Sunday, May 24, 2015

RSM Summary of Hosea Chapters 4-8

For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will rend and go away, I will carry off, and none shall rescue~Hos 5:14
The verse numbering in this post follows that of the RSVCE which, on occasion, differs from that found in the NAB and other bibles. Scripture reference links are to the RSVCE. Clicking on the link will open a new window which will allow you to view the scripture reference in several different translations. 

It is important to remember that after the death of Solomon-and as punishment for his sins-the Kingdom of David split in two (see 1 Kings 11:1-12:32). Ten tribes in the north of the Holy Land formed a new kingdom which retained the name of “Israel,” and it is commonly referred to by modern scholars as “the Northern Kingdom.” Two tribes remained under the davidic monarchs and become know as “Judah” (Juda), or as “the Southern Kingdom” by modern scholars. For the history of this era one can profitably consult Section 6 of John Bright’s A HISTORY OF ISRAEL; the section is entitled The Independent Kingdoms of Israel and Judah: From the Death of Solomon to the Mid-Eighth Century. For dated but still useful background on the prophet and his book you can consult the Catholic Encyclopedia article “Osee.” “Osee is the Greek spelling of Hosea.

Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel. On the basis of the superscription (Hosea 1:1) and other evidence in the book his ministry is usually dated from circa 750 through 725 BC.

Israel has been committing “harlotry” against her husband, God, but he is intent on having her back. This is the basic message of Hosea 1-3. Through the prophet the people are summoned to here God’s complaint against them (Hosea 4:1-3). The complaint includes the fact that priests have been leading the people astray (Hosea 4:4-14), and they are exhorted to give up the idolatrous sites at Gilgal and Bethel (Hosea 4:15-19). Three groups of people are then called upon to “hear” what the Lord has to say (Hosea 5:1-7); they are: 1. the priests; 2. the House of Israel; 3. the house of the king. They have become their own snare, their own net, their own pit in which they have trapped themselves (Hosea 5:1-2). Their Whoring, deeds and pride hinder at best, and make impossible at worst, any relationship with God (Hosea 5:3). They no longer even know God, but he knows them and their doings (Hosea 5:3-4). Their pride witnesses against them, and their guilt will be their downfall (Hosea 5:5). They still seek with sacrifices this God they no longer know, unaware that he has drawn away from them (Hosea 5:6). By whoring against the Lord with whom they had covenanted, the leaders have raised up illegitimate children.

Israel (and Judah too) have failed to trust in God and  have turned to political alliances instead (Hosea 5:8-14). The political savvy of the nation’s leaders, and the military clout of foreign empires have replaced trust and confidence in God. What the people do not understand is that their troubles (i.e., hostile enemies, political upheavals) are the result of the covenant infidelities (see Deut 28:25; Deut 28:49-57). And what they especially do not understand is that these troubles are their God’s doing as punishment (Hosea 5:12; Hosea 5:14).

As already indicated, the people do not really know God (Hosea 5:4), even though they seek for him with sacrifice (Hosea 5:6). It is no surprise then that the beautiful prayer of repentance attributed to them (Hosea 6:1-3) is without meaning (Hosea 6:4-6). True devotion and knowledge of God are better than sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).

This lack of knowledge and the false repentance are at the heart of what troubles the kingdom. Protestant scholar, James Luther Mays, entitles Hosea 6:7-7:2 “A Geography of Treachery.” The places named in this passage were often associated with treachery, deceit, and especially, idolatry. Things have gotten so bad that even when God attempts to heal his people they commit more sins (Hosea 7:1). Their lack of knowledge leads to the failure to consider that God remembers their evil deeds: Now their deeds encompass them, they are before my face (Hosea 7:2 RSV).

The politics of Israel are the politics of sin (Hosea 7:3-7). The king and the princes of the kingdom are wicked and this suits the people fine. Intrigue is hidden behind joy and drunkenness and leads to assassination. In Hosea’s day six kings rose and fell; four by assassination (Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, Pekah). A fifth king, Menahem, reigned ten years only because he paid huge amounts of protection money to Assyria to ensure this. The last king (Hoshea) was deposed and arrested by the Assyrians after intriguing against them. Because of their political machinations the people are compared to a heated oven left unattended and fueled by wine (Hosea 7:4-5); for like an oven their hearts burn with intrigue; all night their anger smolders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire (Hosea 7:6). In the heat of their anger they consume their kings; none think of calling upon the Lord (Hosea 7:7).

Ephraim (another name of the northern kingdom) mingles with pagan peoples. A cake (a flat loaf of bread) when left unturned in a smoldering oven slowly burns (Hosea 7:8), and this is seen as a  fitting image for the nation, for a cake unturned slowly burns.  The pagan peoples it is relying on are slowly devouring them; slowly the kingdom is aging like a man whose hair gradually turns gray (Hosea 7:9).

Like a silly dove which can’t make up its mind which way to fly, bird-brained Ephraim goes cooing after both Egypt and Assyria. Some of the kings in the north (and the people who supported them) depended on Egypt to aid them against Assyria, others sought to ingratiate themselves with Assyria in order to maintain power (Hosea 7:11). All merit the divine punishment for not relying on God as their protector (Hosea 7:15), an act of rebellion (Hosea 7:12-13). Rather than cry to God from the heart they practice pagan mourning rituals, gashing themselves (Hosea 7:14; 1 Kings 18:28; and see Lev 19:28, Deut 14:1), as if their God was just one of the Baals’ (Hosea 7:16).

The situation is desperate, a bird of prey hovers over the silly dove, Ephraim,. It is a dying kingdom because it has broken Covenant with the Lord (Hosea 8:1). The people call to God, claiming to know him, but their deeds speak the real truth, and pursuit by enemies is to be their recompense (Hosea 8:2-3; see Deut 28:25).

By intrigue, power politics, deceit and murder, kings and princes have been made and broken, this has not been the Lord’s doing. It was a king’s duty to protect the integrity of worship, but the people who made kings for themselves have also made idols. (Hosea 8:4). The premier idol in the land, the bull calf at Samaria, God rejects, and his anger burns against its devotees: How long will it be till they are pure (Hosea 8:5 RSV). It is the work of an artisan and it shall come to naught (Hosea 8:6). He who sows wind (idols, see Isa 41:29) reaps the whirlwind, God’s wrath (Hosea 8:7). Because they relied on the Baals to give them grain God will keep it from them (Hosea 8:7, and see Hosea 2:8-9).  And what grain is produced will be consumed by strangers, one of the covenant curses (Hosea 8:7, and see Deut 28:33-34).

The kingdom itself is being devoured by the alien lovers it has sought help from (Hosea 8:8-10). Their altars serve their sins (Hosea 8:11), for foreign lovers and foreign alliances both lead to idolatry (for lovers, see Exodus 34:16; 1 Kings 11:1-2. For alliances see 2 Kings 16:7-18).

The law was given to God’s people for wisdom, to make of them a great nation (Deut 4:6-8), but in Hosea’s day, if that law were increased ten-thousand times, the people would be unable to comprehend it (Hosea 8:12). They love sacrifice in which the Lord has no delight, and they have forgotten the Lord who made them. But God will not forget their iniquity, or leave them unpunished. Having rejected their maker they have made palaces and fortresses for themselves, these shall be destroyed (Hosea 8:13-14).

A summary cannot possibly do justice the the content of Hosea 1-8, for this reason I have appended a few suggestions for study.

SUGGESTED READINGS AND ONLINE RESOURCES
Posts marked with three asterisks *** indicate online material

*** St Paul's Repository's Minor Prophets Podcast on Hosea. By Father Robie Low

*** Father Mike's Bible Study Podcast. On Hosea and Amos

*** Father Mitch Pacwa's  Old Testament Prophets Series. From EWTN. Listen to episodes 22-25.

*** Brief Introduction to Hosea. From the Catholic News Agency.

Jerome Biblical Commentary. Succinct commentaries on all the books of the bible, plus essays on a wide range of related subjects. Use with some caution. The work has engendered controversy, and the updated version even more so.

New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. Like the previous commentary this one offers succinct commentaries on all the books of the bible, plus essays on related subjects. an extensive revision of an older work, it has caused much less controversy.

Amos, Hosea, Micah. Old Testament Message, Volume 7. By Father Bruce Vawter.

The Twelve Prophets: Berit Olam Series. By Marvin A. Sweeney. I believe the author is Jewish. The series employed authors from a variety of theological traditions. I cannot recommend all the books in the series. This is the first of two volumes on the Twelve Prophets.

The Minor Prophets: Navarre Bible Commentary Series. A good place to begin. This series was the brain child of Saint Jose Marie Escriva and was compiled by the faculty of the University of Navarre.

Hosea: Anchor Yale Bible Commentary. By Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman. Non-Catholic authors. The series employed authors from a wide variety of theological backgrounds, including a number of well known Catholic scholars. This work is lengthy and somewhat technical.

Grace Abounding: A Commentary on the Book of Hosea: International Theological Commentary Series. Non-Catholic author. The series did employ a few Catholic scholars.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

RSM Notes on Ezekiel 47:1-12

I find Ezekiel a very difficult book, for this reason one should not expect much in the way of notes. Chapters 8-11 provide background for chapters 40-48. These latter chapters in  many ways present a reversal of the situations detailed in the earlier ones.  I’ve included a couple of suggested readings at the end.

Background~In Ezekiel 8:1-11:25 the prophet experienced a vision of the temple grossly profaned by the worship of idols, animals, the god Tammuz and the sun.  So grossly has the temple been profaned that God declares he is being driven away (Ezekiel 8:6). Destruction is decreed (Ezekiel 8:18). A summons is sent to six “men” who remind us of the destroying angel(s) of Exodus 12:23; 2 Sam 24:16-17 and 2 Kings 19:35. They are given the command to destroy and are clearly to be seen as a prophetic foreshadowing of the Babylonian army and the havoc it was to reap on the people. Meanwhile a seventh “man” is commissioned to bestow an identifying mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof (Ezek 9:4). There is in this a subtle hint that some will survive the coming catastrophe (see Ezekiel 9:1-11). The seventh “man” (apparently a priestly figure) is then given a second commission to fill thy hand with the coals of fire…and pour them out upon the city (Ezekiel 10:2). Sent off to his task the glory of the Lord then leaves the threshold of the Temple (Ezekiel 8:6; 10:18; 11:22-23).

After witnessing all of this the prophet is told to prophecy against certain men that study iniquity, and frame a wicked counsel (Ezekiel 11:2).  They have been claiming that Jerusalem and it inhabitants are safe when, in fact, their destruction is coming. The sword will come upon them (see Ezekiel 11:1-13), a great exile will happen. (It should be kept in mind that there were at least two exiles from Judah. The earlier of the two occurred in  597 BC as a result of Judah's political intrigue against the king of Babylon. The victims of this exile included Ezekiel before his prophetic call; see Ezek 1:1-2. This earlier exile was meant as a warning so that the people and rulers of Judah would not rebel again against their Babylonian overlords whom God had placed over them in punishment. They did rebel again however, and in 587 Babylon invaded, destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, and exiled a large number of inhabitants).

We learn from the remainder of chapter 11 (Ezekiel 11:14-21) that the first exiles (those of 597 BC) will eventually return to the land and rebuild, but not before the remaining inhabitant are punished for their continued and increasing sins.

There then follows, in Ezekiel 12, prophetic acts meant to symbolize the siege and exile of the people and, also, there occurs revelation to the prophet concerning what is coming and why. Sword, famine and pestilence are coming upon the land (Ezekiel 12:16). Cities will be laid waste and the land will be a desolation (Ezekiel 12:20). Ezekiel 40:1-48:35 (from which today’s first reading is taken, i.e., 47:1-9, 12) is intended to convey the reversal of this situation. 

Eze 47:1 Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 

Ezekiel has been (if I may put it this way) on a visionary tour of a new Temple. He has seen the Lord’s glory enter this new temple (Ezekiel 43:1-9), reversing its exodus from the old one (Ezekiel 11:22-23). Standing now before the front, easterly-facing gate of this vision-temple, the prophet sees water issuing from under its threshold and flowing through the inner court, past the right side of the altar of sacrifice. Note: the gate here is to the temple, not the wall gates mentioned in verse 2.

Eze 47:2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.

Ezekiel and his guide leave the inner court by the north wall-gate and circle the wall until they come to the east gate of the wall. Here the prophet sees the water running (literally, pouring) out under this gate. We are to understand that the water issued from the temple (verse 1) in a small quantity but is now increasing in volume.

Eze 47:3 Going on eastward with a line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. 
Eze 47:4 Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the loins. 

 Eze 47:5  Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.

Four times at one thousand cubit intervals,  Ezekiel’s guide measures the depth of the stream which is shown to be increasing in both depth and volume of water. Note: A cubit was a rough form of measurement, apparently indicating the distance from elbow to finger tip. The average cubit is estimated to have been about 18 inches or 0.5 meters (approximately).

Eze 47:6 And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back along the bank of the river.
Eze 47:7 As I went back, I saw upon the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other.
Eze 47:8 And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh. .

The water continues its course through the Judean wilderness (“Arabah”) and into the Jordan River (apparently), finally coming to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is so named because its high salt content makes it inhospitable to life, but the temple water flowing into it will cause it to "become fresh.”  

Eze 47:9 And wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.
Eze 47:10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea; from En-gedi to En-eglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.
Eze 47:11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt.

The land had been brought to destruction after the glory of the Lord had left the Temple. In his vision, the prophet sees that once the temple is rebuilt and the glory of the Lord again dwells there, the people, produce and livestock will again flourish. The once dead sea will sustain and abundance of fish from En-gedi (an oasis located on the western shore) to En-eglaim (site unknown). Many see a connection between the reference to fish/fishermen and the Gospel accounts of the call of the disciples (Mt 4:18-22; Mk 1:16-20; Lk 5:1-11). 

More interesting is the fishing story in John 21 where the disciples catch 153 large fish. Augustine noted that the number 153 was a triangular number; specifically, the triangle of 17. (Interestingly, 153 is itself the seventeenth triangular number in the series of triangular numbers). A triangular number is the sum of dots in an equilateral triangle formed from and filled by equally spaced dots. A triangular number is also the sum of all the numbers from 1 to the triangular of the number (e.g., 1+2+3....+17 = 153). Here is where things get really interesting. The suffix ("gedi") of the place name En-gedi mentioned by Ezekiel has a numerical value of 17. The suffix of En-eglaim has a numerical value of 153. Did St John, who portrays Jesus as the new temple (Jn 2:19-21) out of which water flows (Jn 19:34) see a connection with this passage from Ezekiel? 

Eze 47:12  And by the torrent on the banks thereof on both sides shall grow all trees that bear fruit: their leaf shall not fall off, and their fruit shall not fail: every month shall they bring forth firstfruits, because the waters thereof shall issue out of the sanctuary: and the fruits thereof shall be for food, and the leaves thereof for medicine. 

The passage always reminds me of the second strophe of the morning hymn of the Liturgy of the Hours  sung on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross: 
O Cross of Christ, immortal tree
On which our Saviour died,
The world is sheltered by your arms
That bore the Crucified.

Beginning with the early Church Fathers the passage was often interpreted in relation to Christ, the new temple (John 2:13-22), from whom blood and water issued (John 19:31-37). And in relation to the new creation (Rev 22:1-5). It also was used in association with baptism, particularly during the Easter Vigil when the catechumens were baptized:

The second symbol of the Easter Vigil – the night of Baptism – is water. It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings. On the one hand there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it. Hence the book of Revelation says that in God’s new world, the sea will be no more (cf. Rev 21:1). It is the element of death. And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus’ death on the Cross: Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea. Having risen from death, he gives us life. This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.

The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life. It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture. They are places from which life rises forth. Beside Jacob’s well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life. He reveals himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf.  John 4:5-15). Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side – from his pierced heart – there came out blood and water (cf.  John 19:34). The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. In his death, Jesus himself became the spring. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf.  Ezekiel 47:1-12). In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile. Jesus, however, prophesied something still greater. He said: “Whoever believes in me … out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love! (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Holy Saturday, 2009).

 My next post will be Hosea, followed by the rest of the Minor Prophets in their canonical order. Daniel will be the last book we look at.

Suggested Books: three asterisks (***) indicates online material

*** Introduction to Ezekiel. By Mark Giszczak at Catholic News Agency.

***Ezekiel in the Catholic Encyclopedia

***  Ezekiel in the Jewish Encyclopedia

*** Father Mike's Bible Podcast on Lamentations and Ezekiel.

*** Father William Most's Commentary on Ezekiel. Brief introduction followed by chapter summaries.

*** The River of Ezekiel's Temple. Interesting article on a site called "Catholics For Israel." I am not familiar with the site or its overall content and purpose.  The article looks at chapter 47:1-12 in relation to various biblical themes such as water, the cosmic mountain, the Garden of Eden, Feast of Tabernacles, etc.


 Interpretation: Ezekiel (A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching). Joseph Blenkinsopp. Blenkinsopp is professor emeritus at Notre Dame University. The interpretation series was produced by authors from a variety of ecclesiastical traditions.

Ezekiel: A New Heart (International Theological Commentary). Father Bruce Vawter and Father L. J. Hoppe. The ITC is a series which includes contributors from a wide range of ecclesiastical traditions

Ezekiel, Daniel: (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture). Stevenson and Glerup, editors. Commentary take from the fathers and early medieval writers. I’ve not yet read the book but I suspect I will find 47:1-12 interpreted christologically, with the temple being applied to Christ, the water to his passion, baptism, etc. 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Father MacEvilly's Commentary on Acts 14:19-28

Acts 14:20. “Disciples.” His late converts, fancying him dead, and preparing to perform the rites of sepulture.

“He rose up.” Which was regarded by many as miraculous, as happened St. Sebastian under Diocletian. Some conjecture that his rapture into Paradise may have occurred then (2 Cor. 12:2, &c.).
Acts 14:21-22. “Returned again” courageously to the scene of their former persecution to exhort their converts not to deflect from the right path on account of sufferings, since, “through many tribulations,” &c. It is a fixed law of God’s adorable providence that the road to Heaven is the royal highway of the Cross, the only gate for entering it, the narrow gate of tribulations, which are “many.” It was in this way the Head entered; so must also the members. “All who wish to live piously in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12). This life is a time for suffering here; the next, for enjoying the reward of suffering.
Acts 14:23. “Ordained to them Priests.” The Greek word for “ordained” literally means, in classic authors, to choose or elect, by holding out the hands (χειροτονησατες). It was originally applied to the voting of the people in public assemblies in favour of candidates for office. It is clear that here the election, appointment, or ordination, strictly speaking, took place irrespective of any voting on the part of the people. The whole operation, as the context shows, was performed solely by Paul and Barnabas. The threefold action was performed by the same persons, viz., ordaining, praying, with fasting, commending to the Lord.

Who else but Paul and Barnabas “commended their converts to the Lord”? Considering all the actions and circumstances, viz., praying with fasting, which accompanied this “ordaining,” it clearly can refer to nothing else save the conferring of the Sacrament of Holy Orders which was given by the imposition of the hands of Paul and Barnabas.

The word, χειροτονια, is well known to have been employed by the Greek Fathers to designate the Sacrament of Holy Orders, of which it became with them the official designation, probably grounded on this passage. While χειροθεσια, imposition of hands, is the term they used for the Sacrament of Confirmation.

It is also deserving of remark that the conjunction “and” is omitted in Greek before “had prayed.” The passage would then read thus: “And when they ordained to them Priests, praying with fasting,” &c. From this it is clear that all the operations performed together, viz., praying, fasting, imposing hands, manifestly refer to the same sacred rite, whereby the members of the Church were consecrated Priests.”

The word, “Priest,” comprises the clergy as well of the first as of the second order. The term, “Bishop,” by ecclesiastical and Apostolic usage, is applied only to the clergy of the first order, whom we know, as a defined point of faith, to be superior to the Priests in order and jurisdiction (Council of Trent, SS. xxiii. c. 4 canon 7).

“Commended to the Lord.” This was their valedictory farewell on leaving them.
Acts 14:24. “Pisidia” (Acts 13:14). This would be Pisidian Antioch in the lakes region of the province of Antalya inmodern day Turkey.
Acts 14:25. “Attalia,” in Pamphylia, on the sea coast. Also in Turkey.
Acts 14:26. “Antioch” of Syria (Acts 11:19; Acts 13:1). “Delivered to the grace of God.” Commended to the Divine protection on entering on the great missionary work, which they brought to a successful conclusion.
Acts 14:27. “Opened the door of faith,” &c. Supplied the means and opportunity of preaching the faith to the Gentiles, which, by God’s grace, they embraced.
Acts 14:28. How long cannot be exactly determined. The next we hear of them is at the Council of Jerusalem (c. 15).

Father MacEvilly's Commentary on John 14:21-28

Jn 14:21. The above favours are not confined to the Apostles alone. They extend to all the faithful. “He that hath My commandments,” bears them in mind, “and keepeth them.” It won’t do, to believe and retain them in mind. It is necessary to observe them in deed. “He it is that loveth Me.” The observance of My commandments is the true test of love. “And he that loveth Me will be loved by My Father.” My commandments are the commandments I received of My Father. He, then, who keeps them, loves My Father, and shall be loved by Him in turn, and shall receive from Him abundant proofs of His love in the great blessings He shall bestow. “And I shall love him,” not only as God, but as man, and shall bestow on him great gifts here and hereafter

“And will manifest Myself to him,” in this life, by a clearer revelation of Myself, by a practical knowledge and feeling of love, such as My Saints experience when they taste and see how good God is; and in the life to come, when he shall see Me face to face.

Jn 14:22. Judas Iscariot had left, the Evangelist, therefore, who had already stated that he had left, here guards against any mistake. The Judas here referred to was Thaddeus, the brother of James, the Less. He was the author of the Catholic Epistle.

“How is it, that Thou wilt manifest?” etc. He refers to Jn 14:19–21. He could not understand how our Lord, in His glorious manifestation after death, would conceal Himself from worldly men, while showing Himself to His disciples.

 Jn 14:23. Our Lord, replying in very general terms, says, that He will manifest Himself to more than His apostles, that “if any one”—no matter who—“love Him,” and—in proof of his love—“keep his word,” His “Father will love him,” in turn, and so will the Son also, as is conveyed in the plural form in next words, “and We will come,” Father and Son; the Holy Ghost also comes, “and make our abode with him,” as guests, in the house of our friend. He will speedily manifest Himself, in His glorified body, to His Apostles after His Resurrection, and He will also specially manifest Himself to all the faithful, during life, by indwelling in them by His grace and communication of heavenly, spiritual and interior gifts. In this verse it is implied, that it is because worldly men do not love Him nor keep His commandments, He does not manifest Himself to them.
Jn 14:24. He here conveys, that many keep not His commandments, because they do not love Him. And to add greater importance to His commandments, and assert the honour of His Father, as is His invariable custom, He says these commandments are not His, “is not Mine,” independently of His Father, who, in communicating His Divine nature, to His Son in His eternal generation, communicated also all knowledge. “In Him were shut up all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom” (Ser. Jn 7:16). Hence, neither the Father nor the Son love the world, nor shall They manifest themselves to it.
Jn 14:25. “Remaining with you.” Conversing in My mortal state with you, who understand the sublimity, as well as the novelty of My doctrines only imperfectly, on account of your rude state of mind.
Jn 14:26. “But the Paraclete,” the Consoler, to whom I referred already (Jn 14:16), “the Holy Ghost,” He now mentions who that Paraclete is, “whom the Father will send in My name” (i.e.), at My entreaty; or on account of My merits. It may also mean, in My place, who am soon to leave you. “He will teach you all things,” causing you to understand clearly what, owing to your rude and imperfect state, you now can hardly understand or apprehend, “and bring to your minds,” on all befitting occasions, in the hour of trial and temptation, He will bring to your mind, what you might forget and lose sight of, and not even apprehend, in order to strengthen and console you. 

All things whatever”—pertaining to salvation—“I have said to you,” while remaining here with you, in My visible, mortal state.
Jn 14:27. In this valedictory or leave-taking address, our Lord uses the form of benediction in use among the Jews, when using salutations and leave-taking. “Peace be with you.” This form of words embraced the abundance of all temporal and spiritual blessings. Our Redeemer, in leaving His Apostles peace, gives a never-failing promise of all blessings, especially tranquillity of soul, and holy resignation in the midst of the trials in store for them, and especially in the midst of their sorrows at His approaching death, and departure from them. In these words our Lord employs the general form in use. In the next words He specially applies and emphasizes it. “My peace, I give you.” a solid, abiding, never-ending peace, both to themselves and their successors. His peace embraces reconciliation and friendship with God, tranquillity of conscience, interior joy in one’s self and concord with our brethren. This He bequeaths as His undying inheritance. “Not as the world giveth.” The professions of friendship on the part of worldlings are vain, hollow, and insincere, ever changing and changeable. Worldlings may wish us blessings, but, they cannot confer them; and these blessings, such as wealth, pleasures, enjoyment, are brief and changeable. His peace is solid, enduring, and ever fruitful of priceless blessings, giving grace and help here, which will lead to eternal happiness hereafter.

Let not your heart be troubled,” etc., at my departure, bearing in mind the many motives of consolation I have proposed to you, and the unfailing promises of support and peace I make you in the midst of tribulations.

This is a repetition of the consolatory affectionate language addressed to them (v. 1).
Jn 14:28. “You have heard that I said to you, I go away” (Jn 14:3), “and I come to you” (Jn 14:17-18). This He said, because, He saw them sorrowful at the prospect of His approaching death, as if they would be left destitute, as children without a father, sheep without a shepherd, exposed to the fury of the Jews.

I go away”—owing to My death—“and I come to you again,” and shall show Myself visibly, after My resurrection, and also by the manifest protection I shall extend to you in all your trials, from My throne of glory in heaven.

If you loved Me,” with sincere love, unmixed with selfishness, putting your entire trust in Me. He knew they loved Him; still, it was a love mixed with selfishness; nor did they fully understand whither He was going, or the result of it.

You would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father.” True love rejoices at the prosperity and advancement of the object loved. They should, therefore, rejoice at seeing Him return to His throne of glory in the bosom of His Father. This would also tend to their benefit, owing to the blessings He would confer on them by establishing the spiritual kingdom of His Church for ever, and delivering His people from their spiritual foes.

For the Father is greater than I,” as man. This is clear if we consider our Lord’s human nature, which was to be glorified by His Father. In this sense, He might say, “I,” considered in My Divine Person, am greater than Myself, considered according to My humanity. “For”—as St. Augustine expresses it—“the form of God which He did not lose, is greater than the form of man, which he assumed.” It is of His humanity he speaks; for, in His Divine nature, He is equal to God (Philip. 2), and it is only in relation to it, He could say, “I go to the Father,” and he does not institute a comparison precisely between His Divine nature and that of the Father; but, between His present lowly condition, in which He was soon to suffer; and the state of glory, He was to resume, when returning to the bosom of His Father. This should be for them, rather a cause of joy than otherwise.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

RSM Notes on Jeremiah 1:1-19

THE CALL OF JEREMIAH THE PROPHET

Read Jer 1:1-3. This  editorial superscription was probably added at the final editing of the book which was first written in an abridged form by Baruch, faithful scribe to Jeremiah. Upon King Jehoiakim's burning of that book, Jeremiah re-dictated it to the scribe, adding further content (Jer 36:1-32). Obviously, since Jeremiah's ministry lasted well beyond the reign of Jehoiakim (Jer 1:3), this could not have been the final edition.The compositional history of the whole work cannot be determined, this is due in part to the fact that the work is not chronologically arranged.  

Anathoth was a priestly village located about 4 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem in the tribal territory of Benjamin (Joshua 21:17-19). It was to this city that the famous priest, Abiathar, was banished by King Solomon for his role in attempting to make Adonijah the king (1 Kings 2:26-27; and see 1 Kings 1:5-10; 1 Sam 2:31). Hilkiah, the father of Jeremiah, was either a priest or was of priestly descent and has the same name as the High Priest who figures prominently in the reform movement of King Josiah (2Kings 22:8-23:7). This has led to speculation that Jeremiah was (1), the son of the High Priest; and (2), of the line of Abiathar. There is no substantial evidence to support either point

The ministry of Jeremiah began in the thirteenth year of his (King Josiah's) reign, i.e., 626 BC. It extended even unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive, in the fifth month, i.e., up to at least Jul/August of 587 BC. The book itself indicates that Jeremiah's ministry continued even after Jerusalem's carrying away (i.e., the beginning of the Babylonian exile). Indeed, his ministry continued even after his kidnapping and forced removal to Egypt (Jer 41:11-43:7), for we see him operating in Egypt (Jer 43:8-44:30). Most scholars date the end of his prophetic career to the time frame of 584-580 BC. According to Jewish tradition he was stoned to death.

 JEREMIAH FIRST MEETS THE GOD WHO HAS KNOWN HIM FROM BEFORE HIS BIRTH

Read Jer 1:4-5. Jeremiah 1:1 began by describing the contents of this book as the words of Jeremiah, but as the beginning of the next two verses indicate, he was not the source of those words, rather God was, for it (Jer 1:3), that is to say the words of Jeremiah (Jer 1:1), were in fact the word of the Lord that came to him (Jer 1:2).

The fact that the origin of Jeremiah's prophetic words are emphasized in three consecutive verses indicates how important this point is. In his day false prophecy was a major problem, a fact we will see below; but also, the rejection of legitimate prophets was a problem as well, as we will see.

The fact that God knew Jeremiah before forming him in the womb, and consecrated and appointed him a prophet before his birth, strongly emphasizes the fact that Jeremiah is to be regarded as a legitimate prophet. St Paul will speak in similar terms in Gal 1:15 in order to emphasize that his mission and message were not of human origin (see Gal 1:11-24). Jeremiah's being consecrated recalls the announcement of the birth of Samson (Judges 13:5). Some scholars see a connection with Hannah's promise to God concerning the son she hoped to have (see 1 Sam 1:11).  There is also a creation motif here, for elsewhere we read that God formed the dry land (Ps 95:5), as he had also formed man from the dust (Gen 2:7). Thus God's sovereignty is being emphasized, a point made a number of times in this book (e.g., Jer 10:23). Isaiah had prophesied that God would call a servant from his mother's womb (Isa 49:2),  form a servant in the womb in order to bring Israel back to Him (Isa 49:5); one who would raise up the tribes of Jacob and become a light of salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:6). This prophecy concerned the Christ (Lk 2:32) and so it is no wonder that our Blessed Lord was mistaken for Jeremiah risen from the dead (Matt 16:14).

JEREMIAH OBJECTS TO GOD'S CALL AND GOD OBJECTS TO JEREMIAH'S OBJECTION

Read Jer 1:6-9. People attempting to get out of a divine calling is rather frequent in Scripture. Moses appealed to his poor oratorical skill (Ex 4:10), while both Gideon and Saul appealed to the insignificance of family or tribe (Judges 6:15; 1 Sam 9:21). Jonah simply fled out of a spirit of nationalism (Jon 1:1-3), surmising--correctly, as it turned out--that the Lord would spare the hated Ninevites (Jon 4:1-2).

To all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. As will become apparent latter in this chapter--not to mention throughout the book--this is a hard demand, but what is essential to it is what follows: Be not afraid of them,  for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD. Here we have a statement of both the divine presence and the divine protection; either promise, when used in the context of a bestowal of a mission, is a guarantee of divine help in the performance of that mission (see Matt 28:18-20; Acts 18:10). Jeremiah would need this divine assurance, help and protection, for:  I have made you an assayer and tester among my people, that you may know and assay their ways. They are all stubbornly rebellious,  going about with slanders;  they are bronze and iron,  all of them act corruptly (Jer 6:27-28).  You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the LORD their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips' (Jer 7:27-28).

The sending of the prophet with the command and demand that he go and speak places his activity in the realm of real prophecy. His youth (Jer 1:5) is of no consequence when it comes to his mission for the Lord's own hand has put the Lord's own words into his mouth (Jer 1:9-10. See Ex 4:15; Deut 18:18; Isa 51:16).

One of Jeremiah's biggest challenges will be the existence of false prophets and their easy message (a perennial problem til the end of time, 2 Tim 4:3-4). Jeremiah, the sent prophet with God's own word in his mouth (Jer 1:9) will be rejected in favor of those who have sent themselves to speak their own words of comfort--masquerading it as God's word--denying the need for repentance because they deny the concept of divine punishment, saying: You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place. But these are lies that God tells Jeremiah to expose: The prophets are prophesying lies in my name; I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come on this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed (see Jer 14:13-18).

JEREMIAH, A PROPHET OF DOOM, GLOOM AND AN GLIMMER OF HOPE

Read Jer 1:10. Six verbs are used to describe Jeremiah's mission; the first four are negative, while the remaining two are positive. This disparity represents the quantitative content of his message; there is very little that is comforting. It should, however, be kept in mind that the threats of plucking, breaking, destroying, and overthrowing are in reality ordered towards the good, namely, repentance. This is the message of the potter's vessel (Jer 18:1-11) but it is a message that the people refused to take to heart (Jer 18:12). Even the punishment of exile in Babylon is oriented towards this good, a fact Jeremiah pointed out in his letter to the first of the Babylonians exiles (Jer 29:1-15). It was Jeremiah's dark task to prophesy the end of the Old Covenant and the existing Davidic Monarchy; but it was also his glorious task to prophecy the New Covenant and the rise of a new David (Jer 30:1-33:26).

THE ROD OF AN ALMOND TREE AND A BOILING POT

Read Jer 1:11-16. In English there is no logical connection between the rod of an almond tree and God's watching over His word to perform it (Jer 1:11-12). Scholars explain the connection it two ways: 1. there is a word play in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew word for "almond" is shaqed, for "watching" the word is shoqed. 2. In the Holy Land the almond tree is the first to blossom after winter and people were accustomed to watch it branches for buds, a sure sign that spring had come. The first connection is certainly likely, but the second is problematic because the Hebrew word translated as "rod" in the RSVCE is maqqel, referring to a cut branch or stick. The point of the vision is to emphasize that God is attentive to the plans which He reveals through his word. His word will come to fruition. The word in context here refers to the prophecy associated with the vision of the boiling pot.

The north was the traditional route of invasion into the Holy Land and so the vision of a boiling pot facing away from the north is very ominous (Jer 1:13). An invading army, like a scalding deluge will soon fall upon the people (Jer 1:14-15). As the text of Jeremiah progresses it becomes apparent that this boiling pot is none other than the Babylonian Empire. The king of Babylon and all the rulers of his satellite kingdoms will invest Jerusalem and the entire land. Jer 1:15 indicates this idea of siege, but it also hints at its success, for in that age it was common for a conquering king to set up his throne in the gateway of a defeated city and pass judgement on the city's inhabitants. Ultimately however, it will be the Lord who is passing sentence because of the people's idolatry (Jer 1:16).  Here one might recall and earlier prophecy of Isaiah, who indicated that Assyria would become God's instrument of punishment (Isa 10:5-27). But just as Assyria overstepped its bounds as the Lord's instrument, thus bringing punishment upon itself, so too would Babylon (Jer 50:18-46).

JEREMIAH UNCONQUERED

Read Jer 1:17-19. Jeremiah is bidden to gird up his loins. The meaning of this common phrase is lost on people today due in part to the fact that the original meaning of "loins" has been forgotten. Properly speaking "loins" refers to the waist and/or lower back of humans or animals. In biblical times men wore robes of ankle length and this could be detrimental to speed and agility when needed. To "gird the loins" meant to wrap a belt around the waist (loins) and pull the robe up through it until the hem reached a height which would allow the legs to move freely. To gird the loins thus became a metaphor for taking action, and this explains the New Jerusalem Bible's translation of the command: As for you, prepare yourself for action

The action Jeremiah is to take is to arise and say to them everything that I command you. The connection between Jer 1:17 and Jer 1:7 is obvious. The command to arise contrasts nicely with the words be not dismayed by them (literally in Hebrew be not prostrated before them).

On the day of his calling (this day) Jeremiah was set by God over nations and over kingdoms,  to pluck up and to break down,  to destroy and to overthrow (Jer 1:10); but, in contrast, God also on this day made him a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls. People would fight against him but would not be able to prevail against him, because the Lord had promised: I am with you...to deliver you (Jer 1:19, repeating Jer 1:8).

The people would indeed fight against Jeremiah (Jer 26:7-15; 38:4), and even members of his own family would seek to kill him (Jer 11:19-23; 12:6). He who was known to God before his conception, and consecrated before his birth (Jer 1:5), would lament the day of his birth because he was "a man of strife and contention (see Jer 10:15). He even goes so far as to suggest that God has become like a deceitful brook, and unreliable source of water (Jer 15:18). But the Lord bids him to repent so that he can once again stand and become a fortified wall of bronze (see Jer 15:20-21). 

In many ways Jeremiah reminds me of St Peter. Both were impetuous towards the Lord; the former in his complaining, the latter in his boasting. The timid Jeremiah would by grace be made what he was not by nature-he would become like a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall against which people would fight and not prevail (Jer 1:18-19). The vacillating St Peter would become a rock against which the gates of Hades would not prevail (Matt 16:18). Jeremiah's sufferings foreshadowed those of our Lord (compare Jer 26:1-9 with Mk 14:58; 15:29; compare Jer 12:6 with Lk 4:28-29). Like Jesus' death (and because of it) St Peter's death will glorify the Lord (compare Jn 13:36 with Jn 21:19). 







 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

RSM Notes on Nahum

Introductory: 

The book of Nahum is never quoted in the NT. No major Christian Sunday lectionary includes readings from it. No Haftorah reading in the Jewish synagogue service employs it. In Year II of the Catholic Daily Lectionary, Nahum 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7 is read on Friday of the 18th week in Ordinary Time. The responsorial verse for this day sets the theme of the Mass: "It is I who deal death and give life." God has the power to punish and save, give life or death. The Responsorial Psalm is Deut 32:35c-36b, 39, 41. The Gospel reading is Mt 16:24-28.

To the best of my knowledge now reading from Nahum is used in the Office of Readings.

Nahum (Hebrew: nachûm) means "one who is consoled," "one who is comforted." The name is widely believed to be a contraction of the name Nehemiah, "the consolation of God." It is related to the name Noah, an interesting fact given the flood imagery employed in the book There may be a play on the name in Nah 3:7~"And all who look on you will shrink from you and say, Wasted is Nineveh; who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters (Heb. nâcham,) for her." The book has been greatly criticized in modern times because of the apparent glee with which the prophet celebrates the demise of the Assyrian Empire, but two things should be kept in mind: 1. the sheer brutality of the Assyrians, which they both glorified and eroticized; 2. A proper understanding of the biblical concepts of wrath and vengeance.

After a superscription wherein the book is described an oracle (literally, "burden") against Nineveh, the capitol and personification of the Assyrian Empire, there follows an introduction (Nah 1:2-11), beginning with a hymn which portrays God as a divine warrior (Nah 1:2-8),. In this hymn God is portrayed as a avenger of wrongdoing possessing cosmic power (Nah 1:2-5) against which nothing or no one can stand (Nah 2:6). He can protect those who trust in Him (Nah 2:7) even as He brings down punishment on is foes (Nah 1:8). This hymn is followed by a rhetorical question directed towards the Assyrians and, possibly, doubters among God's people (Nah 1:9a). This question introduces a statement about the certainty of His victory (Nah 1:9b-10). This introductory section ends with a reminder of how God had rescued His people and the city of Jerusalem from the Assyrians in time past (Nah 1:11). This is a reference to the 701 BC siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrian king Sennacherib who, through his commander, counseled the defenders of Jerusalem not to trust either their king of their God. God, however, forced the Assyrians to withdraw (see 2 Kings 18:13-19:37).

The rest of the book has been variously outlined by scholars. I like the following reverse parallel structure:

A1). INTRODUCTION.  Nah 1:12-15.  The strength of Assyria will come to naught. They had been sent to punish God's people, but will do so no more (Nah 1:12; see Isa 10:5-27). Their power is broken and their king will die (Nah 1:13-14). God's people will rejoice and offer thanksgiving sacrifices in celebration (Nah 1:15).

B1). A CALL TO ACTION WHICH AVAILS NOTHING. Nah 2:1-10. God "the scatterer" has come against the city of Nineveh and its defenders are called to take action (Nah 2:1). As the Assyrians had been sent by God to punish His people, so now He has sent the scarlet clad Babylonians to punish Assyria and to restore the fortunes of His people (Nah 2:2-3). Already they are in the suburbs of the city, threatening the walls of the city-proper (Nah 2:4). Assyrian officers rush to defend the walls but, ominously, they stumble (Nah 2:5). I see this as implying that their legendary military efficiency--emphasized in Isa 5:26-30--is coming to and end. The river gates which regulated the flow of water into the city and controlled flooding are compromised and the city is flooded and the palace "melts" ( Nah 2:6, so the text should read). God, the Divine Warrior who had power to dry up rivers and melt hills now floods Nineveh and melts its palace (see Nah 1:4-5). The stature of the goddess Ishtar, "mistress" of the city is "stripped" of it adornments and taken as booty while her "maidens" [priestesses] mourn (Nah 2:7). Ironically, the flooded city is compared to a pool whose waters have been drained away and which no human power can halt (Nah 2:8). The image probably relates to the fleeing Assyrian soldiers. Isaiah 8:5-8 had described the invading Assyrians as a raging flood, but in confrontation with the Cosmic Warrior their military might has drained away. The city of plunderers is plundered (Nah 2:9). This section, which began with a call to the Assyrians to gird their loins and collect their strength (Nah 2:1) now ends with talk of faint hearts, weak knees, and anguished loins (Nah 2:10).

C1). A RHETORICAL QUESTION INTRODUCES A TAUNT AGAINST ASSYRIAN PRIDE. Nah 2:11-12. The lair (Nineveh) of the once mighty lion of Assyria can no longer be found. Assyrian might was often depicted in terms of a lion attack (Amos 3:4, 8, 12). The Assyrian Chronicles often portray the empires kings as having lion-like qualities, and the goddess Ishtar was often portrayed in artwork as a lioness.
D1). JUDGEMENT AGAINST THE LIONS OF ASSYRIA. Nah 2:13. This section obviously builds on the previous one. But note that God is again described as coming against Assyria (as in Nah 2:1). Assyrian military messengers will no longer herald conquests and victories; a contrast with the message of good news that God's victory will bring (Nah 1:15).
E). WOE UPON THE BLOODY CITY AND ITS HARLOTRIES. Nah 3:1-4
D2). JUDGMENT AGAINST THE HARLOT CITY. Nah 3:5-7. As in the D1 section (Nah 3:13) God is said to be against Nineveh/Assyria. Building upon the E section (Nah 3:1-4) which mentioned "harlotries" the fate of the city is compared to that of a harlot's treatment in the ancient world. Behind the image is the military practice of the Assyrians who, to humiliate their captives would strip them, cover them with dung, or throw them on dung heaps (Isa 20:4; Amos 4:2). 
 C2).  A RHETORICAL QUESTION INTRODUCES A TAUNT AGAINST ASSYRIAN PRIDE. Nah 3:8-13.  The Egyptian city of Thebes was one the first truly great city of the Middle East. It was for nearly fourteen hundred years the center of the Great Egyptian Empire-from circa 2,000 BC until its fall to the Assyrians in 663 BC. Like Nineveh, which was located on the Euphrates,  it was a great river city on the banks of the Nile. Like Nineveh and its Euphrates, Thebes was protected by a series of moats fed by the Nile and, like Nineveh, it was though impregnable. But Nineveh too will fall; and what they had perpetrated on the inhabitants of Thebes will be perpetrated on them. The lion who had once dwelt in its lair of Nineveh  secure, coming and going at will (section C1, Nah 2:11-12), will have no refuge from enemies. The lion that once cared for its cubs (Nah 2:12) will behold their deaths. The Assyrian lion/king who once protected his lioness will see the men of his military become as women. The lion who once fed his own will have his military might plundered like ripe figs.
B2). A CALL TO ACTION WHICH AVAILS NOTHING. Nah 3:14-17. No matter what the Assyrians do to prepare for the siege (Nah 3:14), it will come to naught. No matter how much water they draw, it will not quench the fire. Fire and sword will devour them like locusts, even if they were to multiply like locust (Nah 3:15-17).
A2). CONCLUSION. Nah 3:18-19. One interpretation is as follows: the Assyrian king's "shepherds" (military commanders) and nobles are dead ("asleep," "slumber"). This recalls the A1 section which spoke about the Assyrian might passing away (Nah 1:12). My own opinion is that the shepherds and nobles are references to the Assyrian gods and the image of sleep/slumber a reference to their inability to aid the king or protect themselves--he introduction had promised that they would be "cut off" Nah 1:14. In the introduction their demise is bound up with that of the king whose name would not be perpetuated, and whose grave would be dug. Here, they are helpless in the face of the God, "the scatterer" (Nah 2:1) who has "scattered" the king's people (Nah 3:18). The king himself is grievously wounded, ready for the previously mentioned grave (Nah 3:19). The good news of Assyria's demise, directed towards Judah (1:15), is news all those afflicted by Assyria will rejoice in.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

RSM Notes on Isaiah 1



I have included some brief footnotes at the end of this post along with a suggested resource list for those who wish to delve more deeply into Isaiah. If length is a concern, the RSM administrator is free to delete these. If that course is taken I will provide a link in the comment box for those interested in this material.The image in this post is that of Isaiah delivering the covenant indictment of Isaiah 1. It appears in THE BIBLE AND ITS STORY (Horne, Charles, and Julius Bewer. The Bible and Its Story: The Prophets, Isaiah to Ezekiel. Vol. 7. New York, NY: Francis R. Niglutsch, 1909.)
ISAIAH 1 IN THE LECTIONARY AND OFFICE

Although I wont be doing so in this post, it is often fruitful to study a given text (such as Isaiah 1) in relation to other texts associated with it in the Lectionary and the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office). In the Liturgy of the Hours Isaiah 1:1-18 is the scripture reading used in the Office of Readings for the First Sunday of Advent. It is prefaced by Psalm 1:1-6; Psalm 2:1-12; and Psalm 3:1-8. The reading for the next day consists of Isaiah 1:21-27, 2:1-5. It is prefaced by Psalm 6:1-10; Psalm 9:1-10; and Psalm 9:11-20. In the Daily Lectionary for Mass, Isaiah 1:10-17 is the first reading for Monday of the 15th week in Ordinary Time (Year 2). It is used in conjunction with Psalm 50:8-9, 16b-17, 21, 23  and Matthew 10:34-11:1. On Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent (Years 1 & 2) the first reading is Isaiah 1:10, 16-20. Like the previous passage from Isaiah it is used in conjunction with Psalm 50:8-9, 16b-17, 21, 23. The Gospel reading that accompanies it is Matthew 23:1-12.

One should pay attention to verbal, thematic and theological connections and contrasts in comparing Isaiah with the other passages. One might also ask certain questions, such as, why is it that in the Office all of Isaiah 1 is covered in the first two days of Advent except for Isa 1:19-20 and Isa 1:28-31? Why is it that on Tuesday of the second week of Lent the Mass reading skips from Isa 1:10 to Isa 1:16-20, eliminating Isa 1:11-15?

NOTES ON ISAIAH 1:

Read Isaiah 1:1. This is a superscription to the entire book and was probably added at a late date; possibly at the final compiling/editing of the book (scroll). It is written in the 3rd person and the style is referred to as either archival or titular style. Archival, because it serves as a record to the time period of Isaiah's ministry via the four kings mentioned; titular, because it serves as a title, mentioning the author (Isaiah) and the subject matter (vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem).

The first king mentioned, Uzziah, began his reign around 785 BC. The reign of the last mentioned king, Hezekiah, ended in 698 BC. Assuming that Isaiah 6 narrates the prophet's initial call to ministry, modern scholars establish its beginning in 742 BC, "the year King Uzziah died" (Isa 6:1). This is rather problematic. His ministry can be dated with certainty to have lasted until at least 701 since he is shown to be active in the events surrounding the Assyrian invasion of Judah in that year (see chapters 36-37).

Read Isaiah 1:2-3. The Prophet Announces God's Accusation Against His People. The text opens with a call to attention and the reason for it: Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken. Bidding heaven and earth in this fashion calls to mind the Book of Deuteronomy wherein Moses is portrayed as delivering a series of exhortatory sermons to the people to inform and warn them concerning what was necessary for them to maintain possession of the Promised Land they were about to enter (e.g., Deut 4:26; Deut 30:19-20). Thus the first "sermon" in Isaiah begins on an ominous note. See footnote 1.

What the LORD has spoken is an indictment of His people: "Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand.” In a fashion typical of the wisdom genre they are compared to beasts. The ox, and, especially, the ass, were common symbols of stupidity and stubbornness (Prov 7:22; 26:3; Job 11:12; Gen 16:12). The statement that Israel does not know, my people does not understand, indicates in the Hebrew text that their lack of knowledge/understanding is willful.

Read Isaiah 1:4-9. The text opens with the Hebrew word hoy, which would be better translated as "woe" rather than "ah." The opening verse is a lament for what God's sons (2) and people (3) have become. 

What is lamented is the fact that the people have reversed their most fundamental relations with God as witnessed to in the foundational traditions of the Old Testament, where it is seen that Israel is God's firstborn son whose duty it is to serve God (Ex 4:22-23). It was this Father-God that carried them through the desert (Deut 1:31), and trained them to learn obedience (Deut 8:5). But they have rebelled against their Father (Isa 1:2) and become offspring of evildoers and sons who deal corruptly (Isa 1:4). Also in these foundational traditions Israel was to be especially "God's own people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6). In Isaiah's day they were the exact opposite; a sinful nation and a people estranged from God (Isa 1:4). These "priestly people" were also perverting their religious activity (see Isa 1:11-15). See footnote 2.

 The question in Isa 1:5 is rhetorical and is intended to get the people to rethink their relational status with their Father. According to Deuteronomy, failure to maintain covenant loyalty to their God would bring covenant punishments upon the people, culminating in invasion, siege and exile (Deut 28:49-57, 63-68). There were warnings about these things that heaven and earth had heard Moses deliver to the people (e.g., Deut 4:26; Deut 30:19-20), and indeed, the people of Isaiah's day had begun to suffer such things. In Isa 1:5-8 the people and the Promised Land are kind of melded into one. The people/land are portrayed as a rebellious son who has been punished so repeatedly that no spot is left upon which to exact punishment (Isa 1:5-6). What is behind this image is the Assyrian invasion of 701 BC when the Promised Land was fiercely devastated, and dozens of fortified towns and cities (intended to protect Jerusalem) were destroyed. Out of a sheer act of mercy God saved His still unrepentant people (Isa 1:9).

Read Isaiah 1:10-17.  The fact that God had spared His people from becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa 1:9) had nothing to do with their religiosity which the prophet here highlights as a mere sham and hateful to God (Isa 1:11-15); detestable because it is devoid of any moral concern for others (Isa 1:16-17). The fact that God has spared his undeserving people (9) is probably to be taken as an intended incentive for the people to treat rightly those among them in need of mercy and justice.

Read Isa 1:18-20. God calls the people to repentance and obedience, promising that they will again be able to eat the good things of the land (19). Recall Isa 1:7 where we saw that the land was desolated and its fruit consumed by foreigners. Obedience to God would have prevented this situation (Deut 28:49-51); here we see God promise that repentance can bring it to an end (see also Deut 31:1-10).

Read Isa 1:21-31. The people had been bidden to wash themselves (Isa 1:16), and they had been told that the redness of their sins could become the whiteness of innocence (Isa 1:18). Here in this present passage we see an incentive for the people to cleanse themselves (repent); a cleansing punishment from God is coming. Those who have become or remain corrupted (Isa 1:-23a),  not caring for widows or orphans (Isa 1:23b) will be treated as God's enemies and experience a searing blast of judgment, like tainted silver in a furnace (Isa 1:24-25). In this way renewal will come about (Isa 1:26). Because of this judgment some will repent (Isa 1:27), others will remain obstinate (Isa 1:28). Those among the obstinate who have indulged in the worship of idols under oak trees (terebinths) and in groves (gardens) will become like dry, dead trees and withered gardens, stuff to kindle fires ((Isa 1:29-31).


FOOTNOTES:

1. Extremely ominous is Isaiah 1:2-4 which calls to mind the early verses of the song God taught to Moses and Moses taught to the people. That song was intended to act as a witness against the people and indicates that God knew the people would forsake him (see Deut 31:16-22).   Pertinent to this passage of Isaiah are the following phrases from the song: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth...For I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Ascribe greatness to out God...A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he. They have dealt corruptly with him, they are no longer his children because of their blemish; they are a perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus requite the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, and made you and established you?" (see Deut 32:1-6).

2. Stark reversals or contrasts are a characteristic of Isaiah's preaching (e.g., Isa 1:21-23; 3:16-26; 5:1, 4). However, in the midst of such reversals something better is often promised. Compare for example the negative Isa 1:21-23 with the positive Isa 1:25-26. Also, compare Isa 3:16-26 which portrays the daughters of Jerusalem in a negative light and the protective gates of Jerusalem as mourning with Isa 4:2-6 where the daughters are cleansed and Zion/Jerusalem is protected by the presence of God.

SUGGESTED RESOURCES:

Who is Isaiah and Why is His Message So Critical Today? Outstanding article by Monsignor Charles Pope. 

The Men and Message of the Old Testament. Catholic. By Peter F. Ellis. Dated but still useful.

Father William Most's Chapter Summaries of Isaiah. Online. Catholic. Opens with some introductory material.

Introduction to Isaiah. Online. Catholic. A very brief introduction written by Mark Giszczak.


The Conscience of Israel: Pre-Exilic Prophets and Prophecy. By Father Bruce Vawter. A dated but still useful introduction to prophecy and to the times and themes of Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah.

Isaiah Chapter 1. Notes from the famed 11th century Jewish Rabbi, Rashi. Online.

The Purpose of the Book of Isaiah. Online. Protestant.

Sennacherib's Attack on Hezekiah. Online. Protestant. Tries to make sense out of the confusing biblical and Assyrian accounts of this event.

Old Testament Prophets. Online audio by Father Mitch Pacwa of EWTN. listen to episodes, 1, and 30-51.

The Book of Isaiah. By Edward J Kissane. Catholic. Dated but still useful.

Isaiah 1-39: Old Testament Message Series. By Father Joseph Jensen.

Isaiah 40-66: Old Testament Message Series. By Father John Scullion.

Isaias: Prophet for Our Time. By Father Hubert von Zeller. Originally published in 1938.

Father Cornelius a Lapide's Latin Commentary on Isaiah.

Navarre Bible Commentary on the Major Prophets. Catholic.

Isaiah 1-39: Yale Anchor Bible Commentary. Catholic. Somewhat technical. 

Isaiah 40-55: Yale Anchor Bible Commentary. Catholic. Somewhat technical.

Isaiah 56-66. Yale Anchor Bible Commentary. Catholic. Somewhat technical.

Eusebius of Caesarea's Commentary on Isaiah.

St Jerome's Commentary on Isaiah and Origen's Homilies 1-9 on Isaiah.

The Church's Bible: Isaiah. Patristic and Medieval excerpts on various parts of the prophet.

Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scripture: Isaiah 1-39.

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Isaiah 40-66.

St Thomas Aquinas' Lectures on Isaiah are being translated into English and will become available to Logos Bible Software users. I don't know if there are plans to publish it in book format as well.