 20-21). This, too, is ironic, because her wisdom consists in cleverness, the cleverness required to lie to them successfully and convince them that she is giving them wise advice.

Holofernes once again unknowingly speaks words that condemn his own cause, “God has done well to send you . . . to bring destruction on those who have despised my lord.” His statement that “your god shall be my god” has caused trouble for scholars. It is the same statement that Ruth makes to Naomi in Ruth 1:16 when Ruth becomes an Israelite. But does Holofernes mean this? In the narratives of this period pagan kings, even oppressive ones, sometimes come to confess the God of Israel (Dan 2:47; 3:28-29; 4:34-37; 2 Maccabees 3:1; see also 2 Kgs 5:17). Still, Holofernes is being effusive and overly solicitous, but he is hardly converting to a worship of Israel's God. Perhaps he means that Judith will adopt his god, especially if, as he assumes, she will become a wife or courtesan of Nebuchadnezzar. Alternatively, perhaps Holofernes is again unknowingly accurate in his statement. If Judith does as she has promised, her God will be his God—in judgment. At any rate, the passage is probably intentionally ambiguous to show that Holofernes is swept up in the commonality of their purpose. It is, after all, only the audience who understands the meaning of Holofernes' words, and not he himself. Holofernes sums up his list of unintentional prophecies by affirming that Judith will be “renowned throughout the whole world,” which the audience knows to be most decidedly true.

REFLECTIONS

From the time Judith leaves the gates of Bethulia until the time she returns, there are two constant motifs: (1) the Assyrians, struck by her beauty, will stumble over themselves in trying to cater to her requests, and (2) Judith all the while will be speaking in comic and ironic utterances. Although there have been comic elements before, they dominate the text for nearly three chapters. All good comedy works with tensions within the audience and effects a release of tensions, and Judith is no exception. It is effective partly because it creates and sustains a comic situation of the pious heroine taking a sojourn outside of her seclusion and respectability to flout social conventions, entice the lustful Holofernes, walk through the menacing enemy troops, and return to the safety of her village. What is interesting about Judith is that it represents the most extended use of comedy in the Bible and combines both the “low” and “high” comedy of burlesque and satire.

This is one of the aspects of Judith that make it very “modern.” We can also sense the tensions in our society over sexual taboos that give rise to a comedy of release, and we are aware in our own time of the political implications of comedy in constructing a world (or a new world) with certain values “tested” and then reinstated. By discerning the relation of 

 

 

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Judith's comedy to its political affirmation, we are reminded of this process in our day. Comedy draws us in and entertains us, testing our community values and rebuilding community at the same time. In Judith we can see this in the portrayal of a woman who flouts the prevailing codes of conduct and is ultimately returned to her modest and pious life.

When we talk of examining public values, groping for direction in the new day of the twenty-first century, making intelligent choices in the face of daunting new ethical dilemmas, we rarely think of that kind of discourse that is all around us and that comments on our perplexity the most directly—comedy. The positive and negative effects of comedy are felt by all members of our community alike, and in forms that are constant influences on our lives—television, film, literature, theater. The bold example of Judith reminds us that just as comedy represented a commentary on the political and religious situation of its day, so also the comedy of our own day is the most ubiquitous means of commenting on our disjointed world. And it is not just a “secular” commentary; included in its subject matter are the values of our society and the religious beliefs as well. Just as it is incumbent upon us to ask who the prophets are of our day, we must also address the question of who the Judiths are, for that is where we will find a mirror of the tensions and changes within our society.

 

2 MACCABEES 8:1–10:8, GOD’S DEFENSE OF THE PEOPLE

OVERVIEW

After describing the disasters that came upon the people after they abandoned their ancestral laws (chaps. 4–7), the author now describes how, following the covenantal obedience of the martyrs, God helps the people (chap. 8), afflicts the archenemy Antiochus IV (chap. 9), and regains and purifies the Temple (10:1-8).

2 Maccabees 8:1-36, The First Victory

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COMMENTARY

To present dramatically how God’s anger has changed to mercy, the author singles out one battle and one opponent. The dramatization can easily be seen by comparing this account with that in 1 Maccabees. After describing the onset of Judas’s guerrilla tactics, 1 Maccabees describes two battles, one against Apollonius (1 Macc 3:10-12) and one against Seron (1 Macc 3:13-26), before the account most like that of 2 Maccabees 8 (cf. 1 Macc 3:38–4:25). In particular, 1 Maccabees emphasizes the tactical maneuvers: a surprise attack by Gorgias, Judas’s escape and his surprise attack on Gorgias’s camp, and the subsequent flight of Gorgias (1 Macc 4:1-25). In 2 Maccabees, there are no such maneuvers, but one pitched battle decides all. The battles with Apollonius and Seron receive only the vaguest mention; Judas “captured strategic positions and put to flight not a few of the enemy” (8:6). In addition, although 1 Maccabees reports that Lysias sent Ptolemy, Nicanor, and Gorgias (1 Macc 3:38), with the main villain being Gorgias, in 2 Maccabees Ptolemy sends Nicanor and Gorgias, and Nicanor is the main villain. The author may have highlighted this name to balance and reflect the Nicanor in chaps. 14–15, as both are called thrice-wretched (8:34; 15:3). The account then is highly stylized.

8:1-7, The Rise of Judas. Last mentioned as being in the desert (5:27), Judas and his companions now begin to gather their kindred, most likely referring not to near relatives but to Israelites of the same persuasion. Once again the author uses the term “Judaism” (2:21; 14:38) as opposed to “Jewish faith.” The number 6,000, the total of people gathered (v. 1), is later repeated (8:16), although some of Judas’s force is said to have left (see 1 Macc 4:6, where Judas marches against Gorgias with 3,000 men). The group appeals to the Lord as the last of the martyred sons had done (7:37). The prayer employs traditional language. The blood crying out from the ground (v. 3) recalls the blood of the innocent Abel (Gen 4:10; cf. Deut 32:43; Heb 12:24). The reference to the imminent leveling of the city looks forward to Antiochus’s vow (9:13). Once God is with Judas, he is unstoppable (v. 5), although his activity probably consisted of surprise raids and ambushes by night, nuisance raids as the “little by little” of v. 8 suggests.

8:8-11, The Response of the Seleucids. Philip the Phrygian, the governor of Jerusalem (5:22; 6:11), alerts Ptolemy, the son of Dorymenes (4:45), to Judas’s success. Ptolemy appoints Nicanor and Gorgias to deal with these guerrillas. First Maccabees reports that Antiochus was informed of the matter (1 Macc 3:27), but the account in 2 Maccabees, which restricts handling of the insurrection to lower echelon officials and subordinates Nicanor and Gorgias to Ptolemy, 

 

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seems more likely. Someone named Nicanor is mentioned in the letter of the Sidonians in Shechem to Antiochus IV as a royal agent.76 Later, another Nicanor was in Rome with Demetrius, son of Seleucus IV, and was one of the closest of his friends when he became Demetrius I in 161 BCE,77 and there was also a Nicanor the Cyprian (2 Macc 12:2). “Nicanor” was thus a common name, and it is unlikely that all these references are to the same person. Gorgias was later governor of Idumea (2 Macc 10:14; 12:32), and it seems prudent that Nicanor would be joined by someone with local experience.

The author notes the ethnic mix of the army (v. 9). His estimate of the size (20,000) is half that of 1 Macc 3:38, but still high. The aim, payment of the tribute to Rome (v. 10), is the same as stated in 1 Macc 3:35, 52, 58. By 165 BCE, the time of Antiochus’s march on Persia, the Seleucid indemnity to Rome had already been paid, but Antiochus was well-known as desiring money to pay for his extravagant generosity. In order to raise money, Nicanor intends to sell the captured Jews into slavery. Ninety slaves per talent (v. 11) was a low price, perhaps expressing contempt for the Jews. At that rate, Nicanor would need to sell 180,000 slaves to pay the tribute, many more than those already taken from Jerusalem (5:41). In 1 Macc 3:41, the traders come of their own free will, whereas here Nicanor is the instigator of the plan for slavery. Nicanor is thus seen in 2 Maccabees as the source of all evil designs against the Jews. Such a portrayal prepares the way for the dénouement of the story, as Nicanor has to flee like a runaway slave (8:35). This reversal of affairs fits in with the author’s desire to make the punishment fit the crime.

8:12-20, Judas’s Preparation. The author, in order to magnify Judas’s courage, emphasizes the fear of the Jews, outnumbered more than three to one. One wonders why those around Judas sold all they had (v. 14)—in order to run away? They pray for God to remember the covenants with the ancestors (v. 15; note the list in Sir 44:16–45:25), as God has promised (Lev 26:42; cf. Wis 18:22), for they are a people called by God’s name (1 Sam 12:22; Dan 9:19; cf. Deut 28:10). Judas, by contrast, is not afraid (v. 16).The Gentiles act with hubris, reflecting the arrogance of Antiochus (5:17-21). The phrase “torture of the derided city” (v. 17) reflects the language used about the martyrs (7:1, 7, 10, 13, 15, 42), while the overthrow of the ancestral way of life recalls what was said about Jason (4:11). The overwhelming power of God is captured in the image of “one nod” (v. 18). As any good speechmaker, Judas proffers examples of God’s help. The first is the defeat of Sennacherib in 701 BCE (2 Kgs 19:35-36; Isa 37:36; see also 1 Macc 7:41; 2 Macc 15:22). The second example (vv. 19-20) is taken from more recent history, but the precise reference is unknown. The “Galatians” were the Celts, who, due to unrest in western and central Europe, were forced to migrate to the east and southeast. In 280/79, some Celts marched through Macedonia and Thrace and invaded Greece, while others, complete tribal groups, went to Asia Minor in 278/77 and overran many Greek cities. After a long struggle, they were confined to an area north of Phrygia, later called Galatia. Scholars have suggested that the incident in 2 Maccabees may refer to the battle of Antiochus I against the Celts in the 270s (although this took place in Asia Minor, which would cause the text of 2 Maccabees to be emended from Babulonia to Bagadaonia), near the Taurus mountains in Cilicia; to an incident in the suppression of the rebellion of Molon, governor-general of the eastern satrapies, by Antiochus III in 220 BCE; or to the rebellion in 227–26 of Antiochus Hierax, who used Galatian mercenaries, in the east against his brother Seleucus III. The latter seems the most likely scenario. The Galatian invasion made a lasting impression on the cities of Asia Minor. What this passage shows is that Jewish soldiers served under the Seleucids, and it supports the report of Josephus that Antiochus III transferred Jewish soldiers from Babylonia to Phrygia and Lydia.78

8:21-29, The Defeat of Nicanor. Judas is the counterpart to Menelaus, who was a traitor to laws and country. The division of troops described here (v. 22) is different from that of 1 Macc 3:55. The text (vv. 22-23) is very difficult to translate. Major manuscripts read as if Judas appointed his four brothers, Simon, Joseph,

 

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 Jonathan, and Eleazar, to lead the four 1,500-man units and that Judas read to them from the Scriptures. In this case, it is unclear whether the first division (spei'ra speira) refers to a phalanx of 256 men) was part of one of these four 1,500-man units. Other manuscripts suggest, and are followed by the NRSV, that Eleazar read aloud from the Scriptures (the Latin manuscripts read Ezra instead of Eleazar). The names of Judas’s brothers in 1 Macc 2:3-5 are John, Simon, Eleazar, and Jonathan. But this account lists Joseph instead of John; some scholars have suggested that this is a reference to the envious couple Joseph and Azariah of 1 Macc 5:18, 55-62, but there Joseph is called “son of Zechariah.” Eleazar seems to play the role of priest (Deut 20:2); it is interesting that “Eleazar,” in Hebrew, means “help of God” (rz[la )el (AzAr). On the reading of the Scriptures, see the parallel statement at 1 Macc 3:48. The War Scroll from Qumran indicates that “God’s help” was one of the insignia on the standards of God’s army,79 and such watchwords were common in the Hellenistic world.80 Whatever the intended meaning for vv. 22-23, the author insists that Judas calls on God for aid and that Judas’s whole family is involved in the enterprise. To this end, he divides the forces based on the number of brothers in a way that has no parallel in Jewish or Hellenistic tactical tradition. The concern of the author is clearly not about tactical maneuvers, for the description of the battle takes up only one verse (v. 24). What is important is that God is their ally. That connection with God is reinforced by the description of the Jews’ observance of the sabbath (vv. 26-27). The last two verses (vv. 28-29) refer to the story of the martyrs; the spoils are to be distributed not only to widows and orphans but also to the tortured (2 Macc 7:1, 42). Here not only the fighters benefit from their victory but so also do those whose prayer for them has great efficacy—i.e., widows and orphans (Deut 14:29; 26:12-15) and those who have been persecuted (2 Macc 7:37-38; 8:3). The language of v. 29 reflects that of the prayer of the seventh son in the martyrdom stories (7:33).

8:30-33, The Defeat of Timothy and Bacchides. The nature of 2 Maccabees as an epitome is evident in this section. People and events are mentioned without any preparation, and these accounts of other campaigns disrupt the focus on Nicanor, whose story is picked up in v. 34.

In 1 Maccabees, Bacchides is a much more important figure than the quick mention at 2 Macc 8:30 would suggest. He was the governor of the province Beyond the River, i.e., between the Euphrates and Egypt. He is sent by Demetrius I to subdue Judea, which he does (1 Macc 7:8-20). After the later defeat of Nicanor, he returns again and defeats Judas, who dies in the battle. Then Bacchides pursues Judas’s brother Jonathan but finally comes to terms with him (1 Macc 9:1-70). His activity is completely absent from the corresponding narrative in 2 Maccabees. It is unlikely that such a high-ranking personage would be listed after the middle-level commander Timothy, and so one wonders whether another Bacchides is meant here.

The death of Timothy is recorded at 2 Macc 9:3 and 10:24-38, but 2 Macc 12:10-25 records Timothy’s escape; so there seems to be two Timothys involved in 2 Maccabees. However, in 1 Maccabees there is only one Timothy who fights with Judas’s forces on three occasions: (1) when Judas defeats Timothy, captures Iazer, and returns to Judea (1 Macc 5:6-8); (2) when Timothy’s men are surprised by Judas (1 Macc 5:28-34); and (3) when Timothy, having regrouped his forces, challenges Judas again and is defeated near Carnaim (1 Macc 5:37-44). All three meetings in 1 Maccabees occur after the purification of the Temple. One will note the specific parallels between the accounts of 1 and 2 Maccabees, if the accounts in 2 Maccabees are accepted as being out of order. If one accepts as more historically reliable the outline of events in 1 Maccabees, then the author of 2 Maccabees has misplaced events. Most scholars agree that 2 Macc 12:1-25 parallels the battles in Gilead recounted in 1 Macc 5:28-44. There are also parallels between 2 Macc 10:24-38 and the account in 1 Macc 5:6-8, although 2 Maccabees records that Timothy dies in that battle, whereas 1 Maccabees does not. The events in 2 Macc 8:30-33 also seem out of order: Judas seems to be in control of Jerusalem (v. 31) even though the Jews do not recapture the city until 10:1-8; mention of strongholds (v. 30) reflects the account of 2 Macc 12:10-25. It would thus seem as if 

 

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vv. 30-32 summarize the Gilead campaign told later in 2 Maccabees 12.

This summary, however, has been well woven into the context. The author refers to the same groups—the tortured, the widows, and the orphans—in vv. 28 and 30. The same word is used for collecting the arms of the enemy at vv. 27 and 31. Just as the author uses the theme of appropriate retribution for Nicanor when he is forced to flee as a slave, so also in this section the burners are burned. The author of 2 Maccabees narrates these events possibly to suggest that there were other campaigns before the purification of the Temple or to note how Judas’s men behave after victories and also to heighten the dramatic tension as one wonders what happened to Nicanor. The spoil taken to Jerusalem (v. 31) is probably God’s portion (Num 31:28). The word for “commander” (fu"larcov phylarchos, v. 32) is sometimes taken as a proper name, Phylarchos. The Greek word  does not refer to the city, Jerusalem, but to the “fatherland” (patri"v patris ; see 4:1; 5:8, 9, 15; 8:21; 13:3, 11, 14; 14:18). Nothing else is known about Callisthenes (v. 33).

8:34-36, The Fate of Nicanor. The epithet “thrice accursed” will be used again of the Nicanor in the last battle in 2 Maccabees (15:13). His plan (v. 11) backfires, and he receives the appropriate punishment (v. 35). The author sarcastically contrasts his “success” (v. 35) with that of Judas’s (8:8). The help of the Lord (v. 35) resonates with the watchword given to the army (8:23), and the word for “defender” (uJpe"rmacos hypermachos, v. 36) is related to the word for “ally” (su"mmacov symmachos, v. 24). The author returns to the theme enunciated at 3:1: The Jews are invincible once they follow God’s law. Nicanor, as Heliodorus had done before him (3:35-39), proclaims the power of God.

REFLECTIONS

Throughout this chapter, the author emphasizes the power of prayer and the need to keep God’s covenant; these are the sure ways to victory. His emphasis on fidelity to one’s religious convictions and traditions needs to be repeated. But one must also be careful, for in this war context, the stress on standing by one’s own traditions, on knowing who one is, at times results in denigrating the opponent. Throughout this chapter, the author seeks to dramatize his story by contrasting the two foes, Judas and Nicanor, almost as light and darkness, but this rhetorical presentation at times obscures what actually happened. So we must not let our rhetoric lead us to paint those who disagree with us as “the enemy,” “godless” people.

 

JOB 1:2–2:13

THE PROSE NARRATIVE: INTRODUCTION

OVERVIEW

The story of Job has often been called a folktale, and there are certain elements of the folktale in Job 1–2. The main character is a traditional figure, one whose story was apparently told not only in Israel but also among other peoples (see Introduction). The style of chaps. 1–2 has many of the marks of traditional folklore: repetition, economy of plot, characters who are types rather than complex figures.31 Moreover, the central plot device, the testing of a character who does not know that he or she is being tested, recurs not only in the Old Testament (the testing of Abraham in Genesis 22) but also in many other cultures.

Although the term folktale is somewhat helpful in describing what kind of a story Job 1–2 is, it is not specific enough to account for the more distinctive features of the story and the way it is told. Compared with other biblical narratives containing elements of traditional or folk style (e.g., the wife-sister stories of Genesis 12; 20; and 26 or the wise courtier stories of Joseph in Genesis 41 and Daniel in Daniel 2), the story of Job is told in an exaggeratedly schematized style. The design of the story is symmetrically structured, organized around pairs of complementary scenes. Also notable is the extensive repetition of key words, phrases, sentences, and even whole passages. Schematic and symbolic numbers abound, both explicitly and in the structuring of scenes. Characters and events are described in exaggerated and hyperbolic terms, and the characters exemplify traits rather than undergo development. Also distinctive is the syntax of the opening line, literally, “a man there was . . . ” rather than the more common “there was a man.” The narrator is explicitly evaluative, both at the beginning of the story and at crucial points within it. Although some of these features can be found in traditional folk narratives, taken together they point to a different genre.

In terms of both its style and its function, the story of Job is best understood as a didactic story, very much like the story that Nathan tells to David about a rich man and a poor man (2 Sam 12:1-4). There, too, the story opens with the same unusual subject-verb word order (“two men there were”). The setting of the story is similarly vague (“in a certain city”). Most important, the narrative style is characterized by highly schematic, parallel, and exaggerated descriptions of characters and events, as well as by extensive verbal repetition. The plot of the story is simple in the extreme, serving, as in Job, to disclose the character of the rich man. The comparison of Job with Nathan’s story also suggests something of the function of this type of storytelling. Corresponding to the narrative schematization of the story is a moral schematization. In Nathan’s story there are no shades of gray; right and wrong are unmistakable. It is a didactic story used to orient its audience (in this case David) to clear moral values. David responds to the story appropriately by voicing his outrage at the rich man’s behavior. That judgment is just what the story is designed to provoke, although David does not foresee that he will be identified with the rich man.

Like Nathan’s story, the tale of Job uses its schematic style to orient its audience to certain judgments about the existence and nature of true piety. Very frequently, such didactic stories serve to explore and resolve apparent contradictions in the values or beliefs of a community. That is clearly how the story of Job 1–2 is structured. The satan is given the role of casting doubt. The plot of the story shows such doubt to have been wrong, and in so doing reaffirms the belief of the 

 

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community in the possibility of disinterested piety. The simplicity of that story and its moral views will be challenged in the poetic dialogue that begins in chap. 3. In order for that challenge to have its full effect, however, one must first appreciate the didactic tale on its own terms.

The story of Job 1–2 is composed of a series of six distinct scenes (1:1-5; 1:6-12; 1:13-21; 2:1-7a; 2:7b-10; 2:11-13), the first five of which alternate between earth and heaven. Scenes 2 and 3 and scenes 4 and 5 form symmetrical pairs, each consisting of a dialogue in heaven about Job and a test of Job on earth. With the arrival of the friends after the conclusion of the second test, the symmetry of alternation between earth and heaven is broken, and the story prepares for the beginning of the dialogue between Job and his friends. The anticipated seventh scene, in which Job is restored, occurs in 42:7-17.

JOB 1:1-22, THE FIRST TEST

Job 1:1-5, Scene 1: Introduction to Job

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COMMENTARY

1:1. The character of Job is the pivot upon which the entire book turns. In the first verse the reader is told three things about Job: his homeland, his name, and the qualities of his character. The location of the land of Uz is not entirely certain; probably it refers to an area south of Israel in Edomite territory (Jer 25:20; Lam 4:21; cf. Gen 36:28), although some traditions associate the name with the Arameans, who lived northeast of Israel (Gen 10:23; 22:21). In any event it is not an Israelite location. Similarly, the name “Job” would have had a foreign and archaic ring to it. It was not a name used in Israel, but similar names are known from ancient Near Eastern texts 

 

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of the second millennium BCE.32 Although later Jewish and Christian interpreters were concerned with whether Job was an Israelite or a Gentile,33 his ethnicity plays no role in the story itself. Whatever the origins of the figure of Job, his story has been naturalized into Israelite religious culture, so that Job is presented unself-consciously as a worshiper of Yahweh (1:21). Job’s archaic name and foreign homeland help to establish a sense of narrative distance, which facilitates the presentation of Job as a paradigmatic figure.

The crucial information about Job is the description of his character: “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” These are all very general moral and religious terms, particularly frequent in the wisdom literature and the book of Psalms (see, e.g., Pss 25:21; 37:37; Prov 3:7; 14:16; 16:6, 17). Although their content is important, the form of their presentation is also meaningful: two pairs of parallel terms. There is something hyperbolic in this piling up of adjectives. Even Noah, that other legendary righteous man (see Ezek 14:14), is described with only two (Gen 6:9).34 More significant, the use of the numerical schema of four qualities, neatly paired, suggests completeness and perfection (cf. below on the fourfold destruction of “all that he has”). The leading term of the sequence, “blameless” (!t tAm), carries connotations of wholeness and is often translated “integrity.” This term becomes central to the story, as both God and Job’s wife characterize him as one who “persists in his integrity” (hmt tûmmâ, 2:3, 9). The first term of the second pair, “one who fears God,” is also echoed in a thematically crucial verse (1:9). “Fearing God” is a traditional Hebrew term for respectful and unsentimental piety.

1:2-3. The description of Job continues with an account of his children, his property, his household, and his status. Although it is not often reflected in the translations, the first word of v. 2 is “And” (w wu). It is grammatically possible to translate it simply as “and,” a word that coordinates two independent observations, or it could be translated “and so,” indicating a causal relationship. Does Job just happen to be rich and have a large family, or does he have these things because he is a man of exemplary piety? Although the narrator does not say explicitly, the very description of Job’s family and wealth suggests a connection. All the numbers used are symbolic, suggesting completeness and perfection: seven sons and three daughters, for a total of ten children; sheep and camels in the same ratio of seven thousand and three thousand; and agricultural animals in a balanced distribution of five hundred plus five hundred. Just as Job’s piety is complete and perfect, so also his family and property are complete and perfect. The reader is encouraged to see these as two things that fit naturally together. What binds them is the religious notion of blessing. Although the word “blessing” is not yet used, the picture the narrator draws of Job is easily recognized as the image of the righteous person blessed by God (cf. Pss 112:1-3; 128:1-4; Prov 3:33; 10:22). As with Isaac (Gen 26:12-14) Job’s greatness (v. 3), i.e., his wealth and the status that accompanies it, can also be seen as a mark of divine blessing.

1:4-5. These verses illustrate the untroubled happiness of Job’s family and the extraordinary piety of Job himself. Directing the reader’s attention to the children foreshadows their crucial place in the destruction that follows (vv. 13, 18-19). Job’s sons live like a king’s sons, each in his own home (cf. 2 Sam 13:7; 14:31). Some interpreters see the series of banquets that the sons host “each on his day” as nonstop partying every day of the week,35 but that interpretation seems unlikely. Since the brothers formally invite their sisters to each banquet and Job conducts sacrifices on their behalf “when the feast days had run their course,” it is more likely that what is referred to here is a cycle of banquets lasting several days, hosted by each son on the occasion of his birthday (cf. 3:1, where “his day” refers to Job’s birthday). In contrast to the frequent OT narrative theme of conflict between brothers (e.g., Cain and Abel in Genesis 4; Absalom and Amnon in 2 Samuel 13), Job’s sons live harmoniously and honor their sisters with particular attention. Nothing seems amiss in this picture.

 

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Job’s action, however, is the focal point of the passage. “To send and sanctify” suggests that Job summons his children to a solemn occasion at the conclusion of each banquet in order to offer sacrifice on their behalf (cf. Exod 19:10, 14; Lev 25:10; Joel 1:14; 2:15).36 The sin that Job fears, cursing God, is a serious one, punishable by death (Exod 22:28 [27]; Lev 24:14-16; 1 Kgs 21:10). Job, however, does not even imagine that his children have cursed God aloud, but only “in their hearts.” Moreover, the children may not be guilty of any misdeed at all. Job offers the sacrifice just in case his children have sinned. As with almost every other detail in this story, there is something a little exaggerated in the description of his careful intercession. The image of Job, protectively sacrificing on behalf of his children, recalls Ezekiel’s allusion to Job (Ezek 14:14-20) as a legendary figure whose own righteousness sufficed to save the lives of sons and daughters. The irony of this scene is that it is precisely Job’s righteousness that will set in motion events leading to the deaths of his children.

The English reader often misses a peculiarity of the text that is present in the Hebrew. Where the translations render “cursed God” in v. 5, the Hebrew text actually reads, “perhaps my children have sinned and blessed God in their hearts.” The translators correctly recognize that “blessed” (^rb bArak) is used euphemistically here in place of “curse” (llq qll), as in 1 Kgs 21:13. This euphemism is probably not a later substitution of the scribes who transmitted the biblical text; if it were, one would expect the euphemism to be standard throughout the Bible. There are, however, passages in which the literal words “curse God” (wyhla llqy yuqallel )ulohAw) appear (Lev 24:15; see Exod 22:28 [27]). Instead, this rather prim euphemism is a matter of the stylistic preference of the author. It may even be a part of the artistry of the story. Each of the seven times the word occurs in the prose tale (1:5, 10, 11, 21; 2:5, 9; 42:12), the reader must negotiate its meaning. Does it mean “bless” or “curse”? Even though most of the instances are easily enough resolved, the antithetical use of the word “bless” draws attention to itself. The word is thematically crucial. Just as “blessing” is used in a self-contradictory way, the story will explore a contradiction deeply hidden in the dynamic of blessing itself. (See Reflections at 2:11-13.)

Job 1:6-12, Scene 2: A Dialogue About Job

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COMMENTARY

1:6. The first scene closed with the observation that “this is what Job always did,” literally, “all the days.” Scene 2 opens with the contrasting punctual phrase, “One day. . . . ” The divine council is the setting of scene 2. Like its neighbors in the ancient Near East, Israel often imagined God as a king holding court, taking counsel, and rendering judgments about various matters (see 1 Kgs 22:19-23; Psalm 82; Isa 6:1-8; Dan 7:9-14).37 The divine court consists of heavenly beings who are generally presented as an anonymous group, rarely distinguished by title or function. In Hebrew they are called the “sons of God.” The term does not refer to a family relationship but is a Hebrew idiom for specifying the group to which an individual belongs. Thus “sons of cattle” means “cattle,” “sons of Israel” means “Israelites,” and “sons of God” means “divine beings” (see Gen 6:2, 4). Here the divine beings “present themselves before Yahweh,” a formal gesture (see Deut 31:14; Judg 20:2). The image is one of divine beings reporting to God, receiving commissions to execute, and reporting back from their missions. The most suggestive parallel to Job 1:6 is Zech 6:5, where the chariots of the four winds/spirits of heaven are described as setting out to patrol the earth after having “presented themselves before Yahweh.”

It is unfortunate that so many translations, including the NRSV and the NIV, render the Hebrew @fch (haZZAtAn) in Job 1–2 as “Satan,” which is linguistically inaccurate and highly misleading. The word satan is a common noun, meaning “accuser,” “adversary,” and is related to a verb meaning “to accuse,” “to oppose.” Here, where the noun is accompanied by the definite article, it cannot be understood as a personal name but simply as “the accuser.” To read back into Job 1–2 the much later notions of Satan-the-devil is seriously to misunderstand the story of Job.

 

v v v v v v v v v v

EXCURSUS: THE ROLE OF SATAN IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Elsewhere in the OT the word satan is used to describe both human (1 Sam 29:4; 1 Kgs 5:4 [18]; Ps 109:6) and heavenly beings (Num 22:22; Zech 3:1), who act as adversaries or accusers. The context may be personal, legal, or political, but in each case the noun simply defines a function. It is likely that by the early post-exilic period, when the book of Job was probably written, the expression “the satan” had come to designate a particular divine being in the heavenly court, one whose specialized function was to seek out and accuse persons disloyal to God. The chief evidence for this is Zech 3:1, which describes 

 

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the heavenly trial of the high priest Joshua, who is “standing before the angel of Yahweh, with the accuser [ha-satan] standing at his right hand to accuse [satan] him” (author’s trans.). Some scholars have speculated that the figure of the accuser in Zechariah and Job may be modeled on officials in the Persian court who served as informers (“the eyes and ears of the king” [cf. Zech 4:2, 10b]) and even as agents provocateurs,38 although this is less certain.

There is an ambivalence in the relation between Yahweh and the accusing angel that is important for understanding the development of this figure. The accusing angel is a subordinate of God, a member of the divine court who defends God’s honor by exposing those who pose a threat to it. In that sense he is not God’s adversary but the adversary of sinful or corrupt human beings. Yet in Zech 3:2, Yahweh rejects the accuser’s indictment of the high priest and rebukes the accuser instead. In Job 1–2, Yahweh and the accuser take opposing views of the character of Job. As one who embodies and perfects the function of opposition, the satan is depicted in these texts as one who accuses precisely those whom God is inclined to favor. In this way the ostensible defender of God subtly becomes God’s adversary.

Many scholars have seen in the development of the satan a process whereby ambivalent characteristics of God are externalized as a subordinate divine character. The satan’s actions are therefore not directly attributable to God and may even be rejected. The story of David’s census of Israel is often cited as evidence of this process. In 2 Sam 24:1, the narrative says that “the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel” (author’s trans.) and that Yahweh incited David to sinful behavior in conducting the census. In the later, parallel story in 1 Chr 21:1, however, the verse says, “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel” (NRSV). In 1 Chronicles 21 the term satan is apparently used as a proper name for the first time,39 and Satan represents an externalization, or hypostasis, of divine anger. In Zech 3:1, the accusing angel is the externalizing of the divine function of strict judgment in contrast to divine graciousness, which is then exercised by God (Zech 3:2).40 In Job 1–2, the accuser is the externalizing of divine doubt about the human heart, which allows God to voice confident approval of Job’s character.

In later centuries the figure of Satan develops into the dualistic opponent of God.41 This hostile image of Satan is presumed by the New Testament (see, e.g., Mark 3:22-30; Luke 22:31; John 13:27; Rev 20:1-10). In the story of Job, however, that later development has not yet taken place. The accuser is simply the wily spirit who embodies his given function to perfection. In Goethe’s famous phrase, he is der Geist der stets verneint, “the spirit who always negates.”

v v v v v v v v v v

1:7. There is a formal, almost ritual quality to the initial exchange between Yahweh and the satan. As a sovereign receiving a subordinate returned from his mission, Yahweh inquires whence he has come, and the satan replies (v. 7). His answer is neither evasive nor disrespectful.42 The verbs are the same ones used in Zechariah of the “eyes of Yahweh who range [fwv sût)] through the earth” (Zech 4:10) and of the “divine horsemen and chariots who patrol [^lh hAlak ] it” (Zech 1:11; 6:5). At the same time, the satan’s reply presents him as a figure of wit and intelligence. His words are cast in poetic parallelism (AB//A´ B´) and contain a visual pun on his own title. The first verb, “to rove,” “to go to and fro,” is spelled sût ; and satan is ZAtAn.

1:8. From his title one can assume that the 

 

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satan has been patrolling the earth looking for disloyalty or sinful behavior to indict before Yahweh. Before the satan can give his report, however, Yahweh challenges him with a pre-emptive question. This is not a request for information. Narratively, Yahweh’s challenging question suggests an ongoing rivalry with the satan. The grounds for such an edgy relationship are implicit in the satan’s function. One who defends a king’s honor by zealously ferreting out hidden disloyalty simultaneously exposes the king to dishonor by showing that he is disrespected. Here, Yahweh pre-empts such activity and in effect defends his own honor by directing attention to “my servant Job” (cf. Gen 26:24; Exod 14:31; 2 Sam 7:5), the one person whose perfect loyalty and regard for God cannot be doubted. Yahweh’s words in v. 8b are precisely those by which the narrator introduced Job in v. 1b, but God’s praise is even more hyperbolic than the narrator’s. Job is not merely the “greatest of all the people of the east” (v. 3); in God’s judgment, “there is none like him on the earth.”43

1:9-10. One of the conventions of Hebrew narrative is that the narrator can be trusted. When God confirms what the narrator says, the structures of narrative authority are doubly reinforced. Job’s perfect character would seem to leave no crack for the accuser’s doubt to penetrate. But as an accuser the satan must be true to type. The satan’s strategy is to shift the grounds of the debate. He meets God’s rhetorical question with a rhetorical question of his own. “Is it for nothing [!nj hinnAm] that Job fears God?” (v. 9, author’s trans.). The satan shifts the focus to the question of what motivates Job’s behavior. This is not necessarily, as it first appears, merely a questioning of Job’s sincerity. The following rhetorical question is directed at God’s activity in protecting and blessing Job. It is blessing itself that casts doubt on the very possibility of disinterested piety, even in such a paragon as Job. The satan’s insinuation suggests the symbolic image used by Henry James in The Golden Bowl, a vessel gleaming and perfect on the surface, but flawed by a hidden crack within. The crack in the golden bowl that the accuser claims to see is the subtly corrupting influence of blessing on piety, which then becomes a tool of manipulation.

The satan’s language in v. 10 is vivid. As an image of God’s protection, the hedge is an agricultural metaphor. The well-tended vineyard protected by a thorn hedge is safe from the destructive trampling of wild animals and theft by passers by (Ps 80:8-13 [9-14]; Isa 5:1-7). What is thus protected for Job is described in a three-part sequence that proceeds from the most intimate to the most distant: himself, his house (i.e., family), his possessions. While protection is described with a metaphor of containment (the hedge [^wc Zûk ]), Job’s blessing is depicted as a “bursting forth” of flocks and herds ($rp pAraz ; see Gen 30:30).

1:11-12. The words that the satan utters in v. 11 are no wager but a challenge to a test. Job and God are mutually self-deceived in thinking that piety can ever be freely offered when it is routinely met with blessing. Breaking the nexus will prove the accuser right. If God breaches the protective hedge and destroys what Job has, Job will openly repudiate God. The language of the challenge requires comment. Literally translated, the sentence reads, “but stretch out your hand and touch all that he has—if he doesn’t ‘bless’ you to your face.” The euphemistic substitution of “bless” for “curse” is recognizable here, as in v. 5. The clause beginning with “if” is a form of self-curse. The full form contains both a protasis (an “if” statement) and an apodosis (a “then” statement), as in Ps 7:4-5 [5-6] (“If I have repaid my ally with harm/ or plundered my foe without cause,/ then let the enemy pursue and overtake me,/ trample my life to the ground,/ and lay my soul in the dust” [NRSV]). Commonly, a shortened form of the self-curse, without the apodosis, functions as an exclamation (Gen 14:23; 1 Sam 3:14; 14:45). Although occasionally an interpreter will argue that the accuser’s exclamation is a seriously intended self-curse,44 most recognize the conventional nature of the expression. Both the form and the nuance of the satan’s statement can be colloquially but aptly rendered as “stretch forth your hand and strike all that he has, and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t curse you to your face!” The satan’s challenge makes Job’s speech about God the decisive factor in the

 

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 drama. As Gutiérrez astutely observes, how to talk about God becomes the central issue in the whole book.45

The concluding words of v. 11 echo and contrast with v. 5. Where Job sacrificed on behalf of his children because he feared they might have cursed God in their hearts, the accuser challenges God to sacrifice Job’s well-being to see if he will curse God to God’s face. God consents and sets the terms. For the third time in as many verses, the phrase “all that he has” is repeated. The protective hedge is removed; God reserves for protection only the person of Job. Note that the threefold distinction of v. 10 has now become a twofold distinction. Job’s family is incorporated into the category of “all that he has.”

Yahweh will not personally “stretch forth his hand” against Job, as the satan suggested, but the difference is not significant. Yahweh and the satan have, metaphorically, joined hands to destroy Job. The scene ends dramatically: The accuser, having received a new commission, goes out from Yahweh’s presence (v. 12; cf. 1 Kgs 22:22; Zech 6:5). (See Reflections at 2:11-13.)

Job 1:13-22, Scene 3: The Test—Destruction of

 “All That He Has”

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COMMENTARY

1:13. This scene opens with two verbal echoes that set an ominous tone. Its first words, “one day . . . , ” are the same as those that opened the preceding scene of the heavenly council at which the destruction was decreed. The description of the sons and daughters “eating and drinking wine” echoes v. 4. Although ostensibly the verse serves only to set the scene, it foreshadows the transformation of celebration into destruction and grief. There is also an ironic echo of the divine council. Just as emissaries come to Yahweh to report, so also messengers come to Job with reports. But Job is not sovereign over the events that befall him.

1:14-19. The account of the four messengers in vv. 14-19 is an astonishing piece of verbal art, using symmetrical structures and closely patterned repetition and variation. In vv. 2-3 Job’s blessings were enumerated in the sequence of (1) sons and daughters, (2) herds of sheep and camels, (3) agricultural animals (oxen and asses), and (4) servants. In the reports of the messengers, the sequence is presented in almost the reverse order. The destruction of the servants, however, is distributed throughout the four reports. To keep the numerical total of four, the accounts of the destruction of the camels and sheep are separate events. Thus the disasters are reported in the order: (1) oxen and asses, (2) sheep, (3) camels, (4) children. Other symmetries are present as well. The first and the fourth reports (vv. 14-15, 18-19) are longer and begin with a description of the peaceful scene before the destruction. The second and the third reports begin with an immediate identification of the agent of destruction (vv. 16-17). The agents of destruction alternate between human predators (Sabeans, Chaldeans) in the first and third reports and natural forces (lightning and a storm wind) in the second and fourth.

It becomes clear in the fourth messenger’s report why the author has chosen to distribute the death of the servants throughout the account. A different term is used for the servants in vv. 14-19, not (abUdâ (hdb[) as in v. 3, but nu (Arîm (!yr[n). Although nu (Arîm is often used to mean “servants,” its primary meaning is “boys,” “young people.” This strategic shift on the author’s part allows a momentary ambiguity when the fourth messenger, reporting on the destruction of the eldest brother’s house, says that it “fell on the nu (Arîm and they are dead.” But Job and the reader know that this time the term includes both the servants and the children. For the reader, too, another echo is recognizable. In the fourth messenger’s description of the situation before the disaster, he repeats word for word the narrator’s scene-setting description in v. 13. The ominous anticipation has been fulfilled; the destruction is complete.

What is one to make of the narrative art of this description? At one level it is simply part of a schematic and hyperbolic style. But form always has meaning, although it may be elusive. Clearest is the use of the number four to suggest totality.46 The interlinking of the four distinct reports in the various ways described underscores the fact that they are aspects of a single event. At a more comprehensive level of analysis, the totality is part of the story’s structure. The completeness of Job’s piety (v. 1) and the completeness of his blessing (vv. 2-3) are answered by the completeness of his destruction (vv. 14-19).

 

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The interlocking of the four messenger reports, the formulaic repetition of the way the narrator introduces each (“while this one was speaking, another came and said,” vv. 16-18), and the way each messenger ends his speech (“and I alone have escaped to tell you,” vv. 15-17, 19) contribute not only to the scene’s unity but also to its emotional impact. No time has been allowed for Job to respond to each individual destruction. The terms of the test were that “all that he has” be destroyed. Only now is it time for Job’s response.

In contrast to the nonstop, overlapping words of the messengers, Job’s response is initially nonverbal. He expresses himself in the ancient gestures of mourning, which the narrator enumerates in a series of brief clauses (v. 20). Tearing the robe in grief (see Gen 37:34; Josh 7:6; 2 Sam 1:11; 3:31; 13:31; Ezra 9:3, 5; Esth 4:1) and shaving the head (see Ezra 9:3; Isa 22:12; Jer 7:29; Ezek 7:18; Mic 1:16) are customary responses to catastrophe. Falling to the ground may also be (see Josh 7:6; cf. 2 Sam 13:31). The last verb in the sequence (lit., “to prostrate oneself” [hwjtvh histahawâ ]) is not otherwise used in a context of grieving. It is distinctly a gesture of worship (1 Sam 1:3; Ps 95:6; Ezek 46:9). This is the decisive moment of Job’s response. Why Job understands it to be an appropriate sequel to his gestures of grief is disclosed in his words.

1:20-21. Contrary to what one might expect, Job does not use the language of the funeral song or the lament. Those genres guide the grieving to experience and to express loss by contrasting what was with what is (“How the mighty have fallen” [2 Sam 1:25a NRSV]; “She that was a princess . . . has become a vassal” [Lam 1:1c NRSV]). Job also reaches for traditional words to orient himself in the face of shattering loss, but the words he chooses are proverbial ones from the wisdom tradition (v. 21). Variants of the saying about the mother’s womb occur in Eccl 5:15 and Sir 40:1. Differences in form and context suggest that those later authors are not borrowing directly from Job. More likely the saying in Job 1:21a was traditional. Unlike the contrastive structure of the lament, the wisdom saying Job repeats is shaped according to a structure of equivalence. The governing image is that of the naked body, glimpsed as just-birthed infant and as corpse. The image is even more apt if one recalls that in the ancient Near East bodies were often arranged in the fetal position for burial. Thus the womb of the mother becomes the metaphor for the grave, and indeed for the earth, from which one comes and to which one returns (cf. Gen 3:19b ; Ps 139:13-15). If the privileged image is that of the naked body at birth and death, then all else—not only possessions but also human relationships—is implicitly likened to the clothes one wears. However much clothes may feel like a second skin, they are put on and eventually must be put off. By means of the proverbial saying, Job is orienting himself to the hard but necessary reality of relinquishing what cannot be held on to.

The proverbial saying in v. 21a is followed by a specifically religious one in which the orientation is no longer to the experience of the human individual but to the activity of Yahweh. Fohrer is probably correct that the saying presumes an ancient idea that possessions are a loan from God, who may require them back at any time (cf. the notion of the present moment as a gift in Ecclesiastes).47 But how would such a notion and such a statement lead to the final benediction, “blessed be the name of Yahweh”? First one must notice that the word order of the saying places the emphasis not on the verbs but on the subject. “It is Yahweh who has given and Yahweh who has taken away.” The parallelism between the first saying and the second one is also important. In the first saying, the terror of birth and death, the vulnerability of nakedness, is contained through the image of the mother. It is she who sends and she who receives back again. In the second saying, Yahweh occupies the same place as the mother and is to be understood in the light of that image. The fragility of the gift and the desolation of the loss are endurable only if it is Yahweh who gives and Yahweh who takes (cf. Ps 104:27-30). Human words of blessing addressed to God are an act of worship that reaffirms relationship with God. It is not in spite of his loss but precisely because of its overwhelming dimensions that Job moves from the ritual of grief to words of blessing, which echo the liturgical formula in Ps 113:2.

1:22. In the Hebrew text the crucial word “blessed” (^rbm mubôrAk) comes last in Job’s speech. Its occurrence reminds the reader of what is at stake in Job’s response. What Job has said

 

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 contradicts the accuser’s prediction that Job would curse God openly. Rather, in the light of the euphemism in 1:11, Job ironically says precisely what the satan predicted: He blesses God. The narrator sums up Job’s response in v. 22. The word hlpt (tiplâ), which the NRSV and the NIV translate as “wrongdoing,” is obscure. It is related to a word that means “insipid,” “without taste” (Job 6:6; Lam 2:14), but the precise nuance of tiplâ remains uncertain. According to Clines, the context suggests that attributing tiplâ to God must be the most modest form of cursing God.48 Job does not do even this. Thus Job’s words are judged to have been absolutely blameless. The narrator’s comment serves as a guide to what issues are central and how the reader is supposed to respond. Job’s words demonstrate that piety can be disinterested, that it is not necessarily corrupted by divine blessing or destroyed by loss. There is no hidden crack in the golden bowl after all. The narrator’s summing up also has a restrictive function. Other issues and questions that the reader might wish to raise about the characters, their actions, and their values are subtly discouraged as beside the point. Perhaps the author of Job has emphasized this stylistic trait of narrative control in order to make Job’s outburst in chapter 3 all the more powerful. (See Reflections at 2:11-13.)

JOB 2:1-10, THE SECOND TEST

Job 2:1-6, Scene 4: A Second Dialogue About Job

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COMMENTARY

2:1-3. The fourth scene begins in a way virtually identical to the second (1:6-12). The addition of the phrase “to present [himself] before Yahweh” at the end of v. 1 points to the satan’s report as the one that matters for this story.49 God initiates the dialogue as before, and the satan replies in the same way. Such repetition has several functions. It reinforces the stylized quality of the narrative. Repetition also increases the reader’s sense of participation, as well as the sense of familiarity. Moreover, repetition increases anticipation. Whatever words break the repetition become the focus of attention. These crucial words occur in v. 3b. In the first part of that statement God echoes the narrator’s positive judgment about Job, using the key term “integrity” (hmt tûmmâ). The following part of God’s statement requires more reflection, however: “although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” The wording shifts the focus momentarily from Job’s character to the actions of God and the satan. Consider the difference if the storyteller had written, “He still holds fast to his integrity, even when the hedge around him is removed.” The momentary loss of focus on Job runs counter to the highly controlled style of the didactic tale. It serves the design of the book as a whole, however. In the poetic dialogues God’s character will become one of the main issues.

The author signals the thematic importance of this brief line more directly. The last word of Yahweh’s statement (“without cause” [!nj hinnAm ]) is in Hebrew the same as the first word of the satan’s crucial question in 1:9 (“for nothing”). The Hebrew term hinnAm has a range of meanings: “without compensation,” “in vain,” “without cause,” or “undeservedly.” It is possible to translate the line “in vain you incited me to destroy him,” the point being that the test did not work as the satan predicted.50 The word order, however, makes it more likely that the phrase is to be translated “to destroy him for no reason”—i.e., undeservedly. Something of the play on words can be suggested in English by the related words gratis and gratuitously. The use of the same word with different nuances in 1:9 and 2:3 suggests that the issues of the story are more complex than first envisioned. The didactic tale has been guiding the reader to affirm that disinterested piety, a fully unconditional love of God, is both possible and commendable. Yahweh’s echo of the term hinnAm in the context of “gratuitous destruction,” however, suggests the dark possibilities inherent in a relationship that is radically unconditional.

2:4-6. The satan is a formidable adversary. Unwilling to concede defeat, he shifts ground again. The proverbial saying that the satan cites is obscure.51 It probably derives from a marketplace setting and has to do with comparative values. As Good argues, it should not be translated “skin for skin,” which would be expressed in Hebrew with a different preposition. Rather, it is better translated “skin up to skin.”52 A person trying to trade for a skin would be willing to offer anything of value, up to an equivalent skin. But if the cost of a skin is another skin, then the deal is off, because there is no advantage in it. So the satan argues in the following line, which uses the same preposition, “All that a man has he will give, up to [d[b bu (ad ] his life.”

The satan’s rhetoric is persuasive because it builds on Job’s own images. Job used the image of the naked body as the essential self. So the satan turns to the image of skin, the reality of bone and flesh. The expression “bone and flesh” is an idiom elsewhere used to describe the identity of kinship, as in Laban’s greeting of Jacob in Gen 29:14. Following the same wording as in the previous challenge (1:11), the satan now predicts that if God strikes Job’s body, Job will openly curse God. As before, God places Job under the power of the accuser, this time preserving only his life (v. 6). Parallel to 1:12, the satan departs from the presence of God (1:7a). (See Reflections at 2:11-13.)

 

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Job 2:7-10, Scene 5: The Test—Disease

Link to:  

COMMENTARY

2:7. Since the second test is an attack on Job’s body, there is no place for a scene such as 1:14-19. Instead, the destruction is briefly described in a narrative summary (2:7b). Here, too, however, there is a symbolic representation of the totality of Job’s affliction, as he is struck with skin sores “from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.” The identity of Job’s disease has long intrigued interpreters; attempts at diagnosis are beside the point, however. It is significant that it is a disease of the skin. Perhaps because so much of a person’s identity is invested in the skin and because at least hands and face are involved in the public presentation of the self, diseases of the skin often evoke social revulsion. In the ancient Near East, where disease in general was often seen as a sign of divine displeasure, serious and intractable skin disease was particularly likely to be so interpreted.53 There is, for instance, a strong echo between the description of Job’s disease and the disease threatened as one of the curses for disobedience to the covenant in Deut 28:35. Similarly, in the Prayer of Nabonidus, a fragmentary Aramaic narrative from Qumran, a Babylonian king is stricken with “painful sores” (the same phrase as in Job 2:7). He recovers only when a “Jewish exorcist” pardons his sins and teaches him to worship the Most High God. Thus the disease with which the satan afflicts Job is one that would easily lend itself to interpretation as a mark of divine displeasure.

2:8. Job’s response to this new disaster is described in quite different terms from the parallel scene. Job engages in no new acts of mourning. The NIV translation, “as he sat among the ashes,” reflects well the syntax of the Hebrew. The clause identifies existing circumstances, not new action. As Clines observes, the implication is that Job has been sitting in the ashes as part of his mourning for his previous losses (cf. Jer 6:26; Ezek 27:30).54 Now Job’s only response to this new, terrible suffering is a purely physical one: He picks up a piece of a broken pot and scratches himself with it. The gesture communicates nothing explicit about Job’s inner state, although its very noncommunicativeness has a somewhat ominous quality.

2:9. The silence is broken by Job’s wife. For a character with only one line to speak, she has made an indelible impression on interpreters of the book of Job. The ancient tradition, reflected in Augustine, Chrysostom, Calvin, and many others, that she is an aide to the satan underestimates the complexity of her role. Verbally, her speech echoes both God’s evaluation of Job (2:3) and the

 

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satan’s prediction of what Job will eventually say (1:11; 2:5; she, too, employs the euphemistic “blessed” [^rb brk ]). Her words contain an ambiguity seldom recognized, one having to do with the thematically important word “integrity” (tûmmA).55 That word and its cognates denote a person whose conduct is completely in accord with moral and religious norms and whose character is one of utter honesty, without guile. (In Psalm 101, for instance, integrity of heart and conduct is contrasted with images of a twisted heart, secret slander, deceit, and lies.) Ordinarily, it would be unthinkable that a conflict would exist between the social and personal dimensions of the word. Just such a tension, however, is implicit in the words of Job’s wife. One could hear her question as a frustrated, alienated cry of bitterness stemming from immeasurable loss and pity, the equivalent of “Give up your integrity! Curse God, and in so doing, put yourself out of your misery!” More hauntingly, one could hear her words as recognition of a conflict between integrity as guileless honesty and integrity as conformity to religious norms. If Job holds on to integrity in the sense of conformity to religious norm and blesses God as he did before, she senses that he will be committing an act of deceit. If he holds on to integrity in the sense of honesty, then he must curse God and violate social integrity, which forbids such cursing.

2:10. However Job hears the words of his wife, he rejects them with strong language of his own, characterizing her as talking like one of the  twlbn (nubAlot ). Often translated “foolish women,” this term has both moral and social connotations.56 In English, one could capture something of the nuance by saying that she “talks like trash.” Job’s reply may also contain an element of social disdain for the outspoken woman (cf. Prov 21:9, 19; 25:24; 27:15-16). Although Job’s criticism of his wife has largely set the tone for her evaluation by interpreters, there are more sympathetic interpretations of her character. The Septuagint gives her a longer speech, allowing her to talk about Job’s sufferings and her own. In the Testament of Job, a Jewish retelling of the story of Job from the first century BCE, she is a character of pathos, whose suffering as she tries to care for her husband is vividly described. In both of these accounts, however, Job is the morally superior character who corrects her understanding. The sympathetic interpretation, as much as the hostile interpretation, obscures the role of Job’s wife in articulating the moral and theological dilemma of his situation. Significantly, Job’s rebuke of his wife is the last thing that he says for some time. When he speaks again in chap. 3, his words bear traces of hers. Although he does not curse God, he curses the day of his birth. Although he does not die, he talks longingly of death. In subsequent chapters, his persistence in his integrity—both in the sense of his moral conduct and in the sense of his absolute honesty—-motivates his own angry speech. His wife’s troubling question will have become his own.57

Those developments lie in the future, however. In the present scene Job responds to his wife’s question with another rhetorical question. Although it is not otherwise attested in wisdom literature, the rhythmic balance of the saying suggests that here, too, Job turns to tradition for words to orient himself and his wife to a proper response. The notion that both “weal and woe” come from God is a conventional way of acknowledging God’s sovereignty (Isa 45:7; cf. Deut 32:39).

The artistic use of parallel scenes in the story directs the reader back to the equivalent scene and words in 1:20-21. There are contrasts: Job’s words here are much less personal; there is no concluding blessing. At the same time, nothing in Job’s words can be construed as cursing God. The comparison of the narrator’s concluding evaluation is even more striking. The first words are the same: “In all this Job did not sin.” But whereas the narrator in 1:22 went on to add “or charge God with wrongdoing” (NRSV), the narrator now adds only the phrase “with his lips.” That phrase could with equal legitimacy be construed in two contradictory ways. It could be taken to mean that Job, like the ideal righteous person, was in control of himself from the inside out (cf. Ps 39:2; Prov 13:3; 18:4; 21:23).58 Alternatively,

 

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 it could suggest, as the Talmud says, that “Job did not sin with his lips; but in his heart he did.”59 That, after all, was what Job imagined his children might do, simply in the careless spirits of a feast (1:5). Of course, even if one conceded what the Talmud suggests, the terms of the test were about cursing God to God’s face. Nevertheless, a merely technical victory is not a very satisfying outcome. This entire scene has suggested increasing strain on Job, and the ambiguous concluding verse raises the level of narrative tension. That tension must be resolved in a third and decisive scene.

It is almost disingenuous to talk about narrative tension, however, in this sort of story. The reader has been told by the authoritative narrator and by God that Job is “blameless and upright,” etc. The situation is similar to that in a melodrama, where the audience knows that the hero will triumph over the villain and so can enjoy the pseudo-anxiety of the conflict. So here, the reader of the tale can enjoy the pseudo-anxiety that the hero will fall from perfection, knowing that in the third and decisive test the hero will triumphantly dispel all doubt about his character. Or so one could expect if the whole book of Job were told as a traditional tale. (See Reflections at 2:11-13.)

JOB 2:11-13, SCENE 6: THE THREE FRIENDS

Link to:  

COMMENTARY

The alternation of scenes between earth and heaven breaks off as the perspective shifts to another location on earth. The reader first sees the three friends of Job come together with the intention of visiting him in his grief (v. 11), and then sees Job through the eyes of the friends as they approach (v. 12).

Like Job in 1:1, the three friends are identified by name and place. The significance of the names and locations is no longer entirely clear, although the likelihood is that the three are presented as Edomites and, therefore, countrymen of Job.60

The friends’ action, going to Job “to console and comfort” him, is a traditional expression of solidarity in grief. To be deprived of this gesture of friendship made suffering even more difficult to endure (cf. Ps 69:20[21]; Isa 51:19; Nah 3:7,

 

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 where the same pair of words occurs). Although the text says that the friends did not recognize Job, they clearly do, for it is the sight of him, changed almost beyond recognition, that provokes their gestures and cries of grief (cf. Isa 52:14). Weeping and tearing one’s robe are both conventional expressions of mourning and distress, as is the use of dust. The precise nature and significance of “sprinkling dust in the air upon their heads” is obscure. The particular verb (qrz zAraq) and direction (lit., “heavenward” [hmymvh hassAmAymâ ]) recall how Moses flung soot into the air (Exod 9:10) to bring on the plague of “boils” (@yjv suhîn, the same word as in Job 2:7). The meaning and purpose of the actions, however, seem quite different.61 Perhaps the word “heavenward” was not originally part of the text (cf. LXX) but was added as a gloss by a scribe who noted other similarities with Exod 9:10. Others suggest that the word may be an error for a similarly written word, “appalled” (!mvh hasamem ; cf. Ezek 3:15; Ezra 9:3).62

Symbols of completeness and “perfection” are present in this scene, as in every other: the numerical symbols of three friends and seven days; the complementary images of seven days and seven nights. (Elsewhere periods of grief or silent distress may be described as seven days [Gen 50:10; 1 Sam 31:13; Ezek 3:15] but never as seven days and seven nights.)63 The final words in 2:13 about the greatness of Job’s suffering ironically echo the introduction of Job in 1:3 as the greatest among the peoples of the east. He has now exceeded all in suffering as he had in good fortune.

The picture of Job’s friends sitting in silence on the ground is a conventional image of grieving, recalling Lam 2:10. The narrator focuses the scene through their eyes (“for they saw that his suffering was very great”). The friends’ silence is respectful, even awed. In their silence they present a contrast to Job’s wife, who, whatever her motives and meaning, sought to bring an end to Job’s suffering by urging him to curse God. Ironically, the space created by the friends’ silent presence is what finally provokes Job to a curse, moving the story out of the safe confines of the simple tale.

REFLECTIONS

This seemingly simple story presents any number of issues for reflection. Three of them will be examined: (1) the relation of blessing and self-interested religion; (2) attachment, loss, and grief; (3) the disturbing image of God in Job 1–2 and the cultural context it assumes.

In the OT blessing is primarily an expression of a close relationship or bond between God and an individual or a people. Divine blessing makes people flourish, and that flourishing is often talked about in very concrete terms: a large family, material prosperity, social power and status (e.g., Psalms 112; 128). Moreover, often one finds the promise of blessing offered as motivation for good conduct (Gen 17:1-2; Deuteronomy 28). That is the problem addressed by the satan’s cynical question: Hasn’t the way people understand divine blessing slipped into essentially a barter religion? “If you will do this for me, I will do that for you.” “If you will guarantee me this, then I will agree to do that.” It does not take long, listening to religious talk shows or browsing through religious book stores, to feel the force of the satan’s question. Explicitly or implicitly, much of religion seems preoccupied with striking a bargain with God.

It is easy enough to deplore crude expressions of self-interested religion. The satan’s challenge goes deeper, however, suggesting that the distortion in the religious relationship is so deeply ingrained that people are not even aware of its presence until something happens to upset their assumptions. One finds out what people really believe when they face a crisis. The baby lies gravely ill, and the father rejects God in rage. The question that Job 1–2 poses to such a

 

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 situation is not about the proper pastoral response or even about whether it is emotionally and religiously healthy to express the anger one feels. The story’s question is about the theology implied by that rage, a theology that contains the unspoken assumption of a contract with God: God is bound to protect me from tragedy because I have been good or simply because I belong to God. Such a brittle faith will not sustain a person in crisis; yet it is often taught subliminally in the way religious communities talk about God. (There is, of course, much more to be said about the relation between anger and faith; later parts of the book will provide opportunity to reflect on different dimensions of that issue.)

It can be difficult to make the distinction between the appropriate human desire to protect what is precious and the inappropriate belief that one can strike a bargain with God. The story in Job 1–2 explores this subtle distinction by showing the reader a character who is fully aware of the human fears that drive so many to try to bargain with God but who does not understand his own piety and religious acts as a guarantee of security. The story engages readers by drawing them into emotions that readers have themselves experienced, as well as drawing them into situations and feelings that seem foreign or strange. Job’s gathering his children and offering sacrifice for them “just in case” is the representative of every parent who has sat looking at his or her children around the dinner table, knowing that there is so much danger in the world and longing to protect them from it. The very exuberance and high spirits that make young people so dear is one of the things that produces anxiety in a parent’s heart. Job knows this, like any parent, and evidently worries that his children would not think through the consequences of their actions, would get caught up in the partying and do something foolish, or in the process of trying to impress one another would make a bad judgment with possibly fatal consequences. It is a rare parent who has not, like Job, offered up a prayer to God on behalf of her or his children.

Such prayers are not necessarily attempts to strike a bargain with God, although the temptation is always there. Praying on behalf of another is an act of caring. When that prayer concerns a sin that the other person is unable or unwilling to bring before God, then it can be an act of reconciliation. Only when such prayer is assumed to have struck a deal is the proper function of prayer abused. Job’s response to the sudden loss of children, property, and health shows that his piety was not the sort corrupted by the assumption of an implicit bargain. To understand the religious perspective that grounds piety like that of Job, it is necessary to look at the issues of attachment, loss, and grief, and at the way in which they are illustrated by Job.

The agony of love is that it cannot ensure the safety of the one we love so deeply. All the prayers, all the good advice, all the superstitious rituals (“if I imagine all the bad things that could happen, then they won’t happen”) cannot guarantee it. Loving is risky business; there is no way to bargain with God about that. Vulnerability is a condition of our being finite and mortal creatures. The greater evil would be to fear loss too much to risk loving at all. Mary Oliver says it well:

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.64

 

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Job’s blessings, especially as they are manifested in his children, but also in his prosperity and in his health, may appear to the satan as a hedge of security, but they can be seen equally well as a measure of Job’s vulnerability. Health, financial security, family—these things matter. There is nothing venal or sinful or wrong in caring about them very much. It is because they are so important that the story insists that it is also important to think about the experience of losing them, and about the related but distinct experience of letting them go. Losing something one cares about deeply is a devastating experience. Numbness, disorientation, anger, an overwhelming sense of helplessness—all of these emotions and more wash over a person in waves. This is the first part of grieving, but the work of grief requires something more. Finally, one has to let go of what has been lost. This does not mean forgetting or no longer feeling the aching absence. Letting it go does mean recognizing the reality of loss and accepting its finality. Both aspects of this process are reflected in Job’s response, the first in the silent gestures of grief, the second in the words that he utters.

There are many ways to accept the finality of loss, because people bring different understandings of the world and of God to that process. For Job, letting go is made possible precisely because all things—both good and bad—ultimately come from God. To many readers, this is a baffling, if not an outrageous, position. There is a wisdom in Job’s words, however, that is deep and powerful. Job’s words are not about causality in the narrow sense. They do not deny the reality of tornadoes or bandits. Especially in the case of human violence it is right to be angry, to seek justice, to prevent such violence from occurring again. Energies directed in those directions are important, but they do not finish the work of grieving. One also has to come to grips with the terrible fragility of human life itself, the vulnerability that attends all of existence. It is God the creator who has made us as we are, capable of love and attachment, but also susceptible to disease, accidents, violence. In this sense, it is God who gives and takes away, from whom we receive both what we yearn for and what we dread. There is a tendency to want to associate God with only what is good. If one does that, however, then when trouble comes it is easy to feel that one has fallen into a godforsaken place. At the time, when one most needs the presence of God, there is only the experience of absence. The wisdom of Job’s stance is that it allows him to recognize the presence of God even in the most desolate of experiences. Job blesses God in response to that presence.

This kind of reflection, which focuses on the religious values of Job and views God only through Job’s statements about God, does not get at all of the difficult issues raised by this story. After all, the reader knows what Job does not—namely, what has gone on in heaven. No reflection on this story can be complete that has not wrestled with the difficult question of what to do with the image of God presented by the narrative itself. Some readers are so outraged by God’s treatment of Job that they can hardly focus on any other aspect of the story. Others do not see this as an important issue at all. After all, they would say, this is not “really” God but a fictional story in which God is represented as a character. The whole business of testing Job is necessary to the plot, and without it there would be no story. Both of these responses have merit. It is important to be attuned to the genre and style of the story—to its playfulness and freedom of the imagination. Like some parables, it adopts a frankly outrageous premise to enable its readers to see something important. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to set Job 1–2 aside as “just a story,” as though other speech about God could be literally descriptive. That is not so. All speech about God is the making of an image of God. All verbal or visual images of God are attempts to make a claim about who God is and what God is like. These images are suggestive, of course, rather than literal. Taking the genre of Job 1–2 fully into account, it remains necessary to reflect on the story’s claim about who God is.

The representation of God as king of the universe in Job 1–2 is quite familiar from other biblical imagery and serves as a graphic way of attributing authority and sovereignty to God. 

 

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The way the story represents God’s motives in the actions that constitute the plot, however, puzzles many modern readers. What is God doing in bringing up Job’s name, almost as a provocation, and then responding to the satan’s counterprovocation? To many readers, the exchange seems childish and quite unworthy as a representation of God.65 Why the characters act as they do can be understood only when one recognizes that they represent the values of a culture of honor. When the satan casts doubt on Job’s motives, he also besmirches God’s honor by suggesting that even the best humans do not love God for God’s own sake, but simply for what they can get out of it. Since God has just praised Job, God appears as a dupe. In cultures in which honor is a paramount value and losing face is a matter of shame, such a challenge cannot be ignored. Not only God’s dignity but also God’s authority would be compromised if the issue remained unaddressed. Readers who share those assumptions are not likely to consider God’s response as “just showing off” but as something much more serious.

The narrative of Job 1–2 makes a radical case for the religious values accompanying a culture of honor. In doing so, it also exposes the limits of those religious values. Most readers of this commentary probably belong to communities in which honor, although important, is not such a central moral value as it appears in the narrative of Job 1–2. It takes a stretch of the imagination to enter into its worldview and theological values. Only after one has made the effort to appreciate those values, however, is criticism of their limitations legitimate.

God’s honor and Job’s freely given piety are two sides of the same religious values. Giving such devotion to God not only honors God but also provides the source of Job’s own identity and self-worth. He is not a mercantile, self-oriented person, but one whose values are emphatically non-materialistic. That is what the story honors in Job and holds up as an ideal value. It is because of the integrity of his own devotion that Job can experience God’s blessing as free grace. He places absolutely no conditions on his loyalty to God, and so does not feel forsaken by God even in the midst of his loss. Søren Kierkegaard praised Abraham as a “knight of faith.” Yet Job excels Abraham.

The analogy with Abraham, however, raises questions about the intent of the Job narrative. In a sense, it radicalizes the story of Abraham. God tested Abraham, apparently uncertain of whether Abraham would sacrifice Isaac. When Abraham made it clear that he would, God spared Isaac—and Abraham. God has no doubts about Job. Yet neither Job’s children nor Job is spared. It is as though the narrative asks the reader to look at values believed to be true—God’s honor and Job’s unconditional piety—and then forces the reader to evaluate those values under the most extreme circumstances. Can either value stand when weighed against the death of ten children and the torment of a loyal servant? The narrative appears to ask the reader to say yes by presenting Job’s response as a sublime example of selfless piety. But is Job’s response an example of sublime faith or of religious masochism? If the honor of God is absolutized, then nothing is too precious to be sacrificed to it—not the lives of children, not the body of a devoted worshiper. Job’s own self-worth has been invested in his integrity as one who “fears God for nothing.” But has his integrity itself become such a fetish that he cannot recognize the perversity of blessing the one who destroys him for no reason?

The literary genius of the prose tale is that one genuinely cannot say whether it intends to be a straightforward didactic tale that represents the sublime expression of a true knight of faith who loves God unconditionally, or whether it is a subversive didactic tale that exaggerates the traditional style just sufficiently to reveal the obscenity lurking behind the values of God’s honor and the integrity of disinterested piety.

 

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Posts 9947
George Somsel | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 19 2012 7:24 PM

Dan Francis:

Offline for a few days….

here are  several more samples 

Don't you think you might be stretching the concept of fair use a bit?

george
gfsomsel

יְמֵי־שְׁנוֹתֵינוּ בָהֶם שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וְאִם בִּגְבוּרֹת שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה וְרָהְבָּם עָמָל וָאָוֶן

Posts 67
Kilroy | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 19 2012 7:31 PM

Is there a way to block/ignore a particular thread or poster?

 

Kilroy Was Here.

Posts 570
Rev Chris | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 19 2012 7:35 PM

Kilroy:

Is there a way to block/ignore a particular thread or poster?

 

Just don't click on the thread.

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

Posts 67
Kilroy | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 19 2012 8:23 PM

Rev Chris:

Kilroy:

Is there a way to block/ignore a particular thread or poster?

 

Just don't click on the thread.

 

Innovative Big Smile

Kilroy Was Here.

Posts 175
Silent Sam | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 20 2012 12:34 PM

                                                                           Hmm HHHMMMmmm~~~ Hmm

Posts 5285
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Mar 23 2012 4:24 PM

George Somsel:

Dan Francis:

Offline for a few days….

here are  several more samples 

 

Don't you think you might be stretching the concept of fair use a bit?

Actually I am not doing anything illegal, but my goal of having a snippet from every book of the Bible to show the value of this series and encourage people to pre Order it so it can be produced, was never meant to offend anyone, yes this is generally a liberal critical work and (although many greatly respected conservative scholars contributed to it) I know many conservative Christians would see little value in it. I cannot fathom why anyone not wanting to learn more about this series would be reading this thread. I have no interest in angering anyone and indeed when someone complained before a Logos representative encouraged me to continue posting, although I believe the persons main concern was the actually multiple threads being too hard to follow along. Unless I have someone requesting me to continue on I will make this one on Isaiah the last one I post. I am not going to convince any ultra conservative Christian to purchase this and as for the several people wanting it to be produced before they consider it, that simply will never happen, people either have to step up and preorder it or realize  it will never be made. I will admit, albeit pretty weighted to the Old Testament, there are enough samples, to give anyone a good idea of it's value. So here is the last one I have to offer:

 

--------

 

ISAIAH 6:1–9:7, THE PROPHET, CHILDREN, AND KINGS

OVERVIEW

This section has long been recognized as a distinct literary unit within the book of Isaiah. As noted already, it interrupts a sequence begun in 5:25-30 and resumed in 9:8, suggesting that 6:1–9:7 was an independent unit inserted into another collection. Beyond that, when one views these chapters broadly, a number of unifying factors can be recognized, including genre, chronology, and theological themes.

The dominant literary genres of this section are quite different from those in its context. Whereas everything before and most of what follows is prophetic address, the reader now encounters narratives. Some are autobiographical in style if not necessarily in purpose—that is, the prophet himself reports about events such as his vision of the Lord (chap. 6) or what he did and said at particular times, including symbolic actions and his encounters with the king (chap. 8). Others are third-person narratives, accounts about the prophet’s activities (see chap. 7). These features have led many commentators to identify the section as Isaiah’s “memoirs” (German Denkschrift), compiled by the prophet and comprising the earliest stage in the Isaiah tradition.73 Although it is doubtful that Isaiah himself compiled this unit, it does relate to his own self-understanding, comes from a relatively early period in his work, and could very well be the earliest collection of traditions concerning Isaiah.

There is some chronological coherence to the section. Many of the events reported here share the same historical horizon, the one presumed in 7:1-9, the Syro-Ephraimitic war of 735–732 BCE. This certainly includes the accounts of the prophet’s activities in 7:1–8:18. If “the year that king Uzziah died” (6:1) is as late as 736 BCE, then that would put the prophet’s vision of the Lord and his commission not long before the other events, and 6:1 becomes an appropriate heading for this large unit as well as the call itself. Both chronologically and in terms of genre, 9:1-7 has the least affinity with the other parts of the section. It is the announcement of the future on the basis of the birth of a crown prince. However, the introduction in 9:1 attempts to locate it historically, and—as in some of the prophetic narratives—a child is a sign from God.

Thematically, there is evidence of some progression of thought. The section begins with the prophet’s summons to present an unqualified message of judgment, moves through indictments and warnings in which the central theme is faith and the situation is military danger, to conclude with an announcement of a time of peace and justice under a future Davidic king. Specifically, the harsh commission (6:9-10) corresponds to what happens to the prophet’s words in the time of Ahaz, and 8:16 brings the theme to culmination. Ward sees the coherence of the section differently, in terms of the theme of kingship. Chapter 6 is a vision of Yahweh as King, chaps. 7 and 8 contain oracles and signs for the reigning king, and 9:1-7 announces the new king.74

So the parts of this section cohere in more than one way. But the more deeply one looks into this forest, the more distinct become the individual trees. Although most of the literature is narrative, the individual units belong to quite different narrative genres. There seem to be chronological affinities, but many dates are uncertain, and others are absent. “The year that king Uzziah died” is debated, and the identity (and thus the date) of the crown prince born or to be born in 9:1-8 is uncertain. Moreover, even when broad common themes are recognized, the individual issues are very different. Finally, some transitions between stories are rough and connections unclear. Consequently, it seems highly unlikely that these chapters were composed by a single author at one time. Rather, 

 

 

 

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 an editor, using originally independent traditions, has put the section together and organized it on the basis of some broad literary, historical, and theological principles.

The major sections are Isaiah’s report of his call (6:1-13), two third-person symbolic action reports concerning children (7:1-9, 10-25), a series of third-person symbolic action reports (8:1-22), and the messianic poem promising a reign of peace (9:1-7).

Isaiah 6:1-13, Isaiah’s Commission

Link to: Isaiah 6:1

 

 

 

 

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COMMENTARY

The location of Isaiah’s report of his call in the book of Isaiah is unusual, and not only because it interrupts a previously established collection of the prophet’s speeches. Those of Jeremiah and Ezekiel are found more logically at the very beginning of the books. Given the relation of this account to the narratives that follow, it seems likely that the vocation report once stood at the beginning of an early collection of traditions concerning the prophet. Efforts to account for this location historically (e.g., that the words and events in chaps. 1–5 took place before those in chaps. 6–9), have been unsuccessful.75

The vocation and visionary experiences of prophets and other servants of God would have been very private and individual matters. It is all the more remarkable, therefore, to discover that Isaiah’s report of his call has a great many features in common with other OT vocation reports.76 These include those of Moses (Exod 3:1–4:17), Gideon (Judg 6:11-24), Jeremiah (Jer 1:4-10), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1–3). In all cases there is a report of an encounter with God, either directly or through a messenger; a commission to do the Lord’s will or speak the Lord’s word; and a ritual act or sign symbolizing the designated role. In all instances except Ezekiel, the one who is called objects to the vocation and then receives reassurance from God.

In its more specific features, Isaiah 6 closely parallels Ezekiel 1–3.77 Both are reports of visions of the Lord’s heavenly throne. Similar also is the scene described by Micaiah ben Imlah in 1 Kgs 22:19-22: “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him.” Neither Isaiah nor Ezekiel sees God directly, but both have the sense of being on the outskirts of the heavenly throne room and hearing the deliberations going on there. This OT imagery is indebted to ancient Near Eastern traditions concerning the heavenly court. In those polytheistic traditions the court included the chief god and other deities; in the OT, God holds court with messengers (see also Job 1:6-12).

In part because of its location in the book and in part because this report has some distinctive features, some scholars have questioned whether Isaiah 6 is actually a vocation report.78 Although it is possible that the experience reported here might not have been the inaugural vision that first set the prophet on his path, it shares both form and function with other vocation accounts. Like all the other reports, it has distinctive elements and a particular purpose. Frequently the authority of prophets to speak was challenged (see Jer 1:6-8; Amos 7:10-17), especially when they proclaimed

 

 

 

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 judgment. Since prophets in Israel had no “official” standing comparable to that of, for example, priests, their right to speak in the name of the Lord was open to question. The vocation reports were their responses to such challenges. They were not only entitled but also compelled to speak because God had called them to do so; they had not sought the role, but it had been thrust upon them. In the case of Isaiah 6, the prophet specifically justifies his harsh message (“keep listening, but do not comprehend,” vv. 8-10) by reporting his vision of the Lord on a throne.79

This chapter is a fully self-contained unit, presented as the first-person report by the prophet of what happened to him, what he saw and heard, and what he said. So it is a story, in form a personal account by the prophet of a momentous event in his life, the defining vision. There is a plot, and there are characters. The main ones are the prophet and God; but there are others, including the seraphs, the heavenly court, and, of course, offstage, “this people” (v. 9) to whom Isaiah is sent. Some of the characters speak, both moving the story along and bringing the listeners up short. The account, consisting mainly of dialogue, is continuous and complete, and its main parts are easily discernible on the basis of shifts of genre, speaker, and content. Broadly, the elements include the account of the vision and audition (vv. 1-4), the prophet’s reaction (v. 5), the account of the ritual of purification (vv. 6-7), Yahweh’s question and Isaiah’s response (v. 8), Yahweh’s commission to the prophet (vv. 9-10), and Isaiah’s objections with the Lord’s response (vv. 11-13).

6:1-4. The vocation report begins with a date formula, which also sets the mood. “The year that King Uzziah died” could have been as early as 742 or as late as 736 BCE, but that king’s death signaled the end of an era of relative independence for Judah. Tiglath-pileser III came to power in Assyria in 745 BCE, and, after consolidating his power in Mesopotamia, began to expand his empire to include the small states in Syria and Palestine. His successors would continue his military and political policies. During most of Isaiah’s lifetime, Judah lived under the threat of Assyrian domination.

In addition to reminding the readers of the international events that followed the death of Uzziah, the date formula functions, as do those in contracts, to verify and thus validate the report that follows.80 It also serves a theological function similar to that of superscriptions to the prophetic books—that is, to locate the revelation in a particular time (see the Commentary on 1:1). Finally, the date refers to the time of the experience and indicates that the report itself was written later.

The story begins with the description of an awe-inspiring vision of Yahweh as King on a throne. The fact that “the hem of his robe” (v. 1) filled the Temple indicates that the prophet stands at the entrance to the sacred precincts and that the ark on the sanctuary’s elevated most holy place was understood to be the symbolic throne of Yahweh (for a description, see 1 Kgs 8:6-8). Other aspects of temple worship are the antiphonal hymn of praise sung by the seraphim and the smoke—from offerings or incense or both—that filled the “house”—that is, the Temple. The seraphim who attended the Lord must cover both their “feet” (a euphemism for their nakedness) and their faces; no one can appear naked before the Lord, and no one can see God directly and live, not even the supernatural beings that guard the throne. Seraphim (lit., “fiery ones”; the English simply transliterates the Hebrew) elsewhere are serpents (Num 21:6; Isa 14:29; 30:6; cf. 1 Kgs 6:23-28; 2 Kgs 18:4), but here they have six wings.81 Whatever their form, their function is clear. Like the cherubim in Ezekiel 1, they are attendants around the divine throne, and they praise the Lord.

The description of the appearance of the deity has already prepared for the song of praise, which emphasizes the Lord’s power and sacredness. The “Lord of hosts” is the leader of armies, both earthly (1 Sam 17:45) and heavenly (Isa 40:26). “Holy” is that which pertains only to God, emphasizing the radical otherness of the Lord. Although the hem of God’s robe may fill the Temple, the “whole earth” is filled with the “glory,” the powerful presence of the one who is radically other.

Other sights and sounds accompany the singing, recalling the traditions of the appearances of the Lord. The shaking of the “doorposts and thresholds” and the smoke (v. 4) are like the 

 

 

 

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 appearance of the Lord on Mt. Sinai (Exod 19:9, 18; cf. Judg 5:4-5) and elsewhere (Hab 3:6).

6:5. Isaiah’s response to the theophany is a cry of woe (v. 5). He literally fears for his life (“I am lost”). In the context of other vocation reports, this is not unlike expressions of resistance or inadequacy (Exod 3:13; 4:1, 10, 13; Jer 1:6). The content of Isaiah’s declaration, however, is similar to a confession of sin and an expression of mourning both for himself and for his people. In the presence of the Lord, he knows that he is unclean, although by the priestly criteria he would have been judged ritually clean before he approached the Temple. The meaning of “unclean” in this context is unclear; no particular violation of ritual purity is stated.

6:6-7. In direct response to the prophet’s confession, one of the seraphs performs a ritual of purification that combines word and action. Isaiah had confessed that he was “a man of unclean lips” (v. 5), so the seraph touches the prophet’s mouth with a coal from the altar and pronounces that his guilt is removed and his sin forgiven. This ritual parallels those in the vocation reports of both Jeremiah (Jer 1:9) and Ezekiel (Ezek 2:8–3:3) in that all of them concern the mouth of the prophetic spokesman for God. The image of purifying fire appears elsewhere in Isaiah (1:25-26). The seraph solemnly pronounces the prophet free of “guilt” and “sin.” The meanings of these two broad terms overlap. Moreover, “guilt” in ancient Israel was not so much a feeling as a state of being brought about by wrong behavior. For sin and guilt to have “departed” or to have been “blotted out” means that the effects of wrongful actions have been ended or removed.

Remarkably, the ritual has cleansed the prophet but not addressed the other aspect of his confession: that he lives “among a people of unclean lips” (v. 5). This suggests that Isaiah has now been set apart from the people.82

6:8. For the first time Yahweh speaks, and not directly to the prophet. The vision report reaches its climax when the prophet overhears the Lord asking the heavenly court who should be sent, and the prophet steps forward without hesitation. The closest biblical parallel to this scene and these speeches appears in 1 Kgs 22:19-23, where the Lord asks the heavenly council how best to bring judgment (see also Jer 23:18). Seen in that context, the harsh commission that follows is not surprising.83

6:9-10. Now the Lord speaks directly to Isaiah with his commission, setting forth how the prophet is to bring judgment upon “this people.” There are two parts to Yahweh’s address. In the first (vv. 9-10a) the Lord commands Isaiah what to say and do, and in the second (v. 10b), the Lord sets out the purpose of those words and actions. The prophet is to tell the people to listen but not comprehend, to look but not understand; he is to prevent the people from understanding, hearing, or seeing lest they see, listen, and comprehend and “turn and be healed.” Isaiah’s mission is clear: He is to prevent repentance and healing.

The force of the prophet’s question is by no means self-evident. Viewed in the context of other biblical vocation reports, this could serve, along with v. 5, as an expression of resistance or reluctance. Although he does not explicitly object to the commission, he does raise a question about it. Behind these words stands a long tradition of prayer in ancient Israel. “How long?” is a common opening in the individual complaint psalms, the preface to a petition (Pss 13:2; 74:10; 75:5; 80:4; 89:46; 90:13). Thus “Isaiah begs for mercy.”84 Since the petition is on behalf of others (“this people”), it is a prayer of intercession (see also Amos 7:2, 5).

The Lord’s initial responses offer no hope. The commission will not be fulfilled until the land is completely destroyed, not just cities and houses but those who live in them as well (v. 11). Verse 12, which speaks of Yahweh in the third person, shifts the focus slightly to an exile that leaves the land empty. Verse 13 uses the imagery of trees and fire to emphasize that what has been burned will be burned again, including the stumps of fallen trees. Only the last line of the chapter, “the holy seed is its stump,” offers a glimmer of hope beyond destruction. The meaning and translation of v. 13, and especially its last line, are quite uncertain; it is very likely that the final line is a secondary 

 

 

 

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 addition or a modification of an earlier form of the tradition.85

No reason is given for this announcement of disaster, only that the word of the Lord through the prophet is to make repentance impossible and thus to effect judgment. There is a hint of indictment in the prophet’s initial reaction to the vision of the Lord: “and I live among the people of unclean lips” (v. 5). The prophet but not the people had been cleansed. It is possible that the judgment announced here is finally to purify the people. There is a kind of symmetry, if not a parallel, between the cleansing of the prophet by means of the coal from the altar and the “cleansing” of the people through the destruction. At the end, even the stump is burned, and then—in the final form if not in the original vision report—there is the seed, the possibility of renewal. The editors of the book, if not Isaiah or the earliest tradents, saw that the national disaster could be a cleansing punishment and that new life could grow out of it.

REFLECTIONS

1. The most obvious issues this chapter raises concern vocation in general and the call to a prophetic role in particular. Isaiah 6:8, with the Lord’s invitation and the prophet’s unhesitating response, has been the focus of attention, particularly in Protestant circles. For generations of readers, Isaiah has been lifted up as the heroic model of the servant of God. But this heroism—if it is that—did not appear out of thin air. For the prophetic voice that reports the call and commission, the sequence of events leading up to this point is important. There had been the encounter with the presence of God, confession, a ritual of purification, overhearing the Lord addressing the heavenly council, and then acceptance of the commission. It is also important that God does not address Isaiah directly, but the one purified by the divine messenger is able to hear the call and accept the commission to go as God’s representative, to take the place of the angels. The prophet could proclaim the most difficult message because he had experienced the presence of the God whose glory fills the whole earth.

Although at that critical moment the prophet shows no hesitation, there are two points of resistance. Isaiah’s first words confess his unworthiness (6:5), and he intercedes for the people when he learns the message he is to bring (6:11a). The persistence of reluctance or resistance in vocation reports indicates that resistance to the call is not linked so much to individual personalities as it is to the experience of standing in the presence of God. It is part of the office, even verifying that one is called by God, to feel unworthy in one way or another. Moreover, it does not go too far to conclude that one test of an authentic call to confront others is to identify with the accused. Isaiah questioned the harsh message and interceded for the people. In the Old Testament, one is allowed to resist, to disagree with, and to challenge even the God whose glory fills the whole earth. Questions are always allowed.

If standing in the presence of God were not enough, the biblical prophets believed that their words had genuine power. Because their words are the human expression of the words of God, what they say changes the course of events. What could be more intimidating to a messenger? The prophet is empowered with words that will prevent repentance and will bring judgment. Are there any modern words that have—or are understood to have—such power? Although we seldom believe that our words are the direct Word of God, we know that words have power. To be sure, some words have more power than others, but none are “off the record.” Rituals and official language are particularly powerful. If one says, for example, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” then reality has been changed, even if the marriage does not last.

One other point concerning the prophetic call deserves consideration. The vision in the Temple, the hymn, the smoke of the offering, and the ritual of purification show that the prophet 

 

 

 

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 is in the sanctuary. Such texts as this make it difficult to drive a wedge between a prophetic and a priestly vocation. The contemporary call to respond prophetically to social problems such as racism, poverty, and other forms of injustice typically is experienced in the context of prayer and worship. Likewise, prophetic words and actions gain conviction and force when expressed out of genuine piety. Moreover, worship and prayer are shallow without awareness of and concern for the specific and concrete problems of human societies.

2. When Isaiah 6 appears in church lectionaries the reading usually ends with the prophet’s exclamation in v. 8: “Here am I, send me!” That may be the climax, but it is not the end. The church tradition that selected the lectionary lost its nerve when it came to the contents of the prophet’s commission, what he was told to say and do. Serious problems arise when one considers the message that Isaiah was commissioned to deliver. This command to prevent hearing, to “make the mind of this people dull,” has long been a problem for readers. (The Greek text tried to tone it down by changing the imperatives of 6:10 to indicatives.)86

The meaning of the message is unmistakable. These lines confront their readers with the bad news. Many prefer to interpret even the prophetic announcements of disaster as warnings, to encourage repentance and thus avert the announced judgment. Here the prophet is to prevent repentance: “so that they may not look . . . listen . . . comprehend . . . and turn and be healed” (italics added).

To be sure, this message needs to be interpreted in its wider context in Isaiah 1–39, the entire book of Isaiah—indeed, the biblical tradition as a whole. This is neither the only nor the last word. But readers, and especially modern readers, tend to move over it too quickly. Is it ever possible that the Word of God, the truth for the present and future, is the proclamation of judgment? The Word of God is not a dogma, requiring the same proclamation in all times and places. Thus there is a time and an occasion not only for judgment, but also for salvation. We could miss the yes because we have not heard the no.

Do circumstances have to get worse before they can get better? Something like that is suggested in the final form of Isaiah 6. With that glimmer of hope in the final line, “the holy seed is its stump,” the editors of the text did not deny the announcement of disaster—in fact, they may have experienced it—but they could see beyond judgment.

3. Undergirding this text, including the call of the prophet and his horrible commission, is a profound understanding of God. Virtually every line emphasizes that God is holy. The prophetic account of standing in the awesome presence of God describes what many have considered to be the heart of religious experience. The experience is both mysterious and awesome.87 To encounter that presence is to acknowledge one’s own imperfection. Does one need such a dramatic encounter to experience God, the Holy One?

If one reads only 6:3 and 8, then Isaiah becomes a text for Trinity Sunday in Christian lectionaries. The threefold “holy” and the Lord’s self-reference in the plural (“who will go for us”) were, for the early church, obvious references to the Trinity. The famous Christian hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” derives in part from this text. But the text is not about the Trinity, a doctrine that arose in the early church long after the Bible had been written. This text does, however, reflect the experience of God that leads to such a doctrine. It includes all the essential elements: First, God is experienced as transcendent and all-powerful. The hem of the Lord’s robe alone fills the Temple; thus a metaphor of size or dimension expresses the inexpressible. Second, God’s presence fills the whole earth. Third, with the call and the active word, God intervenes in history through a human vessel.

 

 

 

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