Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 105 (Part 2)

Psalm 105, continued

For the Introduction to this Psalm, and its first two strophes (vv. 1-6, 7-11), see Part 1.

Strophe 3: Verses 12-15

Verse 12

“In their being men of (small) number,
just a few, and residing as aliens in her,”

The opening couplet picks up from the final couplet of the second strophe (v. 11), and is grammatically dependent on it. The feminine suffix H-* (“in her”) refers back to the land of Canaan (the noun Jr#a# being feminine). The Israelites—the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—were, at the time of their dwelling in the land of Canaan, few in number. Moreover, they had a semi-nomadic lifestyle, dwelling in the land as ‘resident aliens’, never taking up permanent residence, but moving regularly from region to region (Gen 12:10; 20:1, etc), and being economically dependent, to some degree, upon the established Canaanite city-states. The root rWG (I) is used to express this distinctive socio-cultural situation; both the verb and noun (rG@) are used regularly in the Patrarchic narratives (e.g., Gen 17:8; 23:4; Exod 6:4), and the terminology became part of the Israelite self-identity (Exod 22:20; Deut 10:19, etc).

Verse 13

“in their going about from nation to nation,
from (one) kingdom to (the) people following,”

This couplet continues the thought from verse 12 (cf. Gen 20:1). Referring to these Canaanite territories as “nations” and “kingdoms” reflects the socio-political dynamic of the small territorial kingdoms (city-states) that populated the region. Each city-state, despite their relatively small size, was technically ruled by a “king” (El#m#). The Amarna letters provide written evidence for the many small kingdoms in Canaan during the late bronze age (14th-13th century B.C.). Other surrounding territories were ruled by tribal confederacies and the like, and could be referred to as “peoples”, rather than “kingdoms”.

Verse 14

“He did not allow (any) human to oppress them,
and (even) gave rebuke (to) kings over them:”

Syntactically, this couplet continues the thought of vv. 12-13, and represents the main clause of the sentence. During all the migrations of the ancestral Israelites, YHWH protected the people—such protection being part of His covenant-bond with them, as a demonstration of his loyalty to the binding agreement; cf. the discussion on the second strophe (vv. 7-11) in Part 1.

The verb j^Wn, in the causative Hiphil stem, in this context, is almost impossible to translate. The verb fundamentally means “set down”, often with the connotation of resting (in one place). In the Hiphil stem, it means “make set(tle) down”, or “give rest/repose”, and thus could easily apply to the migrations of the Israelites (as ‘resident aliens’). However, here it applies to YHWH’s action toward the Canaanite, etc,  people (and their kings); the sense is not “make settle down”, but rather, something like “give leave, allow”. It is best understood in the context of YHWH “letting down” His protection over His people; this He did not do—He did not let it down so as to allow the settled peoples in the region to harass or oppress (vb qv^u*) the Israelites.

He even gave rebukes to the leaders (“kings”) when they might have done harm to Israel; the episodes involving the two king Abimelechs (Gen 20:3; 26:11) are foremost in mind; cf. also Gen 12:17.

There is a certain loose parallel between the pairings of kingdom/people (hk*l=m=m^/<u^) in v. 13 and human[s]/kings (<d*a*/<yk!l*m=) here.

Verse 15

“‘You must not touch my anointed (one)s,
and to my spokesmen you must do no evil!'”

This concluding couplet summarizes both the rebuke YHWH gives to the kings of Canaan, etc, and also the protection that He provides to the patriarchs and the ancestors of Israel. He refers to them as His “anointed ones”. This may allude to the tradition of the Israelite people as a “kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:6), combining both offices (viz., king and priest) where a ceremonial anointing (with ritual or religious significance) typically applied.

In the second line, they are called by the noun ayb!n`. Though often rendered flatly as “prophet”, this noun is actually quite difficult to translate, so as to capture its true meaning. There are two possibilities as to the fundamental meaning (and derivation) of aybn: (1) one who speaks, that is, as a “spokesperson” for God; or (2) one who is called, viz., by God. The latter meaning would actually be more fitting to the context of the Patriarchs (Abraham, etc), as people called by God. Principally, however, the reference here is to Gen 20:6-7; in verse 7, Abraham is referred to as a ayb!n`, with the authority to communicate (i.e. speak) with YHWH, to offer prayer on behalf of Abimelech. I have translated <ya!yb!n+ above as “spokespersons”; this ‘prophetic’ role comes more clearly into view in the following strophes, dealing with Joseph and Moses/Aaron.

The verb uu^r*, in the Hiphil (causative) stem, means “cause evil” or “do (something) bad”; however, sometimes the connotation is more concrete, referring to causing (physical) harm or damage.

Strophe 4: Verses 16-22

Verse 16

“But (then) He called a hunger upon the land,
(and) every staff of bread He did break.”

The initial –w conjunction of this couplet begins a new unit, but also provides a contrast to the emphasis on YHWH’s protective care. At first, the hunger (i.e., famine) He calls upon the land would seem to contradict His covenant protection of the Israelite ancestors; however, this danger only establishes an opportunity for God to further work on His people’s behalf.

The expression “staff of bread” is a bit unusual. Dahood (III, p. 56) suggests that the proper meaning here is “stalk of grain”; this is certainly possible. More likely, however, is that the emphasis is on the lack of any available bread that can be eaten—even a thin stick of bread could not be found. The noun hF#m^ (“staff”) can also refer, figuratively, to a means of support. The supply of bread/food, necessary to support the life and health of the people, was “broken” (vb rb*v*). The reference, of course, is to the famine of the Joseph narratives (chaps. 41-42ff). This famine serves to bring the Israelites down into Egypt.

Verse 17

“He (had) sent (ahead) before them a man,
(for) as a slave he had been sold—Yôsep.”

The selling of Joseph into slavery (Gen 37:28, 36; cf. chaps. 39-40) was providential; YHWH used the event to help His people through the famine, and to draw them down into Egypt.

The subject of the couplet is not specified until the final word; it is important that this poetic device (which Dahood, III, pp. 51, 56, called “explicitation”) be preserved in translation.

Verse 18

“They pressed his feet into the fetters,
(and) into (the) iron his neck came,”

Both concretely, and figuratively, this couplet describes Joseph’s enslavement. His feet were “pressed” (or “forced”, vb hn`u*) into fetters (lb#K#, a noun that occurs only here and in Ps 149:8), while his neck similarly went into an iron ring (or shackle, etc). The noun vp#n# is typically translated “soul”, but not infrequently it carries the more concrete meaning “throat”, i.e., “neck”.

Verse 19

“until (the) time of (the) coming of His word,
(when the) showing by YHWH refined him.”

This couplet, continuing the thought from v. 18, describes (somewhat awkwardly) the time/duration of Joseph’s slavery. It lasted until the “coming” (note the wordplay involving the same verb, aoB in v. 18b) of YHWH’s word. This “word” comes by way of dreams/visions (and their interpretation), and thus it is fair to understand here a bit of conceptual play between the roots rbd and rma. Both roots can denote “speak/say”, but rma can also mean “see” or “show” (cf. Gen 41:39). Here the noun rb*D* (line 1) is parallel with hr*m=a! (line 2). Through this process, Joseph was “refined” (vb [r^x*), metallurgical terminology that can carry the more figurative connotation of being tested (viz., by God) and proven worthy, pure, etc. The general reference is to the events of Gen 39-41.

Verse 20

“He sent a king, who then set him loose,
a ruler of peoples, who opened for him.”

As Dahood and Allen (and other commentators) note, YHWH is best understood as the subject of this couplet, with the king (i.e., Pharaoh) as the object. The prefixed w-conjunctions on the verbs can be rendered as a continuing result— “and then (he)…”; for poetic concision, I have translated this as “who (then)…”. This is a summary reference to the events of Gen 41.

Verse 21

“He set him as lord over his house,
and ruler among all his acquisition(s),”

The king (Pharaoh) is presumably the subject of this couplet, though it is possible to read it with YHWH as the implied (continuing) subject. The elevation of Joseph to the status of ruler (lit. one ruling) is narrated in Gen 41:39-45; the same participle (lv@m)) is used of Pharaoh in v. 20. Joseph is made a second ruler in Egypt, just below Pharaoh himself.

Verse 22

“to bind (together) his princes by his soul,
(that) he might make his elders wise.”

The ruling power/authority of Joseph also has a positive moral impact. His wisdom will have a unifying effect, “binding” together (vb rs^a*) the princes of Egypt “by/in his soul” —that is, in Joseph’s own person, according to his (righteous) inclinations. On the possibility of reading the verb rs^a* here as a form (or by-form) of rs^y` I (“instruct”), see Dahood, III, p. 58, and Allen, p. 52f. The couplet loosely reflects the ruling position and organizing activity of Joseph, fostered by his inspired wisdom and prudence, in Gen 41:37-49.

Strophe 5: Verses 23-28

Verse 23

“And (so) Yisrael came (down to) Egypt,
and Ya‘aqob resided in (the) land of Ham.”

The events surrounding Joseph served the larger purpose of bringing the descendants of Jacob (Israel) down into Egypt (Genesis 42ff). According to the genealogical tradition in Genesis 10 (v. 6), the Egyptians (“Egypt”) were descended from (or otherwise related to) Noah’s son Ham.

On the significance of the verb rWG, see the note on verse 12 above.

Verse 24

“And He made his people fruitful, exceedingly so,
and (so) made them strong(er) than their foes.”

This couplet effectively introduces the Exodus portion of the historical summary; the specific reference is to Exod 1:7ff. YHWH again is the implied subject; through His blessing and covenant protection, the Israelite people became numerous and strong, enough so that Pharaoh and the Egyptian government saw them as a threat (Exod 1:9).

I take “his people” as a reference to the people of Israel; however, it could, of course, also refer to Israel as the people of YHWH (“His people”), cf. verse 25 below.

Verse 25

“He turned over their heart to hate His people,
(and) to deal craftily with His servants.”

In this verse, “his people” certainly refers to Israel as the people of God (“His people”), as the parallel with “His servants” makes clear. The fear of the Egyptians toward the Israelites turns to “hate” and hostility, leading Pharaoh and his advisors to develop crafty plans for dealing with them (Exod 1:10ff).

Verse 26

“He sent (forth) Moshe His servant,
and Aharôn, on whom He had chosen.”

This couplet summarizes, in a general way, Exodus 2-4. The choice of Moses and Aaron, as chosen representatives (or <ya!yb!n+, ‘spokesmen’, cf. on v. 15 above) of God, again reflects YHWH’s care for His people, and His loyalty to the covenant made with their ancestors.

Verse 27

“They set (forth) among them words of His signs,
and (wondrous) portents in (the) land of Ham.”

Moses and Aaron announced to the people what YHWH had previously spoken (and demonstrated) to them; then they proceeded to display the supernatural portents to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The pairing of the plural nouns totoa (“signs”) and <yt!p=m (“portents”, of a wondrous or miraculous kind) is traditional. The couplet summarizes Exodus 4:29-31 (cf. vv. 1-17), 6:1, and chap. 7ff.

Verse 28

“He sent darkness, and (so) made it dark;
and they did not rebel (against) His word.”

Verse 28, when read in connection with vv. 29-36, is problematic, since it seems to set the plague of darkness (the ninth plague, Exod 10:21-29) ahead of all the others. Unless this is evidence of textual corruption—and the plague strophe (vv. 29-36) will be discussed in Part 3—the reference here needs to be explained in another way. A possible solution lies in reading this couplet as the conclusion of a strophe, which focuses primarily on the role of Moses and Aaron as faithful servants (and spokesmen/prophets) of YHWH. It is Moses and Aaron who, as in v. 27, are the plural subject in the second line (“they did not rebel…”). Their faithfulness is intentionally being contrasted with the rebelliousness of the people during the wilderness period. Moses and Aaron faithfully carried out their mission, presenting the words (and signs) given to them by YHWH.

(For a very different parsing and explanation of the Hebrew of the second line, see Dahood, III, p. 60.)

There could be two possible reasons for the allusion here to the plague of darkness. For one thing, its climactic position (as the penultimate plague) makes the mention of it here fitting for the climax of the strophe, anticipating the full scope of the plague-narration that follows. Secondly, there may be an allusion to the Creation account: as with the light (1:3), so with the darkness—YHWH speaks, and it is so. He “sends” the darkness by way of His word/command. Line 1 thus affirms the sureness and faithfulness of YHWH’s word—indicating and implying, once again, His loyalty to the covenant bond with His people (vv. 8-11). Moses and Aaron, as His servants, have similarly been faithful/loyal in carrying out His word.

The remainder of the Psalm will be analyzed in Part 3 of this study.

References marked “Dahood, I”, “Dahood, II” and “Dahood, III” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968), and Psalms III: 101-150, vol. 17A (1970).
References marked “Allen” are to Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (Revised edition), Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21 (Zondervan: 2002/2014).

June 5: Luke 1:15-17

This is the first in a series of daily notes in celebration of Pentecost. I will be examining the references to the Spirit in Luke-Acts. These passages have been studied in prior series, but here the focus will specifically be on the place of the Spirit in the message and theology of Luke-Acts. Particular attention will be paid to the thematic structure of the 2-volume work (Luke-Acts), centered as it is upon the Pentecost narrative of the coming of the Spirit (in Acts 2).

Of the Synoptic Gospels, the Spirit features most prominently in the Gospel of Luke. It is significant that most of the references occur in distinctively Lukan portions. More than half of the references, for example, occur in the Infancy narratives (chaps. 1-2), which are thoroughly Lukan compositions in language and style. Also we may note the Lukan version of the Gospel tradition surrounding the Baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (in chaps. 3-4), as well as key references in chaps. 10-12 (passages near the beginning of the travel account [journey to Jerusalem], cf. Fitzmyer, p. 227). There is a surprising lack of any mention of the Spirit in the main narrative, though this generally reflects the relatively few references in the Synoptic Tradition as a whole (just six in the Gospel of Mark, and only three [Mk 3:29; 12:36; 13:11] outside of the Baptism scene). The Lukan references in chaps. 3-4 generally correspond to the Synoptic tradition in Mk 1:8-12 par. Curiously, in the Lukan parallel to the three Markan verses cited above (Lk 11:23; 20:42; 21:14), the Spirit is not mentioned.

Our study begins with the Infancy narratives, which contain 7 (or 8) references to the Spirit (Pneu=ma). It is generally recognized that the Infancy narratives represent a later stage of the overall Gospel narrative. There is a strong likelihood that Luke’s Gospel originally began with 3:1, and that it was then expanded to include chaps. 1-2. Both the internal evidence and the evidence from the Gospel of Mark and John tend to confirm that the core Gospel narrative began with the Baptism. However, there is no indication that Luke’s Gospel ever circulated without the Infancy narratives.

In any case, the Infancy narratives are integral to both the Gospel and the work of Luke-Acts as a whole. Many of the principal themes are established in these narratives, with an eye on how they will be developed throughout the remainder of the work. This can complicate an historical-critical analysis of the material; one must always keep in mind that the author is intentionally shaping the traditional material to bring out themes that find their full development in the missionary narratives of Acts.

Luke 1:15-17

“For he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord, and wine and liquor he shall (surely) not drink,
and he will be filled (with the) holy Spirit, even (coming) out of (the) belly of his mother.” (v. 15)

This contains the first two declarations made by the heavenly Messenger (Gabriel) to Zechariah, announcing the conception (and coming birth) of John. The statements are made with verbs in the future tense: (i) “he will be…” (e&stai), (ii) “he will be filled…” (plhsqh/setai). They announce both John’s birth and his future destiny. He will be a chosen servant of God, a role that has genuine Messianic significance, within the context of the Gospel Tradition. This is the primary meaning of the statement “he will be great in the sight of the Lord”. It is also said of Jesus that he will be “great” (me/ga$, v. 32), but in a way that surpasses the greatness of John the Baptist, an absolute attribution that would normally be predicated of God (YHWH).

The second declaration involves the Holy Spirit:

“and he will be filled (with the) holy Spirit, even (coming) out of (the) belly of his mother”

Before examining the significance of John being “filled” by the Spirit, let us consider the final two declarations (in vv. 16-17):

“and he will turn many of the sons of Yisrael (back) upon the Lord their God,
and he will go before in the sight of Him, in (the) spirit and power of ‘Eliyyahu, to turn (the) hearts of fathers (back) upon (their) offspring, and (the) unpersuaded (one)s in the mind-set of (the) righteous, to make ready for (the) Lord a people having been fully prepared.”

These statements describe (and define) the Messianic role of John the Baptist—certainly as it was understood in the early Gospel Tradition. It can be summarized by the expression “in the spirit and power of Elijah”. In order to gain a proper understanding of the place of the Spirit in this passage, we must join together these two aspects of the annunciation, where the noun pneu=ma is used:

    • “(filled) by the holy Spirit”
    • “in the spirit…of Elijah”

The principal association is between the Spirit and prophecy. John will be among the greatest of prophets (7:26-28 par), fulfilling the role of the end-time (Messianic) Prophet, according to the figure-type of Elijah (for more on this, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). More than this, he may be regarded as the last of the prophets of the old covenant (16:16 par), standing on the threshold of the new covenant. This sense of continuity between the old and new covenants is especially important in terms of how this passage fits in with the Lukan view of the Spirit.

This is the first occurrence of two distinct modes, in the Lukan narratives, whereby the Spirit is present and active. The first mode involves the idea of filling—i.e., being filled by the Spirit. Here the verb plh/qw is used. The idiom occurs numerous times in the book of Acts, but in the Gospel only within the Infancy narratives (1:41, 67) and the Lukan description of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (4:1).

The second mode involves being (and walking) in the Spirit. Here it is said that John will go about in the spirit of Elijah, which is a very specific way of referring to the spirit of prophecy—which, in turn, is brought about by the presence of God’s own Spirit. The expression “the spirit of Elijah” can be understood two ways, as it relates to the person of John the Baptist: (1) the same Spirit (of God) that inspired Elijah also is present in John; or (2) that John is essentially a new manifestation of Elijah himself, inspired by the distinctive prophetic spirit that Elijah possessed (and which he gave to Elisha, 2 Kings 2:9-12).

Either way, the “spirit of Elijah” involves the presence of the Spirit, so we may fairly claim that the wording here in v. 17 is an example of the Lukan motif of persons going about “in (or by) the Spirit” (2:27; 4:1, 14; 10:21).

If we are to isolate the main Lukan themes that are introduced here, they would be as follows:

    • The association of the Spirit with prophecy—John is the last of the prophets of the Old Covenant; with Jesus and his disciples (believers), the time of the New Covenant begins, and, with it, a new understanding of the nature of prophecy.
    • The Messianic role of John as “Elijah”, who will appear prior to the end-time Judgment (Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6)—this reflects the fundamental eschatological understanding of early Christians, which Luke develops powerfully in his 2-volume work, emphasizing the eschatological dimension of the early Christian mission.
    • The person of John as a transitional figure, emphasizing the continuity between the Old and New Covenant—he embodies the prophetic Spirit of the Old and, at the same time, points toward the manifestation of the Spirit in the New.

Another minor theme could also be mentioned, which is as much traditional as anything distinctly Lukan. In v. 15 the Spirit is associated with John the Baptist’s ascetic behavior (cf. Mk 1:6 par; Lk 7:33 par), but reflecting specifically the religious vow of the Nazirite (cf. Num 6:3). This detail may have been influenced by the Samuel and Samson narratives (Judg 13:4; 1 Sam 1:11, 22 [v.l.]), but there is no reason that it could not also be an authentic historical detail in the case of John. The principal idea here is twofold: (a) purity/holiness, and (b) consecration to God. Both of these motifs are central to the idea of the presence and activity of God’s Spirit (the holy Spirit, Spirit of holiness), are emphasized, to varying degrees, in the Lukan narratives.

In the next note, we will turn to the announcement of Jesus‘ birth, and examine the reference to the Spirit in 1:35.

Saturday Series: Acts 2:16-21 (Joel 2:28-32)

Acts 2:16-21 (Joel 2:28-32)

This week’s study, in celebration of Pentecost, will focus on the use of the Joel 2:28-32 (Heb 3:1-5a) oracle in the Pentecost sermon-speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-40). This is one of three Scriptures cited in the speech, and the second of two major citations (the other being Psalm 16:8-11) that anchor the speech and frame the kerygma (Gospel proclamation) in verses 22-24.

In examining the use of Joel 2:28-32 (both by Peter and by the author of Acts) several factors must be considered:

    1. The original context of the passage
    2. How this was applied to the early Christian context (of Peter’s speech), and
    3. How the author of Acts adapted the text to fit this application (at the literary level, within the narrative setting)

The first point will be discussed in this study; the second and third will be addressed in a follow-up study next week.

The original context of Joel 2:28-32

The work is comprised of four distinct oracles—1:2-20, 2:1-17, 2:18-32[3:5], and 3:1-21 [4:1-21]. The first two oracles focus on the coming invasion, with a call to repentance, and mourning in light of the destruction that this judgment will bring (as devastating to the people as a massive locust-attack on the crops). In the last two oracles, the focus shifts to the promise of restoration/renewal—the onset of a period of peace and prosperity—along with the ultimate judgment on the nations.

The dating of the book has varied considerably, and there continue to be differences of opinion among commentators. The (military) invasion by a foreign power (1:6ff), compared to a locust-attack (v. 4, cf. Judg 6:5; 7:12; Prov 30:27; Nah 3:15-16; Jer 46:23), would naturally focus the context on the campaigns and conquests of either the Assyrian or Babylonian forces. In the case of an invasion threatening Judah/Jerusalem, this would mean a time-frame corresponding to either 701 or 598/588 B.C., respectively. The apocalyptic and eschatological elements in the oracles of chapters 2 and 3 make a 6th century setting much more likely.

A basic outline of the book is as follows:

    • Joel 1:2-20: A lamentation for the land which has been desolated by a locust invasion (probably symbolic of a enemy military invasion)
    • Joel 2:1-11: Announcement to Judah/Jerusalem of an impending enemy invasion, with eschatological characteristics—it is God’s own judgment on the land, signifying the “day of YHWH” (verse 11)
      • Joel 2:12-17: A call to repentance for all the people in the land
    • Joel 2:18-27: A declaration that God will restore the fertility and bounty of the land, bringing blessing back to the people (described in material terms, as recovery from the locust attack)
    • Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 Heb]: A promise of spiritual blessing (i.e. the pouring out of God’s own Spirit) upon the all the people in the land—this will follow after the material blessing and restoration mentioned previously, and relates specifically to the survivors (i.e. the remnant) of the judgment (v. 32 [3:5]).
    • Joel 3:1-16 [4:1-16 Heb]: Announcement of God’s judgment on the Nations (following the restoration of Judah/Jerusalem, v. 1)—again this signifies the eschatological “day of YHWH” (v. 14, cf. 2:11).
      • Joel 3:17-21 [4:17-21 Heb]: The future fates of Judah/Jerusalem and the Nations are contrasted.

It could also be outlined more simply as:

    • 1:20-2:11—Judgment on Judah/Jerusalem (“day of YHWH”)
    • 2:18-32—Restoration and blessing (material and spiritual) for the survivors in Judah/Jerusalem
    • 3:1-16—Judgment on the Nations (“day of YHWH”), contrasted with the fate of (the restored) Judah/Jerusalem

Even though the context implies that the restoration indicated in 2:18-32 will be reasonably soon (not left for the indefinite future), it is not specified precisely when it will occur. Even today, there is a considerable divergence of views among commentators as to how such passages should be interpreted.

The oracles in 2:18-3:21 demonstrate a strong apocalyptic and eschatological emphasis, typical of a tendency that developed in the Prophetic writings of the exilic and post-exilic period. The trauma of the Exile (both for the northern and southern Kingdoms) led to this emphasis on a future hope—when Israel would be restored, and there would be a reversal of fortune, whereby the people of Israel would flourish in a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, while the nations (collectively) would face judgment. Joel 3 is one of the few passages in the Old Testament—and perhaps the earliest of these—where the “day of YHWH” motif, and the nation-oracle message of judgment (against individual nations), was broadened to apply to all the nations together.

The oracle of 2:18-32 [Heb 2:18-3:5] itself can be divided into three parts:

    • Vv. 18-20—A promise of salvation, in terms of the defeat/removal of the invading forces (from the north)
    • Vv. 21-27—A time of peace and prosperity—especially in terms of the fertility and (agricultural) fruitfulness of the land
    • Vv. 28-32 [3:1-5]—The manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people, as part of a powerful theophany that anticipates the judgment of the nations (chap. 3)

There is a similar sort of dual-aspect of Land/People in Isa 44:3 (which I discussed in a prior study):

    • Blessing on the landwater poured out on it, irrigating the fields and making them fertile again
    • Blessing on the people—the spirit poured out on them, stimulating the people and making them fertile (in a religious, ethical, and spiritual sense)

The second aspect—the pouring out of the spirit [rûaµ] of God—is expressed in vv. 28-29. What is especially notable, however, is the way that the idea of the spirit coming upon all the people is defined in such precise detail. Here is a translation of vv. 28-29 from the Hebrew (3:1-2):

“And it will be, following this, (that)
I will pour out my spirit [rûaµ] upon all flesh,
and your sons and daughters will act as n¹»î°,
and your older (one)s will dream dreams,
and your choice (young one)s will see visions;
and even upon the servants and upon the (serv)ing maids,
will I pour out my spirit in those days.”

The term n¹»î° is key, and has been left untranslated above. In the ancient Near Eastern religious setting, a n¹»î° was essentially a spokesperson for God—that is, one who communicates the word and will of God to the people. The term is translated in Greek as proph¢¡t¢s, and again into English as “prophet”. Such a person was chosen and gifted, by the Spirit of God, to function in that leadership role.

In ancient Israel, the ideal of charismatic, Spirit-empowered leadership very much dominated the early tradition. The people were governed by an inspired n¹»î° (or ‘prophet’), beginning with Moses and his successor Joshua, followed by the Judges and the great prophet-figure of Samuel. The early kingship (Saul and David) continued to exhibit this same charismatic-prophetic character, though gradually the prophetic role evolved into a separate office employed by the royal court. In any case, only certain individuals were chosen and gifted (by God) to serve as a genuine n¹»î°.

An important theme, found theme found at a number of points in the Prophetic writings reflects what we might call a ‘democratization’ of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership. That is to say, the Spirit of God comes upon the land and its people as a whole, rather than on select individuals. This idea seems to have developed among the later Prophets, likely as a reaction (at least in part) to the trauma of the Exile. The collapse of the Israelite/Judean kingdoms, and the loss of the monarchy, left a void for the principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Two separate, distinct concepts took root during the exile, in response to this void.

On the one hand, the hope for a future ruler from the line of David, who would restore the fortunes of Israel, became an important component of Messianic thought; the roots of this tradition can be found in the exilic Prophetic writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. At the same time, an entirely different line of thought took shape—that of the anointed/inspired Community. Both of these lines of tradition coalesced in the Qumran Community, and, somewhat similarly, among the early Christians as well.

This ‘new’ manifestation of the Spirit can be seen, for example, in the Deutero-Isaian passage of Isa 44:1-5 (v. 3); other relevant passages can be found in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. In some respects, however, these Prophetic texts are simply drawing upon much earlier aspects of Israelite historical tradition. Consider the Moses tradition(s) in Numbers 11:10-30, which I examined in a prior study in the series “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”. By all accounts, these have to be at least as old as the historical traditions in Judges and Samuel, with their striking record of the ancient principle of charismatic (spirit-inspired) leadership at work.

In the Numbers passage, the inspired status of Moses—as the spokesperson (n¹»î°) and intermediary between YHWH and the people—is broadened out to include 70 chosen/appointed elders (vv. 16-17ff). The wording to describe this process is most significant:

(YHWH speaking) “And I will lay aside (something) from (the) spirit [rûaµ] that is upon you, and I will set (it) upon them…”

When this occurs in the narrative (vv. 25ff), the 70 elders begin to “act as a n¹»î°” , just like Moses—i.e., they become active, inspired (prophetic) leaders, who communicate the word and will of God to the people. When Moses’ young attendant Joshua becomes alarmed at this, the great leader utters an extraordinary statement that broadens the prophetic/inspired gift even further:

“Who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) n®»î°îm, (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [rûaµ] upon them!” (v. 29)

Ideally, all the people would function as inspired leaders/spokespersons, gifted to know and understand the word and will of YHWH directly from Him. This doubtless relates to the broader tradition of Israel as a holy, chosen people, a nation made up entirely of anointed/inspired priests and kings, etc (Exod 19:6). The ideal could not be maintained initially, as reflected by the people’s response to hearing and experiencing the voice of God at Sinai (20:18-21). Moses came to be designated as the spokesperson (n¹»î°), and, similarly, certain individuals (and only they) were selected to function as priests.

In the time of Israel’s restoration, a new covenant will be established between God and His people (see Jeremiah 31:31-34, etc). It marks the beginning of a New Age, and oracles such as Joel 2:28-32 are thus eschatological, describing the things that will happen at the end of the current Age (judgment of the nations, etc) and the beginning of the new.

How does the reference to the Spirit in vv. 28-29 fit into this eschatological framework, in light of our discussion above? We may gain a better sense of this by considering the thematic structure of the oracle chiastically, as follows:

    • Promise of salvation for the land and its people (vv. 18-20)
      • God’s presence brings life and blessing to the land of Israel (vv. 21-26)
        • He dwells in the midst of His people (v. 27)
        • He pours His Spirit on all the people (vv. 28-29)
      • God’s presence brings judgment to the earth and its nations (vv. 30-31)
    • Promise of salvation for Jerusalem (Zion) and its people (v. 32)

The spirit (rûaµ) of YHWH essentially refers to His presence, reflecting a manner of expression well-established in Old Testament tradition, going back to the Creation narratives. Thus the “pouring out” of His Spirit is a symbolic expression related to the presence of YHWH among His people. The era of the restored Israel essentially marks a return to the initial moment of the Sinai theophany, when the people collectively stood in God’s presence, prior to the designation of Moses as the spokesperson (n¹»î°) who would stand in their place (Exod 20:18-21). Now all the people are such spokespersons or ‘prophets’ (n®»î°îm), no longer requiring any select individual to serve as intermediary. Now the entire Community is inspired, with the Spirit coming upon them even as it once did the king (at his anointing), or upon the person gifted to function as a n¹»î°.

With this background of Joel 2:28-32 in view—especially the eschatological aspect of the promise of God’s Spirit (the prophetic Spirit) coming upon all of the people—we may now turn to the application this prophecy in the book of Acts. This we will do in next week’s study.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Zechariah 12:10

Zechariah 12:10

I have already posted an article in this series on Zechariah 9-14, but the interpretive difficulties surrounding 12:10 require a separate detailed treatment. The use of Zech 12:10 in three different lines of early Christian tradition clearly attest to its importance. It was applied specifically to the death of Jesus, but also related to his exaltation (to heaven) and future return. In this regard, it was similar to Daniel 7:13-14 (discussed in a previous article), and, indeed, the two Scriptures came to be associated quite closely in the early tradition.

For the background of the so-called Deutero-Zechariah (chaps. 9-14), consult the aforementioned article. Chapters 12-14 represent the second of two divisions (some commentators would include the book of Malachi as a third division). The eschatological aspect takes on greater prominence in these chapters, developing the Prophetic theme of the “day of YHWH”, as it came to be understood in the Prophets of the exilic and post-exilic periods—as the day when YHWH will judge all of the nations, collectively. The expression “on that day” (aWhh^ <oYB*), which occurs repeatedly in chaps. 12-14, refers to this eschatological “day of YHWH” theme.

In fact, the Judgment of the Nations is referenced and described in two oracles here—in chapter 12 (vv. 1-9) and again in chapter 14 (vv. 1-15). The basic scenario is the same in each case: the nations will assemble together for an attack against Judah (Jerusalem), though in actually it is YHWH who has gathered them, to bring down Judgment upon them, destroying them completely. The book of Revelation drew heavily upon these oracles (along with Ezek 38-39 and Joel 3) in its visions of the Last Judgment (14:14-20; 19:11-21; 20:7-10).

In the attack by the nations, YHWH will protect His people (Judah/Jerusalem), and will do battle on their behalf. The result will be salvation for Jerusalem and complete destruction for the nations, as is declared in verse 9:

“And it will be, in that day, (that) I will seek to destroy all the nations th(at are) coming upon [i.e. against] Yerushalaim.”

If verse 9 states what YHWH will do to the nations on “that day”, verse 10 explains what will happen to Judah/Jerusalem. There are two components to this declaration in v. 10, the first being rather easier to understand than the second:

“And I will pour out upon (the) house of David, and upon (the one)s sitting (in) Yerushalaim, a spirit of (showing) favor and of (request)s for favor” (10a)

The key phrase is <yn]Wnj&t^w+ /j@ j^Wr. The nouns /j@ and /Wnj&T^ are related, both derived from the root /nj (“show favor”). While /j@ (“favor”) is often used for the favor shown by YHWH, here it is better understood as the willingness by the people of YHWH to show favor themselves. A spirit (j^Wr) has come over them, a result of God’s own Spirit that is “poured out” on them at the beginning of the New Age (on this Prophetic theme, cf. Isa 32:15; 44:3; 59:21; Ezek 11:19; 18:31; 36:26-27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29). This new spirit in/on them changes their whole attitude and mindset, their way of thinking and acting. It is a spirit of peace and wholeness, after generations of wickedness and violence, that both show favor to others and makes sincere requests for favor to be shown in turn.

This bond of peace is part of the “new covenant” established between YHWH and His people in the New Age. And, in this Age of Peace, the “house of David” once again exercises rule over Jerusalem; this doubtless relates to the early Messianic expectation we find at various points in the exilic and post-exilic Prophets (cf. my earlier article and throughout the series “Yeshua the Anointed” [esp. Parts 6-8]). The coming King announced in 9:9-10 probably reflects this same expectation of a new ruler from the line of David. Some in the late-6th century held out hope that the Davidic line would be restored in the person of the governor Zerubbabel, but this was not to be. After his successor (Elnathan), the “house of David” no longer holds any ruling position over Judah (the Persian province of Yehud).

The second component of verse 10 is more problematic:

“And they will look to me [or, to him], (the one) whom they stabbed, and they will mourn over him like (one) mourning over his only (child), and they will have bitter (grief) over him, like (one griev)ing bitterly over (his) first-born.”

The question that has vexed commentators is: who is being mourned and who was “stabbed”? But before addressing that question, it is necessary to deal with a textual point regarding the suffix of the preposition la# (“to”). The Masoretic text reads yl^a@ (“to me” ), that is, to YHWH; but this seems to contradict the context of the following reference to “(the one) whom they pierced” (the phrase being marked by the direct-object particle –ta#). Many commentators would emend the text here to wyl*a@ (“to him” ); and, defective spelling (wla) would allow for the confusion between w and y (that is, yla instead of wla), cf. Meyers, p. 336.

These textual and syntactical questions relate directly to the interpretation of verse 10. There has been a tendency, among readers and commentators alike, to try and identify the ‘one who was stabbed’ with some contemporary or historical figure (or event). The text, as we have it, simply does not allow for such precision, nor does it seem to be warranted upon a careful reading of the passage. In such matters, one is best served by letting the text be one’s guide, deriving a plausible interpretation through a sound and careful exegesis.

Before proceeding, mention should be made of another interpretive difficulty in verse 11:

“In that day the mourning will be great in Yerushalaim, like (the) mourning of Hadad-Rimmon (in) the plain of Megiddo.”

The comparison with the “mourning of Hadad-Rimmon” is obscure, with the exact point of reference uncertain. Two possibilities have been suggested:

    • It is a reference to the Canaanite deity Baal Haddu (= Hadad), who was thought to control (and was manifest in) the storm and rain. In Canaanite myth, Baal Haddu ‘died’ with the end of the spring rains and the onset of the summer heat. He was mourned for a time, but he came back to life, returning with the rains. Ritual mourning for Baal was tied to this mythology, just as it was for Tammuz (= Sumerian Dumuzi, cf. Ezek 8:14). Worship of Baal Haddu, in some form or to some extent, was relatively common through much of Israel’s history, and it is certainly possible that a ritual mourning for Baal took place in the plain of Megiddo, though we have no direct evidence for this.
    • The reference is to the death of king Josiah at Megiddo in 609 B.C. (2 Kings 23:29-30). In the parallel account in 2 Chronicles (35:20-26), we read how Josiah’s burial was the occasion for great mourning, and the implication is that this came to be a regular (annual) rite that has continued “to this day” —that is, into the Chronicler’s own time, which could well be near to the time of Zech 9-14.

The second option seem more likely, given the clear association of mourning with the site of Megiddo attested by the contemporary account in 2 Chronicles.

With this in mind, I present here four different lines of interpretation (of verse 10) for which one can make a relatively strong (or at least reasonable) case.

1. Some commentators would identify YHWH as the one “whom they have stabbed”. This is based on a literal reading of the text, accepting the MT 1st person suffix (y-) on the preposition (la#), and then treating the following phrase (marked as a direct object) in apposition: “they will look to me, whom they stabbed”. In this case, the stabbing would be figurative, presumably signifying a betrayal of the covenant through idolatry and worship of other deities, etc. With the new spirit that comes over the people, they collectively repent of their sin with great mourning. This line of interpretation might be seen as further support for the view that  the “mourning of Hadad-Rimmon” referred to ritual worship of Baal-Haddu (cf. above). Now the significance of the mourning is reversed: the people mourn for their lack of loyalty to YHWH, which had been demonstrated through worship of deities other than YHWH (such as Baal-Haddu).

The following three interpretations assume that the person who was stabbed is different than YHWH. Emending the 1st person suffix (on the preposition la#) to the 3rd person would result in a clearer text: “they will look to him whom they stabbed”. If the 1st person suffix of the MT is retained, it creates a more difficult syntax: “they will look to me, (on account of the one) whom they stabbed”, or possibly “they will look to me, (along with the one) whom they stabbed”.

2. The verb rq^D* indicates that the person was “stabbed”, but not necessarily killed; that is, the emphasis is on his being wounded. If we follow this distinction, it is possible to read vv. 10-11ff as reflecting the new spirit possessed by the people in the New Age. The spirit of peace has so taken hold that one now mourns over someone who is wounded like one would the death of an only child or firstborn son. According to this interpretation, the person who was stabbed serves as a general figure, for anyone who is wounded. The reason why the person was wounded is less important than the fact of wounding, just as one would mourn the death of a child, regardless of how or why the child was killed.

3. Some commentators would prefer to view the stabbed figure as representative of a particular group. Along these lines, the prophets of YHWH are a likely candidate to have been ‘stabbed’ by the people (and/or their leaders). Hostility toward the (true) prophets is very much a theme in these chapters, illustrated most vividly in the ‘Shepherd narrative’ of 11:4-16 (on which, cf. my recent discussion). Several points may be cited as confirmation for this line of interpretation:

    • The other occurrence of the verb rq^D* (“stab”) in these chapters relates to the stabbing of a false prophet (13:3); if that was done rightly, then, by contrast, the stabbing of a true prophet was a great wrong that should be mourned.
    • Historically, hostility toward the prophets led, at times, to violence against them; this was well-established in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, with the death of Uriah (by the sword, i.e. stabbing) being a notable example (Jer 26:20-23).
    • Hostility toward the prophets of YHWH was often rooted in the messages of judgment that they brought against the people (and their leaders); such messages were naturally unpopular, but the scenario depicted in chapters 9-14 could easily have led to violence against one of God’s prophets. The breakdowns within society, coupled with the threat of attack from powerful foreign nations, created an unstable environment where violence would be increasingly common.

With the onset of the New Age, the people would feel a burden to repent of such an act (or acts) of violence, and a collective period of mourning would be altogether appropriate for the occasion.

4. Another possibility is that the person who is stabbed alludes to the false prophet who is to be stabbed (same verb, rq^D*), according to the directive of YHWH in 13:3. That latter reference reflects the situation in the New Age, when the land (and its people) will be purified of all forms of false religion, of which false prophecy is a prime example. However, it must be emphasized that the main point of reference is false religion and idolatry. While it is necessary, according the standards of holiness presented in these chapters, to stab (and presumably put to death) the false prophet, the very existence of such false religion in the midst of Israel is reason for the people to mourn. The reference in 12:10 implies that there are false prophets among the people, and, with the onset of the New Age, they will be stabbed (according to 13:3); thus, one may say of such a person, “the one whom they stabbed”. The mourning in vv. 11-14 is not on account of the stabbing, but for what the stabbed person represents: the presence of false religion and idolatry among the people.

Of these four possible lines of interpretation, I would tend to favor the third (#3). The fact that a prophet-figure is “stabbed” (using the same verb) in 13:3 increases the likelihood that a similar point of reference is in view in 12:10. Also, the nature of the mourning in vv. 11-14, and the way it is described, suggests that the cause of the mourning is the injury (and/or death) of a particular person, and one who should be cherished—comparable to the death of a beloved child, or of a virtuous king like Josiah (cf. above).

Zech 12:10 in the New Testament

The early Christian interpretation (and application) of Zech 12:10 is closest to approaches 1 and 3 above. In approach 1, God (YHWH) is the one who is stabbed; while, in approach 3, it is a true prophet of YHWH. However, given the focus in the Passion narrative on Jesus as the royal/Davidic Messiah, it is possible that early Christians (including the New Testament authors) assumed that the stabbed figure of Zech 12:10 was the (Davidic) king–perhaps the same king mentioned in 9:9-10. This would certainly cohere with the basic line of Gospel Tradition, as well as the arc of the Passion narrative:

    • Jesus enters Jerusalem as the King (9:9-10)
    • He is struck (13:7) and stabbed (12:10)—i.e., his suffering and death (by crucifixion)
    • The promise of his resurrection/exaltation and future return (at the time of Judgment)—the eschatological context of chapters 12-14 (12:1-9; 14:1-15ff)

When it comes to the actual application of 12:10, there are three New Testament references, representing at least two separate lines of early Christian tradition. In all three, the verse was applied to the death (crucifixion) of Jesus. This naturally fit the idea of Jesus being “stabbed” (or “pierced”), i.e., his hands/wrists and feet pierced by nails on the stake. However, the Gospel of John quotes the Scripture specifically in reference to the piercing of Jesus’ side (19:34f, 37).

In the Gospel of Matthew, it occurs as part of the Eschatological Discourse. The climactic “Son of Man” saying (Mark 13:26 par) has apparently been modified to reflect Zech 12:10:

“And then the sign of the Son of Man will be made to shine (forth) in (the) heaven, and then all the offshoots [i.e. tribes] of the earth will beat (themselves), and they will look with (open) eyes (at) the Son of Man coming upon (the) clouds of heaven with great power and splendor.” (24:30-31)

The verb form ko/yontai (“they will beat [themselves],” i.e., in mourning) almost certainly is an allusion to the LXX of Zech 12:10. Interestingly, while the context of 12:10 clearly refers to the people of Judah/Jerusalem looking and mourning, Matthew’s application seems to assume that the prophecy (“they will look… they will mourn”) refers to all the nations. Since the Synoptic “Son of Man” saying here also alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 (cf. the prior article), we have a juxtaposition of two key Scriptures that tie the death of Jesus to his exaltation and future return (from heaven) at the end-time Judgment.

All of these features that we see in Matt 24:30-31 are brought out with greater clarity (and simplicity) in Revelation 1:7, where the eschatological context of the Scripture is even more prominent. Again, the author (and/or the visionary) has combined Dan 7:13 with Zech 12:10, in reference to Jesus’ end-time appearance:

“See, he comes with the clouds, and every eye will look at him, and even (those) who dug out of him, and all the offshoots [i.e. tribes] of the earth will beat (themselves) over him”

The verb e)kkente/w (“dig out”) is used for the ‘stabbing’ in Zech 12:10 (vb rq^D*)—i.e., digging out a hole in the flesh by piercing it with a sword or spear. This verb is relatively rare in the LXX, occurring just 9 times, but it is not used in Zech 12:10.

The curious verb used in the LXX, katorxe/omai, “dance over” (perhaps in the general sense of taunting, etc), may be the result of the Hebrew root rqd (“stab”) being accidentally reversed (and misread) as dqr (“skip about, dance”).

Moreover, the only occurrence of e)kkente/w in the New Testament happens to be the citation of Zech 12:10 in John 19:37 (cf. above), where it refers to the piercing of Jesus’ side with the spear (which, in the narrative, is described with the verb nu/ssw, “pierce, prick”). This would seem to be an example of the book of Revelation sharing in the wider Johannine tradition. In any case, the use of the verb here is almost certainly meant to echo the account of Jesus’ death in the Johannine Gospel.

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Isaiah 61:1-3

Isaiah 61:1-3

Having discussed Isaiah 42:1ff in the previous article, we now turn to Isa 61:1-3. These two passages have a good deal in common, both in terms of the Messianic interpretation that was given to them, and how they were applied to Jesus in the earliest strands of the Gospel Tradition. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that they are rooted in the actual historical tradition much more than in the early Christian interpretation of that tradition. This is especially so in the case of Isa 61:1ff, as we consider how this passage may have been applied by Jesus to himself, in ways that scarcely continued at all in subsequent Christian thought.

While Isa 40:3 and 42:1ff are part of so-called Deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 4055), 61:1-3 is part of the following chapters (5666) that many scholars regard as a separate (and later) work, customarily referred to as Trito-Isaiah (“Third Isaiah”). Because the message of these poems tends to assume a post-exilic setting, focusing on the future destiny of Judah/Jerusalem following the restoration/return of the people to the Land, Trito-Isaiah is usually dated to the (early) post-exilic period (i.e., the 5th [or late 6th] century B.C.). Even if this critical assessment is correct, the poems in chaps. 56-66 clearly draw upon (and develop) many Isaian (and Deutero-Isaian) themes. In particular, there are many points in common between chapters 40-55 and 56-66.

If we treat chapters 56-66 as a distinct work (or division within the larger Isaian corpus), then chaps. 60-62 are at the heart of that work. Indeed, it would seem that 61:1-3 lies at the very center of the Trito-Isaian poems (cf. Blenkinsopp, pp. ). Chapters 60 and 62 each present a prophetic vision of the glorious destiny for Judah and Jerusalem in the coming New Age. As the people continue to return from exile (60:4ff, 9), so also the surrounding nations will bring tribute and pay homage to the new kingdom. God’s people, centered in Jerusalem, will experience a blessing and prosperity greater than anything before.

However, as chapter 61 makes clear, this glorious New Age had not yet been fully realized in the post-exilic period. Much of the territory (of Judah and Jerusalem) still lay in ruins and needs to be rebuilt (v. 4), a scenario which accords well with a mid-5th century setting, prior to the work inaugurated by Nehemiah (after 445 B.C.). Moreover, the context of vv. 1-3 and 8-9 suggests that there was considerable poverty, as well as widespread injustice and oppression in the land at the time. Again, this fits the vivid portrait in Nehemiah 5:1-5 (cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 224). In the glorious New Age of Israel’s restoration, there is no place for such poverty and injustice.

If we are to consider the structure of chapter 61, it may be treated as a poem with two strophes; each strophe has two parts: (1) announcement of the prophet’s role in establishing the ‘new covenant’ (vv. 1-3, 8-9), and (2) a prophetic hymn-like declaration of the glorious destiny of Judah/Jerusalem (vv. 4-7, 10-11). Each strophe presents a different aspect of these themes. In vv. 1-3, the focus is on the Spirit-empowered prophet, while the ‘new covenant’ itself is only mentioned directly in vv. 8-9. It is specifically referred to as an “eternal covenant” —literally, a “binding agreement (into the) distant (future)” (<l*ou tyr!B=). Technically, this means that the agreement is perpetual and does not require any future ratification or renewal.

The connection between the Spirit-inspired prophet and the covenant is made explicit in 59:21, the verse immediately preceding chaps. 60-62:

“And (for) me [i.e. for my part], this (is) my binding (agreement) [tyr!B=] with them, says YHWH: my Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have set in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, and from (the) mouth of your seed, and from (the) mouth of (the) seed of your seed, (so) says YHWH, from now until (the) distant (future).”

The promise is that there will be a continuous line of inspired prophets, lasting into the far distant future (<l*ou), and this promise is an essential part of the new covenant (“binding [agreement]”) between YHWH and His people. The scope of this prophetic dynasty, taken together with the passages promising the ‘pouring out’ of the Spirit upon the entire people (cf. 32:15; 44:3, etc), strongly suggests what may be referred to as a ‘democratization’ of the ancient prophetic principle. If Moses is the primary prophetic figure-type in view (cf. below), then is it too much to imagine that Moses’ expressed wish in Numbers 11:29 (that all of God’s people would be prophets) finds its fulfillment in the New Age?

In our previous discussion on Isa 42:1ff (see the article and supplemental note), I mentioned that there are two plausible ways of understanding the “servant”, based on the Deutero-Isaian context and the traditions involved:

    • The collective interpretation: the “servant” is the people of Israel/Judah in the New Age of restoration; the Spirit is poured out upon the entire people (cf. above), who function as the inspired messenger(s) of YHWH to the other nations.
    • The figure-type of Moses: the “servant” is a specially-appointed prophet patterned after Moses (Deut 18:15-19), who leads God’s people out of exile and serves as mediator of the (new) covenant.

Sound arguments can be made for both lines of interpretation, at least in regard to the “servant” of 42:1ff. In the case of the anointed prophet-figure in 61:1ff, however, it does seem that a specific individual is in view. Certain evidence suggests that here, too, it is a prophet following in the pattern of Moses. The wording of 59:21 (cf. above), which is unquestionably related to 61:1, resembles that of Deut 18:18, in which YHWH declares that “I will give [i.e. put] my words in his mouth”. We find the same Deuteronomic phrasing applied to the prophet Jeremiah (in 1:9), and the idea that God’s word will not “depart” (vb vWm) from the prophet’s mouth may be an echo of Joshua 1:8, with the declaration that the Instruction (Torah) of YHWH will not “depart” (same verb) from Joshua’s mouth.

Moses was the supreme Prophet in Israel’s history, due to his role in receiving the Torah from YHWH, and then communicating it to the people. In so doing, he functioned as the mediator of the covenant, especially in the period following the Golden Calf incident (cf. the complex narrative in Exodus 19-34). For more on the original context and setting of Isaiah 61:1-3, consult the supplemental daily notes on the passage.

Jewish Interpretation of Isaiah 61:1-3

By all accounts, the prophecies in chapters 60-62, regarding the glorious destiny of Judah/Jerusalem, were never fulfilled in the early post-exilic period (nor in the centuries to follow). It was thus natural that these prophetic poems would be given a Messianic interpretation by Israelites and Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. According to this line of interpretation, the promises would finally be realized in the time of the Messiah. The primary Messianic figure-type was the royal Davidic ruler—that is, a future ruler from the line of David, who will serve as God’s representative in establishing a restored Israelite Kingdom (centered at Jerusalem) and in judging/subduing the surrounding nations. On this figure-type, cp. Parts 68 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

However, the “anointed” figure in Isa 61:1ff is not a king, but a prophet—one who brings a message (from YHWH) to the people. The “servant” in 42:1ff exercises a judicial and law-giving function that would be more fitting of a ruler, and yet there too the emphasis is prophetic, rather than royal. The personage of Moses embraces both aspects—judge/lawgiver and prophet—and, as I have discussed, the prophetic figure-type in view may be the “prophet like Moses” promised in Deut 18:15-19.

If we turn to the Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D., specific references or allusions to Isa 61:1ff are actually quite rare. However, there are at least two Qumran texts which give us some indication of how the passage may have been understood by Jews at the time. The first text is 4Q521, sometimes referred to as the “Messianic Apocalypse”. It is the reasonably well-preserved fragment 2 (cols. 2 & 3) which has most intrigued scholars. The surviving portion of column 2 begins (lines 1-2):

“[for the heav]ens and the earth will hear {i.e. listen} to his anointed (one), [and all wh]ich (is) in them will not turn (away) from the commands of his holy (one)s.”

The ancient idea of the universe (heavens and earth) obeying God’s word has joined the religious-ethical concept of faithfulness to the Torah (and to the Community)—both are aspects of a single dynamic which is about to come more clearly into view at the end-time. Indeed, the context suggests an eschatological orientation, and that the “anointed (one)” is a Messianic figure who is (about) to appear. This is confirmed by a careful reading of the remainder of the fragment.

Following the exhortation in lines 3-4, the remaining lines (5-14) record a promise of what God will do for his people, inspired by Isaiah 61:1ff, blended with a citation of Psalm 146:7-8, and allusions to eschatological/Messianic passages such as Daniel 7. In applying this chain of Scripture passages, it is clear that the “poor” and suffering ones are synonymous with the pious and devout ones (<yd!ys!j&)—the faithful Community in the midst of the wicked and corrupt world. It is they who receive the “good news” proclaimed by the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. These associations are worked out in the wording of lines 5-7:

“For my Lord will consider the devout (one)s and will call the righteous/faithful (one)s by name, and his Spirit will hover upon the poor/afflicted (one)s, and he will renew with his strength the (one)s firm (in trust). For he will give weight to {i.e. honor} the devout (one)s (by putting them) upon the seat of a kingdom unto (the Ages)…”

What follows in lines 8-9 echoes Psalm 146:7-8, referring to the freeing of prisoners, opening eyes, straightening the twisted, etc. Unfortunately there is a gap in line 10, but it indicates an imminent eschatological expectation: God is about to “do weighty (thing)s which have not (yet) been” (line 11). These deeds of deliverance will, it seems, be performed by an Anointed representative, such as is mentioned in line 1, identified with the herald of Isa 61:

“…according to that which he spoke, [for] he will heal the wounded (one)s, and will make (one)s dead to live (again), and will bring (good) news for the poor/afflicted (one)s…” (lines 11-12)

To this, in the badly preserved third column of same fragment, is added an allusion to Malachi 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] and the end-time role of “Elijah” as the Messenger who prepares things for God’s appearance on earth to bring the Judgment (3:1ff). This suggests that the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff is being interpreted according to the figure-type of Elijah, rather than Moses (cf. above). The miracle-working power accords better with the Elijah-traditions, especially the association with raising the dead (col. 2, line 12)—a connection that continues throughout Jewish tradition (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24; Sirach 48:5, [11]; m. Sota 9; j. Sheqalim 3:3; Pesikta de R. Kahana 76a). By the end of the 1st century A.D., resurrection came to be connected with the appearance of the Messiah generally (2 Baruch 30:2; 2/4 Esdras 7).

The second text is 11QMelchizedek [11Q13], another fragmentary work with eschatological and Messianic significance. There appear to be two Messianic figures who feature in this text. The first is Melchizedek, understood as a heavenly deliverer, perhaps to be identified with the angel Michael, who will defeat the forces of evil, and thus free God’s people from the power of Belial (col. 2, lines 1-14, 25; col. 3 + frags. 5 & 7). The second figure is an anointed herald who announces the good news of this salvation (col. 2, lines 15-20ff).

The chief Scripture reference is Isa 52:7, but filtered through the framework of Isa 61:1ff (along with a citation of Dan 9:25). The herald is a Messiah, and specifically one who is “anointed of the Spirit”. The Hebrew term for this prophetic herald is the verbal noun rC@b^m=, from the root rc^B* (cf. above), literally “(one) bringing (good) news”. This word occurs in 11QMelchizedek col. 2, line 18—

“and the (one) bringing (good) news i[s] (the) Anointed of the Spir[it]”

where, as noted above, the herald may be understood as an end-time prophet according to the figure-type of Elijah. However, in 4Q377 (frag. 2, col. 2, line 11), the prophetic herald (rcbm) is specifically identified with Moses.

Isaiah 61:1-3 in the Gospel Tradition

Luke 4:16-30

Isaiah 61:1ff features prominently in the Lukan version (4:16-30) of the episode at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6a; Matt 13:53-58). Because Luke’s version contains details not found in Mark-Matthew, and because it is located at a different point in the Synoptic narrative (at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry), some commentators have posited that there were two such (historical) episodes at Nazareth. However, this is extremely unlikely. The Gospels know of only one such episode, the basic outline of which is consistent. Moreover, Luke’s version (v. 23) essentially confirms that the location of the episode in Mark-Matthew is correct; Jesus has been working in Galilee (centered at Capernaum) long enough for his deeds to have become well known in Nazareth.

This suggests that Luke has changed the location of the episode, setting it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, for a distinct literary (and theological) purpose. Several factors may explain the change. First, moving the episode to this earlier point facilitates a natural connection with the Nazareth setting of the Infancy narrative (chaps. 1-2). Second, the episode vividly illustrates Jesus’ practice of visiting the synagogues and teaching the people there (v. 15); the main Synoptic narrative uses a different episode for this purpose (Mk 1:21-28 par), which Luke includes as well, immediately following the Nazareth scene (vv. 31-37). Third, if the citation of Isa 61:1-2 is an authentic part of the historical tradition received by Luke, then it would have been natural for him to include it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following the baptism and temptation scenes.

On this point, Luke clearly connects the Spirit-anointing of the Herald in Isa 61:1 with the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism (3:22 par). Luke’s Gospel gives special emphasis to the role of the Spirit in Jesus’ ministry, part of a thematic focus that relates to the central place of the Spirit in the narratives of Acts. In Jesus’ public ministry, he provides the type-pattern and example for the apostles, walking about under the guidance of the Spirit, and ministering under its power. There are key references to this in 4:1 (cp. Mk 1:12), and again following the Temptation scene (and immediately prior to the Nazareth episode), in 4:14. The Isaian “anointing” by the Spirit thus applies most fittingly to the ministry of Jesus.

If we accept the historical authenticity of the Lukan version of the episode (with its citation of Isa 61:1-2), then it must be admitted that Jesus specifically identified himself as the anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff. The Scripture as Luke presents it does not match the Hebrew text that Jesus would have read out loud (at the historical level, vv. 17ff). It follows the LXX, but in an adapted form, omitting two phrases, and interpolating part of 58:6 between verses 1 and 2. This is best understood as an interpretive literary adaptation on the part of the Gospel writer. Even so, it may be seen as accurately representing the manner in which Jesus fulfills the prophecy. Indeed, the adapted LXX version found in vv. 18-19 of the Lukan episode provides a much better fit to the reality of Jesus’ Galilean ministry than does the Hebrew text. The distinctive features of this version may be summarized as follows:

    • the phrase “to bind (the wounds) of (the one)s broken of heart” (bl@-yr@B=v=n]l= vb)j&l^, LXX i)a/sqai tou\$ tou\$ suntetrimme/nou$ th=| kardi/a|) has been omitted
    • the Greek reads tufloi=$ a)na/bleyin (“seeing again [i.e. new sight] for [the] blind”) instead of the Hebrew “opening up for (the one)s bound (in prison)” (j^oq-jq^P* <yr!Wsa&l)
    • the phrase a)postei=lai teqrausme/nou$ e)n a)fe/sei (“to send forth in release (the one)s having been broken” comes from Isa 58:6d (LXX), though it generally matches the thought in 61:1 as well
    • the citation has left out the phrase “and a day of vengeance for our God” (LXX kai\ h(me/ran a)ntapodo/sew$), which provides the (negative) judgment-parallel to the (positive) “year of favor for YHWH” (LXX “year of the Lord [favorably] received”, e)niauto\n kuri/ou dekto\n).

These changes emphasize certain aspects of Jesus’ ministry:

    • Jesus’ proclamation stresses the coming of salvation (“year of the Lord’s favor”), giving this aspect of the end-time message priority over that of judgment (“day of God’s vengeance”)
    • The double-use of the term a&fesi$ (“release”) brings out the idea of release (same word, a&fesi$) from the bondage of sin (i.e., forgiveness from sin), which was so important in Jesus’ teaching
    • The LXX reference to giving sight to the blind (cf. also Isa 35:5 and Psalm 146:7-8) allows the passage to be applied to the healing miracles performed by Jesus (cf. below).

The Lukan context clearly understands the anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff as a Messianic prophet, and one, it seems, that is generally patterned after the figure of Elijah (cf. the discussion above, esp. as related to the Qumran text 4Q521). Jesus certainly identifies himself as a prophet in verse 24 (cp. Mk 6:4 par), and the Scripture examples he cites in vv. 25-27 come from the Elijah and Elisha narratives (1 Kings 17:9-10; 18:1; 2 Kings 7:3-10). As it happens, Elisha is the only Old Testament prophet who is anointed—a ritual action which represents his inheritance of the prophetic spirit of Elijah (1 Kings 19:16; 2 Kings 2:9-10ff), much as happened in the case of Moses’ prophetic spirit in Numbers 11:16-17ff.

Luke 7:18-23 par

Jesus identifies himself with the Herald of Isa 61:1ff in a second passage—the “Q” tradition of Matt 11:2-6 / Lk 7:18-23. Again the Scripture is cited in relation to the Galilean ministry of Jesus, demonstrating that his work was the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. However, here, instead of a more or less direct quotation of Isa 61:1ff, Jesus provides a loose application of different Isaian texts: along with Isa 61:1, there are allusions to Isa 26:19 and 35:5.

The historical and narrative context of this episode also relates more directly to the Messianic identity of Jesus. John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus, to ask him if he is “the (one who is) coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$). That participial expression is tied to the earlier saying by the Baptist regarding the “(one who) comes” (3:16 par). The Lukan wording of this saying generally follows Mark (1:7); however, in Matthew the substantive participle (o( e)rxo/meno$, “the [one] coming”) is used, as also in John 1:15, 27. It must be regarded essentially as a Messianic title, most likely referring to the coming Messenger of Malachi 3:1ff, understood in an eschatological (and Messianic) sense. For more on this, cf. my earlier article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

While in prison, John the Baptist apparently had developed some doubt as to whether Jesus truly was the fulfillment of this coming eschatological/Messianic figure. Jesus does not answer the Baptist’s question directly; in a manner that seems to have been typical of his approach, Jesus neither affirms nor denies the identification per se, but rather redirects the questioner to a deeper understanding of the situation (compare his response to the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6-7). It is as if he is saying: observe and judge for yourselves, based on what you see taking place in my ministry (vv. 21-22a). And Jesus summarizes his ministry work (verse 22) by alluding to Isa 61:1ff (along with other Isaian texts):

    • “blind (person)s see again” [Isa 61:1 LXX; 35:5; cf. also Psalm 146:7-8]
    • “(those) limping walk about (again)”
    • lepers are cleansed”
    • “deaf (person)s hear (again)” [Isa 35:5]
    • “(the) dead are raised” [Isa 26:19 LXX]
    • “(the) poor are given the good message” [Isa 61:1]

The primary focus is on the healing miracles performed by Jesus (verse 21), including raising the dead (the episode immediately preceding, in vv. 10-17). No such miracles are mentioned in the original Hebrew of Isa 61:1-3, but (as noted above) the LXX of verse 1 includes the idea of the blind receiving sight again. Interestingly, in the Qumran text 4Q521 (see above), Isa 61:1-2 is similarly connected with the blind receiving sight (cf. Psalm 146:7-8), and also with the raising of the dead. This text, along with the Gospel tradition here, strongly suggests that, by the first century A.D., the anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff was being interpreted as a Messianic prophet according to the figure type of the “Elijah who is to come” (Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6; cf. Mk 9:11-13 par; Lk 9:8; Jn 1:21ff). This pattern of the Spirit-empowered, miracle-working Prophet certainly fits the Galilean ministry of Jesus, as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. Indeed, there are many signs that, during this period, Jesus was identified (and identified himself) as a Messianic Prophet according to the Elijah figure-type.

At the same time, there are other passages in the Gospel tradition where this Elijah-role is explicitly given to John the Baptist (including by Jesus in the Matthean version of this “Q” material, 11:14). The historical and traditional aspects of this Messianic question are complex, and I discuss them at length in other notes and articles; cf. especially Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The identity of Jesus as a Messianic Prophet, according to the types of Moses and Elijah both, will be discussed further on in this series, when we come to the Transfiguration episode.

March 14: Isaiah 61:1

Isaiah 61:1-7

These notes on Isaiah 61:1ff are supplemental to the article in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. They provide a more detailed exegetical analysis of the passage than is possible in the space of that article.

ISAIAH 61:1-3

Verse 1a

“(The) Spirit of my Lord YHWH (is) upon me,
because YHWH has anointed me
to bring (good) news (to the) oppressed”

Verses 1-3 describe the mission of a specially appointed messenger of YHWH. The principal statement of the mission is found here in the first three lines of verse 1. Let us examine each line in turn.

yl*u* hw]hy+ yn`d)a& j^Wr
“(The) Spirit of my Lord YHWH (is) upon me”

The great Isaiah Scroll from Qumran (1QIsaa) omits yn`d)a& (“my Lord”), but the double-name (with YHWH) occurs relatively frequently in the book of Isaiah (elsewhere in chaps. 56-66, cf. 56:8; 61:11; 65:13, 15). The literal rendering of yn`d)a& is “my Lord”, but the suffixed form came to be used virtually as a proper name for God (as a pious substitution for hwhy [YHWH]). Cf. my earlier article on the title /oda* (“Lord”).

The Spirit (or “breath, wind” [j^Wr]) of YHWH is mentioned in a number of key passages in the Old Testament, most frequently in the context of prophetic inspiration. The ayb!n` was a spokesperson for YHWH, a person specially appointed to communicate the word and will of God to the people. It was an important leadership position in the ancient Near East, and had roots in common with the charismatic nature of ancient kingship. The leader was touched by God and empowered by the divine Spirit to lead. For more on this subject, see my earlier notes on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, covering traditions related to Moses (esp. Num 11:10-30), the Judges, and the first Israelite kings (Saul and David, 1 Sam 10:6ff; 16:13-15, etc).

By the time the poems in Isa 56-66 (so-called Trito-Isaiah) were written, the idea of prophetic inspiration had undergone a considerable development. Especially in the exilic and post-exilic Prophetic writings, the presence of God’s Spirit was associated with the people as a whole, rather than being reserved for special individuals. The New Age of Israel’s restoration (and return from exile) would be marked by the presence of the Spirit of YHWH, which would be ‘poured out’ upon the entire people. Indeed, this is a theme that was developed throughout the Isaian Tradition (cf. my earlier notes on 32:15 and 44:3).

However, there are also Isaian passages which continue the ancient concept of specific individuals who are gifted (empowered) by the Spirit of YHWH. In addition to our passage here, the two main instances are 11:1-2 and 42:1. The latter was discussed in the most recent article in this series, and the initial verses are worth citing again:

“See, my servant, on (who)m I grab hold,
my chosen (one whom) my soul favors;
I have given my Spirit upon him…”

The identity of the “servant” in Isa 42:1 has been much debated, but, as in the case of 61:1ff, it is clear that the person is an inspired prophet—one who is to play a special role in relation to the ‘new covenant’ established between God and His people. In the supplemental note on Isa 42:1-4, I discuss the likelihood that a prophetic figure patterned after Moses is intended, an inspired prophet and leader who would function as a ‘new Moses’ (cf. Deut 18:15-19), leading the people out of exile and acting (like Moses) as a mediator of the new covenant (cf. 42:6 and 59:21). A strong argument can be made that a “prophet like Moses” is also in view here in 61:1ff. This point will be discussed further in these notes, and in the main article.

yt!a) hw`hy+ jv^m* /u^y~
“because YHWH has anointed me”

The verbal particle /u^y~, from the root hn`u*, indicates a response to something—i.e., the reason why something happened, or how it came to be. The Spirit of YHWH has come upon (lu^) the person because YHWH has chosen to appoint him as such. This appointment is described using the ancient ritual motif of anointing (with oil). Traditionally, kings and priests were anointed, but not prophets. It is the association with the Spirit that leads to the figurative application of the anointing image. The Spirit of God comes upon the chosen prophet, even as it did upon the charismatic (anointed) ruler (cf. above). Moreover, the motif of the Spirit being ‘poured out’ like water (or oil) upon the people made the anointing-motif appropriate to the Prophetic context here. It was, of course, the use of the verb jv^m* (m¹šaµ, “anoint”) that made Isa 61:1ff especially suitable to a Messianic interpretation.

<yw]n`u& rC@b^l=
“to bring (good) news (to the) oppressed”

The verb rc^B* has the fundamental meaning “bring (good) news”, as in the case of news of military victory, rescue, etc. It is generally the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek eu)agge/llw, and similarly the noun hr*c)B= = Greek eu)agge/lion (“good message, good news”), For more on the background and use of eu)agge/lion (and the Gospel concept in the NT), cf. my earlier Word Study series.

The Spirit-inspired messenger is to give this ‘good news’ specifically to those who are oppressed (<yw]n`u&). The adjective wn`u* is essentially equivalent to yn]a*, with both terms referring to people who are “pressed down” or “oppressed”, resulting in a situation of suffering, poverty and need. The poverty of the people relates, generally, to the early post-exilic situation (i.e., in the mid-5th century B.C.), when much of Jerusalem, for example, still lay in ruins. At the same time, much of the population was subject to real socio-economic injustice and oppression, as vividly described in Nehemiah 5:1-5.

The “good news” is that such an oppressed condition is only temporary; it will soon be relieved and rectified. A glorious New Age is on the horizon for the people of Judah and Jerusalem. This is the fundamental message of chapters 60-62, and 61:1-3ff lies at the heart of it.

In the next note, we will turn to verse 1b and following, where the prophet’s mission is spelled out in more detail, through a series of verbal infinitives.

June 16: Acts 2:4, 17-18ff (continued)

Acts 2:4, 17-18ff, continued

The central aspect of the Spirit’s role in the book of Acts is expressed by the citation of Joel 2:28-32 [Hebrew 3:1-5] in the Pentecost speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-40). This sermon-speech, discussed at length in an earlier two-part article, follows the Pentecost narrative of vv. 1-13 (on which, cf. my earlier set of notes). This use of the Joel oracle demonstrates how the coming of the Spirit upon the Jerusalem believers is seen as a fulfillment of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Spirit in the restoration of Israel. I have discussed the association of the Spirit with this restoration-theme in earlier notes (see esp. the note on Joel 2:28-32); it is a theme which is prominent in the early chapters of Acts, as I have also discussed in previous notes.

While the Greek citation of Joel 2:28-32 differs somewhat from both the Hebrew and LXX versions (for the details, cf. my earlier article), it preserves the fundamental message. This message entails a promise that, in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, the Spirit will no longer come only upon specific chosen/gifted individuals, but instead will be “poured out” upon all the people. This point is driven home emphatically by the inclusive references to male and female (“sons and daughters”), young and old, slave/servant and free person alike. It is essentially a fulfillment of the ideal expressed in the episode of Numbers 11:10-30 (see esp. Moses’ words in v. 29)—that is to say, all the people would function as prophets (<ya!yb!n+).

As I have previously discussed, the ayb!n` is best understood as a spokesperson for God—one who communicates the word and will of God to the people. In the ancient Israelite (and Near Eastern) tradition, this meant a divinely-inspired position of leadership and prominence in society, reserved only for select chosen or gifted individuals. Moses was the supreme ayb!n` in the early period, but eventually, as the tradition in Num 11:16-30 suggests, the role came to be filled by many others over time. It was based on the principle of charismatic leadership—of the Spirit’s presence manifest by unusual (and ecstatic) phenomena. The early Israelite kings (Saul and David) shared in this form of Spirit-inspired leadership (cf. my earlier notes on 1 Sam 16:13-15, etc). Eventually, however, this aspect of the Prophetic experience waned, and was given less emphasis, as indicated by the disappearance of the use of the denominative verb ab^n` (in the passive-reflexive stem) to denote this charismatic/ecstatic form of prophecy.

Such Spirit-inspired activity, in the ancient mode, was manifest by unusual behavior and strange speech—an indication that the person was under the powerful influence of a divine spirit. The narratives in the book of Acts show that the reappearance  of this basic phenomenon marks the “pouring out” of the Spirit in the New Age. The disciples of Jesus, who represent and symbolize the restored Israel (cf. my note on Acts 1:15-26), are the firstfruits of this harvest of blessing from the Spirit. The men and women in Jerusalem, who are believers in Christ, mark the first instance of the Spirit being poured out on “all flesh”. This coming of the Spirit will be repeated for others, as the Gospel is proclaimed and more people come to trust in Jesus. As Jesus’ words in 1:7-8 make clear, this dual dynamic of (a) the presence/work of the Spirit, and (b) the proclamation of the Gospel, is the essential means by which God’s Kingdom will be established in the New Age. The narratives in the book of Acts document this process in the earliest stages. The Spirit-filled believers serve as prophets/spokespersons for God (and Christ) and the proclamation of the Gospel, the message of Christ, is their “prophecy”.

This brings us to the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”, which I regard as part of the same religious phenomenon as the ancient mode of ecstatic prophetic utterance (cf. above). What is thoroughly unique about this phenomenon among the early believers in Acts is the way that it is so closely tied to the specific (prophetic) mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to all the surrounding nations. As these nations speak many different languages (“tongues”), it would be necessary for the Christian missionaries to preach the message in these languages as well. This is the essence of what is described initially in 2:4:

“and they were all filled (with the) holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, even as the Spirit gave (it) to them to sound forth.”

These “other tongues” (e(te/rai glw/ssai) here unquestionably refer to ordinary foreign languages, as what follows in vv. 5-13 makes clear. As the disciples begin to speak out publicly, under this prophetic inspiration, the various Jews, who had come to Jerusalem (for the festival) from the surrounding nations, could understand the message in their own language (vv. 5-6). The experience was unusual and dramatic enough to cause surprise that local Galileans would be speaking in these other languages (vv. 7-8). Moreover, the claim that the believers were intoxicated (v. 13) suggests that there was an ecstatic quality to their speech and behavior, which, according to the ancient principle of inspiration (cf. above), was a striking sign of being in a prophetic state under the influence of a divine spirit. Some of the people mistake this for drunkenness (i.e. the influence of wine)—a misunderstanding that Peter addresses in the speech that follows. There is a bit of thematic wordplay here, as the claim that the believers are filled (“soaked full”, vb mesto/w) with sweet wine serves as an ironic contrast to the reality that they have been filled (vb plh/qw) with the Spirit.

In the next daily note, I will be turning from the Gospels and Acts to the remainder of the New Testament, focusing on how the traditions regarding God’s Spirit were developed by Paul in his letters.

June 3: Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1, 14-19

Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1, 14-19

In the Synoptic narrative, there are three references to the Spirit, connected with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—the saying of the Baptist (Mk 1:7-8), the Baptism of Jesus (1:9-11), and the tradition of Jesus’ time in the desert following his baptism (1:12-13). The first two were discussed in the previous daily notes (June 1, 2); today I will be discussing the third of these, with special attention given to how the tradition is treated (and developed) in the Gospel of Luke.

According to the Synoptic narrative, immediately after Jesus’ baptism, once he has been ‘anointed’ by the Spirit of God, the Spirit thrusts him into a desolate area where he is tested by the Satan. This tradition is narrated only briefly in Mark:

“And straightaway the Spirit cast him out into the desolate (land); and he was in the desolate (land) forty days, being tested under the Satan, and he was with the wild animals, and the Messengers attended to him.”

The use of the verb e)kba/llw (“throw out, cast out”) sounds most harsh to our ears, and is not how we might expect God’s Spirit to treat His Son and Anointed One. The Matthean version softens this considerably:

“Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under the Spirit to be tested under the Diabo/lo$ [i.e. the Devil].” (4:1)

The Markan version unquestionably represents a more primitive form of the tradition. It is best to retain the literal sense of the verb e)kba/llw, understanding it as “thrust out”, rather than “throw out”. This properly reflects the violent character of the Spirit in Old Testament tradition, which would “rush” onto the gifted/chosen prophet or leader, like a powerful blowing wind (the fundamental meaning of Grk pneu=ma and Heb j^Wr alike). The violence of the action is also appropriate for the testing that Jesus will undergo in the desert—traditionally understood as the domain of dangerous spirits, in addition to wild animals. While Mark says nothing more of this “testing”, Matthew and Luke each include an extensive narrative account (Matt 4:2-10 / Lk 4:2b-12), drawn from a common line of tradition (the so-called “Q” material).

In terms of Jesus as a Spirit-empowered Messianic prophet (cf. the previous note), the desert locale may be particularly significant, in at least two ways:

    • Moses—the forty days and nights he spent on Sinai (Exod 24:18; 34:28; Deut 9:9), par. with the forty years spent by Israel in the Sinai desert (Exod 16:35; Deut 8:2ff). The Torah which Moses received from God on Sinai plays a central role in the Temptation narrative.
    • Elijah—of all the Old Testament Prophets, Elijah is most commonly associated with time spent in the desert; cf. especially 1 Kings 19:8, and the forty days and nights spent without food on Horeb (|| Sinai).

Following the Temptation scene in Matthew, Jesus properly begins his ministry, in Galilee. The Gospel writer marks this with a citation from Isaiah 9:1-2, presumably understood in a Messianic sense (4:12-16). Luke similarly narrates the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, though in a rather different way, with the episode at Nazareth (par Mark 6:1-6; Matt 13:54-58). It is important to realize how this episode is framed in relationship to the Baptism and the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus:

    • 3:21-22—the Baptism scene (descent of the Spirit)
    • 3:23ff—notice of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
    • 4:1-2a—the Spirit leads him into the desert
    • 4:2b-13—the Temptation scene
    • 4:14-15—Jesus returns in the Spirit, starting his public ministry (teaching)
    • 4:16-30—the episode at Nazareth

Scenes involving the Spirit (in bold above) alternate with narrative episodes and notices marking the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This indicates a uniquely Lukan development of the traditional portrait of Jesus as a Spirit-inspired Prophet. I previously mentioned the two aspects of Jesus ministry (in the Galilean period) which directly relate to this (Messianic) prophetic role—(1) teaching and preaching, and (2) healing miracles which demonstrate his power over evil spirits. The second aspect was implicit in the Temptation scene (4:1-13), while the first aspect features in what follows (4:14-30). Consider especially how Luke develops the tradition in Mark 1:12—first, the notice in 4:1:

“An Yeshua, full of (the) holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden (river) and was led (about), in the Spirit, in the desolate (land)”

Luke shares the Matthean idiom of Jesus being led by the Spirit (rather than “thrust out” into the desert, as in Mark), but has gone even further in emphasizing the role of the Spirit, and Jesus’ relationship to it. First, contrary to Mark and Matthew, only in Luke’s version of the Baptism scene is the expression “holy Spirit” used (3:22), and this usage continues here in 4:1. Moreover, we find here two phrases which occur elsewhere in Luke-Acts, regarding the role and activity of the Spirit:

Much the same is repeated by the Gospel writer after the Temptation scene, when Jesus returns from the desert to begin his ministry:

“And Yeshua turned back, in the power of the Spirit, into the Galîl {Galilee}” (4:14)

Jesus is thus identified as a Spirit-inspired prophet, a chosen representative of God, empowered to teach (proclaiming God’s word and will) and work miracles. This is the setting for the episode at Nazareth in verses 16-30. I have discussed this scene at length in earlier notes and articles; in terms of the Lukan development of the traditional material, including the role of the Spirit, please consult my article in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (there is also a series of notes you might find helpful). Here I wish to highlight certain points which relate specifically to the citation of Isaiah 61:1-2 and Jesus’ own Messianic identity.

First, there are the themes and motifs of Isa 40-66 (so-called deutero- and trito-Isaiah), those related to the restoration of Israel and the return of God’s people from exile. The Lukan Gospel contains allusions to a number of such Isaian passages, including in the Infancy narrative (cf. Lk 2:25-38), prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry narrated in chapters 3-4. These references occur in the context of a portrait of devout Jews who are waiting (to receive) the “consolation [para/klhsi$] of Israel” (v. 25) and the “redemption [lu/trwsi$] of Jerusalem” (v. 38). These passages are thus to be understood in a “Messianic” context, and generally reflect the expectations and hopes of many Jews of the period. By the first century B.C./A.D., the idea of the “restoration” of Israel (and its kingdom), was closely tied to the coming of a new (Anointed) Ruler who would re-establish the Davidic covenant (cf. 2 Sam 7/Psalm 89, etc).

Second, Isaiah 61:1ff was likely understood as a Messianic passage by many in the 1st century A.D. Evidence for such interpretation and application in Jesus’ own time is indicated by the Qumran text 4Q521. This text survives in several fragments, the largest of which (frag. 2 [col. ii]) contains a blending of several Old Testament passages, primarily Psalm 146 and Isaiah 61:1-2 (for a somewhat similar use of Isa 61:1f cf. also 11QMelchizedek [11Q13]). The role of the Messiah (line 1) in what follows is not entirely clear, but it is possible that he is the agent through whom God will perform “marvellous acts” (line 11ff). It is hard to be certain, but the remaining fragments (especially frag. 2 col iii with its allusion to Mal 4:5-6) suggest the Anointed One (see also pl. “Anointed Ones” in frag. 8) should be understood as a prophetic figure, in the manner of Elijah.

If we accept the historical accuracy and authenticity of the tradition in 4:17-21, then the Anointed (i.e. Messianic) figure with whom Jesus explicitly identifies himself is the prophetic herald of Isa 61:1ff. The accuracy of this self-identification would seem to be confirmed by the separate (and independent) tradition recorded in 7:18-23 (par Matt 11:2-6), where Jesus alludes to the same passage, applying it to himself and his ministry.

Isa 61:1, in its original context, referred to the prophet himself (trad. Isaiah)—the Spirit of Yahweh was upon him and anointed him to bring good news to the poor and oppressed; vv. 2-11 describe and promise the restoration of Israel, including a (new) covenant with God (v. 8) and (new) righteousness that will be manifest to all nations (vv. 9-11). Once the full sense of this “restoration” was transferred to the future, the speaker came to be identified with an Anointed eschatological (end-time) Prophet. Admittedly, prophets are not usually referred to as “anointed” in the Old Testament, but in later Judaism it became more common, and in the Qumran texts the word is used a number of times (especially in the plural) for the Prophets of Israel. On the role of the Spirit in Isa 61:1, in light of wider Old Testament (Prophetic) tradition regarding the Spirit of God and the restoration of Israel, cf. my earlier note in the series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament.

June 2: Mark 1:9-11 par

Mark 1:9-11 par

Along with the saying of the Baptist (cf. the previous note), there is a related early Gospel tradition involving the Spirit of God (and/or the “holy Spirit”)—the famous narrative of the Baptism of Jesus. I have discussed the entire episode of Jesus’ Baptism at great length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”; here, in this note, the discussion will be limited to how this narrative tradition reflects a development of the earlier lines of Old Testament and Jewish tradition, regarding the Spirit of God.

The core Synoptic narrative is best represented by the Markan version (1:9-11), with the descent of the Spirit described in verse 10:

“And straightaway, stepping up out of the water, he saw the heavens being split (open) and the Spirit as a dove stepping down unto him”

The Matthean version (3:16) is expanded, offering more precise (if blander) detail:

“And (hav)ing been dunked, Yeshua straightaway stepped up from the water, and see!—the heavens were opened (up), and he saw [the] Spirit of God stepping down, as if a dove, [and] coming upon him”

The Lukan version (3:21-22), by contrast, is briefer, but embedded within a complex syntactical structure that is difficult to translate; the relevant portion reads:

“…(an) opening (up) of the heaven and (the) stepping down of the holy Spirit, in bodily appearance as a dove, upon him”

The main details are consistent across the Synoptic tradition, and are also shared by the Johannine version (1:32ff), presented as an indirect narration by the Baptist:

“I have looked at the Spirit stepping down as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him”

The three key details, found in all versions, are: (1) the Spirit “stepping down” out of heaven, (2) the form/appearance as a dove, and (3) its coming “upon” Jesus. Let us briefly consider each of these.

1. “stepping down” (vb katabai/nw) out of heaven

This signifies the heavenly origin of the Spirit, implying that it comes from God in heaven. The Markan and Johannine versions specifically state that it came “out of” (e)k) heaven, while Matthew has “from” (a)po/) heaven. The dramatic opening up of the heavens (i.e. the skies) in Mark/Matthew makes clear the idea that the Spirit comes down onto the earth. The use of the verb katabai/nw (lit. “step down”, i.e. come down) has special significance in the Gospel of John, which uses both katabai/nw and the related a)nabai/nw (“step up”) in a uniquely theological (and Christological) sense. The “descent” of the Spirit marks the beginning of this descent/ascent motif—that is, the incarnation and exaltation of Jesus, respectively—in the Gospel (cf. 1:51, etc).

2. The Dove

Commentators continue to debate the significance of the dove appearance of the Spirit in this episode. Many ideas and associations have been suggested, but three seem particularly relevant:

    • The Creation account, which depicts the spirit (or breath) of God “hovering/fluttering” like a bird (Gen 1:2, cf. the earlier note); other Old Testament passages similarly describe God’s presence in creation (that is, among His people) using bird-imagery (e.g., Deut 32:11-13).
    • The fundamental meaning of both pneu=ma in Greek and j^Wr in Hebrew is that of wind, i.e. something blowing; this makes for a natural association with the image of a bird in flight. Similarly, the image of a bird in the expanse of the skies (or heavens) connotes freedom, exaltation, purity, and so forth. Many religious traditions worldwide depict the life-breath (i.e. soul, spirit) of a person as a bird.
    • The whiteness that characterizes many doves, and is traditional of the dove, serves as a natural symbol for the holiness (i.e. purity) of God’s Spirit.

Only the last of these relates specifically to a dove, and is particularly important to the baptism setting, with its emphasis on cleansing. It is worth remembering that the literal expression in Hebrew is, most commonly, “spirit of [God’s] holiness” (vd#q) j^Wr), rather than “holy spirit”; that is, the emphasis is squarely on holiness and purity as a divine characteristic.

3. Coming “upon” Jesus

The Markan version uses the preposition ei)$, which is somewhat ambiguous; literally, it could mean “into”, but most commentators would render it here as “unto”. In Old Testament tradition, this could be comparable to the idea of God’s Spirit coming (or “rushing”) to a person, using the preposition la#. By contrast, Matthew and Luke (along with the Johannine version) use the preposition e)pi/ (“upon”), corresponding to the Hebrew lu*. There are even more Old Testament passages which express the idea of God’s Spirit being (or coming) upon a person—cf. Num 11:17ff; Judg 3:10; 14:6; 1 Sam 10:6, 10; 11:6, etc (discussed in recent notes). Moreover, this was the basic idiom that was developed in later Prophetic tradition, involving the image of the Spirit being “poured out” upon a person (cf. the discussion below).

The Significance of the Baptism Scene

This needs to be considered from several vantage points:

    • The Baptism scene in the context of the early Gospel narrative
    • The language and imagery in the scene itself, especially the detail of the “voice” from heaven
    • How the scene was understood, in context, by the Gospel writers
The Context of the early Gospel narrative

This involves: (a) the baptism rite in the setting of John’s ministry, and (b) the saying of the Baptist regarding “the one coming”. Both of these aspects were discussed in the previous note, where I pointed out the significant parallels with the water-ritual performed for entrants into the Qumran Community. The ritual symbolized the person’s “spirit” being cleansed (and made holy) by God’s own Spirit; moreover, this cleansing was preparatory for the purification that would take place at the end-time. The Gospel narrative clearly indicates that the baptism rite, as performed by John, was for the cleansing of sin, and that it similarly anticipated the end-time Judgment of God—when the righteous/faithful ones would be purified, while the wicked would be consumed.

What is distinctive about the Baptist’s message in this regard, is the localization of this end-time cleansing with the Messianic figure of “the one coming”. On the derivation of this expression from the tradition in Malachi 3:1, as interpreted in a Messianic sense, cf. the previous note, along with my supplemental note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Implicit in the early Gospel narrative is that Jesus, with his initial appearance at his baptism, is being identified with this Messianic figure. The point is not made explicit at all in the simpler Synoptic narrative of Mark, but the connection is evinced, in different ways, by the other Gospel writers. For example, the inclusion of the Infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke establishes the Messianic identity of Jesus even prior to the Baptism, a point reinforced by Matthew’s citation of Isa 9:1-2 in 4:12-16. Luke sets the Baptism episode in the context of questions regarding whether John the Baptist might be the Anointed One (3:15ff); this is presented even more prominently in the Johannine Gospel (1:19-27).

The pouring of water in the baptism-rite also suggests the idea of anointing—indeed, both motifs were associated with the Spirit of God in Old Testament Tradition, as discussed in prior notes. In the ancient kingship traditions—going back to the earlier leadership of Moses, Joshua, and the Judges—the Spirit of God came upon the ruler, in a manner similar to prophetic inspiration (cf. 1 Sam 10:6, 11; 11:6, etc). In the case of Saul and David, there is a close connection between the coming of God’s Spirit and the anointing ritual (1 Sam 16:13f); even after the principle of Spirit-inspired charismatic leadership waned, the presence of the Spirit was still tied to the king’s anointing in the (Judean) royal theology. There is less evidence for the anointing of prophets; however, the expression “anointed one” (j^yv!m*, i.e. messiah) could be applied to prophets, as well as kings and priests. As mentioned in the prior note, the early Gospel tradition, during the period of his ministry, seems to have identified Jesus as a Messianic prophet rather than the Davidic ruler figure-type. Cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The Voice from Heaven

The heavenly voice in the Baptism narrative primarily represents a theophany—that is, the manifestation of God among human beings (His people, or their chosen representative[s]). The main Old Testament example, of course, is the Sinai theophany, when the people heard the voice of God speaking (Exod 19:19ff; 20:18-21; Deut 4:10-12). In the Gospels, this theophanic voice relates specifically to key moments during Jesus’ ministry, demonstrating God’s relationship to him specifically. In addition to the Baptism and Transfiguration episodes (Mk 9:7 par; Lk 9:35 [v.l.]), there is a comparable occurrence in the Gospel of John (12:27-32). The heavenly voice at the Transfiguration essentially repeats the voice at the Baptism (in Matthew’s version they are virtually identical), and the parallel episodes serve to divide the structure of the Synoptic narrative:

    • The Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry
    • The Transfiguration marks the end of that ministry, and the beginning of the events leading up to his Passion

The declaration made by the heavenly voice, and its precise significance, continue to be debated. There does seem to be an allusion to Psalm 2:7, which would strongly indicate an identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) of the Davidic ruler type—i.e., future/end-time king from the line of David. In some manuscripts of Luke 3:22, the voice actually quotes Psalm 2:7, an indication, at the very least, that early Christians had made the connection. However, it seems more likely that the primary allusion is to Isaiah 42:1, which clearly references the Spirit coming upon God’s chosen one (cf. my earlier note on the passage). The Greek word translating db#u# (“servant”) is pai=$, which literally means “child”, and so could easily be interpreted in the specific sense of “son” (ui(o/$). The Servant of the deutero-Isaian poems is best understood as an Anointed leader patterned after Moses, who will lead Israel in their return from exile (a ‘new Exodus’). He thus serves as a Messianic prophet-figure, parallel to the end-time Prophet patterned after Elijah (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6, cf. the previous note). In the Transfiguration scene, Jesus is associated with both Moses and Elijah.

The Meaning of the Scene in the Gospels

Given the explicit notice that the purpose of John’s baptizing was for repentance and forgiveness of sin, it is interesting that the Gospel writers do not give any evidence of the theological implications of this in relation to Jesus. At the level of the historical tradition, the idea of Jesus’ sinlessness was not yet an issue, and, by the time the Gospels were written, the Baptism-tradition was so well-fixed that the writers were no longer free to comment on the matter. Only at Matt 3:14-15 is there any indication of an apologetic concern, expressed more in terms of Jesus’ apparent submission to John, than on his need for repentance.

Whatever the specific reasons or circumstances for Jesus being baptized, at the historical level, the Gospels quite clearly demonstrate that the scene is not about cleansing and purification, but of consecration and empowerment. The best parallel from Old Testament tradition is that of prophetic inspiration—that is, the Spirit of God coming upon the chosen/gifted spokesperson (ayb!n`) who will serve as God’s representative. The idea of Jesus as a Davidic (royal) Messiah is largely foreign to the first half of the Synoptic narrative (the Galilean ministry period); only with the journey to Jerusalem, and the events leading to his Passion, does the Davidic association come more clearly into view. Two aspects of Jesus’ ministry are most directly relevant to the ayb!n` (prophet) role:

    • Preaching and teaching—i.e. Spirit-inspired utterance, and
    • Healing miracles, demonstrating his power and authority over spirits of disease, etc.

Of the Old Testament Prophets, the working of miracles is associated most commonly with Elijah (and his successor Elisha), and also, to a lesser extent, with Moses. Inspired preaching is common to many of the prophets, though the specific idea of teaching, with its connection to the Torah, would be most closely related to Moses. Thus Jesus could well be viewed as an Anointed (Messianic) prophet patterned after both Moses and Elijah (cf. the Transfiguration scene). However, direct allusions in the Gospels are slight, and it is only in the Gospel of Luke that we find a clearer portrait of the kind of Anointed figure Jesus understood himself to be. This will be discussed in the next daily note.

May 13: Joel 2:28-29

Joel 2:28-29 [3:1-2]

In the previous note, I mentioned a theme found at a number of points in the Prophetic writings—a ‘democratization’ of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership, whereby the Spirit of God comes upon the land and its people as a whole, rather than on select individuals. This idea seems to have developed among the later Prophets, likely as a reaction (at least in part) to the trauma of the Exile. The collapse of the Israelite/Judean kingdoms, and the loss of the monarchy, left a void for the principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Two separate, distinct concepts took root during the exile, in response to this void. On the one hand, the hope for a future ruler from the line of David, who would restore the fortunes of Israel, became an important component of Messianic thought; the roots of this tradition can be found in the exilic Prophetic writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. At the same time, an entirely different line of thought took shape—that of the anointed/inspired Community. Both of these lines of tradition coalesced in the Qumran Community, and, somewhat similarly, among the early Christians as well.

I discussed an example of this ‘new’ manifestation of the Spirit in the Deutero-Isaian passage of Isa 44:1-5 (v. 3), in the previous note; other relevant passages in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah will be considered in the upcoming notes. In some respects, however, these Prophetic texts are simply drawing upon much earlier aspects of Israelite historical tradition. For example, the Moses tradition(s) in Numbers 11:10-30 were examined in a prior note in this series. By all accounts, these have to be at least as old as the historical traditions in Judges and Samuel, with their striking record of the ancient principle of charismatic (spirit-inspired) leadership at work. In the Numbers passage, the inspired status of Moses—as the spokesperson (ayb!n`) and intermediary between YHWH and the people—is broadened out to include 70 chosen/appointed elders (vv. 16-17ff). The wording to describe this process is most significant:

(YHWH speaking) “And I will lay aside (something) from (the) spirit [j^Wr] that is upon you, and I will set (it) upon them…”

When this occurs in the narrative (vv. 25ff), the 70 elders begin to “act as a ayb!n`” , just like Moses—i.e., they become active, inspired (prophetic) leaders, who communicate the word and will of God to the people. When Moses’ young attendant Joshua becomes alarmed at this, the great leader utters an extraordinary statement that broadens the prophetic/inspired gift even further:

“Who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) <ya!yb!n+, (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [j^Wr] upon them!” (v. 29)

Ideally, all the people would function as inspired leaders/spokespersons, gifted to know and understand the word and will of YHWH directly from Him. This doubtless relates to the broader tradition of Israel as a holy, chosen people, a nation made up entirely of anointed/inspired priests and kings, etc (Exod 19:6). The ideal could not be maintained initially, as reflected by the people’s response to hearing and experiencing the voice of God at Sinai (20:18-21). Moses came to be designated as the spokesperson (ayb!n`), and, similarly, certain individuals (and only they) were selected to function as priests.

Turning now to the oracle in Joel 2:18-32 [Hebrew 2:18-3:5], we find the famous declaration in vv. 28-29 [3:1-2], of how the ideal condition will finally be realized, in the future:

“And it will be, following this, (that)
I will pour out my spirit [j^Wr] upon all flesh,
and your sons and daughters will act as ayb!n`,
and your older (one)s will dream dreams,
and your choice (young one)s will see visions;
and even upon the servants and upon the (serv)ing maids,
will I pour out my spirit in those days.”

The verb rendered “act as ayb!n`” , is the denominative ab*n`, occurring here in the passive (Niphal) stem. As I discussed in prior notes, this verb featured prominently in the early (prophetic) traditions in Numbers and Samuel (cf. above), but afterward largely disappeared from the Prophetic writings, only to reappear, and be used quite frequently, in the later Prophets (Jeremiah [40 times], Ezekiel [37 times], Zechariah). This is perhaps an indication of a comparable date for the oracles in Joel (6th century).

Joel 2:28-32, of course, came to play an important role in early Christian thought, as is indicated, famously, in the Pentecost speech of Peter in Acts (2:16-21). As such, the oracle also has a special place of importance in this pre-Pentecost series of notes on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. I will be looking at the passage in more detail in the next daily note.