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Here is material, some of which I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog as well as other sites: my amateur and informal summary of the whole Bible, including all the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books, and a summary of the Jewish Talmud.

Torah

The Torah has five books.

Genesis takes us from the Creation to the death of Joseph. Along the way, we read the familiar stories of the first generations of humans, the call and covenant of Abraham, the stories of his descendants, and the emigration of Jacob’s family to Egypt.

Exodus explains the Israelite slavery, the call and ministry of Moses, the Passover and Exodus, the entry into the wilderness, the Sinai covenant, and the creation of the Tabernacle.

Leviticus contains numerous laws: laws of sacrifice, the consecration of priests, laws of holiness, kashrut (kosher), purification, holy days, and atonement, among others.

Numbers continues the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness. The people travel from Sinai to Moab but fail to believe the counsel of Joshua and Caleb concerning the inhabitants of the Land. God punishes their rebellion by forbidding that generation from entering the Land. Thirty-eight years passes between chapters 19 and 20, and Moses himself is forbidden from entering the Land as well.

Deuteronomy concludes the Torah’s long story in the fortieth wilderness year as Moses addresses the people in two discourses (1:6-4:40 and 5:1-26:19). Moses reiterates the law (the name of the book means “second law”) and reminds the people of the necessity of faithfulness to God. After speaking his parting words, Moses dies and is buried.

We tend to disconnect portions of the Bible from other sections. For instance, we tend to isolate Genesis 1-2 when we think about God’s creation. But the stories of creation connect with the beginning and spread of human sin and God’s plan of salvation. Genesis 1 connects with the Jewish Sabbath, which, as I considered in chapter 5, is a sign of God’s covenant with Israel (Ex. 32:12-17). In turn, Genesis 1-11 can’t be set apart as separate stories, for those chapters are necessary for understand how the story of humankind has a “twist” that alters everything else: God’s great call to Abraham.

The stories of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants always seem like small gospels, in the sense of the “good news” of God’s favor and blessing to people who, though deeply flawed, respond in faith to God’s unmerited grace. But I can’t isolate the book from Exodus 1-15, for everything is necessary for understanding who the people of Israel are and why they are in Egypt. So in Exodus we find more stories of God’s history of his people: the reasons for Israelite slavery, the story of Moses, the liberation of the people, their deliverance across the Red Sea, and the beginning of Moses’ long leadership of the people in the wilderness as they approach the Promised Land. So, the basic story forms a long “arc” from creation to God’s great work in the exodus and the parting of the sea.

But the Exodus isn’t just the climax of a drama. It’s a beginning that marks a turning point, the great event by which God creates his people. Interestingly, the prophets do not evoke Abraham and his covenant but instead evoke the Exodus as the great event by which God established his covenant people (e.g., as Bernhard W. Anderson and Brevard S. Childs respectively point out, Amos 2:10, 9:7, Hosea 2:15, 11:1, 13:4, Isa. 43:16-21, 51:9-11, Ez. 2:5-6, 20:33-44, and also Deut. 5:6, 6:20ff, 26:5ff, Psalm 78, 81, 95, 105, 106, as well as the allusion in Joshua 3:1ff, and later in Neh. 9:6ff, Daniel 9:15, 2 Chr. 7:22, and also references to the plagues and rebellions in Psalm 78, 95, 105, 106, and in Wisdom of Sol. 16 and Sirach 45:1ff). (Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament [third edition, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975] 9-10; Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1993] 131.

This connection of the exodus and subsequent history is possible because the exodus and the covenant of Sinai are connected, as in Ex. 19:3-6. As Anderson puts it, “…Yahweh’s initiative evoked a response from the people. It placed them in a situation of decision, summoned them to a task within the divine purpose. What Moses had experience earlier at Sinai … was experienced by all the people at the same sacred mountain, and with far-reaching implications for the future.”(Anderson, 82-83) In Exodus 24, which binds two traditions (verses 1-2 and 9-11, and 3-8), the covenant is ratified between God and the people.

But the covenant, too, can be tied back to creation. Scholars note that the building of the sanctuary parallels the six days of creation (Ex. 24:15-18), alerting us that God’s work, after resting on the seventh day, continued in the creation of God’s special people. Not only that, but the covenant and law comprise a new “Eden” in which the people can live.

If you read this material closely, you notice certain “story arcs.” Exodus 29, which concerns priestly ordination, connects to Leviticus 8-9. The covenant of the Sabbath, Exodus 31:12-17, connects back to Genesis 1: the God who created all things has created a beloved people whose very lives reflect God’s pattern of creation. The laws of Leviticus connect back to the events of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-24.(16) The stories of the spies and the rebellion of Israel in Numbers 12-14 connect us forward to the book of Joshua and set the stage for the long sojourn in the wilderness (which is not recorded but which happens between the end of the story at Numbers 17:13 and the beginning of Numbers 20. The story of Numbers 20 connects us back to Exodus 17, two similar rebellions of Israel.

In Deuteronomy, Moses gives a long farewell message, instructing the people again about the importance of following God’s will and commandments. With the death of Moses at the end, we conclude this most part of the Scriptures that faithful Jews hold most precious.  But the death of Moses is not the end, for Deuteronomy looks to the future. In chapters 29-30 Moses reiterates the covenant to the people and promises that God’s word is not remote in time and space but always very near (Deut. 30:11-14). The reminder and promise of the covenant takes us back to the beginning of the covenant (Ex. 19-24).

Deuteronomy circles back even further, toward the beginning. “A wandering Aramean was my father,” says Deut. 26:5, meaning Jacob, and the passage 5-10 remembers Egyptian bondage, God’s salvation, and circles back again to the promise of the land, which the Israelites are about to enter.

The conclusion of Numbers circles back even further, for as commentators note, the passage describing the land of Canaan and its settlement (chapters 34-36) belongs to the “priestly source” which was the source of Genesis 1. Thus the promise of land for God’s people reflects God’s love of all creation and God’s desire for new human relationships. (Thomas B. Dozeman, “The Book of Numbers,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume II [Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1998] 267-268.)

We Christians should remember a few things about the Torah. The first is that much of material was not originally meant to be applicable for us Gentiles (Acts 15, Gal. 3:3-5). These are laws for Jews to do God’s will and to set them apart as God’s people. The distinction you often hear—the moral laws are applicable for Christians but the ceremonial laws are not—is not a biblical distinction at all, because in the Torah, all of life—worship, legal translations, daily behavior, diet, and so on—are of a whole piece. In his love, God has given the Hebrews a precious expression of his will. God shares this religious heritage with us Gentiles because of his love and this material is part of our religious heritage because of God’s favor (Rom. 11:17-24).(18)

Israel has made no distinction between the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws: all are of a piece, although today, many of the ceremonial laws are obsolete because there is no temple or priesthood in Judaism. Judaism has not historically viewed the law as a means of self-justification and self-salvation; the law has been God’s wonderful gift to follow. Paul, however, was adamant that the laws were unnecessary for Gentile converts to Christianity; even more than the moral law, he stressed the law of the guidance of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26). Now, we see the law through Christ, who fulfilled all righteousness and took the consequences of our law breaking onto himself (2 Cor. 5:21). But Paul upholds the law (Rom. 3:31), to show how Christ’s perfect (law-keeping) life is now a gift of life to us; thanks to Christ, the Torah is precious to us Gentiles, too.

Arguing thus, Paul stayed within the Torah and went back before Moses to Abraham to show how God’s favor touches people through their faith apart from the law (Rom. 4). (Jesus did a similar thing, going prior to Moses to God’s first intentions: Matt. 10:2-9). The question remains for Christians: how does the law still apply? A classic solution is to view the law in three ways: as a restraint to the wicked (the political use), as the law that brings us to Christ’s salvation (Gal. 3:24, the theological use), and then the “third use of the law,” which is to give content to the love of Christ which we display as we’re transformed by the Spirit (Gal. 6:2).

The Torah is foundational for Christians in other ways so obvious that we take them for granted.  A Bible explorer will discover interesting “arcs” and connections between the Torah and the New Testament. One is the idea of the covenant, for now God has extended his covenant to include non-Jews (Rom. 3:29-30). Another is the idea of blood for atonement forgiveness of sins (Rom. 3:25). Christ’s blood was shed and now there is no longer need for sacrifice (Heb. 9:11-14).

Still another idea is the faithfulness and righteousness of God, a Torah theme strongly defended in Romans 3 in Paul’s preaching of Christ.

Here are a few additional connections between the Torah and the New Testament:

  • The Creation and New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Rev. 21:1)
  • Adam and the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21)
  • The faith of Abraham, in some important ways the key to the whole Bible (Gen. 12:1-3, Rom. 4, Heb. 11:8-22)
  • Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 22, Rom. 8:32)
  • The manna in the wilderness and the Eucharistic bread (Ex. 16:1-21, John 6:25-40).
  • The covenant, the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and the Eucharist (Ex. 24:3-8; Lev. 7:12, 22:29, Ps. 107:22, 116:17, Amos 4:5, Mark 14:22-25 and parallels, 1 Cor. 11:25)
  • The healing serpent and the healing of Christ (Num. 21:8-9; John 3:14-15)
  • The condemnation in Deuteronomy of a condemned criminal “hanging on a tree” (Deut. 21:22-23; John 19:31, Gal. 3:13)
  • The salvation of Noah’s ark (Gen. 6:9-9:29; Luke 17:22-32; 1 Peter 3:20-21)
  • The role of Moses (Heb. 3:1-6, 11:23-28, et al.)
  • Moses’ shining face (Ex. 34:29-35, 1 Cor. 3:12-18)
  • The drink offering (Ex. 29:38-41, Lev. 23:12, 13, 18, Phil. 2:12-18, 2 Tim. 4:6-8)
  • The priesthood of Aaron (Ex. 29:1-9, Lev. 16, Heb. 7:11-14, 9:1-10:18)
  • Sacrifices (Lev. 1, 3, 4, Rom. 3:21-26, Heb. 7:26-28, 9:11-28)
  • The “rest” of the Promised Land (Heb. 3:7-4:13)
  • The Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11, 31:12-17, Deut. 5:12-15, Matt. 12:-18)
  • The Pascal Lamb (Ex. 12:11; 1 Cor. 5:7)
  • The two great commandments (Deut. 6:4-5, Lev. 19:18, Mark 12:28-34, Gal. 5:14).
  • The tabernacle as God’s dwelling place (Exodus 25:1-31:17; John 1:14; also the curtain of the tabernacle and later the temple, Matt. 27:51, Heb. 10:19-20)
  • The bread of the presence (Ex. 25:30, Lev. 24:8-9, Heb. 9:1-2)

More on the Torah laws

The 613 laws of the Torah are set forth and discussed in Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible (New York: William Morrow, 1997), 513-592 and passim; and William J. Doorly, The Laws of Yahweh: A Handbook of Biblical Law (New York: Paulist Press, 2002.

Doorly describes the four pre-canonical law collections that were incorporated into the Torah text after the exile: the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21-23), the Deuteronomic Law Code (Deuteronomy 12-26), the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26), and the Priestly Code (spread through Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers). Doorly calls attention to the reform of Judahite religion during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC), when the book of the law was discovered in the temple and then the keeping of the law was enjoined (2 Kings 22-23). After Josiah’s tragic death, soon followed by the fall of Jerusalem, the work of preserving and editing the laws continued during the exile.  Scholars believe that the law discovered in the temple comprised at least part of the Deuteronomic Law Code.

Doorly notes that the Levitical priests, connected historically to the Shechem/Shiloh area in the northern kingdom of Israel (which fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC), are associated with “the Deuteronomic circle,” but meanwhile the Aaronic (or Zadokite) priests associated with the temple also compiled laws (p. 4-5). During and after the exile, laws were preserved by both groups and eventually edited into what we now know as the Torah or Pentateuch.

The Book of the Covenant contains cultic laws about altars and images, 22 secular laws about restitution, bodily injury, and property, 20 cultic and social laws (including God’s demand for justice) and finally 6 more cultic laws, including three festivals. While not the oldest laws, they may be associated with the reform work of Hezekiah and then were preserved by the Aaronic priests during the exile from the Jahwist and Elohist sources (J and E).

The Deuteronomic Code, much longer than the Book of the Covenant, includes laws about the destruction of Canaanite holy places (ch. 12), apostasy (p. 13), food and tithes (ch. 14), sabbatical year (ch. 15), annual pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Shavuot, ch. 16), and many other laws about Levites, cities of refuge, rules of warfare, murder, livestock, and so on (29-30). While some laws (especially Deut. 13) seem cruel (and were not known to have been carried out), many laws reflect justice issues protecting people’s rights and encouraging social interdependence (32-33).

The Holiness Code contains laws about the slaughter of animals, sexual taboos, priests, several annual festivals, sabbatical years and jubilee years, and others.  Doorly believes that this code was a pre-exilic stroll intended for education of Judahites, separate from the Priestly Code.

The Priestly Code is found in Ex. 12-13, 25-30, Lev. 1-7, 10-15, 27, Num 5-6, 9-10, 18, 27-30, and 35-36. This code includes laws about Passover (Ex. 12-13), the tabernacle (Ex. 25-30), offerings and sacrifices (Lev. 1-7), priests (Lev. 10), dietary laws (Lev. 11), diseases and discharges (Lev. 12-15), vows, tithes and offerings (Lev. 27), uncleanness (Num. 5-6), Passover (Num. 9-10), priestly laws (Num. 18), inheritance laws, festivals, and vows (Num. 27-30), and Levitical towns, more inheritance laws, and laws concerning murder (Num. 35-36).This code was probably laws intended for the Jerusalem temple priests. While some scholars believe the Aaronic priests preserved these laws in order to assert their superiority to the Levitical priests, Doorly points out that both the Aaronic and Levitical schools sought to preserve laws in light of their creative rewriting of Israel’s history, with the Levites beginning with the events of Deuteronomy, and the Aaronids beginning with the time of the Exodus.

 Brevard Childs discusses the distinction of Aaronic and Levitical priests. Childs notes that in Ex. 28-29 and Lev. 8-10—where we find much information about the biblical priests—Aaron and his sons are consecrated to an eternal priesthood. The Aaronic priests performed cultic rites while Levites were responsible for maintenance of the tabernacle (e.g. Num. 1:47ff). But, Childs notes, we don’t find that distinction in Deuteronomy, which describe “Levitical priests” who have cultic responsibilities. We also find no Aaronite clergy in Judges and Samuel; Eli is the chief priest but he is from the Ephraim rather than the Levi tribe. When we get to Chronicles, we return to the separation of priest and Levites that we saw in Exodus and Leviticus.  Scholars like Julius Wellhausen explains the discrepancies in terms of the time period of the material: Ex. 25-40, Leviticus, and Numbers are post-exilic, while Deuteronomy is pre-exilic (i.e., late monarchy, from the time of Josiah), but Childs sees the historical development of the priesthood as largely irretrievable background history for the canonical text, in which the post-exilic form of priesthood has become normative (Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992], 145-150, 152-153).

History

In these historical books, two main historical periods are represented, the fulfillment of God’s promise of land to the Israelites, from Joshua to Solomon, and then the period of national sin and decline (and the rise of the prophets) from Solomon to the exile.

Joshua concerns the conquest of the land following the death of Moses.  The first twelve chapters concern the conquest of the land, and chapters 13 through 21 record the partition of the land.

Judges is an account of a succession of leaders (“judges,” or shofetim) with the Israelites’ history degenerating into civil war.

Ruth is a lovely, familiar story of two women, a Hebrew and a Moabite, devoted to one another in a terrible circumstance.

1 and 2 Samuel concern the beginning of the Israelite monarchy with a focus upon the rise and rulership of the greatest king, David.

1 and 2 Kings takes us through another long history, that of David’s successors. The stories of Solomon and the construction of the magnificent Temple provide a positive beginning to the history. But the Hebrews suffer a succession of unfaithful kings, the division of the kingdom, the fall of the northern kingdom in about 722 BC, the fall of the southern kingdom in 586 BC, the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, and the beginning of the Babylonian exile (586-536).

These books are called “the former prophets” in the Hebrew Bible and are listed along with the prophets Isaiah through Malachi. The Hebrew Bible places other historical books—Ruth, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther—in the final section called the Writings. The Christian Old Testament includes these books among the “former prophets,” so that, for instance, the story of Ruth—a Gentile ancestor of David and Jesus—provides a glimpse of hope amid the warfare and desolation of Judges and the stories of Samuel and the monarchy.

The material in 1 Chronicles through Esther is (as the Harper Bible Commentary puts it) the great “secondary history” of the Bible. Like the “primary history” of Genesis-2 Kings, it begins at the beginning and arrives at the Exile—but the secondary history continues to the post-exilic period of Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther.

Though beginning with Adam himself in long genealogies, 1 and 2 Chronicles cover similar ground as the books of Samuel and Kings, but “the Chronicler” reinterprets the history. Notice the difference between David’s farewell speech in 1 Kings (2:2-9) and in 1 Chronicles (28:1-29:20). During a seminary class, I wrote in my old Bible: Unlike Samuel and Kings, the Chronicler assigned each generation with complete intimacy to God, losing the unity of Israel’s history.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the period after the Hebrews return to the land following the Babylonian exile. The Temple is rebuilt, Jerusalem is rebuilt and repaired, and the covenant is reestablished. These books show how God’s people made the first transitions from their former existence as a kingdom to a new existence as a worshiping community.

Esther is a story of a Hebrew woman who becomes the Persian queen and, with her adoptive father Mordecai, saves the Hebrew people. The book gives another side of the post-exilic history: Jews who did not return to the land but remained among Gentiles.

The history of God’s people obviously does not end there. We have more of their story reflected in the book of Daniel (probably from the 100s BC), in apocryphal books like Maccabees, in the Mishnah and Talmud, and in all the history and witness of the Jews during the subsequent two millennia, as Second- and Post-Temple Judaism transformed into Rabbinic Judaism. The New Testament provides scriptural history of the messianic subgroup of Jews known as Christians, a faith that, of course, became prominently Gentile.

How do the Torah and these historical books fit together? Following the Torah’s verse after verse of laws, statutes, and material for Hebrew worship, you’d expect to find historical accounts of these laws and cultic practices carried out. We do get some: Joshua refers to the law of Moses, 1:7ff, 8:30ff; the stories of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba also reflect concerns for cleansing rituals; and the sins of Solomon are also connected to the laws (Deut. 17:1-17 and 1 Kings 9:26-11:40). (Solomon’s sins vis-à-vis the Law are discussed in Marc Zvi Brettler, How to Read the Jewish Bible [New York: Oxford University Press, 2007] 122-123).

Then, in Ezra and Nehemiah, we see the emergence of a more obviously religious community. This apparent omission of cultic practices within the historical accounts alerts us to a topic debated in scholarly circles: the development of the law and practices before and after the Exile, the impact of the rediscovery of at least part of the law during Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 22:8 and following) and the uplifting of the law as a community standard during the post-exilic period (Ezra 3:2, Neh. 13) (Childs, Biblical Theology137).

Scholars hypothesize a “Deuteronomistic history” that now forms the basis of the material from the beginning of Deuteronomy to the end of 2 Kings. (The first of several books on this subject is Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History[Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002; originally published in 1943]). Among the themes of this history is the keeping of the covenant: God will reward faithfulness and will eventually punish wickedness and apostasy. So, the connection of the historical books and the Torah is, at one level, the failure of the Israelites to keep their part of the covenant faithfully; thus God’s judgment in the form of the Babylonian conquest and exile at the end of 2 Kings. But throughout these centuries, God has remained faithful.

Fatefully for Jewish-Christian relationships, this theology of Israelite failure is reflected in the New Testament documents, as Jesus-believing Jews contrast themselves with other Jews.

The historical books have several major themes.  One is the experience of the Land (ha-aretz)—the land promised to Israel since Abram in Genesis 12. As we saw in the Torah, God guides his people, establishes his covenant with them, gives them his law, and leads them to the Land under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua. Holding and keeping the Land, though, remains a challenge across the centuries: the campaigns and conquests of Joshua are far the end of the story. (See Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Land).

Connected to the Land is the history of the monarchy. Commentators like Anderson note that while the tribal confederacy of the Judges period had problems with faithfulness and idolatry, those problems were different from other nations in that they were defined by their covenant to the Lord. But once Israel had a king, an additional temptation was added: becoming a nation like any other nation. Certainly God’s power was operative, for instance, in the selection of Saul and David and the ongoing life of the people, especially in light of the Philistine threat. But, as Anderson notes, “the religious faith of the Confederacy [the Judges] survived its collapse and found new expression in Israel’s prophetic movement. Israel was not allowed to identify a human kingdom with the Kingdom of God, for Yahweh alone was king” (Anderson 162-163).

Unfortunately, that meant that Israel had eventually to collapse, too, in order that they become truly faithful to the covenant.

As you explore the stories of David and his successors, you see difficulties building. Although Israel became a renowned kingdom (occasioning the famous Queen of Sheba’s visit in 1 Kings 10:1-10), we also hear of the horror of the hanging of Saul’s seven sons (and the tragic figure of the concubine Rizpah: 2 Sam. 21:1-14), continued conflict with the Philistines (2 Sam. 21:15-22), terrible results of David’s census (2 Sam. 24), the rebellions and difficulties within David’s own family (2 Sam. 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2), and eventually the division of the kingdom following Solomon’s death.

On the other hand, the possibilities of monarchy gave rise to the hope for a future king who would reunite the people and regain and surpass the possibilities of peace and prosperity, as we read in the famous messianic passages that we specially embrace during Advent and Christmas: Isaiah 7:10-17, 9:2-7, and 11:1-9.

Within these stories, David emerges as a kind of “typology” for God’s rule. The two mountains, Sinai and Zion, stand for the two covenants of God, and Nathan’s prophecy (2 Samuel 7) links David’s descendants to God’s Sinai covenant. Earlier ambivalence about a monarchy changes to a confidence in God’s rulership through David’s line. Since David is identified with Jerusalem (Zion) in his selection of that place as capital, Zion became identified with God’s own city (Ps. 46, 48, 76, and others) (Childs, Biblical Theology154-55).

Of course, the line of David, also celebrated in the psalms (2, 20, 31, 45, and others) connects to the later messianic hope that grows in Israel’s history and, for Christians, finds fulfillment in Jesus.

Another theme of these biblical books is the Jerusalem temple. The Temple, promised to David and constructed during Solomon’s reign, is connected to the history of the Tabernacle before it (Ex. 35-40) and, of course, to the Land itself. David’s hope for a great, permanent house in the Land for God is not fulfilled, but his son Solomon constructs the facility (2 Sam. 7, 1 Kings 5-8). Like the monarchy, the Temple did not survive the collapse of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 (1 Kings 25:8, 9, 13-17), but the Temple serves in Israelite memory through the exile in, for instance, the dynamic vision of a restored Temple in Ezekiel 40-48. Following the exile, the high priest Jeshua and the governor Zerubbabel, helped by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, supervise the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3-6). After the Old Testament period, Herod the Great began work on a restored temple in 20-19 BC, a building effort still going on during Jesus’ time and beyond. Herod’s temple was finally completed, ironically, just a few years before the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD.

The fall of Jerusalem in about 586 BC and the subsequent exile of the people in Babylon in 586-536 BC  (2 Kings 24:18-25:30 and Jer. 52:1-34) are key events for the entire Bible.(29) Even if you’re a regular Bible reader you may miss the tremendous significance of the exile; the whole Bible radiates before and after that catastrophe (Childs, Biblical Theology154-55; Ralph W. Klein, “Exile,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007] 367-370; Peter R. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought in the Sixth Century B.C. [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968]).

We know little about the forty years in the wilderness (passed over in silence between Numbers 17:13 and 20:1), and we have comparatively little history in the Bible about the exile itself, besides 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 52, Lamentations, Psalms 79 and 137 and some other scriptures.

But the whole biblical history beginning with God’s promises to Abraham comes to a catastrophic turning point at the exile; much of the prophetic writings in the Bible reflect issues before, during, and after the exile; and the promises of God to David for a future Davidic monarchy become a great hope of Israel following the exile. As I said above, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the post-exilic efforts to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple and to reestablish the people on the Land. That post-exilic hope is understood in the New Testament as being fulfilled in Christ.

We find numerous connections within the historical books themselves.

  • The connection of Noah’s curse of Canaan (Gen. 9:25-26) with the Canaanites.
  • The ongoing theme of the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-16, Num. 13-14, Deut. 25:17, 19, Judges 3:13, 1 Sam. 15, et al.), connecting Joshua with Saul and later Hezekiah (1 Chr. 4:41-43).
  • The ongoing theme of Bethel (Josh. 18:21-22, Judges 1:22-26, 20:18, 26-28, 1 Sam. 7:16, 1 Kings 12:26-32, 2 Kings 17:27-28, 2 Kings 23:15-23, Ezra 2:28, Neh. 7:32, 11:31).
  • The connection of the places Gilgal (Josh. 4:19-5:12, 1 Sam. 11:15, 13:1-10) and Gibeon (Josh. 9:3-27, 2 Sam. 2:12-3:1. As one commentator puts it, “The story [of Gibeonites] signals radical Davidic centralization by highlighting Joshua’s fulfillment of Yahweh’s command.” But also, these Joshua stories connect to the law of herem (Deut. 7:1-6, 20:16-18), wherein God requires the annihilation of the people and prohibits the taking of spoils.

We also find interconnections with the New Testament, some mentioned already.

  • The great theme of Yahweh’s salvation.  The name “Joshua” is in Hebrew the same name as “Jesus,” meaning “Yahweh saves.”
  • The theme of the Land. The Land is not spiritualized in the Old Testament the way that it tends to be in the New. In the Old, we speak of the actual land and its possession. Deutero-Isaiah begins to move in a more spiritual direction (Isa. 44:24ff, 49:14ff), and in the New Testament, Jesus himself becomes the “place” where God dwells (John 1:14).
  • The theme of the Kingdom of God.  The phrase is not used in the Old Testament, but the kingdom of God is the principle theme of Jesus’ preaching and connects with God’s sovereignty through Israel’s history.
  • The theme of a new kind of monarchy under David’s descendant, Jesus.  In his person and work, Jesus brings themes like the Lamb of God, the sufferings of David, and the suffering servant of Isaiah into the theme of the king of Israel: thus, when Jesus is killed, the charge against him is “king of the Jews.” But in his suffering and death is victory over sin and death, and the ambiguities of the Israelite monarchy are understood to be resolved.
  • The theme of the Temple. The New Testament never explicitly mentions the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, an odd omission. Jesus quotes Jeremiah concerning the Temple, and he himself is understood to be the new temple (John 2:20-22). Paul, in turn, calls each of us “temples of the Holy Spirit” in that God’s presence dwells within us (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
  • The realities of post-exilic Judaism provide a more subtle connection. Groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees , as well as the Essenes and Zealots, formed in response to the needs of the people during the post-exilic time, as did institutions like synagogues, Sabbath requirements, and festivals to which Jews—many living in different parts of the world after the exile—came to Jerusalem (e.g., John 11:55 and also Acts 2:5-11).
  • Not only is the exile a decisive turning point for the whole Bible—a climax of a long drama but also a new beginning for Jews and later for Christians—scholars hypothesize that the compilations and editing of law codes and historical materials happened as during and after the exile, as Doorly discusses. Thus, the exile and the restoration necessitated the composition of the Bible itself!
  • Of course, the Jews who became the first Christians were post-exilic Jews who, like other Jews, looked to an even greater restoration of Israel’s fortunes. The Christians saw that restoration and monarchical fulfillment in the Jew Jesus, and they based that hope upon exilic texts like Isaiah 40-66.
  • It is worth noting that exilic language flavors many Christian hymns, especially those that refer to our heavenly home to which we live in hope. In childhood Vacation Bible School, I learned that peppy song “Do Lord” with its evocation of “Glory Land.” I also learned “Bringing in the Sheaves,” based on the post-exilic Psalm 136 and the struggle of returning exiles to reestablish agriculture.
  • Although Israel’s hope is understood to be fulfilled in Christ, themes of the exile still shape the Bible. As Peter-Ben Smith points out, a key biblical theme, beginning with Eden, is that we are all in exile and long to be redeemed from exile. He points out that the Christian liturgical traditions are filled with the language of exile, and also the exile functions in theologies of liberation (the struggle for freedom amid oppression) and other contemporary theologies.  The biblical language about Jesus’ death and resurrection connects to Passover, which of course concerns the earlier exile of Egyptian slavery. (The link is dead, but the original reference is Peter-Ben Smith, “Ecumenism in Exile,” World Council of Churches’ website http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/the-wcc-and-the-ecumenical-movement-in-the-21st-century/relationships-with-member-churches/60th-anniversary/contest/essay-ecumenism-in-exile.htmlAccessed 2012).

More on the Kingdom:

Brevard S. Childs notes that the Old Testament has a presumed “pro-monarchial” source in 1 Sam. 8-12, specifically 9:1-10:16 and 11:1-5, compared with anti-monarchical sources (1 Sam. 8:1-22, 10:17-27, 12:1-25) that view a human king as an act of disobedience to God, the true monarch. Childs looks at the texts’ canonical shape and concludes that, although some of the biblical traditions were hostile to a monarchy, the final form of the text affirms God’s involvement in the monarchy, even though a monarchy was not part of God’s original plan (Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1986] 115).

Furthermore, he continues, the career of the greatest monarch, David, becomes deeply significant for Israel’s ongoing hope in God’s redemption (Isa. 9:6-7, Jer. 23:5ff, Ps. 45, 72, 110, and the way David’s speech in 2 Sam. 22 echoes Hanna’s song in 1 Sam. 2). In his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), Childs sees a similar tension regarding the book of Judges. The book itself connects the moral decline of the period to the lack of a king (18:1, 21:25), but in the anti-monarchical passages of 1 Samuel (e.g. 12:12ff), the office of judges rather than a monarch was God’s intention for Israel. Yet the future hope of Israel lay not in a judge but a Davidic king (150-151).

Under the kingship of Solomon’s son Rehoboam (1 Kings 12) the kingdom divides between the northern (Israel) and the southern (Judah). A succession of kings rules Israel for the subsequent two hundred years until the Assyrians conquer that land in about 722 BC (2 Kings 12).  The later Babylonians did not compel the resettlement of conquered areas but the Assyrians did.

Consequently, the deportation of the tribes in the northern kingdom resulted not only in “the lost tribes of Israel” but also the beginning of the Samaritan (2 Kings 17:1-6, 24-41, 18:9, 1 Chr. 5:26). Later, those from the southern kingdom who returned from Babylonian exile came into conflict with Samaritans in the years following (Hag. 2:10ff, Ezra 10:2ff, Neh. 4:1ff). See Childs, Biblical Theology162; Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament 184.

Prayers and Wisdom

Between the historical books and the prophets, we have several books that, in the Jewish Bible, appear in the final “writings” section (which also includes Ruth, Lamentations, Daniel, and 1 and 2 Chronicles).

Job is the well-known story (a long poem framed by short narrative sections) of a righteous man who suffered terribly.  He and his friends try to plumb the mysteries of God’s providence.

The Psalms are 150 songs of praise, complaint, lamentation, penitence, and supplication. They were used in the rebuilt Temple and, eventually, in synagogues and churches.

Proverbs is a collection of sayings, many attributed to Solomon, on topics like morality, knowledge, justice, and other issues of right living.

Ecclesiastes is a deeply moving reflection upon the seasons of life (including the famous 3:1-8), the difficulties of gaining wisdom, and the ultimate vanity of human striving.

The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is an emotional poem of love and longing between two people.

Some of this material is connected to Jewish festivals.  Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther are known as the Five Scrolls (Hamesh Megillot) and are read in synagogues on Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), Tisha be-Av (anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem), Sukkah (feast of tabernacles), and Purim, respectively. What enrichment these books bring to the Bible! In Ruth, we find not only a story of family love and loyalty, but also a warm illustration of how God can work through faithful people, including Gentiles like the Moabite Ruth. Esther is a counterpart to Ruth: in Ruth, a Gentile survives within a Jewish majority, while in Esther, a Jew must survive (with more ominous stakes) in a Gentile world.

Esther also is a reminder that God’s people the Jews have and will endure as God’s special witnesses.

Ecclesiastes and Job provide a check against any theology that takes a flippantly “sunny” approach to life: as if our walk with God was a victory-to-victory process. Although you wouldn’t want this material to “have the last word,” we need material in the Word of God that, paradoxically, raise the issue of the difficulties of knowing God—and the difficulties of managing the tragedies and pain of life.

Song of Songs can be interpreted as an allegory and as such is beloved by many as a religious paean. Its interpretations have been many. Anyone who’s been in love can be happy that God so blesses mutual human love, including physical attraction. (In fact, the prophets depicted the relationship between God and Israel in often startlingly conjugal terms.)

The term “wisdom literature” refers to different biblical material, not only to Proverbs but also Ecclesiastes, Job, the Song of Songs, and such Psalms as 1, 19, 37, 49, 73, and others. Wise men and women are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (Gen. 39:1-6, 41:8-32, 2 Sam. 14:1-20, 16:23, 20:14-22), and King Solomon, of course, the designated author of many of the proverbs, earned a reputation as the wisest man of all (1 Kings 4:29-33). But wisdom literature has a different “flavor” than some of the material we’ve seen.

In wisdom writings (as Bernhard Anderson puts it), “The prophetic themes that dominate the Pentateuch and the prophetic writings—Israel’s election, the Day of Yahweh, the covenant and the Law, the priesthood and the Temple, prophecy and the messianic hope—are dealt with hardly at all.” In fact, wisdom seemed to be criticized in prophetic passages like Jeremiah 8:9 and Isaiah 29:4 (Anderson 531-532, quote on page 531).

Wisdom authors did not address legal and religious obligations (as did the priests of Israel), and usually they did not explicitly communicate God’s own oracles, like the prophets.  Only in the Apocrypha’s wisdom books, like Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) and Baruch, do we find more linkage of wisdom with law and covenant (Childs, Biblical Theology189-190).

Wisdom literature, instead, aims to uncover some of the lessons a wise person would have learned about “life.” Life experiences, rather than the law per se, guide to moral behavior and correct judgments.  Remember, for instance, that Job seeks answers to the problem of his suffering in a series of conversations with his friends, since his religious and moral uprightness implies that his suffering is undeserved. Ecclesiastes reflects on life’s meaning after long reflection on the problems of suffering, human pride, and God’s providence.  The Song of Songs, a much happier and more confident book, also reflects the meaning of life as discovered through the experience of God’s creation and human love.

Proverbs, too, is a confident book. A person’s growth in wisdom and knowledge (compared to the fool who is lazy and unconcerned) is not only recommended, but also ordained by God. As an author in The Interpreter’s Bible puts it, “The highest type of family life is extolled; monogamy is taken for granted; the respect for mother and wife is emphasized throughout; chastity and marital fidelity are enjoined for all.  The glutton, drunkard, and sluggard, the robber and oppressor of the poor are all roundly condemned.  Those who live in accordance with wisdom’s laws are prosperous and happy.  A belief in the one true and living God who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked permeates the book from cover to cover” (Charles T. Fritsch, “Introduction to the Book of Proverbs,” The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 4 [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1955] 777).

In the Psalms and Proverbs, we wisdom for living that seems far from the storm and stress of the historical books or the (for us Gentiles) uncertain applications of some of the Torah laws.

Childs notes that, “the psalms function to guide Israel, both as individuals and as a community, in the proper response to God’s previous acts of grace in establishing a bond. The psalmist can praise God, complain of his sufferings, plea for a sign of vindication, but through it all and undergirding his response, lies the confession that life is obtained as a gift from God. His conduct is not seen as a striving after an ideal or toward fixed ethical norms, but a struggle to respond faithfully to what God has first done on Israel’s behalf. The response of the psalmist is so intense and directed so personally to God because the possession or loss of life is measured in terms of his relation to God who both ‘kills and makes alive’. Although the terminology of the Old Testament psalms often differs strikingly from Paul’s the theological understanding of man’s relationship to God as one of sheer grace shares much in common” (Childs, Old Testament Theology209-210).

Connections of these writings to the New Testament are many.

  • As pointed out in TheInterpreter’s Bible, Proverbs is often quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. In fact, some of the New Testament’s most well-known passages allude to (and sometimes directly quote) particular Proverbs.  Jesus’ words about the wise man and the foolish man who built their homes on rock and sand echo Proverbs 10:25 and 12:7. Jesus also echoes Proverbs 3:28, 11:4, 11:17, 11:28, 16:19, and 30:8-9 during his Sermon on the Mount.  Proverbs 25:21-22 admonishes the wise to take care of one’s enemy rather than retaliate, and the Apostle Paul makes use of the saying in Romans 12:20. Jesus’ maturity (Luke 2:52) echoes Proverbs 3:4   Jesus also alludes to Proverbs 16:1, 18:21, 24:12, 25:6-7, 27:1, 28:24, 29:23 in the course of his teaching (see Matt. 10:19-20, 12:36-37, 16:27, Luke 14:7-11, Luke 12:16-21, Matt. 15:4, 6, Luke 14:11 and 18:14b, respectively). (Fritsch 777-778).
  • he Psalms are also frequently referenced in the New Testament: 2, 22, 34, 69, 78, 89, 110, and 118 especially, but also 33, 35, 39, 50, 102, 105, 106, 107, 116, 119, 135, 145, and 147. Several psalm passages are understood to be fulfilled in or connected to Jesus (Matt. 13:35 and Ps. 78:3, John 19:24 and Ps. 22:18, John 19:36 and Ps. 34:20, Acts 2:25-35 and Ps. 16:8-11, 132:11, and 110:1). Psalm 110:1 is a particularly important image for New Testament Christology, as is Psalm 110:4 for the author of Hebrews regarding the priesthood of Melchizedek.
  • We also find connections in Acts 4:11 and Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:25-26 and Psalm 2:1, Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:10 and Psalm 102:25, and notably Hebrews 1:13 and Psalm 110:1.
  • The blamelessness and suffering of Job and of Christ’s. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, without specifically referencing or alluding to Job, is in harmony with Job’s values and also promises grace to those who suffer.
  • The traditional, allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs with Christ and his church.

The Prophets

The sixteen prophetic books below (except for Daniel) are grouped in the Hebrew Bible with the historical books (the Former Prophets: Joshua through Kings) as the Later Prophets, because the prophets figure strongly during the historical period covered by those books. These are not the only prophets in Israel’s history: for instance, Moses himself, Miriam, Deborah, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, and several others.

Isaiah: The first 39 chapters contain words of judgment about the Northern Kingdom, as well as other nations, and also words of promise. Chapters 40 and following seem to be another prophet, or possibly two, writing during 500s BC, as God, acting through the Persian king, restored the people. In its canonical form, we have a kind of prophetic history of Israel and Judah from the 700s into the exilic period, with both warnings and wonderful poetry of assurance concerning God’s redemption.

Jeremiah: The prophet preaches judgment upon the Southern Kingdom, and also promises of a renewed covenant in the future. We find tremendous pathos in Jeremiah, as also reflected in the following book.

Lamentations is a short, poetic book, attributed to Jeremiah and written in sorrowful response to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians.

Ezekiel: A prophet (also a priest) of the time before and during the exile. Ezekiel has weird visions and prophet actions bordering on, and sometimes crossing over to, the perverse. But the book also has lofty more theology concerning problems such as human accountability.

Daniel: The book focuses on events in Daniel’s life and also apocalyptic visions of God’s kingdom, the “Son of Man,” and the last days, though many of the visions deal with the time of Antiochus IV, the evil Greek ruler who persecuted Jews. This book is included in the last section of the Jewish canon rather than among the prophets.

The “minor prophets” of the Bible are “minor” in the sense that they’re short, compared to the major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. In the Jewish Bible (Tanakh), they are one book, Trei Asar or the Twelve, and as such, the Twelve are the last book of the Neviim, or prophets, which in turn is the middle section of the Tanakh.

In the Christian Old Testament, these prophets are separated into twelve separate books and are the last books of the testament.  Altogether, the Twelve have 67 chapters, which is only one chapter longer than Isaiah.

The Twelve form a prophetic “collection” concerned with the events of the Israelite kingdoms following the division (after Solomon’s death) into the northern kingdom Israel and the southern kingdom Judah. Israel is conquered by the Assyrians in 722-721 BCE, and Judah is conquered by the Babylonians in 587-586 BCE, who also destroy Jerusalem and take the people into exile. After the Persians conquer the Babylonians, many of the people are able to return to the land and rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple (as recounted in Ezra and Nehemiah).

Hosea: A Northern Kingdom prophet of the 700s, Hosea used his own family crises to describe the unfaithfulness of Israel and, in addition to words of judgment, the heartache and tenderness of God.

Joel: Joel has aspects of both prophecy and apocalyptic, because he speaks of the Lord’s judgment against sin (in whatever time period he’s writing) as well as the last days. We get the wonderful prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit here (2:28-29).

Amos: A Southern prophet who spoke to the sins of the North; he speaks judgment against the kingdom of Israel: their apostasy, wealth, and oppression of the poor. His classic call for justice and righteousness is well known (5:21-24).

Obadiah:  A short little book, by a prophet about whom we know little. The Edomites were descendants of Esau who were enemies of Judah, and Obadiah’s prophecies are directed at them.

Jonah: Unlike other prophetic books, this one is a story, almost like a parable. The fish is not the point of the story, but rather God’s patience and forgiveness as well as Jonah’s reluctant prophetic work, which was surprisingly and highly successful.

Micah: A contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea. His two themes are doom and promise, and his statement about Bethlehem (5:2), his lovely depiction of God’s kingdom where swords will become plows (4:1-4), and his requirements of anyone who loves the Lord (6:8) are also well known

Nahum: A counterpart to Jonah; Nahum pronounces doom upon Nineveh.

Habakkuk: An interesting book in that the prophet “dialogues” with God about the classic question: why do wrongdoers prevail? God may use an evil nation like the Chaldeans to accomplish his purposes, but they, too, will suffer the consequences.  Habakkuk 2:4 is a classic text; Paul quotes it in Romans 1:17 as a beginning of his argument about the primacy of faith.

Zephaniah: The last minor prophet prior to the exile, Zephaniah preaches judgment and wrath, but also hope for the future.

Haggai: His topic is the rebuilding of the Temple following the end of the exile. Not a lofty writer, he straightforwardly urges the Temple’s completion. Interestingly, he praises the great king by name, Zerubbabel, who eventually disappears from the record.

Zechariah: He also discusses the rebuilding of the Temple, but he writes with visions, symbols, and images of the coming messianic age.

Malachi: The last Old Testament prophet, from the 400s, who (with his interesting question-answer format) also posed Habakkuk’s question, why do the wicked prosper and the good suffer?  Malachi’s innovation: his announcement that a messenger will herald the last days.

One of the basic literary units of the prophets is the proclamation: God announces judgment or salvation. These proclamations are addressed to God’s people but sometimes also to neighboring nations. The proclamations in turn made use of different kinds of discourse: indictment and verdict, hymns and songs, collections of sayings, and others. Later prophets also use longer kinds of writing like sermons and narratives. The prophets also record visions, and some include descriptions of their own call.

The prophets can be difficult reading, with their seemingly random collections of proclamations, oracles, stories, sermons, and sometimes, enacted prophetic signs. Layers of traditions are often challenging to discern. The prophets use metaphors, allusions, and shifts of narration, which makes good commentaries essential for the modern Bible explorer.  The prophets are also difficult in their tone and themes. The prophets express God’s anger at the Israelites, who have broken the covenant; in chapter after chapter, we find descriptions of wrongs, promises and descriptions of dreadful punishment, but also tender words and promises for the future.

Because the prophets preached during the time of the historical books that I discussed above, we find familiar themes in the prophets: the land and the covenant, the threatened loss of the land, the failures of the monarchy, the role of the Temple (and, in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, its loss), and others.  The prophets connect back to God’s promises in Abraham and also the exodus, and also to the promise of David and of Jerusalem as they (the prophets) preached about God’s kingship and covenant.

The relationship of the prophets and the law is complex and is debated by scholars. We Christians are liable to read prophetic passages like Jeremiah 7, think of Jesus’ criticisms of the religious leaders of his time, and dismiss “Jewish legalism”. The prophets, however, do not deny the law but sharply warn that religious ritual must go hand in hand with justice, mercy, righteousness, and the repudiation of idols.  Even passages that seem very “anti-law” (like Ez. 20:25, Jer. 7:21-26, and Jer. 8:8) do not abrogate the law and the covenant but call for a deeper faithfulness. Within Judaism, the view has prevailed that “the primary role of the prophet was to serve as a vital link in the transmission of the law from Moses down to the present.”

For instance, Deuteronomy defines the role of prophets (13:1-5, 18:15-22) and upholds Moses himself as the greatest of the prophets (34:10); many scholars consider the “Deuteronomic Code” (Deut. 12-26) as a product of the 600s BCE and deeply influenced by Jeremiah’s preaching (Harper’s Bible Commentary 540).

We find many, many connections of the prophets and the New Testament.  Prophetic scriptures became crucial for understanding who Jesus is and how his coming fits within and fulfills God’s plans of salvation. A Bible explorer can spend months and years tracing and delving into the prophetic roots of the New Testament.

Here are just a few.

  • John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mark 9:1, Luke 1:17)
  • Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6, Luke 1:30-33.
  • Jesus’ authority and teaching (Isa. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Matt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)
  • Jesus the good shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, Psalm 23, John 10:7-11)
  • Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Matt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Luke 4:17-21)
  • Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Gen. 49:10-11, Matt. 21:4-5)
  • Jesus the bridegroom (Isa. 54:5-8, Eph. 55:22-23)
  • Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)
  • Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Matt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)
  • The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)
  • The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:1, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)
  • “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)
  • Living Water (Isa. 12:3, Zech. 14:8, John 4:1-42, and John 7:37-39 at the feast of the tabernacles)
  • The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)
  • The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)
  • Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)
  • The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, much of the book of Zechariah, Ez. 38-39). In fact, in a previous chapter I noted several Old Testament references in Revelation and noted that no other New Testament book quotes or alludes to the Old Testament as often.
  • The issue of the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness, as I said above; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). A passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34).
  • The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there.  In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy.  You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, the Gentiles, bringing them into the circle of blessing.
  • Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.) and possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).

Gospels and Acts

Over 90% of Mark’s gospel is also found in Matthew and Luke, and that the latter two gospels have material in common that is not found in Mark: the so-called “Q” material. Matthew and Luke also have material unique to their own gospels, implying other sources that they used

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” begins Mark’s account. Hasty, simply written, the gospel contains a key verse, 10:45: “the Son of man …came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Who is this Jesus, though?  As the gospel proceeds, Jesus’ friends don’t seem to “get” him. He confuses those closest to him. One of the saddest verses is 14:50, And they all forsook him, and fled. (I’ve written in my old Bible, now they understand!)  Meanwhile, the people on the “outside” identify Jesus right away: the demons, outcasts, and Gentiles.  The first post-crucifixion person to “preach” Jesus is a Roman soldier who participated in his execution (15:39). And yet, for all its darker qualities, the gospel seems written to those already Christian for their guidance and comfort, as I’ve jotted in the margin. Mark’s gospel omits birth stories, devoting chapters 1 through 13 to Jesus’ ministry (chapters 1-9 in Galilee, chapter 10 on the way to Jerusalem, and 12-13 in Jerusalem), and then chapters 14 through 16 for Jesus’ passion.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus addresses his mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). Matthew has a strongly anti-Jewish “feel” (e.g., Jesus’ bitter diatribe in Matthew 23), but remembering that Matthew is a Jew reflecting on Judaism, we see how he presents Jesus as the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus by no means repudiates the Torah but interprets it by his own authority. At the same time, Jesus provides hope for Gentiles, too (12:18, 15:28, 24:14, etc.), and among the gospels only Matthew uses the word “church” (ekklēsia).   Matthew retains Mark’s basic geographical framework (the Galilean ministry, chapters 4-18; the journey to Jerusalem, 19-20; and the week in Jerusalem, 21-28:15), but unlike Mark, Matthew includes a birth narrative (including the stories of the Wise Men, the flight into Egypt, and the slaughter of the innocents).  The gospel presents Jesus’ teachings in five discourses (chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), and uniquely gives us teachings such as the wicked slave (18:21-35), the landowner (20:1-18), the ten virgins (25:1-13), the talents (25:14-30), and the narrative of the last judgment (25:1-46).

Luke’s gospel is the first of two writings addressed to a person named “Theophilus,” which means “God-lover,” Amadeus. In the gospel, Jesus addresses his concerns for the poor and disadvantaged; Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 61:1-2 (Luke 4:18-19) doesn’t spiritualize the blind, oppressed, and imprisoned, but he proclaims liberty and release to them. “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20)—not “poor in spirit” which you and I might be able to claim. Unique to Luke’s gospel are the story of the good Samaritan (10:25-27), the story of Mary and Martha (10:38-42), the parables of the lost coin and the prodigal son (15:8-32), the story of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31), not to mention the stories at the Gospel’s beginning: the birth of John the Baptist, the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the song of Simeon, the shepherds in the field, the story of young Jesus in the Temple.

How is John’s gospel related to the other gospels? Is it a different historical tradition or does it assume the traditions of Mark?  This is a debated subject; the basic outline and facts of Jesus’ life are there, but the stories are different: the water into wine, the Samaritan woman, the raising of Lazarus. John focuses on seven “sign” miracles, five of which are not found in the other Gospels. John’s is a “high” view of Jesus, a view that helps us understand him theologically. We don’t find parables and pericopes here but rather long reflections and dialogues. While Jesus’ Synoptic parables do not deal directly with Jesus’ identity, John’s gospel contains numerous “I am” sayings. While the other gospels announce the Kingdom of God, in John, Jesus’ announces the Spirit that will guide Jesus’ followers.

Acts provides stories of the first (approximately) thirty-five years of the early church. Peter dominates the first portion of Acts, Paul the second half.  Notice that Luke frames the stories of Acts with affirmations about God’s kingdom (1:3, 28:1); Jesus had preached the kingdom, and after his ascension, the life-power of Jesus is given to people through the Holy Spirit, and so for Luke, the kingdom of God exists wherever people accept that ever-available life-power. Thus, the disciples are instructed not to fret about the signs and portents of Jesus’ second coming, they have what they need for the present time, the Spirit promised in Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17-21).

In spite of its connection to Luke, I tended to think of Acts as a stand-alone historical account between the gospels and the epistles. But eventually I realized that Acts is as important as the gospels because the book provides the way that we know Jesus today. We’ll never know Jesus in the flesh—and judging from Jesus’ own words, we shouldn’t even long to have known him in the flesh (John 16:5-15). Now, Jesus is now fully present to us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ story continues, if not in a scriptural way, in the innumerable book-length stories of us, his disciples (cf. John 21:25).

Letters

The Bible has many different kinds of literary genres. We find very few letters in the Old Testament, but letters form the largest body material in the New Testament. The canon includes letters of James, John, Peter, Jude, the author of Hebrews, and Paul. Paul’s several letters are arranged in order of length, although 1 and 2 Thessalonians were probably the earliest letters, and Philippians and 1 and 2 Timothy seem valedictory.  All these letters were written to individuals or churches in order to address particular issues, to deal with needs and problems, to convey information and greetings, and to communicate feelings. Although not intentionally written in an epigrammatic way, we can lift epigrams, slogans, and promises from the letters for our own needs, for within these letters are treasures of biblical proclamation and pearls of wisdom.

The letters have different purposes and viewpoints.

Romans is Paul’s self-introduction to a church he wished to visit soon. He argues that God accounts us righteous by faith rather than works of the law. The righteousness of God is revealed in God’s justification of sinners through the atonement of Christ.

1 and 2 Corinthians consist largely of Paul’s words of teaching, advice, and reprimand to a congregation swayed by impressive teachers, who are confident in their own wisdom, and yet they lack love and spiritual maturity.

Galatians is Paul’s frustrated letter to a Gentile church. Paul points out that the Galatians already evidence of God’s power and acceptance in their lives through the gifts of the Spirit.  They must not add anything on to God’s work, especially rites like circumcision.

Ephesians and Colossians are similar letters, written (if Paul did write them) while he was imprisoned. He shows the sufficiency of Christ and God’s free salvation. In Christ we are built up as a church; Christ has removed barriers between God and us.

Philippians, another “prison letter,” is a joyful letter, warm and affirming for a congregation Paul clearly feels gratitude.

1 and 2 Thessalonians concern the second coming of Christ and the need to be watchful, though the first letter is warm and the second letter, though also warm, contains more admonishment.

1 and 2 Timothy concern the qualities of church leaders and provides advice and encouragement to Paul’s young colleague. Titus also deals with church leaders and the need to deal with false teaching.

Philemon concerns a runaway slave, Onesimus, whom Paul has helped convert, and so Paul writes Onesimus’ master about the matter, hinting strongly that Onesimus should be freed.

Hebrews is an epistolary sermon by an unknown author to an unknown group of people. The title, which is a latter addition, is based on the fair assumption that the original audience consisted of converts from Judaism, who, more than a Gentile group, would have grasped all the many references to the Hebrew scriptures and traditions. The sermon is beautiful, intricate, and argues the sufficiency of Christ compared with the angels, the prophets, and the temple.

James stresses the validity of one’s faith through the good works of one’s personal growth and one’s relationships with others. The book mentions Jesus only twice and is similar in style to Old Testament wisdom literature.

1 and 2 Peter concern the steadfastness of one’s faith in times of persecution and also in regard to false teachers.

1, 2, and 3 John all provide glimpses into the lives of the early church. 1 John, especially, teaches the need to demonstrate one’s faith through love.

Tiny little Jude, which quotes a non-canonical writing (1 Enoch 1:9), is closely related textually to 2 Peter and is concerned false teachers and apostasy.

After these brief epistles, we come to the final book, Revelation, which concerns the final times. It’s actually a letter, too (1:4), to seven Asian churches. John must be a different man than the apostle, for the book’s style is quite dissimilar from the gospel and the letters, and this author does not identify himself as an apostle. The book chronicles the many signs of the end times and is written in symbolic language that harkens back to Old Testament prophecies.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the Book of Revelation contains more references to the Old Testament than nearly any other New Testament book: nearly 200 references, allusions, and images. It thus contains an implicit summary of many Old Testament themes and images while pointing the faithful toward the future.

Here is a very incomplete list of references to Old Testament passages that one finds in Revelation. (For the purpose of having a handy list of references, I found these at the StudyJesus.com site, which gives a number of others.)

  • The image of “the son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14 connects to Rev. 1:7.
  • The image of “the kingdom of priests” in Exodus 19:6 an Isaiah 61:6 connects to Rev. 1:6.
  • Ezekiel’s vision of four living creatures and four wheels in chapter 1, and also Isaiah 6:1-4, connect with Revelation chapter 4, wherein the living creatures give God honor and glory.
  • The dwelling of God in the new heaven and earth in Isaiah 65:17ff connects to Rev 21:1-2. Also, Michael the archangel (Dan. 12:1) connects to Rev. 12:7-12.
  • The condemnation of Deuteronomy 29:19-20, with the image of being blotted out of the book of life, connects to Rev. 21:19. In fact, that article indicates: “Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15, 21:27 are based on Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1,” and also Ps. 56:8 and Malachi 3:16. All these have to do with the theme of God writing a book containing the names of the faithful.
  • The differently colored horses of Zechariah 1:7-17 and 6:1-8 connect to Revelation 6:1-8.
  • The eating of the scroll in Ezekiel 2:8-3:33 and Jeremiah 15:16 connect to Rev. 10:8-11.
  • Much of Joel 1-2, with its descriptions of plagues, droughts, and the coming day of the Lord, connects to the various events in Revelation: e.g., the locusts in Rev. 9.
  • Some of Ezekiel’s images of the restored temple in chapters 40-48, as well as Zechariah chapter 4, connect to Rev. 11:1-6 et al. Also, the restored Jerusalem in Ezekiel 48:30-35 connect to Rev. 21:12-14.
  • Genesis 49 lists the twelve tribes of Israel, in the context of Jacob’s death: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and thus they became heads of tribes. Rev. 7:1-8 describes how angels sealed the number of God’s servants out of “every tribe of the people of Israel,” and then lists the twelve tribes. Instead of the tribe of Dan we have the tribe of Manasseh, and the tribe of Joseph rather than that of Ephraim is mentioned.
  • The cities of refuge are described in Numbers 35:9-34. They were places where a person who had accidentally killed someone could flee and when the high priest died they could return home without fear of being killed out of revenge. The cities were Kedesh, Golan, Ramoth Shechem, Bezer, and Hebron. Although Rev. 12:6 doesn’t mention “cities of refuge” per se, the concept of a safe place prepared by God is there: for instance, the woman with child (representing God’s people) flees to a safe place in the wilderness where she will be nourished for 1260 days.
  • Daniel has a vision of four beasts in Dan. 7:1-8, which connects to Rev. 13:1-7, where beasts emerge from the sea. As that article indicates, the fourth beast represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the terrible Greek ruler of the Maccabean period.
  • Ezekiel 38-39 describes the prince Gog of the land of Magog. In Rev. 20:7-10, Gog and Magog become nations who are enemies of God’s people.
  • The famous story of Balaam and his donkey (Balaam’s ass, as we Sunday school kids laughed about) is found in Numbers 25:1-9, as well as 31:16. This story is echoed in Rev. 2: 14 where God scolds the church at Pergamum.
  • 14:14-20 tells of the angel reaping a grape harvest with a sickle and putting the harvest into the winepress of God’s wrath, producing copious blood. Of course, this is the reference for a line in “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as the title of the novel, The Grapes of Wrath. We find the earlier image in Joel 3:13 and Isaiah 63:1-6.
  • Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, refer to the blessings of God upon the exiles who return from captivity in Babylon. These promises connect to a passage near the conclusion of Revelations, 21:1.

The letters, like the gospels, aren’t just “about” Jesus but also witness to his living reality. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16. This verse used to bother me; aren’t Jesus’ life and teachings important? They are, but Jesus’ life and teachings can’t be disconnected with his death and resurrection, and his earthly life cannot be disconnected with the eternal life that he now shares with us, And so it is not inappropriate that much of the New Testament deals not with specifics about Jesus’ life and teachings (the letters scarcely quote Jesus’ teachings explicitly, as I mentioned in chapter 1) but the grand fact of his salvation and gifts of the Spirit. Now, as readers of this material, we too receive the first-century preaching of the Gospel of Jesus, and our lives, too, become guided and maintained by the Spirit.

Although the Bible isn’t exactly “about” the Exile, the Bible is about the history of God’s people on the land in the centuries before the Exile, and then their post-exilic hope in God’s redemption. The exilic experience pervades the Bible in many unappreciated ways. (The psalms, for instance, which so many of us esteem for our daily faith, deeply reflect the post-exilic hope of God’s people.) For Christians, the New Testament describes the fulfillment of that post-exilic hope, and the Book of Revelation brings together stands of biblical history and theology to show the final consummation of centuries of divine promises.

The Tanakh ends with books that, in the Christian Old Testament, are positioned earlier: Ezra-Nehemiah, which provides history of the return from exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple; and 1 and 2 Chronicles, which recapitulate Israelite history and emphasizes the Jewish worship and temple. In this way, the Tanakh opens to the future of Jewish life and worship. The Christian Old Testament ends with Malachi and the prophecy of Elijah’s arrival prior to the Messiah. And so, moving from Old to New, we proceed immediately to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, which connects Jesus to Hebrew history.

The whole Bible witnesses truly to our relationship with God, we should not read the Bible with the idea that each verse carries equal weight and value. For instance, Brevard Childs writes, “certain chords were sounded by Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah which resonated strongly in the New Testament (new covenant, vicarious suffering, new creation, suffering servant), while  other notes grew in intensity on which rabbinic Judaism sought to construct its faith (temple, cult, priesthood, law).”(65)

We should be humbled by the way the Bible witnesses to the imperfection of human efforts, including (perhaps especially) religious efforts. The Israelites, in their centuries of life with God, provide example after example of doubt, complaint, loss of faith, idolatry, wrongdoing, and judgment. Because the New Testament reflects a much shorter time period than the Old Testament (fewer than a hundred years, depending on the conjectural dating of some of the epistles, compared to 1600 years between Abraham and Nehemiah), we don’t see the same kind of patterns of sin-judgment-repentance in the New compared to the Old. But in the New Testament, the early Christian congregations also struggled with problems: divergence from sound teachings (2 Tim. 4:1-5), the threat of apostasy (Heb, 6:1-8), factions (1 Cor. 1:10-17), unchastity (1 Cor. 6:12-20, 1 Thess. 4:1-8), incest (1 Cor. 5:1-5), lawsuits (1 Cor. 6:1-7), disrespect of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:17-22), and others. All seven of the churches of Revelation received a scold or a warning or both. The sad history of Christian smugness and persecution toward Jews is one of the worst examples of our failure to forget that Christians are as reliant upon God’s providential care and mercy as God’s people Israel (Rom. 11:21-24).

 

The Talmud

I wrote about the Jews’ return to the land, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple during the post-exilic years 539-432 BCE (Ezra and Nehemiah), the reaffirmation of the covenant during those years, the survival of exiled Jews in Persia (Esther), and the victory of Jews over the Seleucids who tried to establish Greek worship at the Second Temple during the 2nd century BCE (1 and 2 Maccabees). While I’m in this time period, so to speak, I also want to learn more about ways that Judaism continued to survive and remain faithful to the Lord during the subsequent decades and centuries, often amid Christian persecution of Jews. The following is a brief explanation of the Talmud, the writings which have been central for Rabbinic Judaism, the mainstream form of Judaism since the 500s CE. Tragically, Talmud and its study have been the focus of anti-Semitic attacks over the centuries, with material taken out of context or completely fabricated.

As Judaism developed during the post-exilic period, the canonization of the Scriptures was one crucial development. The writing and editing of the Jewish Tanakh likely began just prior to and then during and after the exile, while canonization was a process that happened between the Hasmonean period and the 200s CE. (Canonization of the Christian Old Testament was a much longer process; in addition to the weighing-in of other councils, the councils of Carthage [397] and Trent [1546] established the Roman Catholic canon, as did Eastern authorities concerning the Orthodox Christian canon; but Martin Luther [1534] removed deuterocanonical OT books to an appendix, useful for reading but non-scriptural.)

By the first century CE, the term rabbi (“my master”) became common to refer to a learned Jewish teacher. Also by that time, competing factions existed in Judaism: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots. An ascetic group, the Essenes, also lived during this time, said to be successors of the Zadokite priests that began in the times of David and Solomon. Here is an explanation of differences among these groups: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/pharisees-sadducees-and-essenes Early Christianity emerged during this time as well.

After the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE) and the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jews found themselves in a traumatic situation that rivaled the disaster of 586 BCE. How would the faith survive without a temple? Without a priesthood? How would Jewish traditions survive? The Zealots all died at Masada in 73; the Sadducees faded from history; and the the Essenes also disappeared. The Christian sect became a predominantly Gentile religion, retaining Jewish scripture and reconfiguring aspects of Jewish theology. Jewish vitality remained with the Pharisees, who saw Jewish law as the focus of Jewish life, and they helped shift the focus from temple offerings to tzedakah, study, and synagogues.

In this situation, a tradition called the Oral Torah had to be compiled and written down. The Written Torah was the scriptural five books of Moses, but an oral tradition attributed to Moses’ teachings had been passed down over the centuries; Orthodox Jews believe that this tradition was safeguarded through the Judges and Prophets and Second Temple-era sages. After the unsuccessful revolt of Simon Bar Kochba (132-136 CE), Romans forbade Jews from returning to Jerusalem—further exiling Jews, and further necessitating a way to preserve Jewish faith and traditions. By about 200 CE, Pharisaic Judaism had segued into Rabbinic Judaism as a rabbi named Judah ha Nasi (Rabbi Judah the Patriarch) began to edit these oral traditions and discussions about Jewish law into a readable form during the early 200s CE.

The first compilation and written/edited form of the Oral Torah is called the Mishnah. Rather than a law code, it is a study book (or rather, several books) containing the varieties of discussions and opinions of the sages. Rabbi Judah drew from many sources in his compilation and recorded discussions in a way to help with memorization. These are by no means uniform opinions. If the sages differed on when morning prayers should begin, what defines a Jewish marriage, and many other topics, the differences are recorded. Here are some sample passages: https://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudMidrash/MishnahSamples.html

The Mishnah has six orders (sedarim): agriculture (Seder Zeraim), sacred times (Seder Moed), women and personal status (Seder Nashim), damages (Seder Nezikin), holy things (Seder Nodashim), and purity laws (Seder Tohorot). Each order is divided into tractates, and each tractate has chapters, and each chapter contains halakhot (laws) of the Tannaim, who were the sages from the era of the Mishnah (like Rabbis Akiva, Hillel, Shammai, and many others: see this site).

The word Tosefta means “addition,” and the Tosefta is a body of material that further explains Torah laws, details about laws, and provides extra material to the Mishnah. The Tosefta is three times as large as the Mishnah, although it is also structured with six orders. There are different theories as to whether the Tosefta is older than the Mishnah and was originally and independent body of opinion, or whether it was compiled and written later in order to broaden the material of the Mishnah, which does not include rabbinic discussions preserved in the Tosefta. Editions of the Babylonian Talmud provide the Tosefta at the end of each tractate.

What is the Talmud? Talmud is the comprehensive collection of the Oral Law that encompasses the Mishnah (200s CE) and the Gemara (500s CE). Talmud is discussion of the Mishnah but also the Mishnah itself.

The word Gemara (from the word gamar study) refers to the rabbinic commentary discussions about the Mishnah. You could say that the Talmud is the Mishnah plus Gemara, with material from the Tosefta as well. The sages of the Gemara (the period 200-500 CE) are referred to with the term Amoraim (see this site); the Amoraim expounded on and explained the Oral Law transmitted by the earlier Tannaim.

The site “My Jewish Learning” has this: “Although it is organized in accordance with the structure of the six orders of the Mishnah, mishnaic teaches are, for the Gemara, the launch pad for diverse topics: prayer, holy days, agriculture, sexual habits, contemporary medical knowledge, superstitutions, crumble and civil law. The Germara contains both Halakhah (legal material) and Aggadah (narrative material). [My emphasis] Aggadah includes historical material, biblical commentaries, philosophy, theology, and wisdom liberature. Stories reveal information about life in ancient ties, among Jews and between Jews and their neighbors, and folk customs. All of these genres are blended together with the halakhic material, in what is sometimes described as a stream-of-conscious fashion filled with meaningful tangents and digressions… [T]he Gemara … explains unclear words or phrasing [in the Mishnah]… provides precedents or examples to assist in application of the law and offers alternative opinions from sages of the Mishnah and their contemporaries [Tannaim]. Whereas the Mishnah barely cites biblical verses, the Gemara for every law discussed introduces these connections between the biblical text and the practices and legal opinions of its time. It also extends and restricts applications of various laws, and even adds laws on issues left out of the Mishnah entirely…. Multiple opinions of sages are weighed against one another, often without presenting a conclusion.” myjewishlearning.com/article/gemara-the-essence-of-the-talmud

There are two versions of the Talmud; the second and later one is the more comprehensive. Scholars of the Land of Israel (especially the Galilean cities of Tiberias and Caesarea) published what is now called the Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) during the period 350-400 CE. Unfortunately, Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, persecuted Jews and the Jerusalem Talmud remained incomplete. Meanwhile, scholars at Jewish academies in Sura, Pumbedita, and Mata Mehasia published their own discussions in about 500 CE: this material is called the Talmud Bavli, or the Babylonian Talmud. Usually, the words Gemara and Talmud refer to the Babylonian Talmud. The language of the both Talmuds are dialects of Hebrew and Aramaic.

Long after the Amoraim, rabbinic commentators continued to discuss the law and the opinions of the sages, and so the Talmud was never a “finished” body of work. Not surprisingly, it is a vast work, running several volumes, and has been translated into English. Here is a site that provides the Bavli in Hebrew and English translation: https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud Notice how it’s organized according to the Mishnah sedarim that I listed above: agriculture (Zeraim), sacred times (Moed), women and personal status (Nashim), damages (Nezikin), holy things (Kodashim), and purity laws (Tohorot).

Different bodies within Judaism today view the Talmud differently. To generalize: Orthodox Jews consider the Oral Torah as inspired and authoritative, of Mosaic origin; Conservative Jews also honor the sanctity of Oral Torah and view Talmud as complementary to Torah study; Reform Jews retain Talmud studies in rabbinical seminaries but do not consider the Talmud as binding today.

Another, smaller body of material is the Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of Our Fathers”), a text which is often published separately and found in many prayer books, and which has inspired its own commentaries. Technically, the Pirkei Avot is part of the Mishnah, specifically the ninth tractate (with six chapters) in the Seder Nezikin, which in turn is the fourth order of the Mishnah. The Pirkei Avot is popular because it provides ethical principles of the rabbis and give us a sense of who they were and their devotion to Torah. “The worldview espoused by the rabbis quoted here emphasizes learning, service of God, discipleship, ethical behavior, humility, and fair judgment… A rabbi is introduced, often, but not always, as a disciple or son of the preceding rabbi, and the text then offers one or more teachings by this rabbi” (myjewishlearning.com/article/pirkei-avot-ethics-of-our-fathers/ )

For all of this material, I relied upon the helpful articles at the site My Jewish Learning (myjewishlearning.com). Subsequently I made a donation to the site. More detailed articles on the Mishnah and Talmud can be found at jewishencyclopedia.com and jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mishnah. My grateful thanks goes out to an esteemed Jewish friend and colleague who read and commented on the essay; any remaining errors are mine.

It’s a depressing coincidence, that King Louis IX of France (St. Louis) was a persecutor of Jews who ordered Talmud scrolls confiscated, while the German ship the MS St. Louis (named for the city) carried Jewish refugees from Germany in 1939 but was turned away from the U.S., Canada, and Cuba, and many of those Jews perished in the Holocaust. On the other hand, St. Louis City and County has a strong and diverse Jewish community today.

 

The Apocrypha, Anagignoskomena, and Deuterocanonical books

The Apocrypha are books that Protestant Old Testaments omit, because these books are not found in the Jewish Bible (that is, the Masoretic text, the Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Tanakh as accepted in Rabbinic Judaism). The Apocrypha is Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch (including the Letter of Jeremiah), and 1 and 2 Maccabees, plus extra material in Esther and Daniel. (The additions to Daniel include the story of Susanna, the Prayer of Azariah, and the Song of the Three Holy Children.) Roman Catholics include these books as deuterocanonical, “second canon.”

The Eastern Orthodox Old Testament includes these books plus 1 Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Maccabees. Orthodox Christians use the word Anagignoskomena (“worthy to be read”) for the deuterocanonical books–and, like the Catholics (and unlike the Protestants) integrate the books among the canonical books rather than placing them in a separate section. One or two Orthodox traditions include 4 Maccabees, the Book of Odes, and Psalm 151.

There is no mystery or intrigue about it, no “suppressing” of bombshell texts, but the history is long and involves several councils of the church and rabbinical decisions within Judaism. As my Harper Bible Commentary describes them, the Apocrypha includes historiography (1 and 2 Maccabees), historical fiction (Tobit, Judith, and 3 Maccabees), an apocalypse (2 Esdras), sapiential works (Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon), exhortations (4 Maccabees and the Letter of Jeremiah), and prayers (Prayer of Manasseh and Prayer of Azariah) (p. 760). The Book of Odes is a collection of songs and prayers from both Testaments, and Psalm 151 is an Eastern Orthodox canonical work found in the Septuagint but not the Masoretic text.

The book of Tobit follows Nehemiah.

As the story begins, Tobit is one of the Jews deported by the Assyrians to Ninevah, during Shalmaneser’s reign in about 721 BCE. He was of the tribe of Naphtali, married Anna, and they had a son Tobias. He was devout in his faith even in the foreign situation. For instance, he buried his kinsman who had died because of the king. Burial of the dead made one spiritually unclean because of contact with the corpse, but it was also a great act of love and righteousness, providing care and dignity to someone who obviously cannot thank you. When Sennacherib died, the new king appointed Tobit’s nephew as chief minster, and so Tobit—with Tobias’ help—continued to do good. Unforunately, as Tobit slept outdoors one night, he was blinded by sparrow droppings that fell into his eyes.

Meanwhile, as Tobit prayed for the restoration of his sight, a widowed woman named Sarah prayed for a husband. All her new husbands had been killed by the demon Asmodmus. Scholars note the similarity of Tobit’s story with folktales like “the Grateful Dead” and “the Deadly Bride.” In this case, the angel Raphael comes to the rescue as God hears the prayers of Sarah and Tobit in their separate situations.

Disheartened and thinking that death is near, Tobit sent Tobias to retrieve some money left in the care of a man named Gabael who lived off in Media. Tobias goes, accompanied by companion Raphael, whom Tobias doesn’t realize is an angel. At one point, Tobias washes in the Tigris river and a fish bites his foot. Raphael tells him to gut the fish and save its heart, liver, and gall.

Tobias and Raphael stay at the house of kinsman Raguel—who happens to be the father of widowed Sarah. Tobias asks to marry her but is warned about her husbands who had died. But Raphael instructs Tobias to use the fish’s heart and liver with incense, that that drives the demon away, saving Tobias from death.

Following the wedding celebration, Tobias receives the money from Gabael and, with Sarah, returns to Tobit and Anna. Again with Raphael’s instruction, Tobias places the fish’s gall on Tobit’s eyes, and he regains his sight.

Tobit offers Raphael some of the money in gratitude, but Raphael reveals his true identity as an angel. Tobit prays to God in thankfulness for God’s mercies.

In his later years, Tobit blesses his son and dies, ages 158 years. Tobias eventually dies, too, aged 127.

The book of Judith, which follows Tobit in the Deuterocanonical/Anagignoskomena order, purports to tell of events in the Assyrian era of Israel’s history but is likely from the era of the Maccabees. We are alerted that this is a fictional story, because King Nebuchadnezzar is said to be the Assyrian king—but he was actually the Babylonian ruler.

In part 1 of the book of Judith (chapters 1-7), Holofernes is the commander of Assyrian armies that attack Israel. The king ordered the attacks—not only against Israel but other nations—in response to their refusal to join his campaign against the Medes. Holofernes lay siege to the Israelite town of Bethulia, through which he could advance to Jerusalem. He is advised that the Israelites cannot be conquered unless they first sin against God—but after a month’s siege, the Bethulians are about to surrender. Fortunately, a local header named Uzziah is able to affect a five-day postponement.

Judith appears in Part 2. She was a widow, and strongly objected to the five-day compromise. Honoring God with a prayer for help, she basically asks God to help her lie effectively. She goes to the enemy camp, lies her way in to see Holofernes, and deceives him as well. Smitten with her, and eager to seduce her, he invites her to a banquet. But before he can make any moves, so to speak, he becomes very drunk and passes out. Judith takes his sword, beheads him with two blows, and she and her maid leave the camp with his head in a bag. Returning to Bethulia, Judith showed everyone the severed head, praised God for his help and protection, and urged the men to attack the Assyrians the next day. They do so, successful.

Judith is a hero and sings praises to God. Never remarrying, she lives to the age of 105.

Perhaps because of her feminine sexuality combined with her bold, male-shaming heroism, Judith has been depicted by many artists: Donatello, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Titian, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Caravaggio, Gentileschi, Klimt, Stuck, and numerous others. Beth and I saw the Klimt at the Belvedere in Vienna a few years ago.

The Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia, https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/judith-apocrypha , has a good summary of the book of Judith. You can certainly see the connection of Judith with the judge Deborah, also a fearless champion of her people, and with David, too, in the way she decapitates a dangerous enemy. The author notes that several women of the Bible told lies that had positive consequences—which is an interesting aspect of the Bible narratives! Besides Judith the women are Rebekah, Tamar, the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, Rahab, and Jael.

My Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible notes, that Judith “is a joyous and triumphant book. It revels in the unexpected way the People of God is delivered.” Judith’s fidelity to God along with her confident use of her own femininity–as her ability to deceive believably–makes it a wonderfully compelling story (p. 1472).

Continuing with these texts:

1 Maccabees 
is a deuterocanonical book in the Roman Catholic (the term for Easter Orthodox Bibles is Anagignoskomena). 1 Maccabees is found in the Greek Septuagint but not in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, nor in Protestant Old Testaments. Canonical or not, it is an important account of this period of Second Temple Judaism, the decades of Judean independence prior to the Roman occupation, and is the source for the minor Jewish festival Hanukkah. (Here is a good Catholic site about the book. Some Catholic Bibles place 1 and 2 Maccabees after Esther, while other Catholic Bibles place the books at the end, after Malachi.)

1 Maccabees covers about forty years, 174 to 134 BCE. Remember that the Prophets, date from the end of the Northern Kingdom in the 700s BCE (Isaiah) down to the 400s BCE of the Persian period (Malachi), while parts of Daniel probably date from the Maccabean period. So the Jewish Bible and Protestant Old Testament end historically with the 400s of the Persian period, with apocalyptic writings in Daniel dating from the Maccabean era, while the churches with deuterocanonical books carry the Old Testament history solidly into the 100s BCE.

Back to 1 Maccabees: At the time, Judah (by now called Judea) is ruled by the Seleucid Empire, the Greek domination that followed Alexander the Great’s empire. Greek culture was influential for Judaism, including the translation of the Bible into Greek; but Greek disrespect for Jewish practices lead to the Jew’s revolt against the Greeks, which is the subject of the book. 1 Macc. 1:1-9:22 concerns the rule of Mattathias, aka Judah the Maccabee (the word means “hammer”), aka Judas Maccabeus. 1 Maccabees 9:23-12:53 focuses on the rule of Judah’s successor Jonathan, and chapters 13-16 concern the rule of Simon.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes, one of the villains of Jewish history, was the Seleucid emperor who launched a bloody attack on Jerusalem, taxes the people, forbids Jewish practices, and then desecrates the Jewish temple by establishing pagan rituals there, including the slaughter of non-kosher animals.

Judas leads the people in ultimately successful campaigns against the Greeks, though at a high cost in casualties. When the temple is retaken and re-consecrated, Judas and his brothers and the whole assembly established a festival of the 25th day of Chislev (Hanukkah) to commemorate the dedication (1 Macc. 4:59).

(Here are good source concerning Hanukkah: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hannukah and http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday7.htm. I was surprised to learn that the famous story of the lamp–which burned for eight days with only one day of oil–is from the Talmud [Shabbat 21b] rather than Maccabees: http://cojs.org/babylonian_talmud_shabbat_21b-_the_significance_of_hanukkah/ )

Judas’ brother Jonathan becomes high priest and succeeds him. He gains an alliance with Sparta and seeks positive relations with Rome. Later, Simon succeeds him, both as high priest and priest of Judah. He has a successful period of rule until he is murdered by the Greek governor of the region. Simon’s son John Hyrcanus succeeds Simon. This “Hasmonian dynasty” was not a Davidic dynasty but did bring about independence for Jews in the land—encompassing much of the earlier territories—for about a hundred years, first in semi-autonomous relations with the Seleucids and then fully independent until conquered by the Romans in 63 BCE.

2 Maccabees does not, as you might think, continue the history. It begins with letters written by Palestinian Jews to Egyptian Jews, and then becomes an abridgment of a now-lost history by Jason of Cyrene about the Maccabean revolt under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus. The book also includes the stories of Jewish martyres Eleazar, seven brothers, and their mother, under Antiochus’ reign. As this site indicates, it is a very laudatory book toward Judas and Jewish heroism; it includes information not found in 1 Maccabees, and it references Esther. 2 Maccabees is also part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canon.

In the online Jewish encyclopedia (http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10237-maccabees-books-of ), that author writes: “One important fact to be noted is the writer’s belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead (see vii. 9, 11, 14, 36; xiv. 16; and especially xii. 43-45). This, together with his attitude toward the priesthood as shown in his lifting the veil which I Maccabees had drawn over Jason and Menelaus, led [scholars] Bertholdt and Geiger to regard the author as a Pharisee and the work as a Pharisaic party document. This much, at least, is true—the writer’s sympathies were with the Pharisees.” Because of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, 2 Maccabees also provides an important theological bridge to the New Testament period.

In fact, 2 Maccabees may be alluded to in the New Testament, especially Hebrews 11:35, “Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection” (NRSV). This does not fit any Old Testament story but does fit the story of the seven brothers in 2 Maccabees 7.

3 Maccabees is found in the Eastern Orthodox canon but not in the Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic canons. 3 Maccabees is not set during the Maccabean age at all but shares with those books the wonderful intervention of God on behalf of God’s people. In this book, Egyptian Jews are persecuted by another Seleucid ruler, Ptolemy IV Philopator, who reigned in 221-203 BCE). Again, Jews are hated because they don’t worship foreign gods, in this case Dionysus, but the story includes a different kind of Gentile persecution: letting inebriated elephants trample imprisoned Jews to death! Ptolemy’s inconsistency, however, and also the intervention of two angels, allow the Jews to be spared.

4 Maccabees is not canonical in any Jewish tradition, nor in any Christian canon except the Georgian Orthodox Church. Another important text for understanding the Second Temple period, the book is a homily to encourage Hellenistic Jews to stay devoted to Torah (18:1) and to hold courageously to “devout reason” that is “sovereign over the emotions” (e.g., 16:1). A sizable portion of the book describes (in gruesome detail) story of 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42: the martrydom of Eleazer, and the seven brothers and their mother. Stories of martyrs are important in many religions, to help build courage to believers in times of trial. In Judaism, martyrdom is one example of Kiddush HaShem, “sanctification of the name” (of God) through holiness and witness.

Interestingly, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s Bible contains three books–1, 2, and 3 Meqabyan–not found in any other Christian canon, which are different in content from the Maccabees books. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meqabyan

The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), are Roman Catholic deuterocanonical books, and are also included among the Anagignoskomenon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They follow Song of Songs and precede Isaiah. They are not found in the Jewish Bible, nor the Protestant Old Testament.

According to scholarly consensus, the Book of Wisdom, or the Wisdom of Solomon, was written in Greek by a Jew of Alexandria, somewhere between 100 BCE and the middle of the first century CE. (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1419). Using a common writing technique of the time, the author writes under the guise of a well-known person, in this case Solomon. Thus, it is a pseudepigraphical work.

The Book of Wisdom has two parts. Chapters 1 through 9 reflect on wisdom from a speculative viewpoint, connecting wisdom to human destiny and the life of the righteous. The author particularly urges monarchs to search for wisdom. The first section can be read as having two parts; chapters 1-5 connects wisdom with immortality and the afterlife, while chapter 6-9 becomes more like the Book of Proverbs and epigrammatically teaches the value of wisdom and the search or wisdom.

In chapters 10-19, the author looks at wisdom through the lens of scriptural history, beginning with Adam and progressing through the times of Moses and the Exodus. The author writes about how Wisdom guided biblical figures from Adam to Moses (10:1-14), and then he writes about Moses and the people in their experience in Egypt and the Wilderness (10:15-19:22).

A Roman Catholic site, http://www.usccb.org/bible/wisdom/0, explains more about the book: “The primary purpose of the author was the edification of his co-religionists in a time when they had experienced suffering and oppression, in part at least at the hands of apostate fellow Jews. To convey his message he made use of the most popular religious themes of his time, namely the splendor and worth of divine wisdom (6:22–11:1), the glorious events of the exodus (11:2–16; 12:23–27; 15:18–19:22), God’s mercy (11:17–12:22), the folly of idolatry (13:1–15:17), and the manner in which God’s justice operates in rewarding or punishing the individual (1:1–6:21). The first ten chapters in particular provide background for the teaching of Jesus and for some New Testament theology about Jesus. Many passages from this section of the book, notably 3:1–8, are used by the church in the liturgy. …”

Ecclesiasticus, or Sirach, or the Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, all refer to the same book. As I wrote above, Sirach is accepted as part of the Christian Old Testament by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, but not by Protestants, although a few Protestant churches honor it as worthy of reading if not of doctrine. It is not found in the Jewish Bible, probably because of its late authorship, but the book was influential in Talmudic discussions.

Interestingly, Sirach 28:2 reads, “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” Did Jesus quote that verse in the Lord’s Prayer?

Jesus ben Sira (“son of Sirach”) was a Jewish scribe of Jerusalem who wrote during the approximate period 200-175 BCE. Although originally written in Hebrew, the book was finally not included in Jewish scripture, though some early rabbis treasured its contents (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1452).

Similar to Proverbs, though a little longer, it is a widely ranging compilation of wisdom teaching that, consequently, warns about ungodly living. “[Author Ben Sira] joined individual sayings by means of common words or citing themes. This way he developed a topic and explained its implications for his own day. He preferred the longer instructional form that is sometimes found in Proverbs rather than the simple proverbial sense. Like Proverbs, Sirach begins with a hymn to Woman Wisdom.. and ends with an acrostic or alphabetic poem…” (ibid, p. 1452).

Also similar to Proverbs, it is not really arranged thematically, but it does have themes. Wikipedia cites the New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha to point out six poems about the search for wisdom—-1:1-10, 4:11-19; 6:18-37; 14:20-15:10; 24:1-33; and 38:24-39:11—and the major themes include:

The Creation (16:24-17:24, 18:1-14; 33:7-15; 39:12-35; and 42:15-43:33).

Death (11:26-28; 22:11-12; 38:16-23; and 41:1-13).

Friendship (6:5-17; 9:10-16: 19:13-17; 22:19-26: 27:16-21; and 36:23-37:15).

Happiness (25:1-11; 30:14-25; and 40:1-30).

Honor and shame (4:20-6:4; 10:19-11:6; and 41:14-42:8).

Money matters (3:30-4:10; 11:7-28; 13:1-14:19; 29:1-28; and 31:1-11).

Sin (7:1-17; 15:11-20; 16:1-17:32; 18:30-19:3; 21:1-10; 22:27-23:27; and 26:28-28:7).

Social justice (4:1-10; 34:21-27; and 35:14-26).

Speech (5:6,9-15; 18:15-29; 19:4-17; 20:1-31; 23:7-15; 27:4-7; 27:11-15; and 28:8-26).

Women (9:1-9; 23:22-27; 25:13-26:27; 36:26-31; and 42:9-14).

See more about Sirach here: http://biblescripture.net/Sirach.html and here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05263a.htm
Book of Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah.

In Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles (though not in the Jewish Bible and the Protestant Old Testament), the Book of Baruch (or 1 Baruch) follows Lamentations. The ascribed author is Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch ben Neriah, but the book was probably written during or after the Maccabean period. The five chapters concern the history of Israel and the crisis of exile.

Chapter 6 of Baruch is called the Letter (or Epistle) of Jeremiah and is addressed to exiles in Babylon. Orthodox Bibles has this letter as a stand-alone book that follows Baruch, while in Roman Catholic Bibles the letter is the last chapter/ appendix of Baruch

Septuagint additions to Daniel

The Septuagint translation of Daniel contains the following additional material.

The Prayer of Azariahand Song of the Three Jews(or the Three Holy Youths) appear after Daniel 3:23 as verses 24-90. This section provides more material on the incident of the fiery furnace.
Susanna is chapter 13 of Daniel: the virtuous Susanna is falsely accused of promiscuity and sentenced to death. But Daniel confronts her accusers, and when their stories do not match up, they are sentenced to death instead.
Bel and the Dragonis chapter 14 of Daniel in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. First Daniel berates the priests of the idol Bel. Then Daniel kills a dragon (a living dragon!) that the Babylonians revered: Daniel concocts a poisonous recipe that causes the beast to burst open. For that, Daniel was again sentenced to die in the lions’ den, and again he survived through God’s great help.

Books of Esdras

As a biblical figure, Ezra is so significant, that other books carry his name. The apocalyptic book 2 Esdras is called 4 Esdras in the Roman Catholic apocrypha. Although this 2 Esdras/4 Esdras is an apocryphal book, some Roman Catholic Bibles refer to Ezra and Nehemiah as 1 and 2 Esdras. To make things more confusing, Eastern Orthodox Bibles name Ezra-Nehmiah as 2 Esdras, with 1 Esdras being an ancient Greek version that is nearly the same text as Ezra (which, as part of the Hebrew Bible, is originally Hebrew and Aramaic)—and this Greek 1 Esdras is called 3 Esdras in the Roman Catholic apocrypha.

Additions to Esther

The Septuagint text of Esther contains additional text concerning Esther herself: Esther 13:8–14:19; 15:1–16).

Book of Odes, found only in Eastern Orthodox Bibles following the Psalms, is a set of prayers attributed to several biblical figures.

The Prayer of Manasseh, another Septuagint text that follows the Odes in the Eastern Orthodox Bibles, is a prayer of repentance attributed to the most wicked king of Judah (2 Kings 21:1–182 Chronicles 33:1–9).

Psalm 151, another Septuagint text, is found in Eastern Orthodox as well as Armenian canons.

 

 

 

Here is my list of connections among Bible passages, especially where people, places and ideas are linked theologically across the two testaments.

The connections between the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and the New Testament:
• The Creation and New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Rev. 21:1)
• Adam and the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21)
• The faith of Abraham, in some important ways the key to the whole Bible (Gen. 12:1-3, Rom. 4, Heb. 11:8-22)
• Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 22, Rom. 8:32)
• The manna in the wilderness and the Eucharistic bread (Ex. 16:1-21, John 6:25-40).
• The covenant, the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and the Eucharist (Ex. 24:3-8; Lev. 7:12, 22:29, Ps. 107:22, 116:17, Amos 4:5, Mark 14:22-25 and parallels, 1 Cor. 11:25)
• The healing serpent and the healing of Christ (Num. 21:8-9; John 3:14-15)
• The condemnation in Deuteronomy of a condemned criminal “hanging on a tree” (Deut. 21:22-23; John 19:31, Gal. 3:13)
• The salvation of Noah’s ark (Gen. 6:9-9:29; Luke 17:22-32; 1 Peter 3:20-21)
• The role of Moses (Heb. 3:1-6, 11:23-28, et al.)
• Moses’ shining face (Ex. 34:29-35, 1 Cor. 3:12-18)
• The drink offering (Ex. 29:38-41, Lev. 23:12, 13, 18, Phil. 2:12-18, 2 Tim. 4:6-8)
• The priesthood of Aaron (Ex. 29:1-9, Lev. 16, Heb. 7:11-14, 9:1-10:18)
• Sacrifices (Lev. 1, 3, 4, Rom. 3:21-26, Heb. 7:26-28, 9:11-28)
• The “rest” of the Promised Land (Heb. 3:7-4:13)
• The Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11, 31:12-17, Deut. 5:12-15, Matt. 12:-18)
• The Pascal Lamb (Ex. 12:11; 1 Cor. 5:7)
• The two great commandments (Deut. 6:4-5, Lev. 19:18, Mark 12:28-34, Gal. 5:14).
• The tabernacle as God’s dwelling place (Exodus 25:1-31:17; John 1:14; also the curtain of the tabernacle and later the temple, Matt. 27:51, Heb. 10:19-20)
• The bread of the presence (Ex. 25:30, Lev. 24:8-9, Heb. 9:1-2)

Connections between the historical books (Joshua through Esther) and the New Testament:
• The great theme of Yahweh’s salvation. The name “Joshua” is in Hebrew the same name as “Jesus,” meaning “Yahweh saves.”
• The theme of the Land. The Land is not spiritualized in the Old Testament the way that it tends to be in the New. In the Old, we speak of the actual land and its possession. Deutero-Isaiah begins to move in a more spiritual direction (Isa. 44:24ff, 49:14ff), and in the New Testament, Jesus himself becomes the “place” where God dwells (John 1:14).
• The theme of the Kingdom of God. The phrase is not used in the Old Testament, but the kingdom of God is the principle theme of Jesus’ preaching and connects with God’s sovereignty through Israel’s history.
• The theme of a new kind of monarchy under David’s descendant, Jesus. In his person and work, Jesus brings themes like the Lamb of God, the sufferings of David, and the suffering servant of Isaiah into the theme of the king of Israel: thus, when Jesus is killed, the charge against him is “king of the Jews.” But in his suffering and death is victory over sin and death, and the ambiguities of the Israelite monarchy are understood to be resolved.
• The theme of the Temple. The New Testament never explicitly mentions the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, an odd omission considering the conjectural dating of some of the New Testament books to after the year 70. Jesus quotes Jeremiah concerning the Temple, and he himself is understood to be the new temple (John 2:20-22). Paul, in turn, calls each of us “temples of the Holy Spirit” in that God’s presence dwells within us (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
• The realities of post-exilic Judaism provide a more subtle connection. Groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees , as well as the Essenes and Zealots, formed in response to the needs of the people during the post-exilic time, as did institutions like synagogues, Sabbath requirements, and festivals to which Jews—many living in different parts of the world after the exile—came to Jerusalem (e.g., John 11:55 and also Acts 2:5-11).
• Not only is the exile a decisive turning point for the whole Bible—a climax of a long drama but also a new beginning for Jews and later for Christians—scholars hypothesize that the compilations and editing of law codes and historical materials happened as during and after the exile. Thus, the exile and the restoration necessitated the composition of the Bible itself.
• Of course, the Jews who became the first Christians were post-exilic Jews who, like other Jews, looked to an even greater restoration of Israel’s fortunes. The Christians saw that restoration and monarchical fulfillment in the Jew Jesus, and they based that hope upon exilic texts like Isaiah 40-66.
• Exilic language flavors many Christian hymns, especially those that refer to our heavenly home to which we live in hope. In childhood Vacation Bible School, I learned that peppy song “Do Lord” with its evocation of “Glory Land.” I also learned “Bringing in the Sheaves,” based on the post-exilic Psalm 136 and the struggle of returning exiles to reestablish agriculture.
Connections between the writings (Job through Song of Songs) and the New Testament:
• Proverbs is often quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. Some of the New Testament’s most well known passages allude to (and sometimes directly quote) particular Proverbs. Jesus’ words about the wise man and the foolish man who built their homes on rock and sand echo Proverbs 10:25 and 12:7. Jesus also echoes Proverbs 3:28, 11:4, 11:17, 11:28, 16:19, and 30:8-9 during his Sermon on the Mount. Proverbs 25:21-22 admonishes the wise to take care of one’s enemy rather than retaliate, and the Apostle Paul makes use of the saying in Romans 12:20. Jesus’ maturity (Luke 2:52) echoes Proverbs 3:4 Jesus also alludes to Proverbs 16:1, 18:21, 24:12, 25:6-7, 27:1, 28:24, 29:23 in the course of his teaching (see Matt. 10:19-20, 12:36-37, 16:27, Luke 14:7-11, Luke 12:16-21, Matt. 15:4, 6, Luke 14:11 and 18:14b, respectively).
• The Psalms are also frequently referenced in the New Testament: 2, 22, 34, 69, 78, 89, 110, and 118 especially, but also 33, 35, 39, 50, 102, 105, 106, 107, 116, 119, 135, 145, and 147. Several psalm passages are understood to be fulfilled in or connected to Jesus (Matt. 13:35 and Ps. 78:3, John 19:24 and Ps. 22:18, John 19:36 and Ps. 34:20, Acts 2:25-35 and Ps. 16:8-11, 132:11, and 110:1). Psalm 110:1 is a particularly important image for New Testament Christology, as is Psalm 110:4 for the author of Hebrews regarding the priesthood of Melchizedek.
• We also find connections in Acts 4:11 and Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:25-26 and Psalm 2:1, Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:10 and Psalm 102:25, and notably Hebrews 1:13 and Psalm 110:1.
• * The blamelessness and suffering of Job connects to those qualities of Christ. Also, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, without specifically referencing or alluding to Job, is in harmony with Job’s values and also promises grace to those who suffer.
• A traditional, allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs is: the song is about God and Israel, and Christ and the church.

Connections between the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) and the New Testament

• John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mark 9:1, Luke 1:17)
• Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6, Luke 1:30-33.
• Jesus’ authority and teaching (Isa. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Matt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)
• Jesus the good shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, Psalm 23, John 10:7-11)
• Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Matt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Luke 4:17-21)
• Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Gen. 49:10-11, Matt. 21:4-5)
• Jesus the bridegroom (Isa. 54:5-8, Eph. 55:22-23)
• Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)
• Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Matt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)
• The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)
• The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:1, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)
• “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)
• Living Water (Isa. 12:3, Zech. 14:8, John 4:1-42, and John 7:37-39 at the feast of the tabernacles)
• The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)
• The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)
• Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)(64)
• The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, much of the book of Zechariah, Ez. 38-39). In fact, in a previous chapter I noted several Old Testament references in Revelation and noted that no other New Testament book quotes or alludes to the Old Testament as often.
• The issue of the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness, as I said above; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). A passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34).
• The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there. In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy. You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, the Gentiles, bringing them into the circle of blessing.
• Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.) and possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).
• Related to the redemption of the nations, is the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)
• Many New Testament images of the end times come from the Old Testament: e.g., Daniel 7:1-12:13, much of the book of Zechariah, Ez. 38-39, etc. In fact, in another page on this site, I note that no other New Testament book quotes or alludes to the Old Testament as often as the Book of Revelation.
• The prophetic approach to the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness, as I said above; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). A passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34)
• The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there. (See my post on this site concerning the needy.) In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy. You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God demands justice for the poor and powerless (see, for instance, Luke’s gospel) also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, the Gentiles, bringing them into the circle of blessing.
• Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.) and possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).
A few of the many Old Testament passages used or alluded to in the Revelation of John.

(For the purpose of having a handy list of references, I found these at the StudyJesus.com site, which
gives a number of others.)

• The image of “the son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14 connects to Rev. 1:7.
• The image of “the kingdom of priests” in Exodus 19:6 an Isaiah 61:6 connects to Rev. 1:6.
• Ezekiel’s vision of four living creatures and four wheels in chapter 1, and also Isaiah 6:1-4, connect with Revelation chapter 4, wherein the living creatures give God honor and glory.
• The dwelling of God in the new heaven and earth in Isaiah 65:17ff connects to Rev 21:1-2. Also, Michael the archangel (Dan. 12:1) connects to Rev. 12:7-12.
• The condemnation of Deuteronomy 29:19-20, with the image of being blotted out of the book of life, connects to Rev. 21:19. In fact, that article indicates: “Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15, 21:27 are based on Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1,” and also Ps. 56:8 and Malachi 3:16. All these have to do with the theme of God writing a book containing the names of the faithful.
• The differently colored horses of Zechariah 1:7-17 and 6:1-8 connect to Revelation 6:1-8.
• The eating of the scroll in Ezekiel 2:8-3:33 and Jeremiah 15:16 connect to Rev. 10:8-11.
• Much of Joel 1-2, with its descriptions of plagues, droughts, and the coming day of the Lord, connects to the various events in Revelation: e.g., the locusts in Rev. 9.
• Some of Ezekiel’s images of the restored temple in chapters 40-48, as well as Zechariah chapter 4, connect to Rev. 11:1-6 et al. Also, the restored Jerusalem in Ezekiel 48:30-35 connect to Rev. 21:12-14.
• Genesis 49 lists the twelve tribes of Israel, in the context of Jacob’s death: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and thus they became heads of tribes. Rev. 7:1-8 describes how angels sealed the number of God’s servants out of “every tribe of the people of Israel,” and then lists the twelve tribes. Instead of the tribe of Dan we have the tribe of Manasseh, and the tribe of Joseph rather than that of Ephraim is mentioned.
• The cities of refuge are described in Numbers 35:9-34. They were places where a person who had accidentally killed someone could flee and when the high priest died they could return home without fear of being killed out of revenge. The cities were Kedesh, Golan, Ramoth Shechem, Bezer, and Hebron. Although Rev. 12:6 doesn’t mention “cities of refuge” per se, the concept of a safe place prepared by God is there: for instance, the woman with child (representing God’s people) flees to a safe place in the wilderness where she will be nourished for 1260 days.
• Daniel has a vision of four beasts in Dan. 7:1-8, which connects to Rev. 13:1-7, where beasts emerge from the sea. As that article indicates, the fourth beast represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the terrible Greek ruler of the Maccabean period.
• Ezekiel 38-39 describes the prince Gog of the land of Magog. In Rev. 20:7-10, Gog and Magog become nations who are enemies of God’s people.
• The famous story of Balaam and his donkey (Balaam’s ass, as we Sunday school kids laughed about) is found in Numbers 25:1-9, as well as 31:16. This story is echoed in Rev. 2: 14 where God scolds the church at Pergamum.
• Rev. 14:14-20 tells of the angel reaping a grape harvest with a sickle and putting the harvest into the winepress of God’s wrath, producing copious blood. Of course, this is the reference for a line in “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as the title of the novel, The Grapes of Wrath. We find the earlier image in Joel 3:13 and Isaiah 63:1-6.
• Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, refer to the blessings of God upon the exiles who return from captivity in Babylon. These promises connect to a passage near the conclusion of Revelations, 21:1.

Michelangelo’s Zechariah

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

Here are some thoughts, which I wrote four years ago, about the Twelve Minor Prophets.

The “minor prophets” of the Bible are “minor” in the sense that they’re short, compared to the major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. In the Jewish Bible (Tanakh), they are one book, Trei Asar or the Twelve, and as such, the Twelve are the last book of the Neviim, or prophets, which in turn is the middle section of the Tanakh. (See this site.) According to the Talmud (Gemara Bava Basra 14b), the books were sufficiently short that the scrolls might have been lost, so they were preserved together on a single scroll. (See also this site for that information and much else about these prophets.)

In the Christian Old Testament, these prophets are separated into twelve separate books and are the last books of the testament. That’s how many of us are accustomed to reading them, if we do indeed study them.

Altogether, the Twelve have 67 chapters, which is only one chapter longer than Isaiah. Like the major prophets, the Twelve are concerned with the events of the Israelite kingdoms following the division (after Solomon’s death) into the northern kingdom Israel and the southern kingdom Judah. Israel is conquered by the Assyrians in 722-721 BCE, and Judah is conquered by the Babylonians in 587-586 BCE, who also destroy Jerusalem and take the people into exile. After the Persians conquer the Babylonians, many of the people are able to return to the land and rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple (as recounted in Ezra and Nehemiah).

Any of the prophetic books can be tough reading. Our Sunday school class in Akron, OH tackled Hosea for a while. Then we got depressed at all the difficult and discouraging prophetic pronouncements so we switched to something more cheery: Lenten scriptures! Any of the prophetic books demand a good commentary or study book to help you know what’s going on. On the other hand, once you dig into the material, you appreciate their beauty and witness. One Jewish website (http://www.ou.org/jewishiq/treiasar/1.htm) has these words: “The voices of the Trei Asar, taken as a group, were like a great symphony, of dramatic and powerful movements. Or, using a visual metaphor, they were like a rainbow; a most appropriate metaphor, because their prophecies encompassed all the colors of the rainbow, from darkest to lightest, from the most somber to the most serene.”

A few years ago I purchased the Berit Olam set of Old Testament commentaries published by Liturgical Press. I decided to start leafing through the two volumes (published in 2000 and 2001) on the Twelve, both by Marvin Sweeney, who teaches Hebrew Bible and the History of Judaism at Claremont. I was interested in learning about the themes and concerns of the Twelve, if we were to study them together as one long book. How do they interrelate, written as they were by a dozen prophets over a 300 year span? I took the following notes from Sweeney’s interesting texts.

Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Bibles order the twelve minor prophets following the order of the Hebrew text of the Tanakh (that is, the Masoretic text): Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Many Orthodox Bibles, following the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Tanakh, or LXX), have a different order of the first six of the twelve: Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah. The reason for the different ordering is not clear. As Sweeney notes, the LXX has the benefit of common themes: Hosea, Amos, and Micah concern the norothern kingdom of Israel, especially as an example for the southern kingdom of Judah, while Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, and Habakkuk concern the foreign threat to Judah and Jerusalem, and lastly, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi speak to the restoration of Jerusalem. Also, Joel—which is difficult to place historically—becomes, in the LXX order, a general statement of God’s restoration that provides a segue point between the first three (northern) prophets and the rest of the prophets, with their themes of Judah and Jerusalem (p. 148).

To say more about the themes of the books: Hosea portrays the crisis of Israel as an example for Judah, then Joel provides a framework of punishment and restoration for Jerusalem on “the day of the Lord.” Joel also cites Amos, Obediah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, and Zephaniah, thus providing a continuity among the books that follow. With that framework and connection in mind, we move to Amos, wherein the punishment of the northern kingdom Israel is the opportunity to restore the monarchy of David. Then Obadiah preaches against Edom (the kingdom south of the Dead Sea) for threatening Jerusalem. Jonah depicts God’s mercy for Assyria. Micah also portrays the fall of the north as a framework for Jerusalem’s fall and restoration. Then Nahum condemns Assyria for its actions against Jerusalem. Habakkuk similarly condemns Babylon. Then Zephaniah preaches about the purification of Jerusalem; Zephaniah addresses the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple; Haggai preaches about the restoration of Jerusalem; Zechariah is concerned with that process of restoration, and then Malachi is concerned with the city’s final purification (pp. 148-149).

Hosea. Hosea reflects the 8th century rise of Assyria and the text depicts conflicts with the Assyrians (pp. 3-4). Sweeney writes that although Hosea is by Rabbinic tradition called the oldest of the twelve, Amos mentions Jeroboam and Uzziah and Hosea mentions the chronologically later Ahaz and Hezekiah (p. 3). Also Amos writes during the rise of Assyria before it had definitely threatened the northern kingdom. But still, he writes, “Hosea seems to be particularly well suited for its position at the head of the Twelve on thematic grounds. It employs the metaphor of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and the bird of their children as a metaphor for YHWH’s relationship with Israel” (p. 3). That is, as Gomer is divorced because of harlotry, so the Lord condemns Israel for abandoning its covenant with God—Israel’s figurative “adultery.” But Hosea takes his wife back, and the Lord also restores Israel following punishment from gentile nations. Sweeney notes that the Lord’s disdain for divorce in Malachi connects back to Hosea (p. 3).

(Here is another blog post that I wrote about the travel motif in Hosea.)

A late 1st cen. BCE or early 1st Cen CE fragment
of the Septuagint minor prophets,
from wikipedia

Joel. The book has no definite references to its historical circumstance, and the threatened “Day of the Lord” seem to refer to natural calamities. But, “[w]ithin the MT version of the Book of the Twelve, Joel presents the paradigm for Jerusalem’s punishment and restoration as a fundamental question to be addressed within the Twelve as a whole” (p. 149). In my old Bible, I jotted a note from a seminary class, “transitional between classical prophecy and apocalyptic.”

Joel is profoundly important for Christianity in his prophecy of the Spirit poured out upon all (2:28-29). In context, the recipient of the gift is probably Judah, but the early church claimed it as a Pentecost passage.

Here is another blog post, where I develop more deeply into Joel 3:10 and issues of war and peace.

Amos. The theme of locusts connects Amos and the previous book Joel (Joel 1-2, Amos 7:1-3), as does the theme of the restoration of fertility and agricultural prosperity (Joel 3:18, Amos 9:11-15). Amos also connects to the subsequent book, Obadiah, in the need for Edom to be pushed (Amos 1:11-13, 9:12). Furthermore, Joel, Amos, and Obadiah are connected because of the theme of the day of the Lord (Joel 1:15, Amos 5:18-20, Obadiah 15). In the LXX order of the books, Amos connects with Hosea in identifying the Beth El sancturary as a specific problem of God’s anger depicted in Hosea, and then Amos connects to Micah in their mutual depiction of God’s punishment and restoration (p. 191). Also, Hosea, Amos, and Micah are all the 8th century prophets among the Twelve (pp. 191-192).

Of course, I HAVE to quote Amos 5:23-24, a reminder to us each day:

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Obadiah. This short book has in common with Amos the restoration of the Davidic kingdom, as well as the theme of the day of the Lord (p. 279).

Jonah. This book depicts God’s mercy toward Nineveh of Assyria, thus connecting to the mercy God shows in restoring Israel and Judah as depicted in the next book, Micah. Jonah balances Obadiah’s prophecies against Edom, but it also contracts with the book after Micah, Nahum, which shows the punishment of God toward the ultimately unrepentant Assyrians (p. 305). Jonah also addresses the question of God’s mercy and trustworthiness following the Babylonia exile, for the themes of creation and the Exodus are brought in, functioning to tie together earlier scriptures about God’s power and faithfulness (pp. 306-307).

Micah. The restoration of Zion amid the nations is a major theme of Micah (chapters 4-5). As the sixth book in the Masoretic order of the Twelve (the order most of us are used to), Micah bridges God’s judgment and mercy to the nations in Obadiah and Jonah, with themes of the next three books: the fall of Ninevah, the Babylonian threat, and God’s call to his people to repentance.  As the third book in the Septuagint, Micah’s perspective of the punishment of the northern kingdom Israel has ramifications for the experience of Jerusalem and Judah as well as the nations, including Micah’s vision of Zion as the center of God’s world peace (p 339). “Overall, the book of Micah is esigne to address the future of Jerusalem or Israel in the aftermath of the Babylonian exile,” even though Micah himself was 8th century (p. 342).

And… I have to quote Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Nahum. Concerned in part with the divine judgment against Nineveh, the book follows Jonah, indicating that the repentance of Nineveh was temporary. But the book is also the beginning of the long process of God’s judgment against the nations, as well as against Judah and Jerusalem, which are the subjects of the subsequent five books (p. 420).

Habakkuk (spelled Habaccuc in many Roman Catholic Bibles). Like Nahum, Habakkuk affirms the Lord’s control of world events, and the Lord’s use of the nations in the divine purposes. The two books contrast in affirming the fall of Assyria (Nahum) and looking forward to the fall of Babylon (Habakkuk) (p. 453). “This prepares for Zephaniah, which calls upon the people to make their decision to observe YHWH’s requirements or suffer punishment if they refuse to do so (p. 454). Similar to the author of Lamentations, Habakkuk asks the hard question of the triumph of evil nations; but God answers Habakkuk with assurance of their punishment.

Among prophetic passages important in later New Testament theology, this one in Habakkuk is crucially important in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith (2:4)

Zephaniah. Zephaniah links with Habakkuk in the prophecies about Babylon (the agent of Judah’s fall) and with subsequent Haggai, who looks to the rebuilt Temple and the hoped-for restoration of the Davidic monarchy (p. 493). But the beginning of Zephaniah locates the prophets career during Josiah’s reign, thus connecting with the pre-exilic reforms of that righteous king. The call for repentance and purity of Josiah’s reforms have a new urgency in the post-exilic times (pp. 493-494).

Haggai, Zechariah. Both are prophets who appear in the Bible book of Ezra. Haggai’s concern with the Temple and the restoration connect with Zephaniah’s themes and with the next book, Zechariah, who affirms the Temple and restoration but also looks beyond the Temple to God’s cosmic purposes (pp. 529, 561).

A verse in Zechariah becomes important in the Christian interpretation of Jesus:

And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn (12:10).

Malachi. The last book of the Twelve calls the people to “to take the action that is necessary for Jerusalem and the Temple to fill” the role depicted in the previous books: Israel and the Temple as “the holy center” of God’s peace for the nations and the cosmos. As Sweeney noted elsewhere (in my notes above), the Lord’s disdain of divorce circles us back to the divorce and return of Gomer and Hosea in the first book of the Twelve (p. 713). With his interesting question and answer format, Malachi poses the same question as Habakkuk. He also provides us with the unique detail that Elijah will appear before the day of the Lord.

*****

Thinking of “The Twelve” as a long biblical book, we have history of God’s people from the 8th to the 5th centuries, but we also have a beautiful vision of God’s peace for the world, centered at Jerusalem. We also have a vision of God’s universal purposes. Many Christians, of course, interpret some of these texts as referring to Christ and his kingdom, and we understand more about Christ and his person and work by appreciating his place and context within God’s purposes with Israel. We also find among the Twelve, classic Bible passages that always inspire and call us, like Micah 6:8, Habakkuk 2:4, Amos 5:24, and others.

*****

The Tanakh ends with books that, in the Christian Old Testament, are positioned earlier: Ezra-Nehemiah, which provides history of the return from exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple; and 1 and 2 Chronicles, which recapitulate Israelite history and emphasizes the Jewish worship and temple. In this way, the Tanakh opens to the future of Jewish life and worship. The Christian Old Testament ends with Malachi and the prophecy of Elijah’s arrival prior to the Messiah. And so, moving from Old to New, we proceed immediately to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, which connects Jesus to Hebrew history.

After the Writings (Job through Song of Songs, or Job through Ecclesiasicus in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles), we have the Old Testament prophetic books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, and “The Twelve”, which are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

These are not the only prophets in Israel’s history: for instance, Moses himself, Miriam, Deborah, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, and several others. Here is a general-knowledge site that lists them: https://www.gotquestions.org/prophets-in-the-Bible.html

Here (from another of my blogs) is a summary:

Sargent, “Frieze of the Prophets”
Micah, Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah.

Isaiah: The first 39 chapters contain words of judgment about the Northern Kingdom, as well as other nations, and also words of promise. Chapters 40 and following seem to be another prophet, or possibly two, writing during 500s BC, as God, acting through the Persian king, restored the people. Here we find wonderful poetry of assurance concerning God’s redemption.

Jeremiah: The prophet preaches judgment upon the Southern Kingdom, and also promises of a renewed covenant in the future. We find tremendous pathos in Jeremiah, as also reflected in the following book.

Lamentations is a short, poetic book, attributed to Jeremiah and written in sorrowful response to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians. (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions add Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah as deuterocanonical/anagignoskomena books.)

Ezekiel: A prophet (also a priest) of the time before and during the exile. Ezekiel has weird visions and prophet actions bordering on, and sometimes crossing over to, the perverse. But the book also has lofty moral theology concerning problems such as human accountability.

Sargent, “Frieze of the Prophets,”
Zephaniah, Joel, Obadiah, and Hosea

Daniel: The book focuses on events in Daniel’s life and also apocalyptic visions of God’s kingdom, the “Son of Man,” and the last days, though many of the visions deal with the time of Antiochus IV, the evil Greek ruler who persecuted Jews. during the 100s BCE. This book is included in the last section of the Jewish canon rather than among the prophets.

Hosea: A Northern Kingdom prophet of the 700s, Hosea used his own family crises to describe the unfaithfulness of Israel and, in
addition to words of judgment, the heartache and tenderness of God. (Hosea and the eleven prophets after this book are called “The Minor Prophets” because the books are short. These are considered one book in the Jewish Bible and, together, have interrelated themes, as I write about at http://changingbibles.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-twelve-minor-prophets.html)

Joel: Joel has aspects of both prophecy and apocalyptic, because he speaks of the Lord’s judgment against sin (in whatever time period he’s writing) as well as the last days. We get the wonderful prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit here (2:28-29).

Amos: A Southern prophet who spoke to the sins of the North; he speaks judgment against the kingdom of Israel: their apostasy, wealth, and oppression of the poor. His classic call for justice and righteousness is well known (5:21-24).

Obadiah:  A short little book, by a prophet about whom we know little. The Edomites were descendants of Esau who were enemies of Judah, and Obadiah’s prophecies are directed at them.

Jonah: Unlike other prophetic books, this one is a story, like a parable. The fish is not the point of the story, but rather God’s patience and forgiveness as well as Jonah’s reluctant prophetic work, which was surprisingly and highly successful.

Micah: A contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea. His two themes are doom and promise, and his statement about Bethlehem (5:2), his lovely depiction of God’s kingdom where swords will become plows (4:1-4), and his requirements of anyone who loves the Lord (6:8) are also well known.

Nahum: A counterpart to Jonah; Nahum pronounces doom upon Nineveh.

Habakkuk: An interesting book in that the prophet “dialogues” with God about the classic question: why do wrongdoers prevail? God may use an evil nation like the Chaldeans to accomplish his purposes, but they, too, will suffer the consequences.  Habakkuk 2:4 is a classic text; Paul quotes it in Romans 1:17 as a beginning of his argument about the primacy of faith.

Zephaniah: The last minor prophet prior to the exile, Zephaniah preaches judgment and wrath, but also hope for the future.

Haggai: His topic is the rebuilding of the Temple following the end of the exile. Not a lofty writer, he straightforwardly urges the Temple’s completion. Interestingly, he praises the great king by name, Zerubbabel, who eventually disappears from the record.

Zechariah: He also discusses the rebuilding of the Temple, but he writes with visions, symbols, and images of the coming messianic age.

Malachi: The last Old Testament prophet, from the 400s, who (with his interesting question-answer format) also posed Habakkuk’s question, why do the wicked prosper and the good suffer?  Malachi’s innovation: his announcement that a messenger will herald the last days. From Malachi’s announcement, we segue into the New Testament.

It might be good to see a biblical chronology again, to see where these writings fit into the overall text.

– Patriarchs: about 1800-1500 BCE (Genesis)
– Exodus, Wilderness, and Conquest: about 1500-1200s BCE (Exodus-Joshua). Moses: the greatest of the Old Testament prophets.
– Period of the Judges: 1200s-1000 BCE (Judges)
– The monarchy (Saul, David, Solomon): 1000-922 BCE (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 1-9)
– Divided monarchy: 922-722 BCE (1 Kings 12-17, and also Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah)
– Kingdom of Judah: 722-586 BCE (2 Kings 18-25, 2 Chronicles 10-36, and also Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, and Habakkuk)
– Exile: 586-539 BCE (Lamentations, Psalm 139, et al.)
_ Judah under Persian rule: 539-332 BCE (Ezra-Nehemiah covers about the years 539-432 BCE, while Esther is set during the reign of Xerxes I, who reigned 486-465 BCE. Also, the prophets Second Isaiah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi)
– Judah during the Hellenistic rule: 332-165 BCE (3 Maccabees, Daniel)
– The Maccabean/Hasmonean period: 165-63 BCE (1, 2, and 4 Maccabees)
Judea under Roman rule: 63 BCE-135 CE (during which time we have the life of Jesus, the first two generations of the church (30-120 CE), the writings of the New Testament (about 50-100 CE), and the beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism, after the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE).

*****

Some wisdom from Walter Brueggemann (1):

In the Jewish Bible, the Former Prophets are Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings, while the Latter Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve (with Ruth, Lamentations and Daniel placed toward the Bible’s end). The Former and Latter Prophets are placed together. Theologically they belong together, too. Walter Brueggemann points out that, in the case of the Former Prophets, the word prophet “refers to the material itself and not to specific prophetic personalities. What is prophetic is the capacity to reconstrue all of lived reality—-including the history of Israel and the power relations of the known world of the ancient Near East—-according to the equally palpable reality (in this reading) of the rule of YHWH” (p. 131).

Thus, Israel’s history is ready through “the singular unrivaled [monotheistic] reality of YHWH” (p. 131). The Christian tendency (that I’ve followed in these notes) to call the Former Prophets “history” misses not only the question of the material’s historical reliability (not always very strong: for instance, in the case of Joshua) but also its prophetic interpretation of Israel’s history (p. 131). Brueggemann continues: “In the Former Prophets, ‘history’ has been transposed into a massive theological commentary on Israel’s past. In the Latter Prophets what began as personal proclamation has been transposed into a theological conviction around YHWH’s promise for the future. both theological commentary… and theological conviction..became a normative, but at the same time quite practical, resource for a commentary living in and through the deep fissure of deportation and displacement… Seen in this way, the prophetic canon that testifies to YHWH’s governance of past, present, and future is an offer of a counterworld, counter to denial and despair, counterrooted in YHWH’s steadfast purpose for a new Jerusalem, new torah, new covenant, new temple—-all things new [and he quotes Isaiah 43:16-21]” (pp. 136-137).

He goes on to note that current scholarship tends to view the Torah and the Former Prophets as a “Primary Narrative” from Promise to Exile, of “land gift” and “land loss,” with the Jordan River functioning as a geographical as well as literary-canonical -theological marker (p. 296). Then, continuing to the Latter Prophets, that material speaks to “land loss” but now, also, to future hope (p. 298).

Furthermore, he continues, we can link prophetic traditions back to the Torah, with Ezekiel linked to the Torah’s priestly traditions, Jeremiah to the Deuteronomistic tradition, the Isaiah to the Yahwist tradition in the sense that the Abrahamic Yahwist material lead to the David-Zion traditions to which Isaiah holds. The Twelve (the minor prophets) in turn, coming from the entire period of the 700s-300s BCE, take us from judgment through exile to future promise (pp. 300-301).

****

The following are notes that I first posted here. The prophets can be difficult reading, with their seemingly random collections of proclamations, oracles, stories, sermons, and sometimes, enacted prophetic signs. Layers of traditions are often challenging to discern.(2) The prophets use metaphors, allusions, and shifts of narration, which makes good commentaries essential for the modern Bible explorer.  The prophets are also difficult in their tone and themes.  The prophets express God’s anger at the Israelites, who have broken the covenant; in chapter after chapter, we find descriptions of wrongs, promises and descriptions of dreadful punishment, but also tender words and promises for the future.

One of the basic literary units of the prophets is the proclamation: God announces judgment or salvation. These proclamations are addressed to God’s people but sometimes also to neighboring nations. The proclamations in turn made use of different kinds of discourse: indictment and verdict, hymns and songs, collections of sayings, and others. Later prophets also use longer kinds of writing like sermons and narratives. The prophets also record visions, and some include descriptions of their own call.(3)

Because the prophets preached during the time of the historical books (Former Prophets), we find familiar themes in the prophets: the land and the covenant, the threatened loss of the land, the failures of the monarchy, the role of the Temple (and, in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, its loss), and others.  The prophets connect back to God’s promises in Abraham and also the exodus, and also to the promise of David and of Jerusalem as they (the prophets) preached about God’s kingship and covenant.(4)

The relationship of the prophets and the law is complex and is debated by scholars. I cited Brueggemann about some of the connections of traditions. We Christians are liable to read prophetic passages like Jeremiah 7, think of Jesus’ criticisms of the religious leaders of his time, and dismiss the law as “Jewish legalism”, a term I hate.

The prophets, however, do not deny the law but sharply warn that religious ritual must go hand in hand with justice, mercy, righteousness, and the repudiation of idols. Deuteronomy defines the role of prophets (13:1-5, 18:15-22) and upholds Moses himself as the greatest of the prophets (34:10).  Even passages that seem very “anti-law” (like Ez. 20:25, Jer. 7:21-26, and Jer. 8:8) do not abrogate the law and the covenant but call for a deeper faithfulness.(6)Within Judaism, the view has prevailed that “the primary role of the prophet was to serve as a vital link in the transmission of the law from Moses down to the present.”(5)

*****

One critically important aspect of the Prophets is the concern for social justice. Here is a good site that connects the Prophet’s teachings with other biblical narratives. “To speak about God and to think about theology are wonderful pursuits, but the cause of theology is justice for human beings. Loving your neighbor is a sweet sentiment, but doing right by your neighbor will change the world.”
http://www.aju.edu/Media/PDF/Walking_With_Justice-The_Prophets_and_Social_Justice.pdf

*****

In addition to the prophets’ messages of warning, grace, and justice, we also find many connections of the prophets and the New Testament.  Prophetic scriptures became crucial for understanding who Jesus is and how his coming fits within and fulfills God’s plans of salvation. A Bible explorer can spend months and years tracing and delving into the prophetic roots of the New Testament.  Here are just a few.(7)

• John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mark 9:1, Luke 1:17)

• Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6, Luke 1:30-33.

• Jesus’ authority and teaching (Isa. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Matt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)

• Jesus the shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, John 10:7-11)

• Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Matt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Luke 4:17-21)

• Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Matt. 21:4-5)

• Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)

• Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Matt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)

• The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)

• The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:1, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)

• “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)

• The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)

• The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)

• Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)(8)

• The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, much of the book of Zechariah, Ez. 38-39). In fact, in a previous chapter I noted several Old Testament references in Revelation and noted that no other New Testament book quotes or alludes to the Old Testament as often.

• The issue of the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness, as I said above; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). A passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34).

• The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there. In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy.  You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, the Gentiles, bringing them into the circle of blessing.

• Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet–in fact, the hoped-for prophet referred to by Moses (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.). Jesus possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).

*****

Notes:

1  Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination  (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003).
2  James L. Mays, general editor, Harper’s Bible Commentary (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), 534-539.
3  Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992),, 178.
4  Childs, Biblical Theology, 177
5  Harper’s Bible Commentary, 540. The Haftarah Commentary (see my next post) has an essay on Micah 5:6-6:8: “In the concluding verse [6:8] Micah defines the essence of religion: God requires not sacrifice but righteous living. Does Micah thereby suggest that sacrifice (and, by implication, all ritual) was unnecessary, and that the real essence of Judaism was expressed by justice toward others, by loving and caring relationships, and by suitable modesty? The answer is ‘no,’ just as it is for the other prophets who inveighed against mere external observance. It istin the nature of oratory and moral harangue to employ extremes of speech in order to make essential points. Micah does not advocate the abolition of the Temple worship; rather, he censures external observance by persons who  lack devotion to social and ethical principles. Judaism has always been an integrated system of form and substance of ritual and spirituality, for neither is viable without the other.” (p. 393).
The writer continues by citing the famous passage of the Talmud, Makkot 23b-24a, where Rabbi Simla’i taught that the Torah contains 613 mitzvoth, 248 positive and 365 negative. Then, Psalm 15 condenses them to 11, and Isaiah 33:15-17 to 6, Micah to 3, and Habakkuk 2:4 to just 1. Some of the sages insisted that the commandments should be kept, but nevertheless the commandments can be distilled to a few principles. The writer concludes: “Basing ourselves on the verse in Micah, we would say: Observe as much as you can, and do it in the spirit of the threefold objective of justice, mercy, and modesty. It is not one or the other, but rather both: one in the spirit of the other” (p. 393).
6  Harper’s Bible Commentary, 540.

7  One handy list of biblical messianic prophecies is found at http://www.scripturecatholic.com/messianic_prophecies.html

8. Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 172-173.

*****
When I studied and posted about the Torah earlier this year, I learned that the Torah is read in a yearly cycle in synagogue worship (the weekly portion or parshah), accompanied by a related reading from the Prophets (the haftarah). This week I went back to the lists of those readings to learn their meaningful connections, perhaps unexplored by most Christians. The following is gleaned from W. Gunther Plaut, The Haftarah Commentary (Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1996): first the name of the parshah, then the Torah portion, then the haftarah. I focused on the Ashkenazic readings; in a few cases, Sephardic congregations have different haftarot.Bereishit
Genesis 1:1-6:8: the creation story
Isaiah 42:5-43:11: the creation of Israel is linked to creation of the universeNoach
Genesis 6:9-11:32: the punishments and redemption during the time of Noah
Isaiah 54:1-55:5: the redemption from punishment and exile is at hand

Lekh Lekha
Genesis 12:1-17:27: stories of Abraham
Isaiah 40:27-41:16: God remembers and cares for Israel, children of Abraham

Vayeira
Genesis 18:1-22:24: God promises Abraham and Sarah a song
II Kings 4:1-4:37: Elijah’s miraculous help for the Shunammite woman

Chayei Sarah
Genesis 23:1-25:18: Abraham looks for a wife for Isaac
I Kings1:1-1:31: David’’s need for a suitable successor

Toldot
Genesis 25:19-28:9: the struggles of Jacob and Esau
Malachi 1:1-2:7: a reiteration of the primacy of Jacob over Esau

Vayeitzei
Genesis 28:10-32:3: Jacob’s sojourn in Aram
Hosea 12:13-14:10: Hosea’s use of that story

Vayishlach
Genesis 32:4-36:43: Jacob and the angel
Hosea 11:7-12:12: Hosea’s use of that story as a metaphor for his home and for the nation

Vayyeshev
Genesis 37:1-40:23: Joseph is sold into slavery
Amos 2:6-3:8: Amos’ Israelite contemporaries would sell out an innocent person

Miqeitz
Genesis 41:1-44:17: Pharaoh’s dream
I Kings 3:15-4:1: Solomon’s dream

Vayigash
Genesis 44:18-47:27: reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers
Ezekiel 37:15-37:28: the reunited stick

Vayechi
Genesis 47:28-50:26: Jacob gives his last words to his sons
I Kings 2:1-12: David gives his last words to Solomon

Shemot
Exodus 1:1-6:1: Israel’s enslavement in Egypt
Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-29:23: Israel’s sins and troubles

Va’eira
Exodus 6:2-9:35: the plagues of Egypt
Ezekiel 28:25-29:21: the coming humiliation of Egypt, which had forsaken Israel

Bo
Exodus 10:1-13:16: Pharaoh vs. God
Jeremiah 46:13-46:28: Pharaoh Necho, who killed King Josiah, will be defeated

Beshalach (Shabbat Shirah)
Exodus 13:17-17:16: Defeat of the enemy Egypt and the people’s song
Judges 4:4-5:31: Deborah’s song of the defeat of Canaanite enemies

Yitro
Exodus 18:1-20:23: The Sinai revelation
Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-9:6: the revelation of God to Isaiah

Mishpatim
Exodus 21:1-24:18: release of the Hebrew slaves
Jeremiah 34:8-34:22; 33:25-33:26: Jeremiah’s response when Judah rulers would not free slaves

Terumah
Exodus 25:1-27:19: construction of the Tabernacle
I Kings 5:26-6:13: construction of the Temple

Tetzaveh
Exodus 27:20-30:10: the Tabernacle altar
Ezekiel 43:10-43:27: the future Temple sanctuary

Ki Tisa
Exodus 30:11-34:35: the Golden Calf
I Kings 18:1-18:39: the priests of Baal

Vayaqhel
Exodus 35:1-38:20: building a sanctuary
I Kings 7:40-7:50: building a sanctuary

Pequdei
Exodus 38:21-40:38: the craftsman Bezalel who worked on the Tabernacle
I Kings 7:51-8:21: the craftsman Hiram who worked on the Temple

Vayiqra
Leviticus 1:1-5:26: sacrifices
Isaiah 43:21-44:23: the proper sacrifices

Tav
Leviticus 6:1-8:36: sacrifices
Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-9:23: sacrifice alone cannot please God, who also demands righteous deeds

Shemini
Leviticus 9:1-11:47: deaths of Aaron’s sons when they approach the Holy Fire improperly
II Samuel 6:1-7:17: the death of Uzzah who touches the holy Ark improperly

Tazria
Leviticus 12:1-13:59: skin diseases
II Kings 4:42-5:19: the story of Elisha and Naaman

Metro
Leviticus 14:1-15:33: skin diseases
II Kings 7:3-7:20: the story of the four lepers

Acharei Mot
Leviticus 16:1-18:30: forbidden sexual relations
Ezekiel 22:1-22:19: denouncing sexual licentiousness

Qedoshim
Leviticus 19:1-20:27: ethical requirements, with warnings
Amos 9:7-9:15: Amos’ warnings to the kingdom

Emor
Leviticus 21:1-24:23: priestly duties
Ezekiel 44:15-44:31: priests of the future Temple

Behar
Leviticus 25:1-26:2: family titles to land
Jeremiah 32:6-32:27: Jersmiah buys a parcel of land

Bechuqotai
Leviticus 26:3-27:34: blessings and curses
Jeremiah 16:19-17:14: Jeremisah’s assurance of blessings

Bamidbar
Numbers 1:1-4:20: census in the wilderness
Hosea 2:1-2:22: the people will be as numerous as sands of the sea

Nasso
Numbers 4:21-7:89: Nazarites
Judges 13:2-13:25: Nazarites

Beha’alotkha
Numbers 8:1-12:16: the Tabernacle candlestick
Zechariah 2:14-4:7: vision of the candelabrum of the Temple

Shelach
Numbers 13:1-15:41; the spies
Joshua 2:1-2:24: the spies

Qorach
Numbers 16:1-18:32: Korah’s attempt to replace Moses
I Samuel 11:14-12:22: the people’s seeming attempt to replace God with a human king

Chuqat
Numbers 19:1-22:1: Moses’ request to the Amorite king
Judges 11:1-11:33: Jephthah’s negotiations with the Amorites

Balaq
Numbers 22:2-25:9: King Balak (Balaq) wants Balaam to curse Israel
Micah 5:6-6:8: Micah remembers this incident.

Pinchas
Numbers 25:10-30:1: Phineas (Pinchas) and his reward
I Kings 18:46-19:21: the heroism of Elijah

Mattot
Numbers 30:2-32:42: God’s punishment
Jeremiah 1:1-2:3: Jeremiah’s call to preach warnings

Masei
Numbers 33:1-36:13: punishments
Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4: the prophet’s warnings about idolatry

Devarim
Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22: Moses
Isaiah 1:1-1:27: punishments

The next seven haftarah are haftarah of consolation (Shabbat Nachamu) and all come from Second Isaiah. They are all messages of hope for God’s people Israel. The first is read on the Shabbat after Tisha b’Av, which is the fast that commemorates the Temple’s destruction in 587 BCE. The others are read on successive Sabbaths until the seventh, which is read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. Thus, as Moses urges faithfulness to the Lord and obedience to his Torah, the Isaiah passages express God’s promises to liberate and provide for Israel.

Va’etchanan
Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Isaiah 40:1-40:26

Eiqev
Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Isaiah 49:14-51:3

Re’eh
Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Isaiah 54:11-55:5

Shoftim
Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9
Isaiah 51:12-52:12

Ki Teitzei
Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
Isaiah 54:1-54:10

Ki Tavo
Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
Isaiah 60:1-60:22

Nitzavim
Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20
Isaiah 61:10-63:9

This haftarah is usually read on the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Vayeilekh
Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30
Isaiah 55:6-56:8: seek the Lord when God is near

Ha’azinu
Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52: Moses’ farwell song
II Samuel 22:1-22:51: David’s song

Vezot Haberakhah (read on Simchat Torah, when the year’s Torah readings are concluded, and the new year of readings begins)
Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12: death of Moses
Joshua 1:1-1:18: the beginning of Joshua’s leadership

The Judaism 101 site also gives the special Parshiyot and Haftarot for Jewish holidays:
http://www.jewfaq.org/readings.htm

The Judaism 101 author provides this information: “Each week in synagogue, we read (or, more accurately, chant, because it is sung) a passage from the Torah. This passage is referred to as a parshah. The first parshah, for example, is Parshat Bereishit, which covers from the beginning of Genesis to the story of Noah. There are 54 parshahs, one for each week of a leap year, so that in the course of a year, we read the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) in our services. During non-leap years, there are 50 weeks, so some of the shorter portions are doubled up. We read the last portion of the Torah right before a holiday called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law), which occurs in October, a few weeks after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). On Simchat Torah, we read the last portion of the Torah, and proceed immediately to the first paragraph of Genesis, showing that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.

“In the synagogue service, the weekly parshah is followed by a passage from the prophets, which is referred to as a haftarah. … The word comes from the Hebrew root Fei-Teit-Reish and means ‘Concluding Portion’. Usually, haftarah portion is no longer than one chapter, and has some relation to the Torah portion of the week.

“The Torah and haftarah readings are performed with great ceremony: the Torah is paraded around the room before it is brought to rest on the bimah (podium). The reading is divided up into portions, and various members of the congregation have the honor of reciting a blessing over a portion of the reading. This honor is referred to as an aliyah (literally, ascension)… ”

Working on this post, I discovered that there are yearly and triennial cycles of readings. A rabbi friend explained that the Masoretes (the 6th-10th century CE scholars who helped established the definitive text of the Hebrew Bible) set up the cycle of yearly readings, and other scholars of the Land of Israel established a three-year cycle. The Wikipedia site reads:

“The Triennial cycle of Torah reading may refer either a) to the historical practice in ancient Israel by which the entire Torah was read in serial fashion over a three-year period, or b) to the practice adopted by many Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal congregations starting in the 19th and 20th Century, in which the traditional weekly Torah portions were divided into thirds, and in which one third of each weekly ‘parashah’ of the annual system is read during the appropriate week of the calendar.

“There are 54 parashot in the annual cycle, and 141, 154, or 167 parashot in the triennial cycle as practiced in ancient Israel, as evidenced by scriptural references and fragments of recovered text. By the Middle Ages, the annual reading cycle was predominant, although the triennial cycle was still extant at the time, as noted by Jewish figures of the period, such as Benjamin of Tudela and Maimonides. Dating from Maimonides’ codification of the parashot in his work Mishneh Torah in the 12th Century CE through the 19th Century, the majority of Jewish communities adhered to the annual cycle.

“In the 19th and 20th Centuries, many synagogues in the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal Jewish movements adopted a triennial system in order to shorten the weekly services and allow additional time for sermons, study, or discussion.”

I wonder if we Christians might appreciate the Torah more if we not only delved into the passages themselves but also saw them in relation to Old Testament stories and teachings with which we may be more familiar. It has certainly improved and blessed my knowledge of the books of Scripture that Jews hold especially dear.

******
Childhood Bibles: mine, my wife Beth’s,
and her deceased first husband Jim’s.

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

One more post about how the prophets can linked to other Bible passages. Prophetic scriptures became crucial for understanding who Jesus is and how his coming fits within and fulfills God’s plans of salvation. A Bible explorer can spend months and years tracing and delving into the prophetic roots of the New Testament. Here are just a few.

• John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mark 9:1, Luke 1:17)

• Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6, Luke 1:30-33.

• Jesus’ authority and teaching (Isa. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Matt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)

• Jesus the shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, John 10:7-11)

• Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Matt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Luke 4:17-21)

• Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Matt. 21:4-5)

• Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)

• Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Matt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)

• The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)

• The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:1, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)

• “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)

• The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)

• The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)

• Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)(8)

• The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, Ez. 38-39, much of the book of Zechariah).

• The issue of the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). In New Testament theology, a passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34).

• The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there. In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy.  You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, bringing them into the circle of blessing.

• Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.) and possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).

Here is a list of many passages from the prophets, psalms, and Torah, used in the New Testament to demonstrate the necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death: http://changingbibles.blogspot.com/2016/03/maundy-thursday-and-good-friday.html

*****

Here are some notes that I took a few years ago:

As we begin on the prophets, it’s worth realizing that New Testament eschatology relies very strongly upon the Old Testament, especially the prophets. The book of Revelation cites the Old Testament more than any other New Testament book and is filled with images from the prophets.

I found an interesting article, “The Old Testament and the Book of Revelation” at the StudyJesus.com site. I liked the article because it gave straightforward biblical references without the speculations and polemics that one finds in some analyses of Revelation. Perusing that article as well as my notes in my old RSV and the references in my NRSV, I developed a very incomplete list of references to prophetic passages that one finds in Revelation. That article gives many more references and other research about John’s compelling visions and style of writing.

The prophetic idea of The Day of the Lord is found in Isaiah 2:12, Joel 2:31-32, Amos 5:18-20, Daniel 12:12, and becomes part of New Testament eschatology in Matthew 24:29-31, Acts 2:20, 2 Peter 3:8-10, Rev. 6:12-17.

The image of “the son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14 connects to Rev. 1:7.

The image of “the kingdom of priests” in Exodus 19:6 and Isaiah 61:6 connects to Rev. 1:6.

Ezekiel’s vision of four living creatures and four wheels in chapter 1, and also Isaiah 6:1-4, connect with Revelation chapter 4, wherein the living creatures give God honor and glory.

The dwelling of God in the new heaven and earth in Isaiah 65:17ff connects to Rev 21:1-2. Also, Michael the archangel (Dan. 12:1) connects to Rev. 12:7-12.

The condemnation of Deuteronomy 29:19-20, with the image of being blotted out of the book of life, connects to Rev. 21:19. In fact, that article indicates: “Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15, 21:27 are based on Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1,” and also Ps. 56:8 and Malachi 3:16. All these have to do with the them of God writing a book containing the names of the faithful.

The differently colored horses of Zechariah 1:7-17 and 6:1-8 connect to Revelation 6:1-8.

The eating of the scroll in Ezekiel 2:8-3:33 and Jeremiah 15:16 connect to Rev. 10:8-11.

Much of Joel 1-2, with its descriptions of plagues, droughts, and the coming day of the Lord, connects to the various events in Revelation: e.g., the locusts in Rev. 9.

Some of Ezekiel’s images of the restored temple in chapters 40-48, as well as Zechariah chapter 4, connect to Rev. 11:1-6 et al. Also, the restored Jerusalem in Ezekiel 48:30-35 connect to Rev. 21:12-14.

Genesis 49 lists the twelve tribes of Israel, in the context of Jacob’s death: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and thus they became heads of tribes. Rev. 7:1-8 describes how angels sealed the number of God’s servants out of “every tribe of the people of Israel,” and then lists the twelve tribes. Instead of the tribe of Dan we have the tribe of Manasseh, and the tribe of Joseph rather than that of Ephraim is mentioned.

The cities of refuge are described in Numbers 35:9-34. They were places where a person who had accidentally killed someone could flee and when the high priest died they could return home without fear of being killed out of revenge. The cities were Kedesh, Golan, Ramoth Shechem, Bezer, and Hebron. Although Rev. 12:6 doesn’t mention “cities of refuge” per se, the concept of a safe place prepared by God is there: for instance, the woman with child (representing God’s people) flees to a safe place in the wilderness where she will be nourished for 1260 days.

Daniel has a vision of four beasts in Dan. 7:1-8, which connects to Rev. 13:1-7, where beasts emerge from the sea. As that article indicates, the fourth beast represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the terrible Greek ruler of the Maccabean period.

Ezekiel 38-39 describes the prince Gog of the land of Magog. In Rev. 20:7-10, Gog and Magog become nations who are enemies of God’s people.

The famous story of Balaam and his donkey (or Balaam’s ass, as we Sunday school kids laughed about) is found in Numbers 25:1-9, as well as 31:16. This story is echoed in Rev. 2: 14 where God scolds the church at Pergamum.

Rev. 14:14-20 tells of the angel reaping a grape harvest with a sickle and putting the harvest into the winepress of God’s wrath, producing copious blood. Of course, this is the reference for a line in “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as the title of the novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The image comes from Joel 3:13 and Isaiah 63:1-6.

As that article indicates, Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, refer to the blessings of God upon the exiles who return from captivity in Babylon. These promises connect to a passage near the conclusion of Revelations, 21:1.

With that reference, we return once again to the subject of the Exile. The Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, the Exile, its connection to the land, and the post exilic hope of future redemption are events and themes that permeate the entire Bible. In this case, the book of Revelation brings together stands of biblical history and theology to show the final consummation of centuries of divine promises.

*****
Isaiah

I wrote most of this post a few years ago during an Advent season. I had been listening to Handel’s “Messiah” and realized that the piece cites Isaiah most often among the Bible’s books (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structure_of_Handel%27s_Messiah). Several Advent lectionary texts are Isaiah passages, too. I forget which of my three seasonal study books for Abingdon Press contained a meditation on one of Isaiah’s servant songs.

One source that I found indicates that Isaiah is the second longest biblical book in terms of chapters (after the Psalms, if consider each psalm a “chapter”), the fourth longest in terms of verses (after Psalms, Genesis, and Jeremiah), and the fifth longest in terms of words (after Psalms, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Genesis). I’m not taking the time to verify this information, LOL. The point is, Isaiah is a long book!

It is also an essential book for both Jews and Christians*, spanning over two hundred years of Israel and Judah’s history, from the last days of the Divided Kingdom to the beginning of the Post-Exilic era.

This site provides a basic outline of the book:

Words of judgment (1-39):
Prophecies about Judah and Jerusalem (1-12)
Oracles against the nations (13-23)
World-wide judgment and deliverance (24-27)
Oracles against Samaria, Jerusalem, and Assyria (28-33)
More prophecies of world-wide judgment and deliverance (34-35),
Historical material (36-39)

Words of comfort (40-66):
Prophecies of redemption and restoration (40-48)
Prophecies of God’s servant (49-55)
Prophecies of consummation (56-66)

See that site for a more detailed outline, too.

*****

Isaiah himself lived in the 700s. He was called in the year of the death of King Uzziah (Isaiah 6), or about the year 740 BCE. He lived during the difficult time of Assyria’s regional dominance under the monarchies of Tiglath Pileser III, Shalmaneser V (who defeated and deported the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE), Sargon II, and Sennacherib. He also lived during the Syro-Ephraimite War that rocked the region at the end of the century. The Mishna and also Justin Martyr give us the traditions that Isaiah was killed during Manasseh’s reign (which began about 699 BCE), perhaps by being sawed in half. Hebrews 11:37 may or may not be an allusion to his death. If Isaiah died during Manasseh’s reign, he thus survives Senacherib’s siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE.

The author of that another online source (bibleencyclopedia.com) states, “For versatility of expression and brilliancy of imagery Isaiah had no superior, not even a rival. His style marks the climax of Hebrew literary article Both his periods and Genius and descriptions are most finished and sublime. “He is a perfect artist in words. Beauty and strength are characteristic of his entire book. Epigrams and metaphors, particularly of flood, storm and sound (1:13; 5:18, 22; 8:08; 10:22; 28:17, 20; 30:28, 30), interrogation and dialogue (6:8; 10:8, 9), antithesis and alliteration (1:18; 3:24; 17:10, 12), hyperbole and parable (2:7; 5:1-7; 28:23-29), even paranomasia, or play upon words (5:7; 7:9), characterize Isaiah’s book as the great masterpiece of Hebrew literature. He is also famous for his richness of vocabulary and synonyms…. Jerome likened him to Demosthenes; and a poet: he frequently elaborates his messages in rhythmic or poetic style (12:1-6; 25:1-5; 26:1-12; 38:10-20; 42:1-4; 49:1-9; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12; 60-62; 66:5-24); and in several instances slips into elegiac rhythm, e.g. in 37:22-29 there is a fine taunting poem on Sennacherib, and in 14:4-23 another on the king of Babylon. As Driver observes, ‘Isaiah’s poetical genius is superb.’”

The distinguished biblical scholar Brevard S. Childs was my Old Testament prof during the fall semester 1979, just when his book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture appeared (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979). I had him autograph my copy. This week I pulled the book from my shelves to recall his canonical approach to Isaiah.

I also studied my Harper’s Bible Commentary (New York: HarperCollins, 1988). There, the biblical scholar Gerald T. Sheppard notes something well known: that 1-39 and 40-66 are noticeably different sections. During the 8th century when Isaiah prophesied, Assyria and not Babylon was the major threat, but those later chapters of the book (from an unknown prophet) deals with the situation of those who have been in exile following the 6th century Babylonian conquest—exiles for whom “new things” can be announced (40:21, 41:4, 27, 42:9) (Sheppard, p. 543).

In other words, 40-66 are not only stylistically different from 1-39 but also concerns a situation 150 years after the historical Isaiah died. Childs notes that the theory of dual authorship of Isaiah dates to the work of Doederlein and Eichhorn in the later 1700s. By the 1900s, there was wide unanimity in the acceptance of a break between chapters 39 and 40 (Childs, pp. 317-318). In one of my Jewish sources (and how I’ve misplaced it), medieval Jewish scholars also made note of the “break” between 39 and 40.

Sheppard, however, writes that after many years of scholarly study of the two sections, biblical scholars have more recently been interested in how the sections make a whole (for instance, the way Isaiah 13 and 21 connect to the Babylon judgments later in the book), and the fact that 40-66 does not seem to have ever existed independently of 1-39 (p. 543). Also, chapter 66 return to themes of chapter 1, God’s word to his people and to Jerusalem (Sheppard, p. 544).

Childs writes that Duhm’s 1892 commentary showed that Isaiah 1-39 was itself not a historical or literary unity. For instance, it is divided into sections like 1-12, 13-23, 24-27, and so on, with some writings as late as the Maccabean period (p. 318). Childs summarizes the work of Mowinckel, Scott, and others who detailed the different sections of 1-39 and postulated the origin and layering of traditions, including “an Isaianic core” of material, with nevertheless both pre- and post-exilic material (Childs, p. 319).

So, Isaiah is not simply a two-part book, with 1-39 originating from Isaiah’s time and 40-66 originating from the exilic and post-exilic years. The whole book contains writings from different periods and has been skillfully edited.

Duhm was the scholar who isolated the oracles 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, and 52:13-53:12, the “servant songs,” and it was who referred to chapters 55-66 as “Trito-Isaiah,” because the focus of those chapters was the post-exilic community in Jerusalem, with references to sabbath and sacrifice. Childs notes that many scholars have agreed with Duhm, though not whether 55-66 is a unified or edited composition (Childs, pp. 322-323).

Childs’ view is that although chapters 40-66 seem to be addressed to the exiles in or returning from Babylon, “the present canonical shape of the book of Isaiah has furnished these chapters with a very different setting. Chapters 40ff. are now understood as a prophetic word of promise offered to Isaiah by the eighth-century prophet, Isaiah of Jerusalem” (Childs, p. 325). Thus, the “the canonical editors of this tradition employed the material in such a way as to eliminate almost entirely those concrete features and to subordinate the original message to a new role within the canon” (Childs, p. 325).

For instance, chapters 40-66 have no special attribution to another prophet, nor historical situations (other than references in Cyrus in 44:28-45:1) compared to the specific circumstances to which Amos addressed his message. Even the famous opening of chapter 40 can be read, within this new context, as a general promise and not specifically to the returning exiles (Childs, p. 325). Consequently, the promises of forgiveness and redemption have a new theological context for Israel following the oracles of judgment that we find in the earlier chapters (Childs, p. 327, 330). The “former things” of Second Isaiah now refer to the earlier prophecies of judgment in First Isaiah, thus confirming the truth of the latter (p. 329-330: for instance, notes Childs, we can connect 1:7ff and 62:4, 11:6, 9 with 65:25, 13:17 with 41:25, and so on. The plan announced in 28:24ff becomes clear in Second Isaiah).

Further, Childs notes that the editing of Isaiah 1-39 provides theologian meanings through the skillful connection of oracles. For instance, the oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23), which date from different time periods, are interpreted by the oracles of a redeemed community in 24-27, where the nations are said to be able to worship together at Jerusalem. Further, the oracles of 34-35 portray a future redemption from the judgments proclaimed earlier—-and the idiom of 34-35 connects forward to that of Second Isaiah (Childs, p. 332).

Sheppard shows how the work of 2-39 has been edited so that promise oracles frame judgment oracles, like the promise oracles 2:2-24 and 4:2-6. The parable of chapter 5 precedes a section of oracles related to the Syro-Ephraimite war (7:1-9), but these oracles have been fitted and edited within a longer set of oracles (6:1-9:7). Following these we have a new set of “promise oracles to Judah and judgments against  Assyria” in 10:5-11:16, and then a transitional “song” in Isaiah 12 which includes a motif of “comfort” that, of course, we see again in Isaiah 40. That song is a transition into the oracles of judgment against the nations in chapters 13-23.  In turn, those oracles are followed by “a group of promissory eschatological oracles” in chapters 24-27, which “take up a number of themes and motifs from the first part of the book and project them into a vision of future restoration,” i.e., connecting to 40-66. Isaiah 28-32 in turn contain more judgment oracles against Zion and Judah, and then more promise oracles in 33-35. Chapters 34 and 35 in particular anticipate material in 40-66 (Sheppard, p. 545). In turn, the narrative material of 36-39 refers to the Assyria siege of Jerusalem, in 701 BCE several years after the earlier war. This historical material connects with the narrative of 2 Kings 18 and 2 Chronicles 32, and here, the material appears “remarkably suitable to the larger purpose of the book of Isaiah, with its concern for the restoration of Jerusalem. They explore the way in which human responses move God to leave a blessing when one might expect only a curse” (Sheppard, p. 569).

The “suffering servant” songs of Second Isaiah raise other exegetical issues, because (Childs argues) the figure does not seem to be connected (by the canonical editors) to the royal figure of 9:1ff and 11:1ff, nor to any particular historical individual. He argues that the text is even silent on whether the figure represents Israel as a whole; the canonical editors have allowed the questions and tensions to remain and perhaps “to receive its meaning from the future” (Childs, pp. 335-336). My rabbi friends here in town told me that, in Jewish interpretation, the servant songs do refer to the Jewish people and their witness.

Interestingly to me, the great messianic text Isaiah 7:14 falls within the oracles that concern the unrest in Judah in 735-733 BC and the Syro-Ephraimite War. “Occasionally, ordinary public activities of prophets could carry extraordinary significance… Just as Hosea’s marriage constituted a symbolic act of prophecy, so Isaiah’s children by their very names, carried a message throughout their lives” (Sheppard, p. 555). The child Emmanuel, about whom no other historical information is given, is the sign Isaiah gives when King Ahaz says he does not want a sign at all. Within that section, the Northern Kingdom will fall and later disaster will also eventually happen to the Southern Kingdom, but the name of the child, “God with us,” provides ongoing hope (Sheppard, p. 555).

Sheppard writes about how this messianic texts also tie together the times of Isaiah with the post-exilic faithful. “The unusual name … now harbors in it prophetic implications for the destruction of Judah as well as Syria and Ephraim (8:6-8) and, finally, for the nations in the future that will so threaten Judah (8:9-10). The ‘child sign’ seems to continue in 9:1-7, where the birth of a child (9:6) portends a comparable claim of God’s presence with Israel (9:4) in the period after the Exile, when ‘the people walked in darkness’ (9:2). Even if the original tradition of 9:1-7 was once an independent, nonmessianic ‘royal psalm,’ its present context in the book invites a messianic interpretation. So too Isa. 7:14 has similarly engendered messianic expectations among both Jews and Christians, expectations based on the warrants of the text’s ‘scriptural’ context in 7:1-9:7” (Sheppard, p. 556).

*****

* In my earlier post about the Sidra and Haftarah readings, Isaiah is quoted 19 times among the Haftarot, 1 and 2 Kings 16 times, Jeremiah 9 times, Ezekiel 10 times. It has been a very central book for Judaism! (Jewish Study Bible, p. 780).

So, too, for Christianity. This site gives 20 times that the book is quoted in the New Testament. The passages that we associate with the Advent season (chapters 7, 9, and 11), and especially the Suffering Servant song of 52:13-53:12 are crucially important for the New Testament writers in preaching Jesus. It is hard to imagine Jesus’ own self-understanding AND apostolic preaching about Jesus without the Suffering Servant song.

*****

Here is a meditation about an Isaiah prophecy of international peace. http://paulstroble.blogspot.com/2016/08/bible-road-trips-highway-of.html

*****
Jeremiah
Jeremiah is the second of the three major prophets. Here are two websites that provide a lot of background and detail about this book:
http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8586-jeremiah
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Jeremias_(the_Prophet)Jeremiah (Yeremiyahu in Hebrew) began his prophetic career in about 626 BCE, the 13th year of Josiah’s reign, across four more kings to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BCE. So he preached and ministered during the worst crisis time in Judah’s history, and Jeremiah’s famous sorrowfulness and distress reflects his involvement in his people’s fate. He was the son of a priest (kohen) named Hilkiah from a Benjamin village (Jer. 1:1-3). As the Jewish Study Bible points out, “Thus, like Moses, who was of Levitical descent, Jeremiah is a priest and prophet who guided his people for forty years–often in the fact of stiff opposition–but, unlike Moses who led the people from Egypt into the promised land, Jeremiah saw the exile of his people form that same promised land and lived out his own days in Egypt.” Jeremiah’s assistant, who conveyed his teachings, was Baruch ben Neriah.*****

 from: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/
article/judah-israel-a-divided-monarchy/

It might be helpful to remember the history of the several kings of Israel and Judah, and how the prophets fit into the history according to an approximate chronology. All the references are to 2 Kings.

Jeroboam II of Israel (786-746). The prophets Amos and Hosea prophesied to the Northern Kingdom in about the 740s and 750s.

Azariah/Uzziah of Judah (783-742), 15:1-7, who did what was right but also did not remove the foreign altars and so God struck him with leprosy. Isaiah dated his prophetic call to the year Uzziah died.

Zechariah of Israel (746-745), 15:8-12

Shallum of Israel (one month in about 745), 15:13-16

Menahem of Israel (745-738), 15:17-22

Pekahiah of Israel (738-737), 15:23-26

Pekah of Israel (737-732), 15:27-31

Jotham of Judah (742-735), 15:32-38

Ahaz of Judah (737-715).

Hoshea of Israel. 17:1-6. The Deuteronomistic historian comments extensively on the sins that led to Israel’s fall (17:7-23), and describes the resettlement of the area. Among the new settlers were the people who became known as Samaritans.

And kings of Judah:

Hezekiah (715-687), 18:1-8-20:1-21.

Manasseh (687-642), 21:1-18, Hezekiah’s son, was very wicked and did much evil. This is the last straw, God’s judgment against Judah was now certain because of Manasseh’s idolatry and violence.

Amon of Judah (642-640), 21:19-26, was also evil, but

Josiah (640-609), 22:1-25:30, was a righteous king who prepared the temple, and in doing so recovered the book of the law (probably the text of Deuteronomy 12-26) and with great sorrow sought to renew the covenant and to initiate reforms throughout the kingdom. *The prophets

Zephaniah (about 628-622), Jeremiah (about 626-587), Habakkuk (about 605), and Ezekiel (about 593-573) are from this general period, while 2 Isaiah was exilic: about 540.

Jehoahaz (609), 23:31-33, briefly reigned, but he was taken captive by the Pharaoh. His successor

Eliakim/Jehoiakim (609-598), 23:34-24:6, also did evil in God’s sight, as did Jehoiachin (598-597), 24:7-12.  In his eighth year as king, he was taken prisoner by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who looted Jerusalem and carried away many inhabitants. Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah as king. But Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the terrible end of Zedekiah and his sons (25:1-7). Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was burned, demolished, and looted. Nebuchadnezzar appointed the ill-fated Gedaliah to be governor of the land of Judah (25:22-26).

*****

The prophet Isaiah began his ministry in 742, and as we saw last week, portions of 1-39 come from the 600s, while 40-66 are from around 540 and later. Jeremiah profited during the period 626-587, and although we don’t know when he died, he was exiled in Egypt at the time. Our next book Ezekiel, is from 593-573. In his book Biblical Literacy, Rabbi Telushkin comments that the northern kingdom had no prophetic voices of hope—but the southern kingdom had words of hope from 2 Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. So the tribes of the northern kingdom disappeared into history, while the the tribes Judah, Benjamin, and Levi in the south remained and were recipients of God’s promises.

The call of Jeremiah is well known:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’
But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’
hen the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’ (1:4-11)

John Bracke (1), recently retired from Eden Seminary where I’m an adjunct, points out three important perspectives about God of special importance within Jeremiah:

1. God is sovereign. “God’s word changes history through judgment—plucking up and pulling down—and through restoration—building and planting” (p. 7). The people who had been rescued from Egypt and given a precious land had broken God’s covenant and strayed from God’s law, and therefore they must go into exile. But God is also faithful and merciful and will restore the land and the temple and will establish a new covenant (pp. 7-8).

2. Along with the anguish of the people of Judah, God “also experiences hurt and disappointment” (p. 8). God is a rejected husband and a rejected parent. Although God punishes his people, God is also in tremendous pain because of their pain and anguish (p. 8).

3. God is ultimately interested in “building and planting” (1:10), although at the end of Jeremiah this is promised rather than fulfilled (p. 9).

If you’ve ever read or browsed Jeremiah, you know that the book is complex, lacking chronological order and with different genres, styles, voices, and theological perspectives. Writing in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 3, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), Louis Stulman writes, “Despite the enormous influence it has exerted on the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation, Jeremiah is one of the most difficult books in the Bible to read” (p. 220; the whole article is pages 220-235). Even the prose material alone is written in different styles. Some of the material is likely from Jeremiah himself, other material from Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch. The book has also been edited, and reflects a theological outlook in keeping with the “Deuteronomistic history,” that is, the troubles of Judah are God’s judgment against them for their sins.

*****

A basic outline of the book is:

Chapters 1-10, condemnations toward Judah.
Chapters 11-28: warnings of the destruction of Judah.
Chapters 29-38: the promise of the New Covenant.
Chapters 39-52: events concerning the fall of Jerusalem.

Stulman has also sketched groupings of material, reflecting theological themes within the book. He argues that the book has two sections, 1-25 and 26-52, forming a “two-part prophetic drama,” each with five acts (p. 221).

He calls the first part, “Dismantling Judah’s cherished social and symbolic categories.” This part’s five acts are:

Introduction (1:1-19)
1 The basis for God’s judgment (2;1-6:30)
2 Dismantling the Temple (7:1-10:25)
3 Dismantling the Covenant (11:1-17:27)
4 Dismantling “insider privileges” (18:1-20:18)
5 Dismantling the monarchy (21:1-24:10)
Conclusion, “the world under divine judgment” (25:1-38)

The second part is “Restoration and hope amid the wreckage: a survivor’s manual.” The five parts are:

Introduction, on hope (26:1-24)
1 “Conflicting theologies of hope” (27:1-29:3)
2 “The book of hope” (30:1-33:26)
3 “Moral instruction for the new community” (34;1-35:19)
4 “Traces of hope amid the wreckage” (36:1-45:5)
5 “God’s reign on earth signaling hope for Judean refugees in Babylon (46:1-51:64)
Conclusion: “Jehoiachin’s restoration as embryonic hope” (52:1-34)

One of Shulman’s summary statements is interesting: “Jeremiah is ‘guerilla theater,’ a text of resistance that reimagines symbol systems and reframes and social realities. It reenacts or performs the fall and rise of Judah as well as the defeat of the geopolitical power structures responsible for Judah’s mistreatment. it attempts to convince Jewish refugees in Babylon that economic-military domination is not the final word and that God is an unflinching advocate for those devastated by war and exile. In effect, the book of Jeremiah is a liturgical act that creates a quite particular world, one that stands in stark contrast to ‘other worlds’ where absolute power, autonomy, and economic exploitation reign… [T]he text ennobles those on the margins to protest and dissent, ridicule and revel, and imagine a counter …world order. The prophetic script empowers broken people with the will to survive and the resolve to act with courage And ultimately Jeremiah functions as a dangerous ‘weapon of hope’ that will not knuckle under to political aggression, military might, or relentless despair” (pp. 234-235).

*****

Among the stylistic forms of Jeremiah, we frequently find personal complains. The Harper’s Bible Commentary lists several:  11:18-12:6, 15:10-21, 1714-18, 18:18-23, 20:7-18. We think of the psalms of lamentation and complaint (p. 597) and find similarities in Jeremiah’s expressions of sorrow.

Two other forms are prose sermons and third personal narratives about Jeremiah. Among the biographical passages are 19:1-20:6, 26:28-29, 36:37-45, 51:59-64. Among the sermons are 7:1-8:3, 11:1-14, 16:1-13, 17:19-27, 18:1-12 21:1-10, 25:1-14, 35:1-19. (HBC, p. 598) The sermons often reflect that Deuteronomistic theology: Judah’s punishment is linked to their sins.

We also find more symbolic prophetic actions—the special kind of performance art that we find in some of the problems–in Jeremiah. There are a few in Isaiah, like the symbolically named children of chapters 7 and 8 (Shear-jashub, Immanuel, and Maher-shalal-hash-baz), and Isaiah’s nudity that warned of Egypt of Assyrian slavery (chapter 20). Here is a site that provides several of Jeremiah’s symbolic actions: http://www.bibleteachingnotes.com/clientImages/29183/BTNMiscFiles/jeremiahsymbolicacts.pdf

The Jewish Study Bible concludes: “In the end, the book of Jeremiah is the product of a debate within Jewish circles from the late monarchy and the exilic periods concerning the question of theodicy or the righteousness of God. Although fully aware of the theological problems posed by the destruction of the Temple and the exilic of the Jewish people, the book affirms God’s existence and righteousness as well as the future of the restored nation Israel on its land” (p. 920).

Note:

1. John M. Bracke, Jeremiah 1-29 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000); and his book, Jeremiah 30-52 and Lamentations (same date and publisher).

****

Here are a few more thoughts and notes about Jeremiah.

As I write on one of my other blogs: When I was a young person, in Sunday school in our small town church, I pictured the long biblical text in an unusual way: as if it was a landscape for exploring. My dad was a truck driver who hauled gasoline and fuel oil, and so images of travel and “the open road” come naturally to me. (The Bible contains 66 books, and Dad regularly drove Route 66 in Illinois … how providential!) Perhaps I was also inspired by the well-used maps at my church of Bible lands, maps which seemed as interesting as the folded maps, free at filling stations, in the glove compartment of our family car. I imagined the Bible as a large area, not of Palestine, but of sections of landscape, like states, laid out for more or less eastbound travel—even if you began with the New Testament but then backtracked to the Old, as I’ll do in a moment. (When I read my favorite translation of the Torah with its Hebrew text, I begin to imagine the right-to-left text as westbound.)

At the Bible’s beginning, the “scenery” is interesting from Genesis through about 2/3 of the way through Exodus. A few places become tedious—the genealogies, for instance—but the reading moves along, peaking in cinema-ready excitement with the Red Sea crossing, the Ten Commandments, and the Golden Calf.  The reading slows as you journey through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But you’ve encountered some of the Bible’s high points: the Creation, the Flood, Abraham’s call, Egyptian slavery, the Exodus, and the revelation at Sinai.

You continue on a varied landscape though the historical books: some good parts, some dry. Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel contain violence and intrigue. Beyond, as you pass through the books of Kings and Chronicles, the “travel” becomes tougher again. Do I really need to know all those kings—who sinned and how badly—and lists of names, in order to be saved, to love the Lord?

But in this landscape, too, we find high points: the conquest of the Land, the establishment of the monarchy and kingdom (with David and Solomon as the key figures), the destruction of Jerusalem, the Exile, and the Restoration. Understanding the Bible requires some grasp of these events.

After the historical books, the journey becomes more interesting again. Among the writings, the Psalms alone are worth many revisits; Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, too. Then you embark on journey through the prophets. The prophets contain fascinating material, but without the narrative structure of the historical books, and without a clear chronology, the prophets’ writings can seem scattered and hard to grasp. A person can lose her bearings there.

You reach the New Testament, which—again, in my young imagination—I pictured as a wonderful landscape that gradually narrows. That’s because the New Testament books tend to become shorter and shorter. Little-bitty 2 John, 3 John, and Jude have only one chapter each, compared to Matthew’s 28. It was as if God was focusing your spiritual travels toward the end times and salvation, the subject of the longer, finally book of Revelation.

I think of some of these longer biblical books in “landscape” imagery. Isaiah, with its several oracles about Isaiah, Judah, and the nations, begins really to feel like a “map” of poetry and images, until we get to chapters 40-66, which I imagine in terms of a lovely and sunny, blue sky. (See, for instance, 60:19-21!)

Jeremiah “feels” like a more rugged landscape, with cisterns and broken pots, yokes, cities destroyed or promised to be destroyed, bitter wailing, finally a scroll weighed by a stone and cast into the sea.

In his book Biblical Literacy, Rabbi Telushkin calls Jeremiah “the loneliest man of faith.” Like Moses and David, we learn a lot from the Bible about his desolate moments, but also, he “is the only character in the Bible who is denied a family. Early in his career, God decrees that Jeremiah is to live alone: ‘the word of the Lord came to me. You are not to marry and not to have sons and daughters in this place’ (16:1-2).” This is because of the violence to come (Biblical Literacy, pp. 293-294). Tragically, Jeremiah also had to see his predictions come true (p. 295).

******

Among the well-known passages of this prophet is Jeremiah 20:7-18, a text that I first discovered in div school. Here is the NRSV:

O Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughing-stock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, ‘I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering:
‘Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All my close friends
are watching for me to stumble.
‘Perhaps he can be enticed,
and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him.’
But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonour
will never be forgotten.
O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.

Sing to the Lord;
praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.

Cursed be the day
on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man
who brought the news to my father, saying,
‘A child is born to you, a son’,
making him very glad.
Let that man be like the cities
that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb;
so my mother would have been my grave,
and her womb for ever great.
Why did I come forth from the womb
to see toil and sorrow,
and spend my days in shame?

Like some of the psalms, this passage mixes despair directed at God, with praise at God’s ability to rescue and prevail. Unfortunately, Jeremiah also feels that God has prevailed over him, in gifting him as a prophet and thus giving him over to a life of misery, rejection, and shame.

Verse 7 is particularly strong language directed at God. Years ago I wrote in my margin that the Hebrew word pata (deceive or entice) also means “seduce,” while the word yakol (prevail) has a strong sexual connotation. The sense is that God seduced and then raped Jeremiah.

When we discussed this passage in div school, our interests were in a feminist reading (1)—the language of sexual violence that we find here and elsewhere in some of the prophets, particularly Ezekiel—and also a pastoral reading—what does it mean to be called to ministry but then feel deceived by God?

Look at verses 14-18. To use a crude expression, Jeremiah declares, in effect, “F my life.” He wishes he’d never been born. Loathing of himself and fury at God are two sides of the same experience. And don’t forget—these are words of the Bible, God’s word for us!

Jeremiah expresses anger and despair both at God and toward his own sense of self-worth. And yet he remains true to his calling. Part of his despair is, indeed, that he is committed to this life of faith and will not deviate from it, even though, in his perception, God has treated him in the worst possible way.

I can’t fail to call attention to topics of date-rape and “rape culture.” I found the following blog helpful: the author and some commenters discuss issues of gender, gendered emotional response, and sexual violence that this passage implies: http://theroundearthsimaginedcorners.blogspot.com/2012/06/god-and-images-of-rape-in-jeremiah.html

*****Some of our memorable New Testament imagery comes from Jeremiah, for instance, 31:31-34.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

“New Testament” is a synonym for “new covenant”–so the very name of the Christian portion of the Bible derives from Jeremiah.
I discuss this passage in my book Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament (pp. 78-80). There I quote Walter Brueggemann, “The ground of the new covenant is rigorous demand. The covenant requires that Israel undertake complete loyalty to God in a social context where attractive alternatives exist” (“The Book of Exodus,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 951).
We also have a lovely passage from 23:5:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
The sorrow of Rachel, evoked in 31:15-17, is used by Matthew in his narrative of the massacre of the innocent (2:13-19).
Jeremiah’s sermon about the Temple, 7:8-15, is cited by Jesus as he (Jesus attacks the money changers at the Temple. As I discuss in my book (p. 117), the reference to “a den of robbers” has less to do with the honesty of the traders, than with Jeremiah’s original metaphor: Jeremiah’s contemporaries believed God would protect them as long as they worshiped at the Temple, but Jeremiah likened that idea to a group of thieves who thought they were safely in hiding but were not.

*****

A verse from Jeremiah cut me to the heart when I first learned it, during a life changing divinity school class taught by B. Davie Napier.  As I write this, we are in a national crisis situation concerning the well-being of non-documented immigrants and their children.

He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord (Jer. 22:16).

Wow. If we love God but are uncaring toward the needy and begrudge them help, we’re fooling ourselves. We not only fail in loving God, we don’t even know God! King Josiah, though, knew God, according to Jeremiah. This verse dovetails well with Micah 6:6-8, and 1 John 4:20b, as well as Matthew 25:31-46 and James 2:14-17. So why don’t more of us step up and care for the poor, with such a plain scriptural teaching? Even the straightforward verse John 3:16 implies helpfulness to the needy, for if you believe in Christ as John 3:16 instructs, you respond to “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40).

The pleasures of Bible reading often return me to this theme, because if you want to know a set of “characters” that pervades the scripture, it is the people variously and generally called the poor, the widow and orphan, the needy, the oppressed, the alien, and the stranger. With my Topical Bible and other sources, I’ve “collected” a very small selection of the total: Exodus 22:22; Leviticus 19:10, 15; Deuteronomy 10:19, 14:28-29; 15:7-8; Job 29:12; Psalms 14:6, 82:3-4; Proverbs 14:21, 14:31, 17:5; Isaiah 58:6-7; Ezekiel 16:49; Matthew 19:21, 25:35; Luke 4:18, 12:33, Acts 9:36, 10:4; Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17-18. My book Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament has a lesson on this subject.

I’ve been inspired by Jewish friends and their concern for tzedakah, “righteousness” or “charity,” which has replaced the biblical sacrifices as a response to God. Many Jews are quick to “give back to the community” and to take the side of the needy (not necessarily the Jewish needy!) in their donations and political convictions.On the other hand I’ve known Christians, including some pastors, who love the Lord to the point of becoming teary-eyed about God’s blessings, and yet those same Christians express a harsh political outlook toward the poor. How many times have I heard Christians speak disdainfully of the poor, as if all poor people were lazy, out to cheat the system. I feel shame when I think of my own hard-heartedness toward the poor: for instance, a time when I became silently impatient in a grocery line as a young couple up ahead paid for their groceries with food stamps.

I believe there are many ways to know God, because we all have different personalities, talents, abilities, cultural backgrounds, and experiences.  The variety of the Bible’s theological perspectives attests to the importance of variety among people’s religious walks.  But this way to God haunts me and always has, from which my conscience can never escape: the trumpet call of Micah 6:8, that rhetorical question of Jeremiah 22:16, the clear words of Matthew 25:40.

(This last section is from another blog of mine, theloveofbiblestudy.com, chapter 1).

*****
Lamentations and Baruch

This week I’m reading Lamentations, along with the apocrypha book Baruch.The Book of Lamentations, traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah, is found in the Jewish Bible and all Christian Old Testaments. In the Jewish tradition, the book (entitled “Eichah,” “How,” the first word), is one of the Five Scrolls and is recited on the fast day of Tisha B’Av, the holiday that remembers the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

In Christian traditions, the book follows the book of Jeremiah. Passages are read during Tenebrae of the Holy Triduum.

Both Jeremiah and Lamentations share a terrible sorrowfulness. Here are just a few verses that cry out concerning the desolation of God’s people in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem, and God’s seeming absence amid the horrifying suffering. In his commentary on Jeremiah and Lamentations (1), John Bracke of Eden Seminary points out that the book is open enough to reflect a variety of terrible circumstances, which makes the book sadly timeless. (p. 187).

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies (1:1-2).

Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
at the head of every street.

Look, O Lord, and consider!
To whom have you done this?
Should women eat their offspring,
the children they have borne?
Should priest and prophet be killed
in the sanctuary of the Lord? (2:19-20)

Those who feasted on delicacies
perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
cling to ash heaps.

For the chastisement of my people has been greater
than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
though no hand was laid on it (4:5-6).

Lamentations has five poems. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 have 22 verses that begin with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, those forming an acrostic. Chapter 3, with its 66 verses, thus have three acrostic poems. Chapter 5 has 22 verses but is not an acrostic. The Harper’s Bible Commentary notes that, in the first four poems, the first line is usually longer than the second line. “Such imbalance produces a falling rhythm that is said to ‘limp,’ ‘choke,’ or ‘sob’ in sympathy with the mournful contents.” (p. 646). “The aim of the acrostic-building poet(s) seems to have been to foster a comprehensive catharsis of grief and confession linked to an inculcation of faith and hope, to be accomplished literally by covering the subject ‘from A to Z’” (p. 647).

John Bracke points out Nahum 1:2-8, Proverbs 31:10-31, and Psalms 9-10, 25, 34 37, 11, 112, 119, and 145 have an alphabetical arrangement as well (p. 183). Furthermore, Lamentations also reflects the kind of psalm that scholars call “communal lament,” such as 74, 97, and 137 (p. 185).

The Harper’s Bible Commentary continues, “Lamentations, in its final form, exhibits a striking and innovating amalgam of prophetic, Deuteronomistic, and wisdom notions that subordinates and neutralizes Davidic-Zion traditions without rejecting them outright” (pp. 648-649).

Bracke has this helpful summary: “As we read the book of Lamentations, we should not expect the book to provide answers about suffering. instead, the book of Lamentations gives us words with which to address God about suffering… Our culture is optimistic and values certainty and confidence. to speak of suffering is a sign of weakness and pessimism, out of character in ‘can-do’ America… [but] The book of Lamentations invites us to speak honestly before God of the pain that afflicts us as we live in communities. Lamentations is a book to be prayed because in those communities where we live there is suffering of which God needs to know even if it is not immediately evident that God is paying attention or cares. Perhaps, as we pray through Lamentations, we may discover anew God’s reign even when God seems absent” (pp. 188-189).

Note:

John M. Bracke, Jeremiah 30-52 and Lamentations (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), and his Jeremiah 1-29 (same date and publisher).

*****

Book of Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah.

In Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles (though not in the Jewish Bible and the Protestant Old Testament), the Book of Baruch (or 1 Baruch) follows Lamentations. The ascribed author is Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch ben Neriah, but the book was probably written during or after the Maccabean period. The five chapters concern the history of Israel and the crisis of exile.

Chapter 6 of Baruch is called the Letter (or Epistle) of Jeremiah and is addressed to exiles in Babylon. Orthodox Bibles has this letter as a stand-alone book that follows Baruch, while in Roman Catholic Bibles the letter is the last chapter/ appendix of Baruch.

*****
Ezekiel 

This week, I’m studying Ezekiel, a book that I was dreading, because it can be so weird and angry, but at the same time it is so profound and concerned.In his book Holiness in Israel (Fortress Press, 1989), John G. Gammie writes: “[N]ot only was Ezekiel a priestly prophet and theologian of the divine holiness, he was also a pastor and superb moral theologian. His homilies of divine judgment on the unfaithful shepherds (chap. 34) and of divine hope for the exiles who considered themselves as dead as dry bones in a dry valley (chap. 37) certainly rank among the best-known homilies from all of Scripture. Ezekiel spoke with the eye of a pastor to the needs of those in exile” (pp. 49-50).

Daniel Block describes other aspects of Ezekiel:

“Nor surprisingly, Ezekiel has been the subject of numerous psycho-analytical studies. While prophets were known often to act and speak erratically for rhetorical purposes, Ezekiel is in the class of his own. The concentration of so many bizarre features in one individual is without precedent: his muteness; lying bound and naked; digging holes in the walls of houses; emotional paralysis in the face of his wife’s death; ‘spiritual’ travels; images of strange creatures, of eyes, and of creeping things hearing voices and the sounds of water; withdrawal symptoms; fascination with feces and blood; wild literary imagination; pornographic imagery; unreal if not surreal understanding of Israel’s past; and the list goes on. It is no wonder that Karl Jaspers found in Ezekiel an unequaled case for physiological analysis. E. C. Broome concluded that Ezekiel was a true psychotic, capable of great religious insight but exhibit g series of diagnostic characteristics: catatonia, narcissistic-masochistic conflict, schizophrenic withdrawal, delusions of grandeur and of persecution. In short, he suffered from a paranoid donation common in many great spiritual leaders. This psychoanalytic approach has been rejected by commentators and psychiatrists alike (quoted in Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd edition, 223-223).

Block rightly dismisses this approach, but his comments do illustrate the strangeness of this particular prophet, even among the strange individuals who were gifted with prophecy  in Israel’s history.

Ezekiel was not only a prophet but a priest of Zadoc—the priests appointed by Solomon for the Temple, 1 Kings 2:35 (Jewish Study Bible, p. 1042) This priesthood has an interesting history. Not surprisingly, Ezekiel’s prophecies have a focus of purity and priestly faithfulness. The years of his prophetic office seems to coincide with the twenty years stipulated for priests (Numbers 4:23, 39; JSB, 1044. The purpose of the book is to announce and describe judgment on Judah and to urge repentance. Set during the Babylonian captivity, the book was likely written in about 571 BCE, according to one source.

But Ezekiel’s concern to be a watchman is also a very pastoral duty. As Gerhard von Rad points out (Old Testament Theology, Vol. II [Harper & Row, 1965], p. 2320, his prophetic role made him go out among the people and minister to them (pp. 230-231). These words are very famous and are often taken to heart by pastoral leaders:

At the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’, and you give them no warning, and do not speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before them, they shall die; because you have not warned them, they shall die for their sin, and their righteous deeds that they have done shall not be remembered; but their blood I will require at your hand. If, however, you warn the righteous not to sin, and they do not sin, they shall surely live, because they took warning; and you will have saved your life (3:16-21)

This commission of God’s for Ezekiel is reiterated in chapter 33 as well.

*****

The book is more chronological and orderly compared to Jeremiah. Here is a basic outline:

Chapters 1-3, the Lord commissions Ezekiel and gives him visions and messages concerning Judah.

Chapters 4-24. Ezekiel proclaims his message, not only in oracles but also in symbolic actions and parables.

Chapters 25-32 concern God’s judgment against the nations: Ammon, Edom, Philistia, Moab, Sidon, Egypt, and Tyre.

Chapters 33-48 contain the prophets messages of salvation and restoration. This section contains the famous vision of the valley of dry bones, the oracle of Gog and Magog, and finally the vision of the restored Temple.

The Jewish Study Bible identifies thirteen major blocks, from the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile in 593 to the vision of the restored temple in the 25th year:

Ezekiel’s inaugural vision and resulting oracles (1:1-7:27)
Oracles concerning the departure of God from the Temple (8:1-19:14)
Oracles about Israel’s punishment (20:1-23:49)
symbolic actions about Jerusalem’s destruction and the condemnation of neighboring nations (24:1-25:17)
Oracles about Tyre (26:1-28:26)
Oracles concerning Egypt (29:1-32:1-6)
Oracles about the nations; Ezekiel’s role as watchman (32:17-33:20)
Oracles about Israel’s restoration (33:21-39:29)
Vision of the restored temple (40:1-48:35) (paraphrased from JSB, 1045).

*****

God’s holiness is a major theme of the book. Ezekiel expresses God’s desire that God, or the Name of God, shall be known. The phrase “that you (they) may know that I am the Lord” occurs at least 63 times in Ezekiel (Gammie, p. 45).

Also, the Name of God is theological important in Ezekiel. “My holy name” and “for the sake of my holy name” are also frequent phrases in the book (p. 47)

Ezekiel chapter 20 provides the story of Israel, where the people are delivered “for my name’s sake”). Then they are given the Sabbaths and the laws where Israel may know the Lord and sanctify God’s name. The wilderness generation rebelled, too, but God acted again for the sake of God’s name” (p. 46).

Ezekiel also is a theologian of God’s “glory” (kabod). The book begins with a vision of glory: the weird vision that inspired that spiritual, “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel,” perhaps my first acquaintance with this Bible book. In chapters 8-11, the prophet depicts the departure of God’s glory from the Temple, and also the return of God’s glory to the restored Temple (Ez. 40-48).

Gammie further notes that 18:5-9, 10-13, 14-18 is an outline “for a moral theology that may justifiably be called a theology of the ethical requirements of holiness” (p. 50). For instance, 18:5-9:

If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right— if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbour’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, follows my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully—such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God.

Gammie connects Ezekiel chapter 18 with Leviticus 19 as the Bible’s high points of ethical reflection—-but also the Temple passage in chapters 40-48. Here, too, we have a lofty theology of ethics and holiness in the framework of God’s glory (pp. 52-59). Although the Temple vision does not depict the ark or incense or other aspects of the cultus that we find in the Torah, we do have these requirements of holiness:

1 A newly built Temple (40-42)
2. Removal of memorials of kings (43:7-8)
3. Removal of foreigners from the sanctuary (44:6-9)
4. Demotion of the Levites along with an elevation of the Zadokite priests (44:10-27)
5. Social reforms 45:9-12)
6. The people bring sacrifices to offer (45:13-17)
7. The sanctuary is cleansed (45:18-20)
8. The passover is kept (45:21-25)
9. The holiness of the inner rooms are safeguarded (44:19, 46:19)
and the land is apportioned to the prices, prince, and Zadokites, with the Temple in the center (chapter 48). (Paraphrased from Gammie p. 56)

That author goes on to discuss ways this depiction differs with or complements other scriptures about the priesthood and holy places (pp. 56-57), and also similarities with Ezekiel’s conception of holiness with that of the Chronicler (Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah), pp. 58-69.

In An Introduction to the Old Testament, Brueggemann also points out the way the repentance of the people Israel is not a matter of ethics alone, but also (for the priest Ezekiel) a regaining of God’s holiness after the ritual contamination (36:23-28). The theological focus of Ezekiel is the priestly care for the divine presence as well as the honor of the name of the sovereign God. When Jerusalem falls, then (in Ezekiel’s theology) God’s dishonored name has been vindicated (pp. 228-229). Thus the first portion of the book ends at chapter 24, with Jerusalem’s fall, and then with chapter 25 and following, he prophet teaches of God’s hope. Not only the fall of Jerusalem but the defeat of the nations (e.g, chapters 25-28, and the vision of Gog and Magog in chapters 38-39) also serve to illustrate the sovereignty of God (pp. 230-231, 234-235).

Gerhard von Rad reminds us that, during Ezekiel’s two decades of prophecy, there was yet no Deuteronomistic theology that interpreted theologically the reasons for the disaster that has befallen upon Judah. Is God weak? Is God unfaithful and uncaring? Some of the working-out of problems that Gammie points out, as well as some of the extremity that Block discusses, is Ezekiel’s effort—crude and unpoetic as he may sometimes be—-to preach the reasons for Judah’s exile. For instance, the untoward eroticism and terrible violence of the parables of chapters 16 and 23—where God’s people are depicted as a sexually insatiable, faithless wife violently punished by her jealous and wounded husband/God—is unacceptable by our contemporary standards but, in the context of the time, illustrates the intimacy of the bond between God and his people and the wounded quality and dishonor God feels when God’s people have been unfaithful to the covenant.

The unfaithfulness that Ezekiel depicts as “whoring” refers both to cultic apostasy as well as Judah’s attempts to gain the help of powerful neighboring nations (pp. 229ff). Marc Zvi Brettler (How to Read the Jewish Bible, Oxford 2007, p. 191), notes that the prophet uses the root זנה (znh), “to whore,” thirteen times in chapter 16 and seven times in chapter 23. A good book on Ezekiel’s themes, which I’ve studied but can’t find in my library at the moment, is Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel: The City as Yahweh’s Wife by Dr. Julie Galambush (Scholars Press, 1992). She discusses more about the marital and covenantal images in the prophet.

A significant aspect of Ezekiel’s moral loftiness is his refutation of the idea of intergenerational guilt. For instance, chapter 18 begins:

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

Marc Zvi Brettler paraphrases that proverb, “The parents eat Snickers® and the children get cavities.” He interpret’s Ezekiel’s daring affirmation of individual responsibility as reflecting his ability to listen to the worries of the exiles and to offer the right words to his fellow people (pp. 188-189). 
After all, the Ten Commandments themselves (see Exodus 20:5) presumes intergenerational guilt, and stories like Sodom presume communal guilt; these are ideas we’ve often seen in the scriptures so far. “Ezekiel is arguing against two beliefs found in a variety of biblical texts—intergenerational punishment, and corporate (communal) responsibility and retribution. That is why he needs to make his point so forcefully” (p. 190). Thus the repetitiveness of chapter 18 and also chapter 14.

Ezekiel’s theology of the law provides a potential link to Paul’s theology—-although Paul does not quote Ezekiel in this content. Von Rad writes: “Ezekiel brings a new direction to the old prophetic task of exposing sin. He is, perhaps, more concerned than his predecessors were to demonstrate its total dominion over men. These excursuses on the history are intended to make clear that it is not a matter of separate transgressions, nor simply of the failure of one generation, but of a deep-seated inability to obey, indeed of a resistance to God which made itself manifest on the very day that Israel came into being. What makes Ezekiel’s pictures of Israel’s history so unvarying is that in his eyes the end is no better than the beginning. There is no difference, no moment of suspense—the same state of affairs exists in every age of her history.” Thus God departs Israel (p. 230) but restores Israel for the sake of his name, which includes the nations (p. 236-237). “The final goal of the divine activity is therefore that Jahweh should be recognized and worshipped by those who so far have not known him or who still do not know him properly.” (p. 237).

Also, according to von Rad, although Jeremiah does not unify the traditions of Sinai and of a future Davidic king, Ezekiel does in 37:24, though for Ezekiel the Sinai mitzvot are still uppermost. (p. 236).  When we get to the New Testament texts I’ll try to remember to connect this particular prophetic theology to Paul.

*****

I had some material from one of my other blogs about the glory of God, so I thought I’d bring it over here because it is one of Ezekiel’s major themes. In fact, Ezekiel begins his book with his vision of God’s glory.When I was a kid, first learning simple Bible stories, we learned that catchy song “Do Lord”:

I’ve got a home in Glory Land that outshines the sun
I’ve got a home in Glory Land that outshines the sun
I’ve got a home in Glory land that outshines the sun
Way beyond the blue.

I was little and misunderstood what “outshines” means. Instead of “shines brighter than the sun,” I thought it mean “sunny outside.” So I had an image of Heaven as being outdoors and pleasant, like summer days with no school.

That word “glory” stuck in my mental nostalgia. Glory can mean honor/renown, or beauty/ magnificence, or heaven/eternity itself. St. Ignatius’s famous motto was Ad maiorum Dei gloriam, “to the greater glory of God.” I always took this to mean, “to increase God’s renown (through our devotion and service),” but the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner notes that we also share in God’s own life as we serve God.[1]

There are many biblical references to “glory.” You can spend hours looking up passages from Nave’s Topical Bible or some other source (like the ones I’ve used and footnoted here), that provide insights into the biblical material. I found this website, which also provides many Bible references to God’s glory, including references to the departure of God’s glory (e.g. 1 Samuel 4, when the ark was captured), the promise of God’s presence and manifestation, the presence of God’s majesty in creation (Ps. 97:6), and the glory of God that we know and see in Jesus (Heb. 1:3, Col. 1:19, Col. 2:9, 1 Cor. 2:8, Rom. 9:23 Eph. 1:18, Col. 1:27 Acts 2:3).

Carey C. Newman, writing in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (pages 576-580) notes that the biblical words for “glory” are kavod and doxa; that second word provides the root for “orthodox” and “doxology.” That same source indicates that, among other usages, the word applied to God can mean appearance or arrival, as at Sinai or the Tent of Meeting or the Temple. This is the special Presence of God (Shekinah), sometimes depicted in “throne” visions (as in the famous Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7, and also the non-canonical 1 Enoch 14), and also the presence of God which dwells in the tabernacle (as in the Priestly history (e.g. Exodus 40:34-38).[2] Moses and Aaron are able to mediate between the people and God, because at this point in the biblical history, because God’s glory is dangerous, as in Lev. 9, when the sons of Aaron are killed, and the later story in 2 Samuel 6, when well-meaning Uzzah touched the ark when it was being carried improperly on a wagon. The presence of God is also associated with the cherubim and the mercy seat (Heb. 9:5, Ex. 25:22, Num. 12:89, Deut. 33:26, 1 Sam. 4:4, Ps. 18:10, Ezek. 9:3, 10:4, Heb. 9:5).

Later, God’s glory dwells in the Temple (2 Chr. 5:13-14), and frighteningly departs from it later (Ezekiel 8-11). Biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom likened Solomon’s Temple to Dorian Gray’s picture: the people’s sins “collected” there, necessitating periodic sin offerings in order to remove the uncleanness. Gammie notes, though, that the people’s sins became so dire, numerous and ongoing, that these offerings no longer sufficed, even those of the Day of Atonement. Thus, the result of which was the loss of God’s Shekinah and inevitable foreign conquest of Judah and Jerusalem. [2]

Glory is not the same thing as holiness, but God’s glory and God’s holiness are closely connected as attributes of God and aspects of God’s manifestation, as well as the discipleship we pursue “for the glory of God.” It is difficult to mind a modern analogy to the biblical idea of holiness: something powerful and necessary to handle properly (like fire or electricity) but also something “contagious,” from which one must be cleansed through prescribed means. One had to perform purity rites when one touched something unclean/unholy, like blood or a dead body. One had to perform sacrifices and priestly activities in a prescribed way, not to endure nit-picky rules but in order to handle something very powerful in a safe way.

The holiness of God is reflected in Israel’s life in the Torah’s distinctions between unclean and clean, holy and common, and sacred and profane. We may wonder about the ideas of cleanness and uncleanness because of texts like Acts 10:9-16, but in Israel, these were God-given parameters for how to live and how to relate properly to God, not only according to God’s expressed will but according to God’s revealed nature, the Holy God who dwells in Israel. (cf. Zech. 2:13-8:23; 14:20-21).

God stipulates holiness on the part of his people because he desires to create Israel as his own people and to be in covenant with them. To be associated with God is a call to be pure and clean as well. I become impatient when people isolate the Ten Commandments from other biblical material (as, for instance, important statements in the history of law, or as general moral guidelines). The commandments function as those things, but you must notice that they are first given in context with God’s covenant with the people of Israel. God first gathers the people at Sinai and makes a covenant with them (Ex. 19), and only then gives them laws. Within those laws, in turn, God provides means for repentance and atonement for sin. In other words, God’s grace and love always precedes and encompasses the ethical aspects of God’s will, not vice versa; you could say his glory is revealed in love.

Holiness not only has distinctions of clean and unclean, but also justice and righteousness—again, reflecting the glory of God as the just and righteous Lord. Holiness is never understood (properly at least) as only a concern for right ritual, cleanness, and restoration from uncleanness. Israel also witnesses to God through acts of justice, provision, and care for the needy (Lev. 19; Ps. 68:5). As the Baker Dictionary author puts it, “it is the indication of the moral cleanness from which is to issue a lifestyle pleasing to Yahweh and that has at its base an other-orientation (Exod. 19:6; Isa. 6:5-8). Every possible abuse of power finds its condemnation in what is holy. Those who live in fear because of weakness or uselessness are to experience thorough protection and provision based on the standards of righteousness that issue from God’s holy reign (Exod. 20:12-17; Lev. 19; Ps. 68.:5).”[4]

Among other aspects of God’s glory, there is also a “royal theology” of glory, e.g. Psalm 24, where God’s glory, the human king, and the establishment of the Jerusalem sanctuary are all connected. As Newman states, “The regular enjoyment of Yahweh’s divine presence, his Glory, forms a central part of Temple liturgy and democraticizes the unqualified blessing of God upon king, Temple, nation, and world. Glory in a royal context assures of Yahweh’s righteous and benevolent control over all.”[5]

Newman continues: the biblical concept of Glory also has to do with judgment, as in Jer. 2:11-13, Hosea 10:5-6. Of course, God demands holiness from his people and eventually God must deal with sin. But God’s glory also connects to restoration and hope especially in Second Isaiah: “The arrival of Yahweh [in the transformed Jerusalem] not only restores what once was—the glories of a Davidic kingdom—but also amplified. Mixing Sinai with royal imagery, the prophet speaks of a day when the Lord will once again “tabernacle” in Zion. This time, however, Yahweh will “create” a new (and permanent) place for his Glory to rest.[6] (p. 577).

According to Newman, there are several important aspects of the New Testament theology of glory.[7] All these references are worth looking up and thinking about.

* The continued use of glory to mean God’s appearance and presence (Acts 7:55, Heb. 9:5, etc.)
* The Son of Man theme is connected to glory and the throne of glory (Mark 8:38/Matt. 16:27; 19:28; Luke 9:26; Mark 13:26/Matt. 24:30; 25:31; Acts 7:55, 2 Peters 1:17).
* The many depictions of glory as an eschatological blessing: Jude 24, Heb. 2:10, Rev. 15;8, Rev. 21:11, et al.) As Paul says, the glories of redemption make present day suffering pale in comparison (Rom. 5:2, Rom. 8:18, also 1 Pet. 4:13 and 5:1). At that time we will share in glory (2 Thess. 1:9-10, etc.).
* But this future glory is not just a long-from-now time, but also something we share in Christ now, as in Col. 1:17, 3:4, Titus 2:13)
* Also glory as resurrection. As in Rom. 6;4, 1 Cor. 15;25, Phil. 2:5-11, 1 Tim. 3:16, 1 Peter 1:21, Rev. 5:12-13, et al. Hebrew 2:9 applies Ps. 8 to Jesus even though it is not a “messianic” psalm.
* And glory and Christology, as in the beautiful Heb. 1:1-14.
* Paul also calls Jesus the Lord of Glory (Eph. 1:17) and connects Jesus to the glory of god in 2 Cor. 4:6, and 2 Cor. 3:18.

We can see two aspects of the powerful quality of holiness in Jesus’ life and death. Notice that when certain people (and demons) in the Gospels encounter Jesus, they want him to go away (Matt. 8:34, Mark 1:23-25, Luke 8:37, even Luke 7:6). That’s not because he was unpleasant; it was because they perceived that he was holy—and holiness is dangerous for mortals to encounter. People thought that Jesus had to be approached in a way befitting God’s powerful holiness.

As God’s glory “dwelled” in the tabernacle and temple, now that glory dwells in Jesus: John 1:14 doesn’t just mean that Jesus lived among the people of his time, but that the glory of God itself was visible and present in Jesus (also Heb. 1:1-4). If blood has a power (related to cleanness, uncleanness, and holiness) powerful enough to cover people’s sins in the days of the tabernacle and temple, the shed blood of Jesus is powerful enough to cover people’s sins, 2000 years later and beyond.

Ideas of holiness that reflects God’s glory are strong New Testament themes, too. The purity and justice to which Christians are called are Spirit-given gifts and, as such, are God’s own holiness born within us which empower our witness to others (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:21, 2 Pet. 1.4). As one writer puts it, “[God’s] character unalterably demands a likeness in those who bear his Name. He consistently requires and supplies the means by which to produce a holy people (1 Peter 1:15-16).”[8]

God’s glory and holiness extends to the sanctification of believers, who are called hagioi, “saints” or “holy ones,” a term used over 60 times in the NT. As one writer puts it, the outward aspects of holiness in the OT are “radically internalized in the New Testament believer.” “They [the believer/saints] are to be separated unto God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1) evidencing purity (1 Cor. 6:9-20; 2 Cor. 7:1), righteousness (Eph. 4:24, and love (1 Thess. 4:7; 1 John 2:5-6, 20; 4:13-21). What was foretold and experienced by only a few in the Old Testament becomes the very nature of what it means to be a Christian through the plan of the Father, the work of Christ, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.”[9]

Thus, New Testament ideas of glory stress Jesus’ dwelling among us, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in believers. If you appreciate the Old Testament passages about the in-dwelling of God’s glory, you may be taken aback by the idea that the Lord God Almighty, whose glory is dangerous to approach, now is present in us through the Holy Spirit.

In fact, as a spiritual exercise, read biblical passages that reflect a very “majestic” view of God’s glory (e.g., Ezekiel 1, Ezekiel 8-10, Exodus 40:34-38 and Deuteronomy 5:22-27), in conjunction with passages like Romans 3:21-26, Heb. 1:1-4, and Heb. 4:14-16. Don’t think that the more “scary” passages about God’s glory have been superseded by the New Testament; think instead about how the same God who dwelt among the Israelites now dwells with you in the Holy Spirit—exactly the same God upon whom you call when you’re desperate and in trouble, whom you trust will help you.

Notes:

1. Karl Rahner, “Being Open to God as Ever Greater,” Theological Investigations, Vol. VII, Further Theology of the Spiritual Life 1 (New York: Seabury Press, 1977), pp. 25-46.

2. Carey C. Newman, “Glory,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of The Bible, D-H, Vol. 2 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), pp. 576-580.

3. John G. Gammie, Holiness in Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 38-41.

4. “Holiness,” in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), page 451.

5. Newman, 577.

6. Newman, 577.

7. Newman, 578-580.

8. “Holiness,” 340-344.

9. “Holiness,” 343.

 *****
Daniel and its Additions 
Daniel is the five of the prophetic books in the Old Testament, and is the second-to-the-last book of the Jewish Bible (if you consider Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles as single books). The different positions reflect different interpretations of the book. The Jewish Study Bible notes that Daniel was an important prophetic book for the Qumran community, and the book influenced Jewish liturgy. But “because prefigurations of Christ and Christian resurrection were seen in Daniel by the early church, the rabbinic tradition hesitated to embrace the visions of Daniel. The Rabbis denied that Daniel was predicting events after the Maccabean revolt, and especially not the end of time, and assigned him a role as seer, not prophet” (p. 1642).The JSB also indicates that the book is probably the latest composition in the Tanakh, likely written in about 164 BCE, although the stories of Daniel is set during the 6th Century BCE when Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon (pp. 1640-1641). Interestingly, Daniel 1:1-2:4a and 8-12 are in the Hebrew language but 2:4b-7:28 are in Aramaic, although the natural break in the book comes between chapters 6 and 7.

These stories are surely among the first Bible lessons I learned as a kid, pushed by my mom to attend Sunday school. Key personalities of those stories include Daniel, Hananiah, Mishel, and Azariah, renamed Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—and of course Nebuchadnezzar. The stories do make teachable lessons concerning God’s protection and faithfulness. We’re familiar with how Daniel and his friends kept their integrity first by eating proper foods. Like Joseph of earlier centuries, Daniel has skill in interpreting the dreams of his Gentile ruler, which at first pleased the king. But because the young men would not bow before the king’s golden statue, they sentenced to die in the  fiery furnace. Of course, they survived, joined in the flames by a mysterious fourth person.

Subsequently, we read the famous story of the ghostly fingers that wrote Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin upon the wall of the palace as King Belshazzar and his household partied. Daniel interpreted the words as meaning the end of the king’s reign—-and sure enough, Belshazzar was slain that night and Darius of the Medes soon became king.

But when Daniel petitioned God contrary to a royal order, Darius had him cast into the lions’ den. Of course, God sent an angel to shut the lions’ mouths, and the faithful Daniel was saved again.

Chapter 7 through 12 change from third-person narrative to first-person, apocalyptic visions. This material, too, dates from the Maccabean period and symbolically convey events when the Maccabans revolted against the blasphemous Seleucid king. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible calls Daniel “the only full-blown apocalypse… in the [Old Testament]” (p. 1231); Ezekiel and Zechariah have more limited apocalyptic content. An outline of this material:

The four beasts, and what they mean (7:1-28)
The ram and goat, and what they mean (8:1-27),
Prophecy of the seventy weeks (9:1-27),
The Tigris River and the persecution of Israel (10:1-12:13)

The prophecy of the seventy weeks has captured interest and imagination over the centuries. Good ol’ Wikipedia has a nice account of that chapter’s interpretation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prophecy_of_Seventy_Weeks The prophecy of the ten-kingdom confederacy is another such prophecy: here is a link that I’ll read later: https://bible.org/article/prophecy-ten-nation-confederacy

Daniel was important in Jesus’ own discussion of the end times: look up Dan 3:6 and Matt.13:42, 50; Dan 7:13 and the parallel passages Matt 24:30, 26:64, Mark 13:26, 14:62, Luke 21:27,22:69; Dan 9:27 and Matt 24:15; Dan 11:31 and Mark 13:14. The image of “the son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14 connects to Rev. 1:7, and the vision of the four beasts connect to Rev. 13:1-7, where beasts emerge from the sea.

I agree with writers who see in these visions the incidents of the Maccabean era, then transformed in the New Testament to the era after Jerusalem’s fall to the Romans. Apocalyptic biblical material always fascinates, though, and there will always be folks who see in those passages reflections of the contemporary time. Before these blog posts end I’d like to delve into this visionary material again.

*****

As I’ve been studying the Bible this year, I’ve also studied material not found in the Protestant Old Testament (nor in the Jewish Tanakh), but are found in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons.  
The Septuagint (i.e., Greek) translation of Daniel contains the following additional material.

The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Jews (or the Three Holy Youths) appear after Daniel 3:23 as verses 24-90. This section provides more material on the incident of the fiery furnace.

Susanna is chapter 13 of Daniel: the virtuous Susanna is falsely accused of promiscuity and sentenced to death. But Daniel confronts her accusers, and when their stories do not match up, they are sentenced to death instead.

Bell and the Dragon is chapter 14 of Daniel in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. First Daniel berates the priests of the idol Bel. Then Daniel kills a dragon (a living dragon!) that the Babylonians revered: Daniel concocts a poisonous recipe that causes the beast to burst open. For that, Daniel was again sentenced to die in the lions’ den, and again he survived through God’s great help.

That is the last of the material in the Protestant Apocrypha. We have twelve books of the Old Testament to go, but in the Jewish Bible they are grouped together as The Twelve. I’ll study them that way.

This week I’m studying The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), neither of which I’ve read or studied much, if at all. They are Roman Catholic deuterocanonical books, and are also included among the Anagignoskomenon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They follow Song of Songs and precede Isaiah. They are not found in the Jewish Bible, nor the Protestant Old Testament.

According to scholarly consensus, the Book of Wisdom, or the Wisdom of Solomon, was written in Greek by a Jew of Alexandria, somewhere between 100 BCE and the middle of the first century CE. (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1419). Using a common writing technique of the time, the author writes under the guise of a well-known person, in this case Solomon. Thus it is a pseudepigraphical work.

The Book of Wisdom has two parts. Chapters 1 through 9 reflect on wisdom from a speculative viewpoint, connecting wisdom to human destiny and the life of the righteous. The author particularly urges monarchs to search for wisdom. The first section can be read as having two parts; chapters 1-5 connects wisdom with immortality and the afterlife, while chapter 6-9 becomes more like the Book of Proverbs and epigrammatically teaches the value of wisdom and the search or wisdom.

In chapters 10-19, the author looks at wisdom through the lens of scriptural history, beginning with Adam and progressing through the times of Moses and the Exodus. The author writes about how Wisdom guided biblical figures from Adam to Moses (10:1-14), and then he writes about Moses and the people in their experience in Egypt and the Wilderness (10:15-19:22).

This site explains more about the book from a Catholic viewpoint: “The primary purpose of the author was the edification of his co-religionists in a time when they had experienced suffering and oppression, in part at least at the hands of apostate fellow Jews. To convey his message he made use of the most popular religious themes of his time, namely the splendor and worth of divine wisdom (6:22–11:1), the glorious events of the exodus (11:2–16; 12:23–27; 15:18–19:22), God’s mercy (11:17–12:22), the folly of idolatry (13:1–15:17), and the manner in which God’s justice operates in rewarding or punishing the individual (1:1–6:21). The first ten chapters in particular provide background for the teaching of Jesus and for some New Testament theology about Jesus. Many passages from this section of the book, notably 3:1–8, are used by the church in the liturgy. …”

Here is another discussion of the book, at this catholic site: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15666a.htm

Ecclesiasticus, or Sirach, or the Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, all refer to the same book. As I wrote above, Sirach is accepted as part of the Christian Old Testament by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, but not by Protestants, although a few Protestant churches honor it as worthy of reading if not of doctrine. It is not found in the Jewish Bible, probably because of its late authorship, but the book was influential in Talmudic discussions.

Interestingly, Sirach 28:2 reads, “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” Did Jesus quote that verse in the Lord’s Prayer?

Jesus ben Sira (“son of Sirach”) was a Jewish scribe of Jerusalem who wrote during the approximate period 200-175 BCE. Although originally written in Hebrew, the book was finally not included in Jewish scripture, though some early rabbis treasured its contents (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1452).

Similar to Proverbs, though a little longer, it is a widely ranging compilation of wisdom teaching that, consequently, warns about ungodly living. “[Author Ben Sira] joined individual sayings by means of common words or citing themes. This way he developed a topic and explained its implications for his own day. He preferred the longer instructional form that is sometimes found in Proverbs rather than the simple proverbial sense. Like Proverbs, Sirach begins with a hymn to Woman Wisdom.. and ends with an acrostic or alphabetic poem…” (ibid, p. 1452).

Also similar to Proverbs, it is not really arranged thematically, but it does have themes. Wikipedia cites the New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha to point out six poems about the search for wisdom—-1:1-10, 4:11-19; 6:18-37; 14:20-15:10; 24:1-33; and 38:24-39:11—and the major themes include:

The Creation (16:24-17:24, 18:1-14; 33:7-15; 39:12-35; and 42:15-43:33).

Death (11:26-28; 22:11-12; 38:16-23; and 41:1-13).

Friendship (6:5-17; 9:10-16: 19:13-17; 22:19-26: 27:16-21; and 36:23-37:15).

Happiness (25:1-11; 30:14-25; and 40:1-30).

Honor and shame (4:20-6:4; 10:19-11:6; and 41:14-42:8).

Money matters (3:30-4:10; 11:7-28; 13:1-14:19; 29:1-28; and 31:1-11).

Sin (7:1-17; 15:11-20; 16:1-17:32; 18:30-19:3; 21:1-10; 22:27-23:27; and 26:28-28:7).

Social justice (4:1-10; 34:21-27; and 35:14-26).

Speech (5:6,9-15; 18:15-29; 19:4-17; 20:1-31; 23:7-15; 27:4-7; 27:11-15; and 28:8-26).

Women (9:1-9; 23:22-27; 25:13-26:27; 36:26-31; and 42:9-14).

See more about Sirach here: http://biblescripture.net/Sirach.html and here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05263a.htm

This week, I’m studying Proverbs. The following is adapted from my article “Practical Wisdom” in Adult Bibles Studies (Teacher), 6:4 (June-July-August 1998), 8-10. My great thanks goes to the editor at that time, Eleanor A. Moore.

What does “wisdom” mean in the Bible? Proverbs 30:24-28 describes it as the quality of industrious creatures like ants, lizards, and others. The word also describes persons with some kind of skill (Exodus 28:3, 36:1-2, Ezekiel 27:8-9, KJV). The Book of Proverbs means that, too, but it also links practical “know-how” with a moral sensibility. Thus God is credited as the giver of wisdom; God bestows his creatures with practical ability but also blesses human beings with a special religious and ethical sense.

In the Bible, among the first “wise men” were women: for instance, the woman from Tekoa in 2 Samuel 14, and the woman of Sheba in 2 Samuel 20:14-22. Joseph is also honored for his wisdom (Gen. 39:1-6, 41:8-39), as is the Old Testament’s #1 wise man, Solomon (e.g., 1 Kings 4:29-34). Solomon, in fact, is a traditional author of Bible books that fall under the category of “wisdom literature,” like Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes.

There are forms of the proverbs. One is “synonymous”, where the two lines say basically the same thing in different words:

My child, keep my words
and store up my commandments with you (7:1).

Another form is antithetic, teaching via oppositions:

A child who gathers in summer is prudcent,
but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame (10:15)

The righteous gives good advice to friends
but the way of the wicked leads astray (12:26).

Another form is synthetic, elaborating on teachings:

Commit your work to the ord,
and your plans will be established (16:3)

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding
but only in expressing personal opinion (18:2).

The Book of Proverbs is divided into sections. Chapters 1-9 features key themes for the book: the merits of wisdom, the temptation of women, and the personification of wisdom as a woman. Verses 1:2-6 introduces the section, which has longer proverbs than some of the other sections. The key verse of the whole book is 1:7:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Chapter 1 warns against wickedness and disdain for instruction. Chapter 2 extols the gifts of wisdom and its reliability to keep a person upright. Chapter 3 teaches about the blessings of God, the social implications of wisdom, and the value of right conduct—-themes that continue in chapters 4 and 6. A favorite passage for many of us is 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

I don’t know about you, but that passage describes my life! Although my trust in God is imperfect and often falters, God has guided me throughout my life, in often surprising ways that I couldn’t have foreseen.

Also in the first section: Proverbs 5, 6:20-35, and 7 warn against the temptations of the adulteress, the goodness of a faithful wife, and the evil of adultery. But chapter 8 contrasts the wicked woman with wisdom depicted as a woman who bestows the wonderful benefits of wisdom.

The second section of the book is 10:-22:16, attributed to Solomon. These are 375 antithetic  sayings that variously extol right living, happiness, discipline, upright conversation, generosity, and the destructiveness of the wicked life.

The third section, 22:17-24:34, is the “Sayings of the Wise,” perhaps of Egyptian origin but adapted for Israel. These sayings concern upright action compared to the evils of excess.

The courth section, 25 through 29, are of similar content and are designated as Solomon’s as well.

The fifth section, chapter 30, is attributed to the otherwise unknown Agur son of Jakeh. Surprisingly, at this stage of the book, Agur is sad that he has not yet learned wisdom! But gaining wisdom is, after all, a lifelong process.

The sixth section (31:1-9) and the seventh (31:10-31) are attributed to the otherwise unknown King Lemuel. Verses 1-9 warn again against alluring women and strong drink, while praising concern for those in need. Verses 10-31 are an acrostic poem (each line beginning with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet) about the goodness of having a capable wife.

As I discussed in another post, Wisdom literature differs from Torah in seeking life lessons and experience through experience and observation rather than through specific mitzvot, although they aren’t mutually exclusive. Job, for instance, seeks answers to the possible reasons for his suffering, though his righteousness implies that he doesn’t deserve it. “The preacher” of upcoming Ecclesiastes also seeks answers to life’s puzzles, since “life” seems to imply emptiness and vanity. Proverbs is a more generally upbeat book that reflects on life, morals, and experience through epigrammatic sayings and wise teachings.

In Proverbs, a person’s growth in wisdom and knowledge (compared to the fool who is lazy and unconcerned) is not only recommended, but also ordained by God. As an author in The Interpreter’s Bible puts it, “The highest type of family life is extolled; monogamy is taken for granted; the respect for mother and wife is emphasized throughout; chastity and marital fidelity are enjoined for all. The glutton, drunkard, and sluggard, the robber and oppressor of the poor are all roundly condemned. Those who live in accordance with wisdom’s laws are prosperous and happy. A belief in the one true and living God who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked permeates the book from cover to cover.” (Charles T. Fritsch, “Introduction to the Book of Proverbs,” The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 4 [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1955], 777.)

There are many important connections of Proverbs with the New Testament. In fact, some of the New Testament’s most well known passages allude to or quote from Proverbs, for instance, Jesus’ words about the wise man and the foolish man who built their homes on rock and sand echo Proverbs 10:25 and 12:7. Jesus also echoes Proverbs 3:28, 11:4, 11:17, 11:28, 16:19, and 30:8-9 during his Sermon on the Mount.  Proverbs 25:21-22 admonishes the wise to take care of one’s enemy rather than retaliate, and the Apostle Paul makes use of the saying in Romans 12:20.   Jesus’ maturity (Luke 2:52) echoes Proverbs 3:4  Jesus also alludes to Proverbs 16:1, 18:21, 24:12, 25:6-7, 27:1, 28:24, 29:23 in the course of his teaching (see Matt. 10:19-20, 12:36-37, 16:27, Luke 14:7-11, Luke 12:16-21, Matt. 15:4, 6, Luke 14:11 and 18:14b, respectively). (Charles T. Fritsch, “Introduction to the Book of Proverbs,” The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 4, 777-778.

I wrote in 1998:

“Occasionally the proverbs overemphasize the ‘results’ of righteousness and wickedness. Other wisdom looks, especially Job and Ecclesiastes, remind us that righteousness is not always rewarded and wickedness is not always punished. But the proverbs do teach us that our actions have consequences and that individual morality is related not only to one’s social standing but also to the health of one’s whole society. Most of all, the proverbs teach us that the wisdom born of experience is a priceless gift; indeed it is a gift of god! All the more reason to seek it diligently.”

*****

This week I’m studying Ecclesiastes. The name comes from the Septuagint. The Hebrew name is קֹהֶלֶת, transliterated Qoheleth or Koheleth, which means “the Preacher.” Both names (Ecclesiastes and Koheleth) derive from words denoting assemblies of believers, to which one would preach. The book has traditionally been attributed to Solomon. It is the fourth of the “writings” or “wisdom” books between Esther (the last of the historical books) and Isaiah (the first of the prophetic books).

Here is an outline of Ecclesiastes, which contains four discourses and a conclusion.

Chapters 1-2 consider the vanity of human striving.

1:1-3. The theme of the book is the vanity of human toil, “vanity of vanities.” In this sense, “vanity” means worthless, meaningless, or futile, and so human toil is the most futile of all futile  efforts.

1:4-11   The author demonstrates the meaninglessness of the cycles of life.

1:12-18.  Human wisdom is futile.

2:1-11. Pleasure and wealth are pointless.

2:12-17. The foolish and the wise alike will die.

2:18-22. Bequeathing the fruit of one’s toil to undeserving heirs is meaningless and futile.

Chapters 3-5 consider life’s disappointments

Chapter 3: We need a proper attitude toward life. There is a time for everything (3:1-8), but that fact also points to the fruitlessness of our striving (3:9-15), and knowing that we are dust, we make the best of life (3:16-21).

Chapter 4: Life is disappointing. Life can be oppressing, and political fame is also vanity. It’s best to have companions on life’s difficult journey.

Chapter 5: The self-serving life is vain and futile, for the oppressor and oppressed alike end the same way. One should make the best of life.

Chapters 6-8: Wealth and honor are meaningless.

Chapter 6: Our desires and goals are frustrated, and we eventually disappear.

Chapter 7: In spite of life’s vanity and disappointment, it is better to value wisdom, moderation, and perspective.

Chapter 8: Nevertheless, life is filled with injustices and wickedness, and God’s ways are beyond our wisdom.

Chapter 9 to Chapter 12 verse 8: We should leave injustices to God

9:1-6. Death comes to everyone.

9:7-10: Enjoy life while you are alive.

9:11-12: We are all subject to chance.

9:12-10:20: Still, living by wisdom is better than living by foolishness  folly, empty talk, and sin.

11:1-8: Living charitably and with joy is better, even though all is still pointless. The well-known verses 1-2 urge sharing of one’s gifts and hospitality.

11:9-12:8: A young person should also live gratefully and with happiness, even though youth, too, is vanity.

Chapter 12 verses 9-14: Concluding thoughts. “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.”

The book fascinates readers. Even more than Job, it seems an outlier in the Bible. The Bible’s covenantal and sapiential theology that promises reward or punishment in response to righteousness or wickedness contrast with the world-weary, pessimistic perspective of Ecclesiastes. But the Preacher’s words do resonate, at least sometimes!

In my old Harper Study Bible, which I’ve used for forty years, I have these notes from divinity school: “Not an orthodox Jewish work, [Koheleth] was not accepted as [Jewish] canon until about AD 100. The book is critical of human nature, with a gloomy world view. The author probably lived before the Maccabean revolt. Koheleth tests faith through secular discovery, instead of a traditional religious outlook. He is preaching life, not just God (referred to with the general name “Elohim” throughout). Unlike the prophets, he has no oracles, only very rationalistic wisdom. He denies retribution dogma and neglects ultimate values. The world is ordered on opposites (3:1-8), judgments, and God is remote (cf. Job 38-41). The book is a radical marginal note to wisdom; in a world without knowledge of God, Koheleth seeks God. If Christian theology rejects his conclusions, it applauds his rejection of a confident humanism.”

In also divinity school, I noted passages that interject more theologically positive content into the work: 2:26, 3:15, 5:19, 7:18, 7:26, 7:29, 8:11-13, 12:13. My professor, Brevard Childs, offered the possibility that these passages were added by another author to soften the book’s more gloomy judgments. He added, though, that the “canonical shape” of the book invites us to consider what the whole book teaches.

My Jewish Study Bible has this: [Koheleth is the] “sage who comes to [wisdom] through his experiences, one might even say experiments” (p. 1603). A few years ago I wrote an article, unaccepted, in which I reflected on the “experimental” quality of religious faith. If we have religious faith for the long haul, we may very well have occasions where our theology, where our interpretation of favorite Bible passages, are inadequate to the challenge we’re facing. Also, we may be challenged by theologies and interpretations that upset us. In a similar manner as scientific experiments, we can gain wisdom for our lives by testing and retesting our beliefs and our experiences. Koholeth did so, and faced the fact that his conclusions were discouraging.

The Jewish Study Bible points out themes of the book, like friendship, wealth, wisdom, and others. A primary theme is futility or vanity, “the inability of humans to make sense of the world around them, to see a coherent pattern, a plan to their lives and to nature, in the sense of a movement toward lasting goals, a line of development or progress.” We try, but we’re frustrated, and good or bad outcomes don’t seem to balance with our efforts (p. 1603).

Death is the other major theme, and for Koheleth we can’t rely upon ideas of postmortem life or endurance through memory. And so in response, we should enjoy our lives as long as we can (pp. 1603-1604).

The role of wisdom is to figure out our limits of knowledge and abilities. That doesn’t mean God isn’t in control, however. “This affirmation of God’s authority and judgment is, indeed, what rabbinic interpreters have emphasized as the central element in Koheleth, and while some modern critics have assigned the [verses] that express it to later, orthodox editor(s) of the book, it comports well with the limits on human wisdom, a central theme of the original author (p. 1604).

Rabbi Telushkin, whose book Biblical Literacy I’ve used before in these posts, points out that Koholeth can be disturbing, as in 9:2-3 where God seems “morally indifferent.” But he also offers wise advice, as in 5:4, 5:14, 9:10-11, and of course the famous and singable 3:1-8, as well as 12:13 (366). Telushkin wonders if the tradition attribution of the work to Solomon is “a gentle revenge” of the Sages against Solomon, who had declined in wisdom by his later years (367); in other words, if you fail (as Solomon did) to diligently pursue wisdom all your life, you may end up discouraged and jaded, too!

Telushkin notes that Koholeth is read in synagogues on the festival Sukkoth, the conclusion of the harvest period and of the year’s weekly cycle of Torah readings. “This celebration of work completed, expressed both as joy and as a mood of reflection on memory and time past, resonates with themes of Koheleth, and so may have established the connection between the book and the festival.” (p. 365). Walter Brueggemann also notes that, since Sukkoth is a joyful holiday in Judaism, the books’ annual recitation creates a contrast between the happiness of the harvest and the difficulties of life (Brueggemann and Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 367).

As we’ve seen elsewhere in the Bible, we gain insights when we look at the overall context not only of passages but of the biblical books. Ecclesiastes is situated between the generally optimistic Proverbs and the joyful eroticism of Song of Songs. Looking at the three books together, we have three views of the world with which we can learn: a lively confidence in God and in moral living, a respect for the power of life to discourage and disappoint, and the wonders and mysteries of love.

And finally… Here is The Byrds, singing “Turn, Turn, Turn”.

*****

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week, I’m studying the Song of Solomon, also called the Song of Songs (meaning “the best of all songs”), or in Catholic Bibles, the Canticle of Canticles. In the Christian Old Testament, it is the fifth book of the Wisdom section; in the Protestant OT, it is the last book of this section (with the following book being the prophet Isaiah), while in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles we have two more Wisdom books to go.

In the Jewish Bible, Song of Songs (Sir Hassirim) is in the third, last section of the Bible, the Ketuvim or Writings, but within those writings it is also one of the Hamesh Megillot (Five Scrolls), which are Ecclesiastes, Esther, Song of Songs, Ruth and Lamentations. Each scroll is read in the synagogue on Sukkot, Purim, Passover, Shavuot and Tisha B’Av, respectively.

(Maybe this is a good place to remind ourselves again of the Old Testament order of books, which although it does not have titled sections it does have certain kinds of writings grouped together. We have the first five books, the Torah or Pentateuch. Then we have books that continue the history of God’s people Israel, from the conquest of the promised land to the post-exilic period: Joshua through Esther. Then we have Job through Song of Songs (or Job through Sirach, if you’re Catholic or Orthodox); this material includes the Psalms and books called wisdom literature, which connect us to David and Solomon, whose stories were back in Samuel and 1 Kings. Next, we have the prophets, Isaiah through Malachi, which spoke to the time of the post-Solomon kings of Israel and Judah (1 and 2 Kings, and Ezra)—and of course to our own time as well.  So the material after Esther follows a loose chronology from David and Solomon through the Divided Kingdom, the Exile, and the post-exilic period. The last book, Malachi, will transition us into the New Testament writings.)

On the literal level, the Song is a passionate, erotic collection of love songs between a woman and a man. Delight in each other’s bodies, delight in describing and exploring each other’s bodies, delight in loving one another, playfulness in hiding and seeking one another, and heartache when the lovers are separate: all these are emotionally charged and poetically expressed aspects of the poem, rich in sensuous and culinary metaphors.

Here is a brief outline of the book:

The woman, who is dark and beautiful, speaks first, awaiting her lover (1:1-8). They meet (1:9-17), and she longs for his embraces (2:1-7).

She sings of herself and her lover (2:8-17). They play a kind of hide and seek outdoors (3:1-5).

The woman beholds King Solomon and his entourage on the day of his wedding (3:6-11). The man praises the woman’s beauty (4:1-5:2).

The woman has a troubling dream wherein she hears her beloved but he is gone before she can let him in, and she is abused by the city watchmen (5:2-8). Then she praises her beloved and his beauty (5:9-6:3). The  man speaks of his beloved’s beauty as well (6:4-7:9).

The woman sings of her love (7:10-8:4). The book sends with a poem to the beauty of love (8:5-14).

My poor little outline makes the book sound so prosaic! Go and read the book soon! It’s short but beautiful. The poem has wonderful resources of language: smilies, metaphors, double entendres, word plays, different settings, and references to favorite foods and spices of the time (Jewish Study Bible, pp. 1564-1565).

The book is difficult to date, although Solomon is the traditional author. According to the Jewish Study Bible (ibid.), the vocabulary seems to come from different time periods, so perhaps it is a collection of poems that have been edited together.

Like the book of Esther, God is never explicitly mentioned but nevertheless “feels” present. Dianne Bergant, author of The Song of Songs (Berit Olam Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry, The liturgical Press, 2001), points out that that the Hebrew word sir or “song”, means a lyric song rather than religious poem—and yet religious poems can be written in lyric form. So the book could be a secular or a religious poem, depending on your decision whether to interpret the Song as a secular love poem, or a love poem which also has deeper religious meanings.

*****

In my recent book Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament, I write about the Song: “The book is love poetry between two people and explores their feelings of delight in love-making, sensuality, longing, anxiety, and return. The woman in the poems is a strong person in her own right, who knows her mind, her body, and her hearts. She’s by no means a subordinate to her beloved.”

Then I think a bit about the “biblical views” of women.

“In its long, male-dominated story, the Bible has stories of strong an notable women: Hagar, Sarah, Tamar, Puah and Shiphrah, Miriam, Rahab, Jael, Deborah, Naomi and Ruth, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, Vashti, Esther, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla, Lydia, Dorcas (Tabitha), and others. The Bible also reflects some of the culture of the times in its depiction of women’s roles. Men like Jacob, David, and Solomon had multiple wives and concubines. Women could be publicly shamed and abused, as in the book of Hosea (2:10-13) and Ezekiel (16:37-39). Adultery was a capital crime, because it offended the man’s ownership of his wife’s sexuality, but often only the woman was published (John 7:53-8:11). One commentator (1) writes, ‘In a patrilineal kinship, a large measure of a man’s honor depended on a woman’s sexual behavior… Men had various strategies for keeping their women honorable, such as insisting that women remained jailed in public, segregating them, and restricting their behavior’…

“We see what we now would call sexism and double standard in other examples in both Testaments. Some of Paul’s language about the church presenting itself as ‘pure and blameless’ before the Lord comes from this old view of the woman’s chastity as belonging to the husband (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-33). Today we think differently about issues of sexuality, marriage, gender, and women’s place in society” (pp. 101-102)….

… except that many people don’t. Controversies continue about “the biblical view” of marriage and sexuality, often with reference to homosexuality, and often with reference to only a few verses of the Bible rather than a much broader picture of the scriptures. While the Bible does teach (or reflect cultural values) certain ideas about women’s roles, we must appreciate the Bible’s contrasting witnesses. For instance, we saw how the books of Ezra and Nehemiah discouraged marriage of Jewish men and non-Jewish women—and yet the book of Ruth is a love story of an Israelite man and a Gentile woman, and she became the ancestor of King David! In many biblical passages, men can be said to “own” their wive’s sexuality—and yet the woman of the Song is quite free, very much her own person, an equal to and perhaps even more vivid than her male beloved. Somewhere in his Biblical Literacy book, Rabbi Telushkin comments that the Bible’s exclusive or restrictive passage are often contrasted with more inclusive passages elsewhere. The Bible’s overall orientation is toward greater rather than lesser inclusion.

The Song of Songs is not only an different kind of book in the Bible because of its joyful eroticism, but also because it gives the woman of the poem are more dynamic role as a sensuous, vital person than we see in some biblical texts. To me, this fact points us to kinds of biblical interpretation that keep us open to new understandings about love, sexuality, and mutuality in our contemporary society. As Karl Barth is said to have taught, we should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

*****

The idea that a man has say over a woman’s sexuality had a role in ancient cultures, but in our own time, such an idea seems dangerously close to our modern concerns about abuse and also “rape culture.” I’m not saying that the Bible condones rape–quite the opposite–but the Bible does reflect aspects of sexuality and marriage characteristic of the Ancient Near East and the Roman Empire, which are different from our own time.

Even the woman of Song of Songs may have suffered abuse—or perhaps it was her terrible dream. Read chapter 5: The woman does not open her door when her beloved knocks, until he has already left. She went out into the city to find him, unsuccessfully—and then verse 7.

Making their rounds in the city
the sentinels found me;
they beat me, they wounded me,
they took away my mantle,
those sentinels of the walls (5:7).

The violence is so brief that it is easy to miss. Commentators suggest that the removal of her mantle (or cloak) may imply a sexual assault. Is it all a dream (5:2), or was she actually awakened by her lover’s knocks and then abused when she ventured out alone?

Today, when we’re all the more sensitive to issues of gender respect, sexual harassment, and others, some of us recognize the pain of the Song’s woman as she risks (or has a nightmare about) the unwanted attention of immoral men.

*****

There are so many beautiful passages in the Song, expressing the delight of being in love, the sorrow of being apart, the questions and insecurities of love, and the joy. Here are just a few passages from the first two chapters.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine,
your anointing oils are fragrant,
your name is perfume poured out;
therefore the maidens love you.

Ah, you are beautiful, my love;
ah, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.
Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved,
truly lovely.
Our couch is green;
the beams of our house are cedar,
our rafters are pine.

Sustain me with raisins,
refresh me with apples;
for I am faint with love.
O that his left hand were under my head,
and that his right hand embraced me!

My beloved is mine and I am his;
he pastures his flock among the lilies.
Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle
or a young stag on the cleft mountains.

What a wonderful book to be part of the Bible! As Medieval monks realized (see the final paragraph below), one of the great things about the Song is that it offers no instruction or guidance! It doesn’t even mention God! But as such it has much to offer as an outpouring of love and joy, pointing us implicitly to the Source of all love.

The traditions that focus on the Song’s deeper theological meanings are profound. I’ve also been intrigued by Michael Fishbane’s book, The JPS Bible Commentary: Song of Songs (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2015). He writes, “The Song of Songs has been sung and studied in every generation and every period of Jewish religious life and thought. it is the great songbook of the Jewish soul. The love lyrics of this Song are thus the font of Jewish creativity over the ages” (page xxxv).

Rabbi Akiba, the influential and martyred tanna (sage) who contributed to the Mishnah and halacha (see my earlier post on the Talmud), loved the Song! “All the world is not worth the day that the Song of Songs was given to Israel; all the writings (Ketubim) are holy but the Song of Songs is the holy of Holies…. Whoever…. [regards] it as a common song, has no part in the world to come” (Bergant, The Song of Songs, p. viii). Other tannaim and also later sages had similar convictions about the book.

Fishbane points out that, over the centuries, four major types of scriptural interpretation developed within Judaism. Broadly speaking, these four types focused respectively on: 1. the plain sense; 2 communal and religion import; 3. personal and spiritual value; and 4. metaphysical secrets” (page xxxv).

He continues by discussing this fourfold typology, which he continues throughout his commentary:

Peshat is the term for the plain sense of the text, including its figurative and poetic language. On this level, of course, the Song is about the woman and her beloved (page xxxvi).

Derash is the term for meaning gained in the context of the whole scripture (Tanakh). All midrashic exegesis of this kind “started with the resumption that the Song’s maiden was a personification of Israel (sometimes as individuals, sometimes as the collectivity), and that her beloved was a personification of God” (pages xxxvi-xxxvii; quotation on xxxvii).

Remez is the esoteric or philosophical reading of the book, which (with the accompanying philosophical assumptions and traditions) interprets the book as an allegory of the mind or soul: for instance, the woman is the intellect or soul, and the man is the ideal of the perfect soul or perfect mind (both of these related to God) (page xxxvii).

Sod is the reading of the Songs for the mystical apprehension, where the Song’s words of longing and love stand for the mysteries of the Divine expressed through love, and through the male and female modalities of God (pages xxxviii-xxxix).

Fishbane notes that peshat, derash, remez, and sod can be rendered in the acronym Pardes which in turn means this fourfold interpretation, about which he discusses and then interprets the whole Song.

Rabbi Telushkin, in his Biblical Literacy, notes that the Hebrew Bible has a “very high regard for human love,” and that the prophets, too, saw the God-Israel relationship in terms of human love (Isa 54:4-8, Jer. 2:1-2, Ezek 16, 23, Hos 1-3. Thus, the allegorical interpretation of the Son within Judaism began early in the canonization process. Telushkin writes, “In rabbinic tradition, the Song narrates the words which God and Israel spoke to each other at the Red Sea, at Sinai, or in the Tent of Meeting. The descriptions of the male lover are understood as allegorical descriptions of God while the descriptions of the female lover are understood as divine praise of Israel. The statements of desire and love are read as expressions of love and intimacy between God and Israel” (358).

Bergant, who expounds on the many literary and exegetical aspects of the Song, notes that early Christians also began to read the book devotionally. They understood the Song as a poem about the relationship between God and the soul, and between Christ and his church. Origin, Gregory of Nyssa, Jerome, Abrose, Theodoret, Cyril of Alexander, are among these early Christians. Medieval Christians who similarly treasured the Song include Gregory of the Great, William of Saint Thierry, Venerable Bede, Bernard of Clarivaux, and also the 16th century Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. These different Christians read the book as a beautiful allegory of spiritual love.

Jean LeClercq, O.S.B., has a book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture (third edition, New York: Fordham University Press, 1982). I found it several years ago while browsing a favorite place called The Bookseller, Inc. in Akron, OH. I want to quote him at some length to show how medieval monks loved the Song of Songs. LeClercq writes that the book was the most read, commented on, and loved book of the medieval cloister. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote 86 sermons on just the first two chapters (pp. 84)

“As it had for the Fathers, [the method of spiritual] reminiscence on the part of monastic authors of the Middle Ages had a profound effect on their literary composition. The mere fact of hearing certain words, which happen to be similar in sound to certain other words, set up a kind of change reaction of associations which will bring together words that have no more than chance connection, purely external, with one another… Thus, in the Sermons on the Canticles, in connection with these words of the second verse of the Canticle: ‘Thy very name spoken soothes the heart like flow of oil,’ Bernard speaks at length on the perfumes of the bridge when suddenly he pauses to insert a discourse in praise of humility. Had he lost the trend of his sermon? By no means. He realizes that he has gotten away from the Canticle and he does not regret it. He takes up again the verse where he had left off. But now Psalm 75 proclaims ‘that in Israel the name of God is extolled’ and Bernard introduces a discourse on the Synagogue and the Church, devoting an entire sermon to it. In the following sermon, he sings the praises of the name of Jesus, and while on the subject of the individuals of the Old Testament who bore a cognate name, he expounds the prophets. He compares them to the staff which Elisha sends to the son of the Sunamite before coming to raise him from the dead. Coming back to life, the child yawns seven times; whereupon, after a long introduction on the meaning of the allegories of the Old Testament, Bernard gives a sermon on the seven phases of conversion, and this makes him think of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: a new direction which he willingly follows. This brings his mind back, little by little, to the second verse of the Canticle. Now, this series of digressions has taken up six complete sermons.” (pp. 74-75).

The Canticle brings readers into Christ’s presence, “the spiritual union realized through charity” and the love of God (p. 84). “The Canticle is the poem of the pursuit which is the basis for the whole program of monastic life: quaerere Deum, a pursuit which will reach its end only in eternity but which already obtains fulfillment here in an obscure possession; and the latter increases desire which is the form love takes here belfow The Canticle is the dialogue between the bridegroom and the bride who are seeking each other, calling to each other, growing nearer to each other, and who find they are separated just when they believe they are about to be united. St. Gregory had given perfect expression to this alternating intimacy and separation… ‘The bridegroom hides when he is being sought so that, nit finding him, the bride will search for him with renewed ardor; and the bride’s search is prolonged so that the delay will increase her capacity for God, and she will eventually fin a fuller measure what she had been seeking’ “….

“The Canticle of Canticles is a contemplative text: theoricus sermo as St. Bernard would say. It is not pastoral in nature; it does not teach morality, prescribe good works to perform or precepts to observe; nor even exhortations to wisdom. But with its ardent language and its dialogue of praise, it was more attuned than any other book in Sacred Scripture to loving, disinterested contemplation… An anonymous commentator on the Rule of St. Benedict sees the Canticle of Canticles as the complement of the monks’ rule: it is, he says, the rule of love” (pp. 85-86).

I admit that I don’t always “feel” God’s love as something unconditional and indeed passionate. But traditional readings of the Song do point us to understanding that kind of love!

*****

Note:

1. Gale A. Yee, “The Book of Hosea,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 208.

As I study the Psalms, I didn’t realize or had forgotten that the Psalms progress in a loose and general chronology from the life of David, to Solomon (Ps. 72), and into the crisis era of the divided kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and,  by the end, the corporate worship-life of the post exilic community. Most of us, myself included, pick out individual psalms and don’t necessary see the patterns within the whole psalter.

This week I’m studying Books III and IV of the Psalms (73-89, 90-106). (I’ve used the Oremus Bible Browser, bible.oremus.org, to quote from psalm texts.) Psalms 73-83 (and also 50) are psalms of Asaph, who is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 6:39, chapter 16, 2 Chr. 29:30, and “sons of Asaph” appear in 1 Chr. 25:1, 2 Chr. 20:14, and Ezra 2:41. They were a tradition of poets and musicians dating from David’s time and into the post exilic era.

Psalm 73 is a personal favorite, a song about righteousness and wickedness; the prosperous wicked will eventually fall to ruin but God does eventually deliver the righteous, though we may have periods of distress (vss. 12-14).

I love these verses:

21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast towards you.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterwards you will receive me with honour.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

That “nevertheless” is a whole Gospel. We struggle and grow bitter at God and fall short—-but nevertheless, God blesses and keeps us and holds us by the hand.

The subject of wickedness continues to 74–where the poet laments the devastation of the land and of Jerusalem at the hands of the impious and the wicked–and to 75 and 76, which affirms the judgment of God against the wicked and the victorious power of the Lord.

Psalm 77 is another personal favorite, a song of a believer’s struggle for faith, for comfort in the memory of God’s past actions. Ralph Vaughan Williams set these lines in his opera “The Pilgrim’s Progress”:

4 You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old,
and remember the years of long ago.
6 I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit:
7 ‘Will the Lord spurn for ever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love ceased for ever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?’
Selah
10 And I say, ‘It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High has changed.’

Psalm 78 continues the theme of God’s guidance in spite of Israel’s struggles of faith. Harkening back to the Torah and other eras of the people’s history, the psalmist recalls times of forgetfulness and idolatry contrasted with God’s faithfulness and care. This recollection of history fits well among these other Asaph psalms, like Ps. 79 that connects the destruction of Jerusalem with the people’s sins; Ps. 80, a prayer for deliverance from disaster and enemies, and 81, which depicts God’s own pain seeing his people’s troubles and sins.

In this context, Ps. 82—an odd little psalm that begins with God taking council with other divine beings—makes more sense, because God, in consultation with his heavenly entourage, reminds the people of their divine favor and calls them to respond to God’s will for justice:

2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

The last of the Asaph psalms, #83, connects with the rest of these in calling for God’s judgment against Israel’s enemies.

Six more psalms finish Book III. Another psalm of the Sons of Korah, 84, is a longing for God’s presence in his house:

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise.
Selah …

10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness….

Psalm 85 is a lovely song that seeks mercy for Israel. Psalm 86, a song of David amidst these four Korahite psalms, has elements of prayer: request for help, praise for God, a petition for guidance and thanksgiving, and an assurance of God’s grace.

The short Psalm 87 praises God for Zion. Psalm 88 is a song about troubles and questions; it is one of the few psalms that contains little or no thanksgiving, for the psalms complaints and troubles and consciousness of God’s wrath consume him.

Finally for Book III, Psalm 89 is “a Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.” It provides a kind of conclusion for these other psalms of distress and judgment: God had established the kingdom of David but now there is no monarchy and the people are afflicted—yet God’s promises are everlasting, and so the psalmist beseeches God that God again show the steadfast love promised in the covenant with David. This is very much a song of post exilic disappointment, faith, and hope.

******

Again, if you begin to see patterns within the psalter, you read individual psalms with deeper meaning.  For instance, Book IV begins with the only psalm attributed to Moses, #90. It is a melancholy psalm, reminiscent of the upcoming Ecclesiastes.

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling-place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3 You turn us back to dust,
and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.

5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

7 For we are consumed by your anger;
by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
our years come to an end like a sigh.
10 The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.

11 Who considers the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you.
12 So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart. ….

17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

But this “Prayer of Moses, the man of God” provides a kind of turning point in the psalter, as God’s people emerge from exile (remembering the Temple and the Davidic monarchy in those Book III psalms) and gather together as a post exilic, worshiping congregation conscious of life’s transitoriness and of God’s favor. The Mosaic attribution helps the people return to the focus upon the Torah and God’s eternal promises to Israel. Now, a sad psalm can be read in a larger context.

Also, Psalm 90 provides one bookend for Book IV, the other being Psalms 105-106, which recall God’s faithfulness to Israel in spite of their sins and struggles. Between these psalms are a variety of individual and communal psalms, many of which are primarily praise and thanksgiving psalms, and only three of which have attribution.

Psalm 91 praises God for security and refuge. It begins with two of my favorite Bible verses:

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’

Psalm 92 is a song for the Sabbath which gives thanks to God for rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked. The short Psalm 93 affirms the majesty of God, while Psalm 94 also appeals to God to deal with the wicked and reward the righteous.

Psalms 95 through 100 are all praise psalms—calls to affirm God’s goodness, majesty, and faithfulness. Psalm 100 is quite famous:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalms 101-103 are a trio of attributed Psalms. 101 is David’s plea for integrity, both for oneself and for others. Psalm 102, “A prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before God”, regrets the time of sickness and infirmity but praises God who is the refuge of Zion. The psalm of David 103, in turn, is a plea for God’s mercies. Some famous verses:

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
14 For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.

Book IV concludes with a trio of psalms that affirm God’s Lordship of creation and of Israel. Psalm 104 (another personal favorite) affirms God’s goodness over all creation. Here is a good piece by J. Clinton McCann, author of the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on the Psalms. Psalm 104 is a lovely statement of ecology! https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2451

Psalm 105 offers praise to God the covenant-making God, faithful to the Patriarch and their descendants through Exodus, the wanderings, and the settlement of Canaan. Psalm 106, in turn, beseeches God for divine mercy as the psalmist recalls Israel’s sins and idolatries. “Nevertheless [there’s that word again!] he regarded their distress when he heard their cry.

For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
He caused them to be pitied
by all who held them captive.

Save us, O Lord our God,
and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise” (106:44-47).

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As I began to reread the Psalms a few weeks ago, I hadn’t realized or had forgotten that the Psalms progress in a loose and general chronology from the life of David, to Solomon (Ps. 72), and into the crisis era of the divided kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and, by the end, the corporate worship-life of the post exilic community. Most of us, myself included, pick out individual psalms and don’t necessary see the patterns within the whole psalter.

This week I’m studying the final group of psalms: 107-150. Book IV, 90-106, had generally referred to the end of the monarchy, the judgment of God, but also God’s mercy and eternal covenant with Israel. 104-106 had surveyed God’s greatness in creation, the history of Israel, and God’s mercy when the people’s sinned. Book V begins with praise for the ways God delivers his people: from the desert, from prison, from sickness, from the sea, and also God’s blessings of the earth.

The next three are psalms of David. 108 is a song of confidence and thanksgiving. 109 is a “psalm of anathema” (as my study Bible labels it), condemning the psalmist’s accusers and haters.

110… well, it’s one of the most important psalms for New Testament theology. Verse 1 is quoted or alluded to nearly two dozen times by New Testament authors, and 110:4 is particularly important for the author of the Book of Hebrews. The image of the crucified and risen Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of God, is one of the scriptural foundations of New Testament theology.

Psalms 111-119 is a group of unattributed psalms of praise, lovely to read together. 111-118 are relatively short and make a nice series. When we get to 119, we arrive at a famous epic among the psalms: 176 verses, arranged in twenty-two sections according to letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Good ol’ Wikipedia has a good summary of the many ways that Psalm 119 is used in Jewish and Christian worship, and in musical settings. Here also is a general-knowledge site that gives several aspects of 119. As a Jewish song gathered into the psalter in the Second Temple period, it is a beautiful expression of the Jewish love for Torah.

Psalms 120-134 are a group of psalms called the Song of Ascents. Some older translations call them Psalms of Degrees. 122, 124, 131 and 133 are attributed to David, and 127 is the other Solomon psalm. These psalms were possibly sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem (which is at a high elevation), or other perhaps for climbing the temple steps.

Tribes of Israelites went up to Jerusalem to worship (Deut. 16:16, Psalm 24:3, 122:4, Neh. 3:15, 1 Kings 12:28, etc.). My colleague Clint McCann writes, “While certainty is not possible, it is likely that this collection was originally used by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem or as part of a festal celebration in Jerusalem.” He also writes that these psalms are all short enough to be memorized and several contain references to everyday life, implying that these psalms reflect the experiences of everyday people traveling or arriving at Jerusalem (J. Clinton McCann, “The Book of Psalms,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995, p. 1176.).

It’s worth noting that the word “Aliyah,” or “ascent”, refers to the immigration of Jews to Israel. “Making Aliyah” (moving to Israel) is a common expression among Jews.

Among these psalms, 121 is my favorite psalm of all—sorry, Psalm 23. 😀 I have a whole website devoted to 121: https://hundredtwentyfirstpsalm.com From 121 comes the phrase, “maker of heaven and earth” which we recite in some of the Creeds.

Psalm 122 is well known for its phrase, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” (verse 6). 126 was a favorite psalm in my childhood because of its image of “bringing in the sheaves.” I didn’t know what a “sheaf” was—a bundle of grain stalks that can be carried—and I thought of the song in evangelistic terms rather than its original context, the gratitude of exiles returning to the Land, who NOW WILL NOT STARVE TO DEATH because they’ve harvested grain.

Psalm 127 is also well known for its verses—

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.

as is Psalm 130, the penitential, De profundis song—

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

and Psalm 133:

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!

Continuing among the remaining psalms:  Psalm 136 is a lovely praise of God’s mercy, with the recurring line, “for his steadfast love [hesed] endures for ever. ” “Steadfast love,” which can also be translated “lovingkindness” is one of the Bible’s most wonderful words.

Psalm 137 is a sorrowful hymn of the exiles in Babylon. “How shall sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (vs. 4). One wonders if the tragic verse 9 is a response to what the Babylonians did to Israelite children, especially when one thinks of the book of Lamentations’ sorrowful depiction of the plight of the exiles.

Psalm 139 sings the praise of God’s omniscience. If the psalmist ever wanted to get away from God, or felt absent from God, such would not be possible because God is always with the psalmist, always a companion and helper, no matter what!

Psalms 138-145 is the psalter’s final grouping of David songs, in which the poet seeks God’s help and mercy in times of trouble, persecution, sickness, confinement, and challenges in war, all the while extolling the greatness and graciousness of God. These songs harken back to themes that we’ve seen throughout the psalter: for instance, 143:5-6 is a cry of desperation for God’s help as the psalmist recalls God’s mercies of the past.

Appropriately, Psalms 146-150 are all songs of praise and trust in God, even exuberant, loud praise, as expressed in 149-150. Creation, too, praises God (148), as we saw in 19 and 104. As Psalm 1 promised that the godly would be happy, these psalms sing that happiness!

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150)

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Psalm 151 is found in the Septuagint but not the Masoretic text of the Bible Jews, Roman Catholics, and Protestants do not include it as canonical but several Eastern churches do. https://biblia.com/bible/nrsv/Psalm%20151

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I’ve written this earlier, but it’s worth repeating: there are many connections of the Psalms with the New Testament. Psalms are referenced in the New Testament include 2, 22, 34, 69, 78, 89, 110, and 118, and also 33, 35, 39, 50, 102, 105, 106, 107, 116, 119, 135, 145, and 147. Several psalm passages are understood to be fulfilled in, or connected to Jesus (Matt. 13:35 and Ps. 78:3, John 19:24 and Ps. 22:18, John 19:36 and Ps. 34:20, Acts 2:25-35 and Ps. 16:8-11, 132:11, and 110:1).(See McCann, pp. 672-675). We also find connections in Acts 4:11 and Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:25-26 and Psalm 2:1, Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:10 and Psalm 102:25, and notably Hebrews 1:13 and Psalm 110:1. Luke T. Johnson notes how artfully Mark 15:23-27 weaves Psalm verses in his depiction of the crucifixion: Ps. 69:21, Ps. 22:18, Ps. 22:7, Ps. 109:25, Ps. 22:8, Ps. 22:1, Ps. 69:21: see his The Writings of the New Testament, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 139.

In a post that was originally an appendix to my book (above), I listed the many references to Psalms (and other OT passages) in the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ suffering and death: http://changingbibles.blogspot.com/2016/03/maundy-thursday-and-good-friday.html Nearly all these Psalm references come from Psalms of King David, connecting Jesus’ sufferings with those of his ancestor David and thus saying something about the necessity of Jesus’ passion.