Archive for June, 2018

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.

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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.”


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).



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Isaiah 40:1-40:26

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

Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Isaiah 54:11-55:5

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

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

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

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:

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.


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 is the second of the three major prophets. Here are two websites that provide a lot of background and detail about this book:
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/

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).


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).


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.


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.


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.

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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

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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!



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

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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?’
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?
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).

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)


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


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.




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During 2017 and part of 2018, I took informal notes on the Bible and posted them to my “Journeys Home” blog. I’m re-posting these notes here on “Grace, Place.” 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 reading Book 1 of the Psalms, numbers 1 through 41. The psalms are grouped into five “books”, but whether there is a theme in each book is not entirely clear. Book 1 has many psalms of David, some of which derive from his biography, while Book 2 has more psalms about the whole people, Book 3 contains references to Jerusalem’s destruction, while Books 4 and 5 are more corporate and liturgical.

But the ordering varies. Psalm 51 is a major psalm from David’s life, but it’s not part of Book 1. Later, Asaph’s psalms are grouped in 73-83, but 50 stands off by itself. As you go through these psalms, however, you see nice pairings of psalms that provide mutual verification, interesting contrasts, and always beautiful language.

All these psalms in Book 1 are psalms of David, except 1, 2, 10, and 33 which are unattributed.

Using beautiful images from the natural world, 1 is a lovely psalm that contrasts the blessedness and happiness of the godly compared to the misery of the wicked. We should keep #1 in mind as we read other psalms, since it begins the whole collection.

2 is a messianic psalm the celebrates the eventual triumph of the Lord’s anointed, and God’s derision at the pride of the rulers of the earth. Handel set some of these verses to memorably dramatic music in Messiah.

3 is the first psalm of David, “when he fled from Absalom his son”. The psalm tells of God’s wonderful deliverance and security. This is a psalm that I yellow-highlighted in divinity school, to remember to try to memorize it.

4 expresses confidence in God, and concluding with the peaceful sleep that is possible because of God’s safety.

Following that bedtime prayer, 5 is a morning prayer that affirms God’s hatred of wickedness, God’s blessing of the righteous, and the refuge of God. As the Harper’s Bible Commentary indicates (p. 436), this could accompany Temple sacrifice (similarly to 3 and 4) or accompany rituals at the Temple gate (like 15 and 24)

Psalm 6 praises God’s mercy in time of trouble and offers assurance of God’s answer. The Harper book (p. 437) points out that 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143 are the seven penitential psalms.

7 is a prayer of someone who has been wronged, a plea for justice, and an expression of confidence that the wicked suffer because of their own plans and mischief. (I’ve heard people say, “Karma’s a bitch,” and this psalm expresses some of that feeling!

8, another psalm of David, is a beloved affirmation of the glories of creation, the surprising dignity of humankind, and God’s majesty.

9 affirms thankfulness for God’s help, for God’s righteousness, and offers pleas and assurance for justice.

The unattributed 10 is a great psalm concerning justice that has been delayed.

11 resumes the psalms of David and affirms the Lord as our refuge and strength

In 12, David prays for help amid ungodly people and is sure of God’s help.

13 is a prayer of the deserted person who painfully feels God’s absence. “A personal lament, Psalm 13 describes a desperately sick person (v. 3), abandoned by friends who gloat over this miserable end of virtuous living” (Harper Bible Commentary, 439). Some friends! But one does think of Job, whose friends didn’t gloat exactly but couldn’t fathom his sickness.

14 contrasts the practices and principles of wicked people. “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God’” (vs. 1).

15 is a short prayer about the happiness of holy people.

16 is “A Miktam of David,” but the word, found also in psalms 56-60, is of uncertain meaning, perhaps referring to wind instruments. It is a messianic prayer in which one can read some of Jesus’ experience.

In Psalm 17, David pleads his integrity and prays for God’s deliverance.

18 has fifty verses; only psalms 78, 89, and 119 are longer. The psalm also has the second longest title (behind #60): “To the leader. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:” The psalm is mostly repeated in 2 Samuel 22. True to the title, #18 testifies to God’s deliverance. One might see Psalms 18 and 19, as well as 8 and 104, as counterparts to Job 38-41, where the wonders of creation give assurance about God’s protection, rather than scold the believer with creation’s infinity.

19 is a favorite of mine (among several others) and praises the revelation of God found in creation. Verses 14 is frequently heard in churches as a short pre-sermon prayer.

In Psalm 20, David prays for victory and assuring that God will help.

In Psalm 21, David thanks the Lord for past victories and is assured that God will continue to grant victory.

22 is the famous psalm of David, singing of the suffering and glorification of the messianic king. Of course, Jesus prayed the first line while he suffered on the cross.

23 is surely the most famous and beloved of the psalms—although I also love 121. I remember having to memorize 23 as a little kid for a Sunday school assignment.

24 is another psalm hat we find in Handel’s Messiah. The poem extols the Lord of creation, praises the character of God’s people, and further affirms God as the King of glory.

Psalm 25 is a lovely prayer for guidance and protection.

Psalm 26 is a plea for vindication from God.

Psalm 27 is a song of confidence and a prayer for help.

Psalm 28 is another prayer for help, offering assurance of God’s answer.

In 29, David praises the Lord of the thunderstorms. The HBC (p. 446) connects this psalm to the Song of Moses (Ex. 15) and God’s theophany in Ex. 19, as well as psalms 46-48, 93, and 96-99.

30 is a song of David but also a song at the dedication of the Temple. It is a prayer for deliverance; I once knew of a cancer patient who was particularly drawn to the psalm, notably verses 8-10.

In psalm 31, David trusts God’s deliverance and affirms “My times are in thy hand” (vs. 15a). The HBC (p. 447) notes that the psalm borrows from other psalms like 10, 71, 38, and others, as well as Jeremiah 17:18, 20:10, and 22:8.

Psalm 32 is one of David’s penitential psalms that affirms God’s pardon and urges others to repent.

The unattributed 33 rejoices in God’s providence and deliverance. The HBC (p. 448) comments that Psalms 1-2 introduce all the psalms, and 10 is probably connected with 9, and so among the unattributed psalms in Book 1, 33 is an “orphan.” But it has an interesting theology of God’s omniscient love and care.

34 comes out of David’s pretense of madness when he appeared before Abimelech. The psalm praises God’s goodness, extorts others to trust God and avoid sin. “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (v. 8a).

35 is a prayer of help from perfection, from slanderers, and from haters. Don’t we all know haters!

Psalm 36, where David is identified as the Lord’s servant, urges us to avoid sin, and it affirms God’s grace and goodness.

#37 is the psalm of an aged man. The righteous can count on God’s help and reward while the wicked will be cut off.

David pleads for mercy in Psalm 38, a psalm “for the memorial offering.”

He prays in psalm 39 for enlightenment, deliverance, and the power to hold his peace. The designation “to Jeduthun” refers to the Levite who served as one of David’s musicians (1 Chr. 16:41, 42; 25:1-6). The name also appears with Psalms 63 and 77. The HBC (p. 451) notes that the psalm looks at life’s brevity and seeks an answer in a relationship with God.

In Psalm 40, David prays for God’s delivering goodness and for God’s mercy and grace. He is grateful for having been obedient to God!

The last psalm of Book 1, #41, is a song of the compassionate and those who act with integrity. It makes a good “bookend” with Psalm 1, and it is also very characteristic of Wisdom literature, with its focus on rewards and punishments for uprightness and wickedness. The last verse is a doxology for Book 1, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.”


As I wrote earlier, the psalms are grouped into five “books”. Whether there is a definite theme in each book is not entirely clear, but one can discern certain patterns. Book 1 has many psalms of David, some of which derive from his biography, while Book 2 has more psalms about the whole people—and more psalms deriving from specific situations of David’s life. Book 3 contains references to judgment and to Jerusalem’s destruction, while Books 4 and 5 are more corporate and liturgical. The Harper Bible Commentary (p. 453) notes that one could call Psalms 42-83 an “Elohist Psalter,” because the general name for God, Elohim, predominates instead of the proper name of the Lord, YHWH.

This week I’m reading Book II of the Psalms, 42 through 72. This section begins with eight psalms attributed to the Sons of Korah. This site gives quite a bit of information about this group. You may remember that Korah and his sons appear in Numbers as Israelites who raised questions about Moses’ leadership. But the Korahites’ role in subsequent biblical history is extensive, if not necessarily in the forefront, and the Korahites are especially remembered for authorship of these Psalms. The Harper’s Bible Commentary (p. 453) notes that these psalms are more melancholy than those in Book 3 attributed to fellow musician Asaph.

Psalm 42 is “A Maskil”, Psalm 43 is essentially a continuation of 42, and 44 is another “maskil”; all have to with crises of life and faith, and hope for God’s deliverance. What lovely psalms!

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’ (42:1-3)

and the expression of hope:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God (42:5-6, 11, 43:11)

The psalmist is unable to praise God because of troubles and adversaries, but the psalmist has confidence that praise will again be possible.

44 is another expression of complaint and prayers for deliverance.

We have heard with our ears, O God,
our ancestors have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
in the days of old…

But 44 is a prayer of a whole people in crisis. Verses 9-16 brings before God a terrible national situation; twice (verses 11 and 22) they are described as sheep led to slaughter. What a contrast to the mighty acts of God remembered in tradition, and the seeming silence of God in the situation of the Psalmist.

But 45 is a love song of a king and his bride. Compare the despair of 44:22-26 with the confidence and blessings of 45:6-9!

My writing professor in college has “Ps. 45:1” on her tombstone.

My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

46 is a wonderful song praising God for the divine strength and victory.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

Psalm 47, a song of battle, continues the praise of God as king of all the earth, while Psalm 48 focuses the praise upon Mount Zion.

Psalm 49, the last of the “Sons of Korah” psalms in this batch, is a wisdom psalm, pointing out the foolishness of putting one’s trust in riches.

Psalm 50 is a psalm of Asaph, set apart from the other songs by him (73-83), perhaps because 50 is paired so well with the famous psalm of David, 51. In both, sacrifice is acceptable when accompanied by right intent and attitude: a thanksgiving (50:14) and a broken spirit (51:16-17).

(Asaph 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 are a tradition of poets and musicians dating from David’s time and into the post exilic era.)

A friend has a problem with Psalm 51, and I think she has a good point: David regrets that “Against you, you alone, have I sinned,” but what about Bathsheba and Uriah?

Psalms 52 and 53 are also paired well. Back to that word maskil: there are thirteen psalms designed by this word of uncertain meaning: 32, 42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88-89, and 142. These two maskils both have to do with the folly and fate of the wicked. 53 is nearly identical to Psalm 14, although 14 does not have the choirmaster’s instruction “according to Mahalath” nor is it called a maskil.

Psalm 51 began a series of David psalms, several of which are attributed to incidents in David’s life. Most are prayers for deliverance from trouble, for mercy from God, and for divine help. 51 of course deals with his sins with Bathsheba, and 52 concerns the time when Saul was informed of David’s stop at the house of Ahimelech (1 Sam. 22). 54 is a short psalm of a distressed person, and the circumstance was “when the Ziphites went and told Saul, ‘David is in hiding among us.’”

55 has no specific circumstance, but David is distressed at being in trouble and being betrayed by a friend. He is also in trouble in 56 and 57, “when the Philistines seized [David] in Gath,” and “when he fled from Saul, in the cave”. 56 has a wonderful tune name, “The Dove on Far-off Terebinths.” In 59, David prays for deliverance from Saul’s men who had orders to kill him.” Within this group of psalms is Ps. 58, without a circumstance, but which upholds God’s judgment against the wicked. Altogether, these psalms are full of distress at real physical threats but also confidence in God’s help and the psalmist’s eventual triumph over foes.

After these psalms of David’s prayers for individual deliverance, we have Ps. 60 which is David’s prayer for national deliverance.

Psalms 61-70 are all psalms of David. 61 and 62 are prayers for God’s refuge and expressions of faith in God’s provision. Ps. 63, “when [David] was in the Wilderness of Judah,” expresses thirst for God. Concluding with the assurance that his enemies will be destroyed, 63 is followed by 64, a prayer for deliverance against secret enemies.

Psalm 65 is an expression of praise in God’s goodness, bounty, and power. Psalm 66, in turn, is a psalm of thanksgiving, both for national deliverance and for personal assistance.

Psalm 67, which begins with an echo of the Priestly Benediction (Num. 6:25), is a prayer of Israel but also all nations (Gentiles) who will praise the Lord as well. It is nicely paired with the much longer Psalm 68, a psalm that evokes the Exodus, the wilderness, the Conquest, Mount Zion and the Sanctuary, and God’s sovereignty over the whole earth.

The last four psalms of Book II are also psalms for deliverance. The well known Messianic psalm, 69, has many connections to Jesus’ passion and death, and ends with a song of praise for God’s salvation. Psalm 70 is a prayer of salvation from persecutors. Psalm 71 is a prayer of an older person (vs. 18) for help and vindication. Finally, Psalm 72 is a prayer for the wellbeing and prosperity of the king. The psalm (as well as Ps. 127) is attributed to Solomon.

Ending Book II with words of Solomon is apt, because some of the psalms in Book III face the tragedies of God’s people during the post-Solomonic years of Jerusalem’s fall.



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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 and for the next few weeks, I’m studying the Psalms. The following post is adapted from two of my articles, “The Psalms: An Overview”, Adult Bible Studies(Teacher), Vol 4, No. 4 (Summer 1996), 5-8.  and “Psalms: The Bible’s Hymnbook” Adult Bible Studies (Teacher) Vol. 10 No 4 (June-July-August 2002), 2-5. My grateful thanks to the series editor at the time, Eleanor A. Moore. I’m also grateful to  “The Book of Psalms” by J. Clinton McCann, Jr., in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 639-1280. McCann is an Old Testament professor at Eden Theological Seminary, where I teach as an adjunct, and his wonderful commentary was a resource for my 2002 piece as well as other pieces over the years.

The Beautiful Psalms 

The Psalms are a favorite part of the Bible for many of us! McCann writes, “the book of Psalms presents nothing short of God’s claim upon the whole world… it articulates God’s will for justice, righteousness, and peace among all peoples and all nations” (p. 641). Martin Luther writes: “Where does one find finer words of joy than in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving?… On the other hand, where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? … Hence it is that the Psalter is the book of all saints; and everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds in that situation psalms and words that fit his case, that suit him as if they were put there just for his sake, so that he could not put it better himself, or find or wish for anything better” (Luther’s Works: Word and Sacrament I, Vol. 35 [Muhlenberg Press, 1960], 255-256).

John Calvin writes, “For there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated. The other parts of Scripture contain the commandments which God enjoined his servants to announce to us. But here the prophets themselves, seeing they are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and the many vices with which we abound, may remain concealed” (Commentary on the Book of Psalms [Eerdmanns, 1949], I, xxxvii).

My Jewish Study Bible has this: “Praise is the quintessential nature of psalms, and hymns of praise are the most common type of psalm in the Psalter. In the words of Ps. 92.2: ‘It is good to praise the Lord, to sing hymns to Your name, O Most High.’ Most psalms are, in one way or another, aimed at praising God–for His power and beneficence, for His creation of the world, and for His past acts of deliverance to Israel. Often the praise comes after the psalmist has prayed for help from sickness or enemies… and his prayer has been answered… According to the outlook of psalms, the main religious function of human beings is to offer praise to God, to proclaim His greatness throughout the world…. God is called upon to hear prayers and to respond; this is one of His attributes. Worst of all is when He ‘hides His face’ and refuses to pay attention to the psalmist, because this puts into question the efficacy of prayer. If there is one primary underlying assumption of the book of Psalms, it is the potential efficacy of prayer” (pp. 1283-1284).

And Thomas Scott writes, “[The psalms] present religion to us in its most engaging dress, communicating truths which philosophy could never investigate, in a style which poetry can never equal; while history is made the vehicle of prophecy, and creation lends all its charms to paint the glories of Redemption” (Thomas Scott, The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments.. with explanatory, notes, practical observations, and copious marginal references.., Vol II, [Glasgow: MacKenzie White & Co, 1843], 56.)

As I wrote about in my previous post, I hadn’t thought of Job as a kind of companion to the Psalms. They were not written together, but they are placed together in the Bible (after Psalms in the Jewish Bible, before Psalms in the Old Testament). Job is a suffering person seeking God, as are many of the psalmists. God is affirmed as faithful, but sin and suffering also also major themes. Both books have honest–sometimes shockingly honest–language addressed to God, and though we may not understand God’s ways, we can affirm that God does hear us, is merciful and full of grace, and responds for our benefit.

Types of Psalms

The word “psalm” comes from the Greek psalteroi, meaning songs for string instruments. The Hebrew word is tehillim, or praises. Virtually all the psalms contain some element of praise, but different psalms serve different purposes. Here is a table of more types and genres of psalms: http://www.crivoice.org/psalmtypes.html A few of the types of psalms (as analyzed by scholars like Hermann Gunkel, Sigmund Mowinckel) include:

Individual Thanksgiving (e.g., 32)
Individual Lament (3, 5, 6, 7, notably 51, and others)
Community Lament (44, 74, 79, 80, and others)
Royal Psalm (18, 20, 72, and others)
Hymns of Praise (8, 96, 100, 104, 113)
Wisdom Psalms (1, 19, notably 119, and others)
Expressions of Trust and Confidence (23, 82, 121, et al.)
Entrance Liturgies (there are two of these: 15 and 24)

McCann discusses contemporary insights about these types and content of psalms in his commentary, pages 644-652. It is interesting to learn more about these types of psalms and identify them as you read.

Also, here is a table of the psalms by theme: http://bookofhours.org/psalms/tool_themes.htm

Groupings of Psalms 

Here is a Roman Catholic site that lists the psalms and their subjects, with links to the psalms themselves: http://www.thesacredheart.com/psalms.htm

The whole of the book of Psalms is grouped in five “books,” echoing the five-part nature of the Torah. These are Psalms 1-41 (with 41:13 as a doxology), 42-72 (with 72:18-19 as the doxology), 73-89 (89:52 is the doxology), 90-106 (106:48 is the doxology), and 107-150 (with 150 as the doxology for the whole collection.

Psalms are often grouped in meaningful ways: Psalm 1 is a wonderful beginning for the whole collection, praising God’s will as expressed in the Torah, while 2 praises God for God’s purposes for the nations. Psalms 22 and 23—a psalm of despair and praise, and a psalm of quiet confidence—are appropriately paired. McCann notes that Psalms 1 and 2 set up basic theological outlooks for the rest of the psalms: a person is happy when one follows God’s instruction (the Hebrew word is torah), and a person is happy when one takes refuge in God (pp. 664-665).

Psalms and the Exile

In Bible studies, once we realize the central role of the exile, we never get too far from its pervasive role within the text. McCann points out that royal psalms are found early in Book 1 (Psalm 2) and at the end of Books 2 and 3 (Psalms 72 and 89). But Psalm 89 concludes with God’s harsh words concerning David’s monarchy, and then Psalm 90, which begins Book 4 and which is the only psalm attributed to Moses, affirm God as Israel’s true home. Book 4 contains psalms that grapple with the experience of exile and loss of land and monarchy, for instance, 102-102 and 106. Such psalms would have brought peace and hope to post-exilic Jews, who have a rebuilt Temple but as yet no monarchy, and a more tenuous presence on the land than during the era of the kings. Later, a psalm like the famous 110 in Book 5, expresses hope in a messianic king (McCann goes into much more, important detail on these themes and psalms: pages 659-665, 1128-1131.)

Brevard S. Childs also comments that, because of the experience of exile, the whole psalter now has an eschatological outlook, that is, “It looks toward the future and passionately years for its arrival. Even when the psalmist runs briefly to reflect on the past in praise of the ‘great things which Yahweh has done’, invariably the movement shifts and again the hope of salvation is projected into the future (Ps. 126.6)… As a result, the Psalter in its canonical form, far from being different in kind from the prophetic message, joins with the prophets in announcing God’s coming kingship. When the New Testament heard in the psalms eschatological notes, its writers were standing in the context of the Jewish canon in which the community of faith worshipped and waited” (Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979], 518).


There are several attributions of authorship of the Psalms. About a third are labeled with a Hebrew expression translated “by David” or “according to David” or “of David”: these are 3-9, 11-32, 34-41, 51-65, 68-70, 86, 101, 103, 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 138-145. Thirteen arose from a situation in David’s life: 3, 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63. But Psalms 1-72 conclude with “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended,” although not all those psalms are David’s, and other psalms after 72 are indicated to be of David.

Asaph, a musician of David’s mentioned in 1 Chronicles 15 and 16, is named as author of 50 and 73-83. Other names include Almoth (46; see 1 Chr. 15:17), the Ezrahites Heman (88; 1 Chr. 15:19, 25:1-7) and Ethan (89; I Kings 4:31), Jeduthun (39, 62, and 77; 1 Chr. 9:16), and the Korahites (Ps. 42, 44-49, 84-85, 87-88; 2 Chr. 20:19). Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses, and 72 and 127 to Solomon.

Although individual psalms are likely very old, perhaps dating in some form back to the designated authors, the collection was assembled during the Second Temple period. In fact, scholars have called the Psalms “the hymnbook of the Second Temple.” The Septuagint has them all, but some 4th century CE manuscripts do not, and the Dead Sea Scrolls contain some of these psalms and others not included.

An example of an additional psalm is Psalm 151, which is not canonical in Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic Bibles but is canonical in the Bibles of the Eastern Orthodox,  Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Armenian Catholic Churches. https://biblia.com/bible/nrsv/Psalm%20151


Some of the psalms have designations that refer to now-forgotten tunes, like “Do Not Destroy” (57-59), “Dove on Far-off Terebinths” (56), “Lilies” (80 and others), and “Mahalath” (53, 88). There are also designations for different kinds of instruments. (We find references to musical instruments in other parts of the Bible: Lev. 25:9, Num. 10:2, 2 Sam. 6:5, Isaiah 30:29, Jeremiah 33:11, Ezra 3:10-11, et al.) The word selah, a word used in several psalms, may mean that singers are supposed to lift up their voices at that point.

Imagine that you wrote the words of a song, and you stipulated that the song was to be played on a violin to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Then imagine that 2000 years have passed, and no one knows what a violin is and no one knows that tune, but they do have your poem! That’s a silly example to illustrate our dilemma with understanding the original performances of the psalms in worship.

Hardships and Blessings 

I wrote this in my 1996 article:

“In kind with the other Scriptures, the Psalms look to God as the true King of Israel. He rules from the heavens but is active among his people, guiding, disciplining, directing, and blessing them. God’s great works for the benefit of human beings can be seen in his mighty deeds in the history of Israel. God gives dignity to human beings, getting us above the earth’s other creatures. Not only is God active in Israel’s history, he is also the Creator of all we see. The Psalms marvel at the glory and beauty of nature but credit God the Creature with the beauty of the universe; the world is not beautiful in isolation from its Lord!

“Some passages of the Bible (in many Proverbs, for instance) promise God’s goodness to those who do God’s will and serious consequences to those who act against his will. This outlook is in concert with God’s promises to Israel, wherein Moses beseeches the people to be obedient to God and gain his favor. Other portions of the Bible, however, tell of persons (one especially thinks of Job and Ecclesiastes), who have done God’s will but find trouble and heartache).

“We need to affirm both: God blesses us as we seek to do his will, yet we are not immune from all kinds of trouble in life. The Psalms beautifully lift up many answered prayers and fulfilled blessings. The Psalms also lift up the disappointment and perplexity one may experience when one is in the midst of terrible trouble—knowing that God has acted in past times to help. God intervenes on behalf of his people. Like all of us who struggle to grow in faith, the psalmists know the joy of God’s blessings yet come impatient and troubled if those blessings are delayed” (“The Psalms: An Overview,” page 8).

Homework Assignments to Myself (I) 

What I plan to do during the next couple weeks, is to read through the Psalms and pay attention to concepts that McCann notes as particularly important theologically in the Psalter. pp. 666-672):

* The person who looks to God is happy (or “blessed”) in some translations—a quality that connects us ahead to the Beatitudes of Jesus.

* The happy person is one who “takes refuge in” God (puts one’s whole self in the care of God)

* The happy person is righteousness (which is relational: one’s morality but in relation to one’s trust in God and concern for God’s instruction)

* The affirmation of God’s steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness—which connect us back to Exodus 34:6 and ahead to Jesus Christ.

Assignment 2

Psalms in the New Testament

In another blog post, I wrote that some of the Psalms are referenced in the New Testament: 2, 22, 23, 34, 69, 78, 89, 110, and 118 especially, but also 33, 35, 39, 50, 102, 105, 106, 107, 116, 119, 135, 145, and 147. Many 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) (McCann, 672-675). In another blog post, I show how important are the psalms for scripturally demonstrating the necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death: http://changingbibles.blogspot.com/2016/03/maundy-thursday-and-good-friday.html We also find connections like 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.

It would be interesting to browse in the Bible and read some of these connections to New Testament passages.

Assignment 3

I shared this link to an article that identifies types of psalms—http://www.crivoice.org/psalmtypes.html — and also this link to an article that groups psalms by theme—http://bookofhours.org/psalms/tool_themes.htm. I’d like also to use these sites for more “browsing” through the psalms.

Assignment 4

Although I have several Bibles, a favorite is the RSV Harper Study Bible that I purchased for a college class in 1977. This spring semester is the 40th anniversary of my first use of the Bible. (I spent time browsing its pages and taking notes: https://theloveofbiblestudy.com.) Subsequently I used it in seminary and in many other settings. As you can imagine, the poor book is falling apart and looks terrible, but I still love to use it.

In seminary, I highlighted Psalm verses (or whole Psalms) that I wanted to memorize. I memorized many of them. My other homework assignment for myself is to re-memorize these passages. Here are the highlighted passages in my old Bible. Do you have verses (or whole psalms) that you particularly find helpful and comforting?

Psalm 1:1-3
Psalm 3
129:1-8, 23-24

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Bible in a Year: Job

This week I’ve been studying Job. I’ve almost dreaded revisiting Job, because it’s such a heavy, challenging book. Once I led a church Bible study group on Job, and we had a hard time getting through it!

As the Jewish Study Bible commentators point out, “the book makes three main points, which are interrelated. The first, most obvious point is that human suffering is not necessarily deserved… This point is one that Job argues most forcibly against his friends. Those friends, who are concerned to safeguard the goodness of the Lord (seen as the cause of all things, good or bad), argue the contrary view… This lead to the second point. The claim that all suffering is deserved will inevitably persuade those who hold that view to falsify either the character of the sufferer or the character of God. Thus, Job’s friends argue that Job is a sinner, deserving of his punishment, while Job claims that the Lord has acted unfairly and is indifferent to human suffering. The third point, however, is the most theologically difficult and gives the good its sense of profundity and at the same time its inconclusive conclusion: there is no way of understanding the meaning of suffering. That is, in the Lord’s argument, the reasons for suffering—-if there are any—-are simply beyond human comprehension” (pp. 1499-1500).

Job believes in God and has always sought to lead a righteous life. But he suffers horribly—out of proportion to any sins he committed. Because he believes in God, the punishment (or the abandonment) of God is another source of terrible pain to him. His friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to help him, but they recite traditional theologies about suffering that we still hear from well-intended folk: God is not unjust, God may send suffering in order to discipline us, God does punish sin and so Job must’ve sinned but he just can’t admit it (or he’s lying about some hidden sin).

Job is not only suffering: he’s angry at God. The words of his friends make him all the more angry. Job doesn’t understand why God has sent these sufferings (or allowed these sufferings), and God won’t provide him with an answer. Job repeatedly wishes and demands that God respond to his pain.

The book invites all kinds of questions:

* Recalling the compassionate omniscience of God in Psalm 139, we wonder why God allows Satan to mess with Job. The idea of God sending Satan to destroy a good person is, needless to say, troubling.

* Why does God on occasion go silent? It’s a question in Job, but also in the Bible and throughout history. Where was God when the Holocaust was happening? When the Israelites were 400 years in Egyptian slavery? When our world today has over 60 million refugees? When some other horror (take your pick) is happening? When Job was imploring God for a response?

* Does God want us to be angry at him, full of questions when we suffer, as Job was—-especially since God says to his friends, “you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (42:7)?

* What happens to Satan at the end of the story? It’s well known that Satan in Job is not the “satanic” force of the New Testament but a (no pun intended) devil’s advocate with God. In Job, he is a character in the prologue but does not appear thereafter.

* Since we affirm that God is close to and compassionate toward people in their suffering (see the Beatitudes, for instance), why isn’t God a little kinder to Job when God does respond (chapters 38-41). God talks about the many and vast wonders of creation and rhetorically asks if Job can make and do all the things God can accomplish. Job wasn’t trying to take God’s place, but rather to gain an answer to his own suffering.

* Of course, Job cannot do all the things God can do, and he repents (42:6). But does he? Commentators have noted that the grammar of Job 42:6 (“therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”) is ambiguous. Depending on how one translates Job 42:1-6, Job may be repenting of his complaints and resigns himself to God’s will. Or, it may mean that Job repents of his faulty theology about God that sees God in terms of simple rewards and retributions. Or, Job may be speaking ironically—responding to God with sarcasm.

In any case, by the end of the book Job can no longer complain and has entered into a new relationship with God. Perhaps that is a major “moral” of the book! After all, suffering transforms us not only as individuals but also in our relationship with God, and for many of us, we will have deeper insight into and a deeper faith in God once the chaos of our situation has passed (Brueggemann and Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament [WJK Press, 2012], 332-334).

The epilogue of the book makes things all the more complex. Job’s friends have been trying to defend God—to honor the ways of God—while Job has complained bitterly of God. But in the end, God scolds the friends for not speaking rightly and orders them to make sacrifices, while God commends Job for his words! Apparently God does not want to hear shallow and unhelpful theology any more than Job did.

Furthermore, at the end, Job has a new fortune and a new family—and his daughters are said to be beautiful. But the grief remains: his dead children cannot return. Brueggemann and Linafelt point out that God restores Job’s possessions twice over—-which is the Torah mitzvot concerning theft (Exodus 22:7). Does this imply that God stole from Job, and now must restore twofold what God stole? (pp. 335-336)

* Here’s a much more lighthearted question. As a kid, I wondered why is his name pronounced “jobe” and not “jobb” ??

I don’t remember if I got an answer at the time. Later, I read that his name in the original Hebrew, אִיּוֹב which is transliterated ‘iyyobe, has a long O, which in turns carries over into English.


Since the theology of rewards and punishments characterize so much of the Old Testament texts—-Deutereonomistic history as well as the Chronicler and also wisdom books like Proverbs—Job seems an outlier in the Bible. As Brueggemann and Lineman write: “Theologically the book takes up old covenantally and sapiential presuppositions, challenges basic premises of Israel’s faith, and refuses any easy resolution of the most difficult theological questions that appear on the horizon of Israel’s faith. It is, moreover, appropriate that the book of Job should follow the book of Psalms in the Hebrew canonical order, for the book of Job takes up the primary genres of the Psalms, especially lament and hymn, waves them into a new coherent dialogue, and pushes both lament and hymn to an emotional, artistic, and theological extremity”  (p. 327).

Here is an outline of the book.

A.  Prose Prologue (1:1-2:13)

Job’s background (1:1-1:5)

Satan gains permission from God to test God, and then takes Job’s wealth and children (1:6-22)

Satan gains permission to afflict Job, and then he gives Job a severe skin disease (2:1-10).

Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come on the scene, and sit with him for seven days and

B.  Job and his friends discuss his situation (3:1-31:40), then Elihu speaks (chapters 32-37). 

Job curses the day he was born, wonders why he didn’t die, and cries in misery (chapter 3)

1. First cycle of speeches (chapters 4-14)

Eiphaz contends that God doesn’t punish the righteous, but sinful people are published and must eventually perish. He asks Job to seek God and to be pleased at God’s chastisements (chapter 5).

Job objects that God won’t let him die, and asks his unfaithful friends for evidence that he has sinned.
He complains to God of his situation (chapters 6-7)

Bildad contends that God doesn’t pervert justice and that God will respond if Job seeks him rightfully (chapter 8).

Job complains that God, sovereign in the universe, ignores his suffering, brings calamity upon the wicked and blameless (chapters 9-10).

Zophar accuses Job of hypocrisy and assures him of restoration if he repents (chapter 11).

Job denies the accusations, defends his incenses, expresses resentment toward his friends, and beseeches God again (chapters 12-14).

2. Second cycle of speeches (chapters 15-21)

Epiphaz says that Job id deluding himself and his words condemn him (chapter 16)

Job accuses his friend of unkindness, believes God is angry at him, and appeals to God for help (chapter 17).

Bildad reproves Job for his stubbornness and contends that the wicked fall into ruin (chapter 18).

Job scolds his friends, and expresses hope in someone who’ll vindicate him (chapter 19).

Zophar believes the misery is the lot of the wicked (chapter 20).

Job replies that the wicked do prosper, and that God will give as God wills to both the wicked and the righteous (chapter 21).

3. Third Cycle of Speeches (chapters 22-37). Notice in these speeches that Zophar does not reply to Job, but young Elihu instead comes on the scene and speaks.

Eliphaz accuses Job of believing that God is unjust (chapter 22).

Job responds that he would face a (court) trial with God, and says again that the wicked do prosper, at the expense of the righteous (chapters 23-24).

Bildad (briefly) responds that no one is righteous before God (chapter 25).

Job complains again that he knows God’s greatness and that he is righteous. He mourns his former, upright position in society that has now been substituted for his suffering condition. He protests again that he is innocent of sickness and falsehood (chapters 26-31).

Elihu steps in. He contradicts Job’s three friends (32) but also tells Job that God chastises people (33). God is not unjust (34-35), but the justice of God and all God’s works are beyond human understanding; his ways are unsearchable (36-37).

C. God answers Job from the whirlwind (38:1-42:6). 

God’s creation is vast (38:4-15), and humans cannot understand its mysteries and variety (38:16-39:30).

Job responds humbly (40:1-5).

God challenges Job, reminding him of the great creatures Behemoth and Leviathan (40:6-41:34).
Job responds that he did not understand and now repents (42:1-6).

D.  Prose Epilogue

God scolds Job’s friends for not having spoken rightly, as Job has! He instructed the friends to offer sacrifices, and Job will pray for them (42:7-9).

God restores Job’s wealth and gives him and his wife more children (42:10-17).


There are many more interesting aspects to the book.

* I agree with the Harper’s Bible Commentary: “Job’s wife deserves better than she receives in this book. Not only does she seem mainly a machine for producing babies [she had ten grown children who died, and then had ten more], but one of Job’s curses on himself turned her in prospect into at the slave and sexual toy of other men (31:9-10)” (p. 432). Furthermore, the daughters are all praised for their beauty, and are named, while Mrs. Job is a faceless and nameless character with just a “walk on.” She suffered horribly in her own right. The book of Job doesn’t advance us beyond the patriarchy that we do find throughout the Bible.

* We should always remember that chapters 2-41 are poetry–and poetry is supposed to be ambiguous and filled with implied meaning. Difficult as the book is, we’d be rewarded with repeated readings with a good commentary.

* When I took a course in Biblical Hebrew years ago, I learned that the book has many difficulties of word meaning, grammatical challenges, and copyists’ problems. Also, the book has an interesting structure that invites scholarly debate. Formally, there are two cycles of speeches with the patterns Eliphaz-Job, Bildad-Job, and Zophar-Job. But in the third cycle, Bildad’s speech is very short, and there is none for Zophar. This has led to speculation that the speeches have been confused, especially since Job’s final speech is longer than his others (chapters 26-31). Perhaps portions of Bildad’s and Zophar’s third speeches became attributed to Job—-or, perhaps, this is the intention of the texts, and the arguments of the friends can go no further and must break off. (My Jewish Study Bible gives a variety of options about how the speeches could be rearranged for a more symmetrical flow: pp. 1500-1502.)

Another issue: Job’s speeches in 27:2-28:28 has Job more “patient,” refusing to curse God, and more confident in justice, compared to his earlier speeches. From this viewpoint, Job’s words would have been more easily been followed by God’s response in chapter 42. On the other hand, the canonical form of the text (in the absence of any other variations of the book’s form) emphases Job’s faith beneath his suffering (Jewish Study Bible, 1504).

* Does Job feel entitled to blessing? If so, he is in good company: none of us feel like we deserve to suffer, all of us have some “why me?” feelings when things go wrong.

Suffering turns us inward in a destructive way. Our pain, after all, is all we can feel. When I had a cancer scare a few years ago, I wasn’t thinking about cancer as a world-wide medical problem (emotionally, anyway), I was concerned about my own health. My Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible puts it well. “Anger boils to the surface of Job’s complaint. it is manifest in bitterness, cutting sarcasm, flagrant overreaction against the friends, and cynicism toward God. Job’s grief immobilizes him, distorts his view of time, gives him sleepless nights and painful days, and saps all his energy. By searching Job’s grief we understand the world and our lives as never before” (p. 722).

My mother was an invalid whom my dad looked after. When my dad died in 1999, I lived five hours away from her but of course promised to handle all her affairs for her and to visit her as often as possible (which I did for thirteen years). Mom said one day, “There isn’t anyone who is in a worse situation than I am.” She wouldn’t believe me when I tried to tell her otherwise, and continued to feel that way when I obtained regular help to come to her home and had all her mail forward to my home to handle. A tragic side effect of grief and suffering is an understandable self-centeredness–and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness—that afflicts many or most of us until something can console us and regain for us a bigger picture.

For Job, God’s theophany, stern and rhetorical as it is, did help Job see that the universe was more vast and intricate and cared-for than he in his misery could see. Sometimes that’s what we need, too—to gain a new sense that we are part of the cycles of birth and decay and death as other creatures, and that God cares for them (us) all. We are guaranteed nothing for our physical lives except our eventual, physical death—but God gives us God’s life so that we will live with God forever.

* I had not thought about Job as a companion to the Psalms, as Brueggeman and Linafelt point out. Of course, it precedes Psalms in the Old Testament and succeeds Psalms in the Jewish Bible. But both books have honest language about God, shockingly so at times, and they made good canonical companions. If God commends Job at the end, God must want all of us to seek God and to seek answers with our own honestly and passion.

*It’s worth remembering that some famous expressions come from Job:

He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21)

…human beings are born to trouble
just as [as surely as] sparks fly upward (Job 5:7)

I have escaped by the skin of my teeth (19:20b)

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God (19:25-26).

What a beautiful way Handel set those two verses to music in Messiah!

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We are moving into a new section of the Bible: between the historical books and the prophets (that is, between Esther and Isaiah), we have several books of writings:

Job is the well-known story (a long poem framed by short narrative sections) of a righteous man who suffers 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 moving reflection upon the seasons of life (especially 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, or Canticle of Canticles) is an emotional poem of love and longing between two people.

In the Bibles of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, we have two more books:

The Book of Wisdom, or the Wisdom of Solomon, teachings of wisdom and righteousness.

Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Sirach, ethical teachings likely written in the 2nd century BCE.

The Jewish Bible does not contain the Book of Wisdom or Ecclesiasticus, nor do Protestant Old Testaments. The final section of the Jewish Bible, the Ketuvim (Writings), contains: Psalms, Job, and Proverbs; the Five Megillot (Scrolls), which are Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther; and finally, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.


The term “wisdom literature” is often applied to the books Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, the Song of Songs, those two apocryphal books, and also several Psalms such as as 1, 19, 37, 49, 73, and others.

We’ve seen a few ways how the Torah and the historical books of the Bible fit together. Following verse after verse of laws, statutes, and material for Hebrew worship in the Torah, you might expect to find historical accounts of these laws and cultic practices carried out. We do get some, if not as much as we might’ve anticipated: 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).(1) But we did see how the Deuteronomic history, by forming the last book of the Torah and opening the subsequent history of the people in the land, provides a narrative of law and promise and judgment across the centuries that draws upon the covenant established in the wilderness. And then in Ezra and Nehemiah, we saw the emergence of a more obviously religious community, established in the law and covenant, with a strong post-exilic hope for a yet-greater restoration. This apparent omission of cultic practices within the historical books alerts us to topics debated in scholarly circles: the extent to which the law was codified before 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 extent to which the law became community standard during the post-exilic period (Ezra 3:2, Neh. 13).(2)

Now: how do the Psalms and Wisdom books connect theologically with the Torah and the historical books that we’ve studied so far?

One obvious connection is that the Psalms connect worshipers to King David, the attributed author of several psalms—and, the five sections of the book of Psalms are said to mirror the five books of the Torah. Also, the Psalms connect to the post-exilic period as “the hymn book of the Second Temple,” a description one finds among many biblical scholars. Though some of the psalms are very old by the time of that temple, they were brought together and used in worship during the post-exilic period and far beyond.

Another obvious connection with the historical writings is the attribution of some of the Proverbs, as well as Song of Songs and Eclessiastes, to Solomon. Accepting that attribution, one sees different aspects of that king’s famous wisdom: the importance of practical wisdom, the beauty of human love, and the hard questions that “life” raises. The connection of Wisdom literature to David and Solomon is a reason why these books follow the historical books in the Old Testament; whereas Isaiah through Malachi, which follow 2 Kings in the Jewish Bible, is another possible arrangement.

As far as the ways the Wisdom books connect with Torah and History: we see more contrasts than specific connections.

For instance, as Bernhard Anderson puts it, “The prophetic themes that dominate the Pentateuch [Torah] 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 the Wisdom books].” 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 apocryphal wisdom books like Ecclesiasticus do we find more linkage of wisdom with law and covenant.(4)

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. 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 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. You could say that its moral world is close to that of Torah without specifically citing mitzvot. 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.”(5)

But the mystery of suffering stands out among these books, raising questions about any easy linkage of rewards and punishments to human behavior. Thus, these books form another contrast to the Deuteronomistic theology that we’ve surveyed. For instance, Ecclesiastes famously comes down on the side of life’s utter futility; even pursuing righteousness seems meaningless. Job never finds a simple answer to the reason for his suffering, other than the mysterious ways of God that are beyond human understanding. So many of the psalms, too, are beloved because they are cries to God amid human pain that are so honest and identifiable in our own experience. If you add the book of Lamentations to this mix (as the Jewish Bible does), you find heartbreaking complaints to God for social suffering, wherein the divine judgment seems not to spare the starving innocent.

My Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible has a good summary: “[Sufferings]… remind us that this life is not all there is and that there is a reality beyond this life that is the source of our lasting joy and enduring happiness. We come to see that suffering is only one side of the human experience with God, and we come to depend on him more and more to carry us through it. But there is no celebration in suffering. We live with the stark awareness that even if we could do everything right, life still may not turn out the way we hope or intend… [Yet] all suffering is redeemable.. [In suffering w]e discover the abiding, caring presence of the God who holds each and every one of us in the hollow of his hand…” (pp. 719-720).

There are MANY connections of the Writings with the New Testament.

* 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).(6)

* 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).(7) 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.(8)

The Psalms connect theologically to the New Testament in another important way. My Old Testament prof for a semester, Brevard S. 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.”(3)

* The blamelessness and suffering of Job mirrors that 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.(9)

* A traditional, allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs is that it pertains to the Lord and Israel, and to Christ and his church.

* I found a Roman Catholic site that finds citations in the New Testament to the deuterocanonical books: http://www.cathtruth.com/catholicbible/deut.htm It is a bone of contention between Catholics and Protestants that Catholics add too many books to the Old Testament and that Protestants omit important books that connect to New Testament teachings. The difference is not dishonesty on either side but rather different interpretations of the historical process of canonization.

(Quite a bit of this material appeared in an earlier blog post: https://bibleconnections.wordpress.com/connections-2/)


1.   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.

2.  Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 137.

3.  Brevard S. Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 209-210.

4. Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (third edition, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975), 531-532 (quote on page 531).

5. Charles T. Fritsch, “Introduction to the Book of Proverbs,” The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1955), 777.

6. Ibid, 777-778.
7. J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of the Psalms,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 672-675.
8.  Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 199. 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. Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 139. See also my blog post: http://changingbibles.blogspot.com/2016/03/maundy-thursday-and-good-friday.html
9. “Job, Theology of,” in Elwell, ed., Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, 419

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I decided that as long as I’m undertaking all this extra Bible studying each week, I should also study the Apocrypha—because these are books that I’ve barely studied at all, if ever.

The Apocrypha are books that Protestant Old Testaments lack, 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 (see my last post), 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.

It’s interesting to read the history of the selection of biblical books. 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.

For these informal notes, I’ll mostly stick with deuterocanonical books of the Roman Catholic Bible, with reference to the Anagignoskomena. In these Bibles, 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 effect 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 feminity–as her ability to deceive believably–makes it a wonderfully compelling story (p. 1472).


This week I’ve been studying 1 and 2 Maccabees, with a quick look at 3 and 4.

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. It might be good to see a biblical chronology again:

– Patriarchs: about 1800-1500 BCE (Genesis)
– Exodus, Wilderness, and Conquest: about 1500-1200s BCE (Exodus-Joshua)
– 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).

Our upcoming scriptures, 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 reconsecrated, 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.

Here is a good Jewish site about the book. 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.” (Here is another good site.) 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, a fact that this author uses to defend the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books.

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. (Here is a good site.)

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



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