January 23: 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Verses 2-3

You are our (letter) sent out, having been written on our hearts—being known, and being known again (through reading), by all men, being made to shine (forth) that you are (the letter) of (the) Anointed sent out, (hav)ing been served under [i.e. by] us—having been written, not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit of (the) living God, (and) not on (the) flat surfaces of stones, but on (the) flat surfaces of fleshy hearts.”

Paul prepares the way for his 2 Corinthinans 3 discourse with this statement in verses 2-3. It is a relatively complex sentence, as the translation above indicates, and the syntax of which I outline below.

The theme in verse 1-6 involves “letters of commendation”; the word sustatiko/$ is derived from suni/sthmi/sunista/w (“stand [together] with”), in the sense of placing things together (and presenting them) in front of someone. As a technical term, it came to be applied to letters a person carried, introducing him/her to another group or in a place where he/she was not known. In the ancient world, which lacked modern-day high-speed communication, such practice was necessary to establish a person’s identity and credentials; it also could serve as a source of authority and legitimacy.

Naturally enough, the more impressive or prestigious the letter of recommendation, the more influence it provided; even today, the right letter of recommendation still carries tremendous weight for prospective employers, and so forth. It is possible that Paul’s opponents included visiting “apostles” who possessed such letters and credentials.

In vv. 1-6, he argues that neither he nor his colleagues require written letters recommending them to the believers of Corinth (v. 1), since they are already well known—that is to say, this written authentication is already there in the hearts of the believers, having been written by the very Spirit of God (v. 3). He is referring primarily to the work of preaching the Gospel, which the Corinthian believers accepted; as a result they themselves become “the epistle of Christ”, under the service/ministry of Paul and his fellow missionaries.

It is important to understand the reference to the Spirit in verse 3 within the context of vv. 1-6 as a whole. Let us begin, in particular, with the immediate context of the sentence in vv. 2-3. I would outline the syntax of this sentence as follows:

    • “You are our e)pistolh/
      • having been written [e)ggegramme/nh] on our hearts
        • being known [ginwskome/nh]
          and being known again [a)naginwsokme/nh]
          by all men
        • being made to shine forth [fanerou/menoi]
          • that you are the e)pistolh/ of Christ
            having been administered by us
      • having been written [e)ggegramme/nh]
        • not with black ink,
          but with the Spirit of the living God
        • not on tablets of stone,
          but on tablets of fleshy hearts.”

The structure is governed by repeated use of passive participles, modifying the subject u(mei$ (“you” [plural]) and the corresponding predicate noun of the main declaration, e)pistolh/ (singular). The passive participles here (for the most part) agree with the noun e)pistolh/ (feminine singular), which designates a letter “sent upon [i.e. to]” (vb e)piste/llw) someone. Often, this noun is simply transliterated in English as “epistle” (epistol¢¡).

At the first level, the two main modifying participles are the two occurrences of e)ggegramme/nh (perfect passive particple of the verb gra/fw, “write”), which characterizes the letter (e)pistolh/), naturally enough, as “having been written”. The first participial clause is: “having been written on our hearts” (e)ggegramme/nh e)n tai=$ kardi/ai$ h(mw=n). The parallel in the second participial clause is: “having been written…on tablets of hearts of flesh” (e)ggegramme/nhe)n pla/cin kardi/ai$ sarki/nai$).

In between these two clauses, at a secondary (subordinate) level, the subject is further modified by the passive participles:

    • ginwskome/nh (“being known”)
      / a)naginwskome/nh (“being known again”)
    • fanerou/menoi (“being made to shine forth”)

What has been written is “made known” (ginw/skw); the compound verb a)naginw/skw (“made known again”) is added by Paul to convey the idea of something being made known by reading. The verb a)naginw/skw essentially means “read” —that is, to know something again, by reading it (and re-reading it) in written form. People everywhere are able to ‘read’ the letter, as Paul and his fellow missionaries travel about, since the ‘letter’ is written in their hearts.

What has been written is further made to “shine forth” (fanero/w)—that is, its meaning and significance is made known. It becomes apparent to everyone who ‘reads’ this ‘letter’ that Paul and his fellow missionaries are simply servants administering (i.e., carrying/transmitting) the letter. In fact, the letter belongs to their master, Jesus Christ—it is an e)pistolh\ Xristou=, a letter “of (the) Anointed (One)”.

This brings us to the second (and final) participial clause, involving the main participle e)ggegramme/nh (“having been written”). Here, Paul expounds the relatively simple idea of a letter “written on the heart” by way of a dualistic contrast:

    • “not with black (ink)” (ou) mela/ni)
    • “but with (the) Spirit…” (a)lla\ pneu=mati…)

A normal physical/material letter (written with ink on paper, etc) is contrasted with a spiritual letter. This basic contrast reflects the essential spiritualism of Paul, and we gain a rather clear sense of its power and place in his thought by the way that he so quickly leaps to the profound and inspired (in every sense) discourse that follows in the remainder of chapter 3.

The full expression “…(the) Spirit of (the) living God” requires comment. The language is rooted in Old Testament tradition (e.g., Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1 Sam 17:26, 36; 2 Kings 19:4, 6; Psalm 42:3; 84:3; Isa 37:4, 17; Hos 2:1 [1:10]), as rendered in the Greek of the LXX, and occurs elsewhere in the New Testament, either with the definite articles (Matt 16:16; 26:63; Rev 15:7) or without (Acts 14:15; Heb 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22; Rev 7:2). For other occurrences in the Pauline letters, see 1 Thess 1:9; 2 Cor 6:16; Rom 9:26; and also 1 Tim 3:15; 4:10. Cf. Furnish, p. 182.

Paul’s use of the expression has particular significance here, as he is emphasizing two important aspects of the Spirit: (1) it is the Spirit of God, and (2) it is living (and life-giving). The first point may be obvious, but it reflects a fundamental premise of Christian spiritualism that is often overlooked: by possessing the Holy Spirit, believers in Christ have direct access to the abiding presence of God’s very Spirit. The second point is more immediately relevant to Paul’s discussion, since it anticipates his contrast in verse 6 between the letter that kills (i.e., brings death) and the Spirit that gives life (lit. makes [a]live, vb zwopoie/w).

The parallel contrast that Paul makes, at the close of verse 3, is just as important as the first contrast (between ordinary ink and the Spirit):

    • “not on tablets of stone” (ou)k e)n placi\n liqi/nai$)
    • “but on tablets of fleshy hearts” (ou)k e)n placi\n kardi/ai$ sarki/nai$)

The use of the adjective sa/rkino$ (“of flesh, fleshy”) is somewhat surprising, given Paul’s dualistic contrast elsewhere in his letters between the Spirit and the flesh (sa/rc). This can be explained, in part, from that fact that, once again here, he is drawing upon Old Testament tradition—cf. Ezek 11:19 and 36:26 (see also Jer 31:33), contrasting a “heart of stone” with the “heart of flesh” that Israel will possess in the New Age (of the ‘new covenant’). In that line of Prophetic tradition, the New Age of Israel’s restoration is characterized by the special presence of God’s Spirit on His people.

Even so, we might expect that an immaterial, spiritual aspect of the human “heart” (kardi/a) would be emphasized here. Instead, God writes with His Spirit upon a heart of flesh. This is distinctive of the early Christian understanding of the relationship of the Spirit to the believer. As a human being, the believer possesses the Spirit within a body of flesh. Paul took a special interest in this seeming paradox, and develops the idea, expounding it at a number of points in his letters. Some of these passages will be discussed in upcoming articles and notes in this series.

Our exegesis will continue, in the next daily note on verses 4-5.

References above marked “Furnish” are to Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 32A (1984).

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: 2 Corinthians 3

The first Pauline passage we examined was 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, within the wider context of 1:18-2:16 (extending into 3:1-3)—cf. the article and the supplemental series of exegetical notes. Paul emphasizes the role of the Spirit instructing believers in the wisdom of God; indeed, this wisdom is fundamentally spiritual in character. A key statement is the climactic declaration in verse 16: “but we hold (the) mind of (the) Anointed”. To this may be added the statement in v. 15: “the (one) with the Spirit judges all ([th]ese) things, and (yet) he is judged under no one” — “these things” referring to “the (thing)s of the Spirit” (ta\ tou= pneu/mato$).

Given the spiritualistic tenor and emphasis to Paul’s discussion, one might readily ask what is the place of the human teacher, as well as the role of external sources of religious (and moral) authority. The reason why Paul writes to the Corinthians as he does, is because, on the whole, they are not yet spiritually mature (“complete”), often thinking and behaving like one who does not possess the Spirit (3:1-3). But how would he write to them if they were mature? Would there be any need for him to write to them at all? Presumably, there would be more opportunity for exploring and expounding the “deep things of God” (2:10), but what would his role be, in this regard, if the people to whom he was writing were themselves being fully guided and instructed by the Spirit?

It is an interesting question to ponder. In general, it is fair to say that Paul’s spiritualism, to judge by the evidence from 1 Corinthians, was tempered by two main considerations:

    1. the manifestation of the Spirit within the confines of the Community, through specific ‘spiritual gifts‘ given to specific individuals.
    2. the unique role (and authority) of the apostle—that is, the missionary, sent and commissioned by Christ himself, who (first) proclaimed the Gospel in a region and helped to found the first congregations.

According to the first principle, expounded and applied in some detail by Paul in chapters 12-14, an individual believer would not rely wholly on the inner guidance and instruction of the Spirit; rather, one must also experience the Spirit as manifest within the Community, through the distinct spiritual gifts given to the various members.

The second principle—the role and place of the founding apostle—is given special attention by Paul in 2 Corinthians. One passage, in particular, relates the apostolic ministry to the wider experience of the Spirit’s presence and work among believers. As such, a careful examination of it should allow us to gain a better sense of Paul’s spiritualism, especially in relation to other (external) aspects of Christian ministry.

2 Corinthians 3

The passage under examination is the “new covenant” section in 2 Corinthians—3:1-18, the central portion of the wider section of 2:14-4:6. It is rather typical of Paul’s unique (and inspired) manner of expression, that the powerful theological component to his line of argument in this passage is not even central to the main point he is making. Indeed, here in 2:14-4:6 the focus is on Paul’s role and position as an apostle, in relation to the Corinthian congregations (i.e., the second of the two themes outlined above). The theological and expository excursus in 3:1-18 is simply a natural byproduct of Paul’s understanding of the Gospel and the nature of the Christian ministry. I will be exploring the passage, from a critical and rhetorical standpoint, in the Saturday Series studies during the remainder of January and February.

I will also be devoting detailed notes (a series of daily notes) to an exposition of the passage. But let us begin here with a focus on Paul’s references to the Spirit, and how they relate to the “new covenant” theme of the section. Let us begin with his statement in verse 3 (picking up from v. 2, in italics):

you are our e)pistolh/…being made to shine forth [fanerou/menoi] that you are (the) e)pistolh/ of (the) Anointed, being served under [i.e. by] us, (and) having been written not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit of (the) living God, not on (the) flat surfaces of stones, but on (the) flat surfaces of hearts (of) flesh.”

Paul here makes a stark contrast between ordinary (physical/material) written letters and spiritual ones (for more, see the note on verses 2-3). This sort of dualistic language (and imagery) is typical of Paul’s spiritualism. But it is interesting to consider the way that this is introduced here.

The theme in verse 1-6 involves “letters of commendation”, the word sustatiko/$ being derived from suni/sthmi/sunista/w (“stand [together] with”), in the sense of placing things together (and presenting them) in front of someone. As a technical term, it came to be applied to letters a person carried, introducing him/her to another group or in a place where he/she was not known. The noun e)pistolh/ (epistol¢¡, i.e. ‘epistle’), which I left untranslated above, is derived from e)piste/llw (“set [forth] upon” a person, i.e. send to someone), related to a)poste/llw (i.e., send from someone). Here the e)pistolh/ refers ostensibly to a letter of introduction/recommendation. The point is that Paul and his fellow-missionaries, who preached the Gospel to the Corinthians, do not require any customary letter of introduction—the effect of the Gospel in their hearts is proof enough of his place as an apostle with them! It is a letter of Christ himself, whom Paul serves as a minister, written with the Spirit of the living God.

The expression “living God” (in Greek, qeo$ zw=n) derives from Old Testament usage (e.g. Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26, 36, etc). The inclusion of the modifying verbal adjective is primarily emphatic (cf. Matt 16:16; 26:63, etc), however it also refers to the life-giving power of God’s Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25; 6:8; Rom 8:1-11), and thus is central to the spiritualistic emphasis in Paul’s thought—the living Spirit being contrasted with the dead material thing. There is also implicit the traditional sense of the Spirit as the active manifestation of God among His people. In particular, we should draw attention to the metaphor of the “finger of God”, and the idea that the tablets of the Law (Torah) were written with the finger of God (Exod 24:12; 31:18; 34:1; Deut 9:10f). One is immediately reminded of the saying of Jesus in Luke 11:20 (discussed previously):

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the finger of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

The Matthean version (12:28) reads “Spirit of God”, instead of “finger of God”, evidence that the two expressions were essentially seen as synonymous. Almost certainly, Paul has this same correspondence in mind—i.e., the Spirit of God writes on the hearts of believers just as the finger of God wrote on the stone tablets. This establishes the thematic contrast of “letter vs. Spirit”, old/new covenant, that runs through the remainder of chapter 3.

It is interesting the way that the initial metaphor in v. 3 leads Paul so readily to the dualistic juxtaposition contrasting the old and new covenants, in terms of “the written (word/letter) [to\ gra/mma]” and “the Spirit [to\ pneu=ma]”. See how this contrast in made, twice, in vv. 1-3 and 4-6:

    • Commendatory letters for apostles—believers under their ministry
      • written in the heart
        • contrast with being written in tablets of stone (v. 3)
    • Confidence for apostles before God—ministers of a new covenant
      • of the Spirit
        • contrast with the written word (v. 6)

Paul specifically refers to himself (and others) as “servants of (the) new diaqh/kh” (v. 6). The noun diaqh/kh literally signifies the “setting through” of things (into an arranged order); in English idiom we would say “putting things in order”, i.e., in terms of a legal will/testament or other contractual agreement. In the LXX and New Testament, it typically is used in place of the Hebrew tyr!B=, which means a binding agreement; both Hebrew and Greek terms tend to be translated as “covenant”. The word diaqh/kh is relative rare in the Pauline letters, occurring 8 times, in Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans (+ once in Ephesians). Paul’s use of it is entirely traditional; apart from references to the Old Testament and Israelite history (Rom 9:4; 11:27; Gal 3:15, 17; 4:24), we have his citation of the Lord’s Supper tradition (1 Cor 11:25; cf. Luke 22:20 and Mk 14:24 v.l.).

As in the Lord’s Supper tradition, Paul here uses the expression kainh\ diaqh/kh (i.e. “new covenant”), terminology which goes back to Prophetic tradition (in the 6th/5th centuries B.C.) regarding the restoration of Israel in the New Age (Jer 31:31-34; cf. also 32:40; Ezek 11:19; 18:31; 34:25ff; 36:26; 37:26). Jesus, in his own way, was alluding to this in the Last Supper tradition, but it received much more precise exposition among early Christians in the period c. 30-60 A.D. The specific motif of the “pouring out” of the Spirit upon God’s people was part of the traditional restoration-theme. In previous notes, on the “Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, I discussed at length the role of the Spirit in the key restoration-prophecies of the exilic and post-exilic periods (in Joel, Deutero-Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah).

In the remainder of chapters 3 (vv. 7-18) Paul embarks on an exposition of the difference between the old and new covenants. He draws upon the Moses narratives and traditions in the book of Exodus; in particular, Paul takes a midrashic interpretive approach to Exodus 34:29-35, which describes Moses’ return from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the Covenant.

This contrast between the old and new covenants is centered on the idea of “glory” (do/ca). Paul makes use of a series of qal wa-homer arguments—a traditional (Jewish) principle of interpretation, which argues from the lesser to the greater: if something is true in this (lesser) case, then how much more is it to be so regarded in the (greater) case. According to this mode of argument (a fortiori), Paul is working from the basic assumption that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant which God established with Israel at Sinai. The first two arguments (in vv. 7-9) involve the diakoni/a (“service, ministry”), that is, the administration of the covenant—in the case of the old covenant this began with Moses (and Aaron) and continued through the established priesthood and ritual apparatus (Temple, sacrificial offerings, purity regulations, etc), as well as through teaching and tradition. Note the contrast:

    • Vv. 7-8: service/ministry of death [h( diakoni/a tou= qana/tou]
      • service/ministry of the Spirit [h( diakoni/a tou= pneu/mato$]
    • Vers. 9: service/ministry of judgment against [h( diakoni/a th=$ katakri/sew$]
      • service/ministry of justice/righteousness [h( diakoni/a th=$ dikaiosu/nh$]

The characterization of the old covenant as “the ministry of death” is striking; for the uniquely Pauline view on the relationship between the Law, sin and death, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56. In vv. 7-8 here, the qal wa-homer argument is:

“If the ministry of death came to be in (such) esteem [do/ca]… how will the ministry of the Spirit not (even) more be in esteem?”

The old covenant came to have glory/esteem (perfect of the verb doca/zw), but now it has come to have no glory/esteem (again, with the perfect of doca/zw). It is hard to imagine a more antinomian statement by Paul—the old covenant, with its written Law, now has no glory. However, he makes clear that this is true only in one respect: because the glory of the new covenant goes so far beyond it (the verb u(perba/llw means to throw or cast something over/beyond, i.e. past a particular distance or measure). This is an important principle for understanding Paul’s apparently negative statements regarding the Law—its binding force has come to an end because of Christ. Indeed, the old covenant has come to an end, he makes this clear in verse 11, using the verb katarge/w—literally to “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. The second verb is me/nw, “remain (in place), abide”. The contrast is clear enough: the old covenant ceases to be in effect, the new covenant remains and lasts; one is temporary, the other permanent.

The new covenant (kainh\ diaqh/kh) is governed by the Spirit (vv. 6-8), and not by the Torah; indeed, the Spirit takes the place of the Torah. This reflects, in my view, a clear spiritualistic tendency in Paul’s thought. However, the emphasis in 2 Cor 3:1-18 is on Paul and his fellow missionaries as ministers of this new covenant. In this light, in verses 12-18, he continues his contrast of old vs. new covenant, utilizing the motif of the covering (ka/lumma) that Moses kept over his face (cf. Exod 34:29-35) when he met with the people after speaking to God.

In the initial period of the old covenant, the people were wholly dependent on Moses as the prophet or spokesperson (ayb!n`) who communicated the word and will of God to them. Apostles and missionaries such as Paul served a similar role in the new covenant, but with a major difference: the communication of the Gospel of Christ took place without any covering, the ‘veil’ having been removed. The implication of this is that the people (i.e. believers) now are able to experience the presence and glory of God directly, without any intermediary. This is due to the fact that, with the communication (and acceptance) of the Gospel, believers receive the very Spirit of God. Paul’s wording in verse 16 is striking (and rather controversial) in this regard:

“But whenever (one) would turn about toward the Lord, the covering is taken (up from) around (him).”

This removal of the covering (symbolized by the veil of Moses) has two aspects in its meaning:

    • people are able to experience the full revelation of God, and
    • it signifies that the old covenant (of Moses and the Torah) has come to an end (cf. Rom 10:4)

The latter aspect means that believers in Christ are freed from the old covenant and its Torah, and this freedom (e)leuqeri/a) is due to our contact with the Spirit of God:

“And the Lord is the Spirit, and that which (is) of the Spirit of (the) Lord, (is) freedom [e)leuqeri/a].” (v. 17)

Insofar as we turn to God’s Spirit, we have complete freedom—meaning, in this context, primarily, freedom from the Law (Torah). Here the expression “Spirit of the Lord” presumably means the Spirit of God, though Paul does, on occasion, also use the expression “Spirit of Christ” (see the discussion at the beginning of the previous article). There can be no doubt, however, that the idea of turning to the Spirit of the Lord entails acceptance of the Gospel, and of conforming our lives to the presence of Christ dwelling in us.

This latter point is emphasized especially in the famous concluding words to this section (v. 18). Given the overall focus of the passage, one might expect Paul to end with another reference to the role of apostles—persons called to represent Christ and preach the Gospel—and yet, following the association of the Spirit and freedom in verse 17, he moves in an entirely different (and rather spiritualistic) direction: “but we all…” The glory of the old covenant was associated with a special person—Moses—who was set apart to represent God for the people; only he spoke directly with God, and the glory shone only from his face. How different is the new covenant, where every believer in Christ beholds the glory of the Lord, and is transformed, in a permanent manner, far greater than the transfiguration that Moses experienced. The true apostle and missionary does not emphasize his (or her) own abilities and accomplishments—ultimately the new covenant is administered and shared by all believers together.

This may be related to what I have referred to as the “democratization” of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration—the idea that God’s Spirit (and the prophetic spirit) would come upon all people, the nation as a whole, rather than upon specific chosen/gifted individuals. This was reflected most notably, for early Christians, by the citation of Joel 2:28-29 in Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:17-18). The reference to Moses, here in our passage, brings to mind the tradition in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), in which seventy elders were allowed to share in the prophetic spirit—the Spirit of YHWH—that had been upon Moses exclusively. For believers in Christ, the inclusivity extends even further—to all of God’s people, essentially fulfilling the very wish, expressed by Moses himself:

“…who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) <ya!yb!n+ [i.e. prophets], (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [j^Wr] upon them!” (Num 11:29)

January 2: Isaiah 8:23ff

Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [9:1-7]

The poem in 9:1-6 [EV 2-7] brings the section of 6:1-9:6 to a close. It functions as an appendix to the section, and, in its literary setting, offers a message of hope to the survivors and exiles of the shattered Northern Kingdom. The poem is preceded by a narrative introduction (8:23 [9:1]), which clearly sets the message of the poem in the context of the 8th century Assyrian crisis. The Assyrian conquests of 734-732 remain the primary focus throughout this section; however, as we have seen, the fall of the Northern Kingdom (722/721) and the devastating invasion of Judah (701) are also in view. The compilation of 6:1-9:6 as a whole almost certainly took place after 701.

There are certain textual questions in 8:23 which need to be addressed.

Isaiah 8:23a[Wum* can be derived from [ou (“fly, flutter”) or [ou (“be dark”); the former would indicate a negative situation (“there will be no flying/fluttering” [that is, release/escape, or perhaps poetically as “daybreak”]), the latter a positive one (“there will be no darkness”). The referent for the feminine suffix Hl* is unclear: it could refer to any of the feminine nouns in verse 22 (Jr#a# [“land”], hk*v@j& [“darkness”], or parallel hr*x*/hq*ox [“distress, oppression”]), or it could look forward to the “land” of 8:23b/9:1. The preposition could have the sense of “for her” or “from/by her”.

Isaiah 8:23b—Does /ovar!h* (“the head” [i.e. the first, former]) modify the prior common/feminine noun tu@ (i.e. “as at the first/former time, [when] he…”), or does refer to an implied (masculine) subject (i.e. “as at the time [when] the first/former one…”); this affects the parallelism with /orj&a^h* (“the following” [i.e. the later]): is it a former/later time or former/later person? The verbs llq and dbk (in the Hiphil) mean “make light” and “make heavy” respectively; the former can either have the sense of “treat with contempt/dishonor” or “lighten, make easier”, the latter “treat with honor” or “make heavier [i.e. more difficult]”. Then, is the parallelism synonymous or antithetical? In the historical context, how do these verbs relate to the territories of Zebulon, Naphtali, the Transjordan and Galilee?

These questions are important for establishing the basic context for the poetic oracle that follows. Compare the very different renderings of two modern critical commentaries (by J. J. M Roberts [Hermeneia, 2015, p. 144] and Joseph Blenkinsopp [Anchor Bible, 2000, p. 245-6]:


…Surely it will be without daybreak to the one distressed by it.

As at the former time he treated with contempt
<The Sharon and the land of Gilead,>
The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali,
So at the latter time he has honored the way of the sea,
Trans-jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who were walking in darkness
Have seen a great light…


There is no gloom for her who is oppressed. At that time the earlier ruler treated with contempt the territory of Zebulon and Naphthali, and the later one oppressed the way of the sea, the land across the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walk in the dark Have seen a great light…

In my view, Roberts is correct in understanding a contrast between the verbs (in the Hiphil) ll^q* (“make light [of]”) and db^K* (“give weight [to]”), in the sense of “disregard” vs. “honor”, and that YHWH is the implied subject. In allowing the Assyrian conquests to take place, God was “making light of” Israel, but now He will “give weight to” (i.e., honor) her. Here is my translation of the verse:

“(It is) that (there is) no darkness (now) for (the one) whom (there had been) distress for her; as (in) the former time (when) He made light (of) the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, even (so in) the later (time) He has given weight (to the) way of the sea, (the land) across the Yarden, (and) Galîl of the nations.”

However, there is no contrast between the territories mentioned. All five designations refer equally to the Northern Kingdom, but the last three specifically refer to areas that were turned into Assyrian provinces after 732: D¥°ru (Dor, “the way of the sea”), Gal±azu (Gilead, “[the land] across the Jordan”), Magidû (Megiddo, “Galilee of the nations”); cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 247; Roberts, p. 147f. The implication is that God will restore honor to these territories, by restoring them within a united Israelite Kingdom, under the leadership of a new king in Judah/Jerusalem. This is the focus of the poem that follows.

There are fewer problems of interpretation in the poem proper, the stanzas of which can be outlined as follows:

    • V. 1: Light shines for those in darkness
    • V. 2: Joy will be increased, with two-fold motif: (a) harvest, (b) army dividing spoils
    • V. 3: Three connected symbols of oppression—yoke, cross-bar, and rod/whip—will be smashed
    • V. 4: The signs and remains of warfare and conquest (shoes, blood-caked garments) will be burned
    • V. 5: Announcement of the birth of a child (son), along with symbol(s) of government and (royal) titles
    • V. 6: A promise to establish/maintain the greatness and (eternal) rule of the Davidic kingdom

With regard to this poem, critical scholars have given various dates to it, ranging from Isaiah’s own time (c. 730-700 B.C.) down to the post-exilic period. An exilic or post-exilic date would make a Messianic orientation much more plausible, but I find little evidence in these verses for such a setting. The closer one comes to Isaiah’s own time, the much less likely a future (Messianic) interpretation would be as the primary sense of the passage. This is particularly true if we take seriously the overall context of Isa 6:1-9:6, which is set rather securely in the period c. 740-732 B.C.

Assuming this context still applies to 8:23, the regions mentioned (Zebulon, Naphtali, Transjordan [Gilead], Galilee and the northern coastal plain [“way of the sea”]) represent areas which suffered under Assyrian attack 734-732 B.C., and were effectively annexed to become Assyrian provinces (cf. above). The message of 9:1-6 is directed, in part, to the Northern kingdom (“the people who walk in darkness”)—there is no indication that Samaria has fallen completely yet. Of course, Assyria still threatened the Southern kingdom of Judah, and would launch a devastating attack some years later (this will become the central event of the remainder of the first half of the book [up to ch. 39]). Here God promises (expressed in the prophetic perfect: “he has increased joy”, “he has smashed”, etc.) to deliver Israel/Judah from her enemies, bringing a renewed period of peace and prosperity.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 60

Psalm 60

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This is yet another prayer-Psalm with lament characteristics. The characteristic shift, from a plea for deliverance to an expectation that YHWH will answer the Psalmist’s prayer, has occurred in a number of the ‘Elohist’ Psalms we have recently studied. The structure of the composition, in this instance, is peculiar, due primarily to the divine oracle present in vv. 8-10 [6-8]. Within both Judaism and early Christianity, the Psalms came to be regarded as prophetic (to be counted among the Prophets); however, this is one of the few Psalms which actually contains a prophetic oracle.

The meter follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, with a notable shift to a 3-beat tricolon (3+3+3) format in vv. 8-10. This shift marks off the divine speech of vv. 8-10 in poetic terms.

For the structure of the Psalm, I feel it is best to divide it into parallel sections, separated by the oracle in vv. 8-10:

    • Part 1: Lament over the suffering experienced as a result of YHWH’s anger (vv. 3-5 [1-3])
    • [Oracle regarding the Kingdom] (vv. 8-11 [6-9])
    • Part 2: A second lament (v. 12 [10]) and prayer for deliverance (vv. 13-14 [11-12])

The heading designates this Psalm as another  <T*k=m! (miktam, on this term, cf. the study on Psalm 16). The previous miktams were apparently poems without music, to be sung to an existing melody. This also seems to be the case here, with the melody being /v*Wv (“lily,” or possibly “lotus”), resembling the name in Pss 45 and 69 (pl. <yN]v^ov, “lilies”). The poem is also designated as an tWdu@, usually translated “testimony,” but properly referring to words that are to be repeated. There is thus a didactic purpose to the poem, which is “to be taught” (dM@l^l=), much like the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32.

The superscription marks the poem as yet another Davidic composition (“belonging to David”), attributing it (in verse 2) in relation to the historical David-tradition recorded in 2 Samuel 8:1-14 (par 1 Chron 18:1-13). This tradition relates to the nations mentioned in vv. 8-11, in the context of the establishment of the kingdom of David and Solomon—which represented the territory of the Israelite kingdom at its greatest extent.

In this regard, there have been a good many theories regarding the specific dating of the poem, along with the critical question of how the oracle in vv. 8-10 fits within the overall composition. It is generally thought that the oracle represents a significantly older piece of traditional material, around which the remainder of the Psalm was composed. A common view is that the Psalm proper dates from the late kingdom-period, around the time of the Babylonian conquest, thus creating a stark juxtaposition with the territorial promises in the oracle. For a good survey of the question of dating, cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 95-8.

PART 1: VERSES 3-7 [1-5]

Verse 3 [1]

“O Mightiest, you rejected us, you scattered us;
you were angry—(but) may you turn back to us!”

Two points of interpretation are important for determining the thrust of this opening couplet. First, does the verb jn~z` mean “reject,” or “be angry” (corr. to Akkadian zenû, cf. Dahood, II, p. 77). Second, does the imperfect verb form bb@ovT= reflect an indicative or jussive? If a jussive (with imperatival force) is intended, the the verb bWv here would have the positive meaning “turn back, return”; but, if it is a past tense indicative, then it has a negative sense of “turn away, withdraw”. Dahood opts for the latter, along with reading jnz in the sense of “be angry”; this creates a parallel couplet of pure lament:

“O Mightiest, you were angry with us, you scattered us;
you snorted with anger, (and) you turned away from us!”

The force of the couplet might even be clearer if jnz has the typical meaning “reject”, creating a chiasm:

    • “you rejected us”
      • “you scattered us”
      • “you were angry” (i.e. snorting like an enraged bull)
    • “you turned away from us”

My translation above reads bb@ovT= as a jussive, adding a hopeful prayer-note to the lament.

Verse 4 [2]

“You made (the) earth shake, you split it (open);
may you heal its broken (piece)s, for it is slipping!”

The force of this couplet also hinges on a point of interpretation—regarding the word hpr. The MT vocalizes it hp*r=, usually understood as an alternate spelling of the imperative ap*r= (“heal!”). But the actual verb hp^r* means “(let) sink, drop,” which would fit the image here of a handful of broken pieces, potentially giving to the couplet a sense of unmitigated disaster, i.e., “(you) let drop its broken pieces”. Dahood (II, p. 78) would vocalize as the adjective hp*r* (“slack, drooping,” i.e. “weak”), which leads to a quite vivid couplet, that I would translate as:

“You made (the) earth shake, you split it (open),
(and) weak (from) its broken (part)s, how it is slipping!”

Verse 5 [3]

“You made your people see hardship,
you made us drink (the) wine of reeling.”

Instead of the rather bland Hiphil “you made see” (vb ha*r*), Dahood (II, p. 78) vocalizes htyarh as ht*ar@h), deriving it from the root ary II (“pour”), and also understands hv*q* in connection with the Ugaritic noun q¹š (“cup,” cp. Heb. hw`c=q^, “jug, jar”). This line of interpretation admittedly keeps the imagery more consistent, and also gives to the couplet a striking synthetic parallelism:

“You poured out (for) your people a cup,
you made us drink (the) wine of reeling!”

Verse 6-7 [4-5]

“(May) you give to (those) fearing you a (flag) to raise,
to be raised from (before the) face of the bow(men)!
To (the end) that your beloved should be pulled out,
keep (us) safe (with) your right hand, and answer us!”

The imperatives in vv. 3-4 (cf. above), if correct, would seem to require that the perfect form hT*t^n` (lit. “you gave”) be understood as a precative perfect—i.e., a wish (for the future) expressed in terms of something that has already happened. In English, this is almost impossible to translate in a way that works in poetry; we might say “(that) you (would have) given,” but it it is easier simply to render it like an imperative or jussive (“may you give…!”). The prayer thus takes the form of a clear petition, a plea to God for deliverance.

The noun sn@ in the first line is related to the verb ss^n` (II) in the second. Both are difficult to translate; the fundamental denotation seems to refer to something raised up high so that everyone can see it—e.g., in a military-political context, a flag or banner, around which people can rally. The reference to archers/bowmen (sing. “bow”, tv#q# in place of MT fv#q) [so most commentators]) certainly indicates a military context, with God’s deliverance (from enemies) in terms of a military victory.

Indeed, a military rescue is described in verse 7, using the verb Jl^j* (I), “pull out, withdraw”, in the sense of YHWH pulling His people (and their king) out of danger. The noun dyd!y`, related to dod (in the Song of Songs, etc), means “(my) love, loved one, beloved”; it could be used here of the people Israel (collectively), or of the king as their leader and representative. The Hiphil imperative of the verb uv^y` in the second line literally means “save (us)…!,” but here it is better understood in the sense of the protection YHWH provides (i.e., “keep [us] safe!”). Following the rescue in line 1, God’s protection (in a military sense) will ultimately lead to victory for His people, a victory which is the answer (vb hn`u*) to the Psalmist’s prayer.

The placement of a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker between verses 6 and 7 is curious. It does not seem to relate to the structure of the Psalm, but may simply be used to alleviate the syntactical transition between the two verses.

Oracle:  Verses 8-11 [6-9]

There is a sudden shift in verse 8, both structurally and rhythmically. Verses 8-10 [6-8] constitute a prophetic oracle in which YHWH Himself speaks. In place of the 3-beat bicolon (couplet) format in vv. 3-7 (cf. above), there is a tricolon (triplet) format in vv. 8-10.

Verse 8 [6]

“(The) Mightiest has spoken in His Holy (Place):
‘I will exult (and) will make Šekem (my) portion,
and the valley of Sukkot I will measure out.'”

The 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon format of the oracle is established here. As in verse 3 [1], the title <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” Elohim, i.e., ‘God’) is used, presumably in place of, originally, the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH)—a substitution that occurs consistently throughout the ‘Elohist’ Psalms. YHWH speaks in His “Holy (Place),” —that is, the sanctuary of His Dwelling (Temple)—though the noun vd#q) could also mean “holiness” (i.e., “in His holiness”).

The geographical association between the city of Shechem and the “valley of Sukkot” here probably alludes to the tradition in Genesis 33:17-18. It may refer generally to the northern territory (and kingdom) of Israel; the northern extent of the kingdom is referenced by David’s conquests over Syria (Aram-Zobah and Aram-Damascus) in 2 Sam 8:3-8. The verb dd^m* means “stretch a line,” i.e., to measure something, and thus refers to measuring the extent of territory belonging to the king/kingdom. Here, the territory belongs specifically to YHWH Himself, as King, but by extension it also belongs to the kingdom of His people (Israel/Judah).

Verse 9 [7]

“To me (belongs) Gil’ad, and to me Menaššeh,
and Ephrayim (is) a protected place (for) my head,
(while) Yehudah (is) my engraved (staff).”

In this verse, the Davidic kingdom of Israel—the united kingdom—is summarized. As noted in the introduction above, if the Psalm proper is dated near the time of the Babylonian exile, then the lamentable situation of the kingdom at that time would be set in stark contrast to the original divine promises regarding the extent of territory (realized, albeit briefly, in the reigns of David and Solomon). The northern territories are represented by the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (along with the region of the Gilead), depicted in terms of the king’s head—that is, a helmet (lit. “place of protection,” or “protected place,” zoum*). Judah represents the southern territory, and, with its capital of Jerusalem, is the locus of the ruling power and authority of the king (his engraved [vb qq^j*] staff). Again, YHWH is the ultimate King, with the king of Israel/Judah ruling over the people as His representative or vassal.

Verse 10 [8]

“Mo’ab (is the) pot for my washing;
upon Edom I will throw down my sandal;
over Pelešet I will cry out (in triumph).”

Here the territories of Moab, Edom and the coastal cities of the Philistines are included as Israelite territory (belonging ultimately, of course, to YHWH as King). Moab and Edom, in particular, are belittled, described as a mere washpot for the king, or as a place to thrown down (or set down) his sandals. David’s victories over Moab and Edom are referenced in 2 Sam 8:2, 12-14, while his victories over the Philistines headline that passage (v. 1). Here YHWH simply declares that He will “cry out” (vb u^Wr) over Philistia—that is, a cry/shout of triumph over them. The text of the third line should be read in light of the doublet in Ps 108:10 [9].

Verse 11 [9]

“Who will carry me (to the) city (with) strong walls?
Who will guide me (to come) unto Edom?”

The meter now shifts back to the 3-beat couplet (bicolon) format of the Psalm; and, indeed, verse 11 is not part of the oracle, and it is no longer YHWH who is speaking. The verse is transitional, leading the way from the oracle into the concluding verses (a second lament-prayer).

The first line could be understood either as coming to the walled city for protection, or for conquest. In the context of the oracle, the latter seems more likely. The Psalmist envisions a situation when Israel will once again realize the promises of YHWH regarding the kingdom and its territory, and where the conquests by David may, in some sense, be repeated. The specific mention of Edom in the second line may reflect the heightened tensions (and hostility) between Judah and Edom in the late kingdom period (early-6th century, and thereafter). The envisioned conquests will begin with the near adversary Edom (along with Moab, we may assume, to follow).

Part 2: Verses 12-14 [10-12]

Verse 12 [10]

“Is it not you, (O) Mightiest, you (who) rejected us,
and did not go out, Mightiest, with our armies?”

This couplet answers the question (“Who…?”) in v. 11. Even though YHWH had rejected His people (for the verb jn~z`, cf. on v. 3 above), and, for a time, allowed Israel to be defeated and conquered, the hope (and prayer) is that now God will once again return to fight on His people’s behalf. The couplet here thus blends together lament with a hope (prayer) for deliverance, echoing the themes of the longer Part 1. For a different way of reading these lines, cf. Dahood (II, pp. 76, 82).

Verse 13 [11]

“Give to us help from [i.e. against] (our) adversary,
(for) indeed empty is (the) saving (help) of man!”

Only the power and strength of YHWH will allow His people to prevail against their enemies. The noun rx^ can be derived from three different roots, meaning (respectively): (1) “narrowness” (i.e., a “tight spot”), (2) “distress, oppression”, or (3) “adversary, enemy”. All three would be applicable, but the military context here suggests the third meaning is most likely in view. The very acknowledgement of YHWH’s saving power, contrasted with the “emptiness” (aw+v*) of human strength, can be taken as an implicit indication of the people’s current faithfulness (as represented by the Psalmist), and give them reason to believe that YHWH will, indeed, hear and answer their prayer.

Verse 14 [12]

“With the Mightiest, we shall act with strength,
and He (indeed) shall trample down our adversaries!”

The people will act together with (-B=) YHWH to defeat their enemies, just as Israel did (under David’s leadership) in times of old. They will act with strength (ly]j*), since the power of God Himself will be on their side. Indeed, it is YHWH who does the real fighting, trampling down the enemies of Israel (note the emphatic position of the pronoun aWh [“He”]).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

June 16: Acts 1:8 (continued)

Acts 1:8, continued

As we turn toward the Pentecost narrative in Acts, it is most useful to keep in mind the context and structure of the early chapters, which I outline as follows:

    1. Lukan Introduction (1:1-5)—a long, complex and difficult sentence (cf. Luke 1:1-4), which turns into an historical summary (vv. 2-4a) and concludes with a direct address of Jesus to his disciples (vv. 4b-5).
    2. The Ascension (1:6-11), comprising:
      (a) the question regarding the Kingdom and Jesus’ reply to his disciples(vv. 6-8),
      (b) the visible ascension with theophanic/apocalyptic imagery (v. 9),
      (c) appearance of the (Heavenly) men and their address to the disciples
    3. A summary narrative (1:12-14) recording the return of the disciples to Jerusalem, and their united presence in the Upper Room (the Twelve [minus Judas Iscariot], some women, Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers). This summary parallels Luke 24:52-53, and is an important bridge between the Ascension and the following narrative.
    4. The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)—two key parts, both of which act as seminal motifs for the remainder of the book:
      a) Peter’s speech (vv. 15-22)—the first of many such speeches in Acts, centering on quotation/interpretation of Scripture (a tradition regarding Judas Iscariot has been inserted parenthetically, vv. 18-19)
      b) The selection/commission of a disciple (Matthias) for (apostolic) ministry (vv. 23-26)
    5. The Pentecost Narrative (chapter 2)
      5a. Narrative of the coming of the Spirit (2:1-13: a detailed outline will be given in Part 2)
      5b. Peter’s Speech (2:14-40), again centered on quotation/interpretation of Scripture.
      5c. Historical/editorial summary (2:41-47).

This same structure will be carried out through much of Acts; for example, in the next two chapters:

    • Main historical narrative, including notable ministry work, miracles, etc. (“Acts”) of the Apostles (3:1-11; 4:1-22)
    • Speech (or intercourse), centered on a passage (or passages) of Scripture, and containing early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) (3:12-26; 4:23-30)
    • Historical/editorial summary (none in ch. 3; 4:31)

Let us consider the sections immediately surrounding the exchange between Jesus and his disciples in 1:6-8. We begin with the Lukan introduction (1:1-5); the historical summary (vv. 2-4a) has, at its heart, the double phrase:
oi!$ kai\ pare/sthsen e(auto\n zw=nta meta\ to\ paqei=n au)to\n e)n polloi=$ tekmhri/oi$,
di’ h(merw=n tessera/konta o)ptano/meno$ au)toi=$ kai\ le/gwn ta\ peri\ th=$ basilei/a$ tou= qeou=
“…and to whom [i.e. the disciples] he stood himself alongside [i.e. presented himself] alive after his suffering in many fixed marks [i.e. signs/proofs],
through forty days being seen by them and recounting/relating the (things) about the kingdom of God”
We can break down chiastically the elements of this phrase:

    • Living presence of God/Christ in his disciples
      [to whom he stood himself alongside alive…]
      • Demonstration that He is the Messiah and Son of the Living God
        […after his suffering in many fixed marks/signs]
      • Ministry and proclamation
        [through days being seen by them and recounting/relating…]
    • The Kingdom of God
      […the things about the Kingdom of God]

These are all seminal themes and motifs of the Book of Acts, and, one might say, form the core of the Gospel message. The narration continues in v. 4a and blends into an address (in direct speech) of Jesus to his disciples. Again note the key elements:

a. Stay in (do not depart from) Jerusalem (see Luke 24:52; Acts 1:12)
b. Remain about (i.e. wait) for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49) which you have heard from me (see Acts 1:13-14, also Luke 24:53)
c. Reprise of John’s testimony:
“(On the one hand), John dipped/dunked in/with water, but (on the other hand), you will be dipped/dunked in the Holy Spirit after not many (of) these days”

The ascension of Jesus is narrated in vv. 9-11. We can see how vv. 6-8 fit into the immediate narrative structure:

    • Question regarding the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ reply, including a reiteration of the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 6-8)
      • The Ascension of Jesus (v. 9)
        • At their seeing/looking
          — He was raised up(on)
          — A cloud took him under
        • Away from their eyes
    • Angelic appearance and eschatological announcement about Christ’s return (vv. 10-11)

The theme of the Kingdom—shorthand for “Kingdom of God (or Heaven)”—is most significant; I will have discussed it in detail in an earlier article. Here is a summary outline of the four principal ways of understanding the phrase:

    1. As the Eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
    2. As an eschatological (Messianic) Kingdom, on earth, the establishment of which will involve:
      (a) judgment/defeat of the nations and enemies of God, and
      (b) restoration of the Davidic inheritance to Israel.
    3. In the person and work of Jesus—the miracles, teaching, foundation of the church, atoning death and resurrection, etc.
    4. As the (spiritual) presence and power of God in the heart, mind, and lives of believers.

Other interpretations are possible, but they likely will end up being a variation on one of the above. These four meanings can be found in the New Testament—even, I think, in Jesus’ own teaching on the Kingdom—but probably #1 and 4 are most common. The thorniest question scholars raise is to what extent #2 is part of Jesus’ teaching. It is likely that his proclamation “the Kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 par.) would have been understood in this manner—of eschatological/Messianic expectation—by his contemporaries; and this certainly seems to be what the disciples have in mind here at Acts 1:6.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question:

ku/rie, ei) e)n tw=| xronw=| tou/tw| a)pokaqista/nei$ th\n basilei/an tw=| )Israh/l;
“Lord, (if) in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of a)pokaqisth/nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (a)po/) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own e)cousi/a

e)cousi/a (from e&cestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom (meaning #2 above) common in popular religious thought. Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

Indeed, I would maintain that the idea of the “restoration of the kingdom”, or, one may say, the “restoration of Israel” is an important idea both in Jesus’ teaching and in the book of Acts. Most importantly, Jesus effectively defines the Kingdom for his disciples as two-fold, according to two fundamental aspects:

    • The empowering presence of the Spirit (“you shall receive [the] power of the holy Spirit…”)
    • The proclamation of the Gospel (“you shall be my witnesses…”)

Thus, the missionary work of the early believers, following the coming of the Spirit upon them (2:1-4ff), represents the establishment of the Kingdom in this New Age (New Covenant) for the people of God. In this regard, it is worth considering the fascinating textual variant in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, the petition for the coming of the Kingdom (11:2, e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou, “my your kingdom come”). In several texual witnesses, this petition is replaced by a request for the coming of the Spirit. In minuscule MS 700, this reads: e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqrisa/tw h(ma=$ (“may your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”). This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

The two episodes that follow the Ascension, continue the development of this Kingdom-theme, preparing the ground for the Pentecost scene in chapter 2. First we have the transitional narrative summary in vv. 12-14; note the key motifs:

    • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
      a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
      b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
    • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in one place (upper room), v. 13. If the Twelve represent Israel (see below), then here we also have an image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
    • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related, seminal motifs:
      • ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
      • pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
      • h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
      • o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. qumo/$ is often translated as “soul”, “mind” [“with one mind”], but also as “passion”, “desire”; the primal sense of the word was something like a “[violent] stirring”)
      • th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

In vv. 15-26 we have a narrative episode that may be entitled “The Reconstitution of the Twelve.” Here it is important to emphasis again the theme of the Twelve. On purely objective grounds, the Twelve represent one of the earliest Christian traditions—a fixed tradition and symbol, separate, it would seem, from much of the actual historical detail. This appears clearly enough from passages such as 1 Cor. 15:5 and Matthew 19:28, where “the Twelve” are mentioned, even though only eleven disciples could be involved (Judas being dead or disqualified). Also, note the variant lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-14; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:13-16 / Acts 1:13). Most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. This may seem strange to modern thinking, but the symbolism was powerful indeed to early Christians, for whom Israel and “the Church” were closely connected.

At the close of the chapter, things are prepared for the coming of the Spirit upon the believers. The Twelve have been restored, the believers are all gathered together, in Jerusalem, in one place; and they are similarly united in spirit, being “of one impulse” (o(moqumado/n, i.e., “of one mind, with one purpose”), being especially united in prayer (cf. my recent study in the “Monday Notes on Prayer”). What follows in chapter 2 represents the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8 (also v. 4 and Lk 24:49). This we will examine in the next note.

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.

Notes on Prayer: Acts 1:24

Acts 1:24

In the previous study, we looked at the place of prayer in the depiction of the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem. The unity of these first believers was manifest and expressed through prayer (1:14). The setting of this episode—marking the real beginning of the Acts narrative—was the “upper room” in Jerusalem, where the believers were gathered together following Jesus’ departure (ascension) into heaven.

This first community was comprised of Jesus’ closest male disciples (the Twelve), along with a group of his close female followers (cf. Lk 8:1-3), as well as members of Jesus’ family (his mother and brothers, cp. Lk 8:19-21). These believers were united in location (in one room, in Jerusalem), in purpose (o(moqumado/n, “with one impulse”), and in their activity (prayer). The same narrative setting continues in the next episode (vv. 15-26). The community is still gathered together in one place (presumably the same “upper room”), now numbered at around 120 people (v. 15). This number has a vital symbolic importance for the Acts narrative, since 120 = 12 x 10, and so is tied to the concept of the twelve.

We may ask why the author chooses to include the episode in vv. 15-26, devoting attention to the selection of an apostle to take Judas’ place, introducing a person (Matthias) who is never mentioned again in the book of Acts. There are two reasons why the episode is important for the author, and they relate to the symbolism of the Twelve. First is the theme of the unity of believers. This sense of unity requires that the Community be made whole, and this cannot happen until the circle of the Twelve is restored.

The second reason involves the key eschatological theme of the restoration of Israel. There is a clear and unquestionable parallel between the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel. It is quite possible that Twelve were chosen (by Jesus himself) to represent, at least in part, the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

Based on this symbolism, the restoration of the Twelve represents the idea of the restoration of Israel (the Twelve Tribes). From the standpoint of the book of Acts, the restoration of Israel is realized through the early Christian mission—the proclamation of the Gospel and the manifestation/work of the Spirit among believers. This is made abundantly clear in the answer given by Jesus to the disciples’ (eschatological) question regarding the establishment of the Kingdom (vv. 6-8). Consider also this theme of restoration in light of the Pentecost narrative that follows in chapter 2:

    • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
      • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
        • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
      • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
    • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

Let us now consider the episode in vv. 15-26 and the place of prayer in it. Here is an outline of the episode:

    • Narrative introduction (v. 15)
    • Speech by Peter (vv. 16-22), which the central Scripture citation of Psalm 69:25 (and 109:8)
    • Selection of Matthias to restore the Twelve (vv. 23-26):
      • Presentation of the two candidates (v. 23)
      • Prayer regarding the selection (v. 24-25)
      • Selection of Matthias [by lot] (v. 26)

The importance (and symbolic significance) of the selection of this apostle, to complete/restore the Twelve, made it an occasion for praying to God. In this regard, the mention of prayer in v. 24 continues the thematic association between prayer and the unity of the early Community of believers. They are specifically praying for Divine guidance in establishing (and confirming) this unity. Here is how this is expressed in verse 24:

“And, speaking out toward (God), they said: ‘You Lord, (the) heart-knower of all, may you show (clearly for us) which one you (have) gathered [i.e. chosen] out of these two'”

This is the first occurrence in Acts of the verb proseu/xomai (“speak [out] toward [God],” i.e., pray); the related noun proseuxh/ was used in v. 14. The prayer acknowledges that the actual choice belongs to God, and that essentially He has already made the choice. As the One who ‘knows the heart’ of all people (and all things), God knows who is best suited to fill the apostolic role. The statement is also an acknowledgement that God is already aware of the needs and concerns of the Community, and of the reason why they are praying to him—a point Jesus makes in his teaching on prayer (Matt 6:8). The title kardiognw/sth$ (lit. “heart-knower”) may have been coined by Christians; in any case, it is only found in early Christian writings (Acts 15:8; Hermas Commandments 4.3.4; Clementine Homilies 10:13; Acts of Paul and Thecla 24; cf. Fitzmyer, p. 227), though the underlying idea is expressed in the Old Testament (Deut 8:2; 1 Sam 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; Psalm 44:22, etc).

Verse 25 emphasizes again the importance of filling the place vacated by Judas, as thus restoring the Twelve and creating a fully unified Community:

“… ‘to take the place of this service [diakoni/a] and being sent forth [a)postolh/], from which Yehudah stepped alongside to travel into his own place’.”

English translations do not always capture the point that is being stressed here: Judas stepped away from his place among the Twelve, going instead to his own place (the adjective i&dio$, “[his] own”, being in emphatic position). This has a double-meaning: (a) it refers simply to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, by which he departed from his place among Jesus’ circle of disciples, and (b) it also alludes to Judas’ ultimate fate—viz., his death and condemnation (see the parenthetical statement by the author in vv. 18-19).

I have translated the noun a)postolh/ according to its basic meaning of “being sent away” (or sent forth) by someone. It is, of course, related to the noun a)posto/lo$, which is typically transliterated in English as “apostle”. Thus the place that Judas abandoned (and will be filled by Matthias), and the service (diakoni/a) he had performed, was that of an apostle—one sent forth by Jesus to act as his representative and to proclaim the Gospel.

Prayer, as it is depicted in this episode, has special significance, not simply in relation to deciding on leadership roles within the Community (though that is of genuine importance); rather, the specific context of restoring the circle of the Twelve apostles means that it ultimately is tied to the central themes of Christian unity and the mission of believers (to proclaim the Gospel and act as Jesus’ representatives). These two themes remain fundamental to our identity as believers even today, and ought to be, also for us, the focus of our prayers.

References marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 31 (Doubleday/Yale: 1998).

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (continued)

Isaiah 52:13-53:12, continued

Having concluded a detailed critical and exegetical study of the passage, verse by verse, in the recent daily notes, it remains to explore the specific lines of interpretation which may plausibly be applied to the figure of the Servant. I identify four primary lines of interpretation, each of which will be discussed in turn.

    1. The type-figure of Moses
    2. A specific Prophetic figure from history
    3. A collective figure for the Prophets of Israel
    4. A collective figure for the People of Israel

1. Moses. In an earlier article (on Isa 42:1ff) I discussed the strong possibility that the Servant of the Deutero-Isaian poems was patterned after the figure of Moses. It is worth summarizing the chief evidence for this:

    • Moses is specifically referred to as God’s “servant” (db#u#) on a number of occasions in Old Testament tradition: Exod 4:10; 14:31; Num 12:7-8; Deut 34:5; Josh 1:2, 7; 18:7; 1 Kings 8:53, 56; Psalm 105:26; Isa 63:11; Dan 9:11; Mal 4:4 [3:22]; Bar 2:28; cf. also Heb 3:5; Rev 15:3.
    • Moses was the pre-eminent Prophet and leader for the people of Israel, and possessed the spirit of prophecy (i.e., God’s Spirit); on this line of tradition, see my study on Numbers 11:10-30.
    • Moses led the people out of exile in Egypt, even as they are now to be led out their exile within the Babylonian empire; the return of the Exiles is clearly understood in the Deutero-Isaian poems as a ‘new Exodus’ (in chaps. 41-45, cf. especially 43:1-2, 16-17ff).
    • The role of bringing judgment to the nations, in the context of Israel’s release/return, would fit the archetypal pattern of Moses in his encounters with Pharaoh and the rulers of Egypt. This parallel applies more to 42:1ff, but see also the context of 52:14-15.
    • The servant functions as a judge and law-giver, which well fits the historical and traditional portrait of Moses.

I have discussed the parallels between 52:13-53:12 and the Moses traditions in the recent set of notes. Perhaps the strongest point is Moses role as intermediary and intercessor for Israel. By the very nature of this role (as YHWH’s servant) he identifies with the suffering of the people (cf. Exod 2:11ff; 3:7ff), and comes to bear their burdens, in many different ways, during the long Exodus journey through the wilderness (see esp. Num 11:10-14ff). On several occasions, Moses stood before YHWH on behalf of the people, interceding for them.

Two traditions are most pertinent to the argument here. The first is the Golden Calf episode, and its aftermath (Exod 32-34). The people broke the covenant bond in an egregious manner, and YHWH intended to destroy them in His anger, but Moses interceded for them (32:11-14, 30-34; 33:12-16; 34:8-9). In Exod 32:32, Moses essentially offers to taken upon himself the guilt (and punishment) that belonged to the people.

The second tradition to note is the episode at the “Waters of Strife [Meribah]” in Numbers 20. Provoked by the rebelliousness of the people, Moses speaks and acts in a way that does not give proper honor to YHWH; as a result, Moses shares the same punishment that fell upon the adult generation of the Exodus: he would die without entering the Promised Land. This may reflect the lines in our passage regarding the death of the Servant. On the possible allusions to Moses’ death and burial in the land of Moab (near Mt. Peor, Deut 34:5-8), cf. the recent note on verse 9.

If Moses is the type-pattern for the Servant figure, how should this be understood? There are several possibilities. Taking the scenario of the passage at face value, it would seem that Moses died and then was exalted to heaven. He then appeared before YHWH in the heavenly courtroom, where his righteous character and role as YHWH’s servant was confirmed, and he was then given a new heavenly position. Here he would continue in his role as the Servant, working and interceding on behalf of God’s people in the New Age (the period of the new covenant).

But could this association with Moses be merely figurative? On the one hand, a figurative interpretation would better fit the Deutero-Isaian theme of Israel’s restoration, which involves a new covenant and a renewed adherence to the Torah, echoing the ancient Moses/Exodus traditions (the Sinai covenant and the giving of the Law, cf. Exod 19-34). Subsequent Isaian poems and oracles (i.e., from chapters 56-66, so-called Trito-Isaiah) give special emphasis to the theme of the Law going out from Jerusalem, as a light to the nations (cf. on 42:5-9).

On the other hand, the passage seems to be dealing with a specific person—a person who, like Moses, will lead Israel back into the land (a “new Exodus”, cf. above) and play a central role in establishing the new covenant between YHWH and His people. In this regard, it is worth considering a particular eschatological tradition associated with Moses. Deuteronomy 18:15-19 records a prophecy regarding a “prophet like Moses” who will arise in Israel, essentially taking Moses’ place and functioning as a ‘new Moses’. By the 1st century B.C./A.D., this had developed into a clear belief in a Messianic prophetic figure, according to the figure-type of Moses, who would appear at the end-time, prior to the great Judgment.

This eschatological figure could be explained as Moses himself, having returned from heaven, or a separate Messianic Prophet patterned after Moses. Jesus was identified explicitly with this figure in Acts 3:22 (also 7:37), and there are other implicit references to “(the) Prophet” which likely have this same (Messianic) figure-type in mind (Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40). For more on this subject, and on the identification of Jesus with Moses, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

2. A specific Prophet-figure. Along the same lines, the Servant may refer to another Prophet from the history of Israel/Judah. The overall context, and the specific wording in v. 8, strongly indicates that the Servant (and his generation) belongs to the past. If we look to the Exilic setting of the Deutero-Isaian poems, there is no obvious candidate known to us from the historical record of the 6th century. To be sure, Jeremiah suffered at the hands of the people (and their leaders), and Uriah was put to death by Jehoiakim for prophesying the judgment against Judah and Jerusalem (Jer 26:20-23). According to Jewish tradition, the prophet Isaiah himself was killed by king Manasseh, and one version of this involved his being sawn in half (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho §120; cf. Heb 11:37). There are other historical traditions regarding the Prophets suffering oppression, persecution and death (cf. below).

Since the Deutero-Isaian poems seem to view the restoration of Israel (the ‘new Exodus’), and the establishment of the new covenant with YHWH, to be imminent, it is unlikely that the suffering and death of the Servant is meant to be understood as occurring in the future. The orientation of the passage as referring to a past event (that is, prior to the 6th century Exilic time-frame) should be taken seriously. His suffering reflects the failures of Israel/Judah, their violation of the first covenant—the covenant established at Sinai.

3. A collective figure for the Prophets of Israel. A stronger argument can be made for viewing the Servant as a collective figure for the Prophets of Israel. He embodies all of the true Prophets, from Moses to those of the 6th century. His suffering (and death) reflects the suffering experienced by many of the Prophets, whose call to deliver messages of judgment against the people of Israel/Judah, including harsh rebuke and condemnation of the rich and powerful in society, naturally made them unpopular and a target for hostile and violent reaction. Elijah and Jeremiah are probably the most famous examples of Prophets who suffered oppression and persecution at the hands of the people (and their leaders). The tradition of Isaiah’s martyrdom was noted above; we also have Zechariah son of Jehoiada being stoned to death as one of many similar examples (cf. Matt 23:34-37 par; Heb 11:35-38). On the idea of the Servant being “pierced” (v. 5), we may mention again how Uriah was killed by the sword (Jer 26:23).

This interpretation has the advantage of not being bound to the historical details of any one Prophet. At the same time, most of the description in the passage could apply to any number of the Prophets—or of all of them, taken together.

4. A collective figure for the People of Israel. This is perhaps the line of interpretation that is favored by many, if not most, critical commentators today. In its favor is the fact that Israel/Judah is specifically referred to as YHWH’s “servant” (db#u#) at a number of points in the Deutero-Isaian poems (41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4). Moreover, the general context relates to YHWH leading His chosen people out of their exile. The formula is established in 41:8-9:

“But you, Yisrael, my servant [yD!b=u^],
you, Ya’aqob, whom I have chosen,
seed of Abraham my loved (one),
you whom I have seized from (the) ends of the earth,
and called from her corners,
you to (whom) I have said
‘You (are) my servant,
I have chosen you and will not reject you,’
—do not be afraid, for I (am) with you…”

The same basic formula is used in 42:1, only there Israel is not specifically identified as the “servant” (except in the LXX).

But if Israel is the Servant, then it is difficult to explain the relationship between the Servant and the people that runs through the passage. One possibility is that the Servant is limited to the righteous ones of Israel, who suffer at the hands of the wicked people. A better fit to the context of the passage would be the relationship between Israel and the nations. The nations (and their rulers) are referenced in 52:14-15, and, according to this line of interpretation, it is they—and not the people of Israel—who offer the testimony regarding the Servant in 53:2-6. The nations mistreat and oppress the Servant (Israel), and it is the people of Israel (or at least the righteous among them) who suffer vicariously and bear the guilt of the nations. Through this suffering, and with the Servant’s restoration in the New Age, justice and righteousness will be brought to the nations through him—that is, through the righteous ministry of the restored Israel. This legitimately reflects a key Isaian theme (cf. 2:2-4) that was developed in the Deutero- (and Trito-) Isaian poems.

Summary. In my view, the overall evidence from the Deutero-Isaian poems strongly favors the first and fourth interpretations above. That is, the Servant should be understood as either: (1) a Prophetic leader patterned after the figure of Moses, or (2) as a collective figure for the people of Israel.

It may be possible to combine these approaches, given the close relationship between Moses and the people in the historical tradition. Moses represents the people before YHWH, and YHWH before the people. He has a central and foundational role in establishing the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. Indeed, following the episode of the Golden Calf, with the violation of the covenant, Israel ceases to be the people of YHWH. It is only through the intercession of Moses, that the covenant is restored; Israel is once again considered to be the people of YHWH, but only in a qualified sense, through the personal mediation of Moses.

The Deutero-Isaian theme of the New Age (of Israel’s restoration) involves the return of Israel/Judah to the Land (i.e., a ‘new Exodus’), with the establishment of a new covenant (cf. the following 54:1-17). It thus makes sense that the Prophetic leadership of the people would likewise be understood as a “new Moses”.

To the extent that the Servant is related to the figure of Moses, there are several ways of understanding this (cf. above):

    • Moses continues to act as the Servant of YHWH, on behalf of the people, through his new (exalted) position in heaven
    • Moses serves as the symbolic pattern for the Prophetic leadership of Israel/Judah in the New Age
    • The association relates to the (eschatological) tradition of the “Prophet like Moses” who will appear to lead and guide Israel into the New Age. This could further be understood as: (a) Moses himself appearing from heaven, or (b) a new chosen Prophet who resembles Moses. There was a similar Messianic/eschatological tradition regarding the figure of Elijah. Cf. Part 3 of “Yeshua the Anointed”.

It still remains to explore how Isa 52:13-53:12 was applied to the person of Jesus—specifically his Passion (suffering and death). This we will do in the concluding portion of this article.

March 21: Isaiah 61:3-7

Isaiah 61:3c-7

Today’s note brings to a conclusion our supplemental study on Isa 61:1-3, in connection with the article in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. Verses 3c-7 comprise the second part of the poem in vv. 1-7. The first part (vv. 1-3ab) describes the mission of the Spirit-anointed herald, while the second gives us what may be described as the substance of the herald’s message. It is a message of the future glory and blessing that will come to God’s people in the New Age. The focus, of course, in the context of the post-exilic period, is on Judah and the city of Jerusalem.

The message (in vv. 3c-7) itself can be divided into three parts, as follows:

    • Vv. 3c-4 (“They”)—Blessing for the People: Restoration of the Land
    • Vv. 5-6 (“You”)—The Nations will serve the People
    • V. 7 (“They”)—Blessing for the People: Inheritance in the Land

As indicated in the outline, the address shifts from the 3rd person plural to the 2nd, and then back to the 3rd.

Verses 3c-4

“And it will be called (out) to them ‘strong (oak)s of justice’,
(the) planting of YHWH for making (Himself) beautiful;
and they will build (the) dry (place)s of (the) distant (past),
and will make stand (the) destroyed (place)s of (times) before,
and will make new (the) cities of dry (dust),
(the) destroyed (citie)s (from) cycle to cycle.”

The message begins with a promise that the people—those poor and oppressed (vv. 1-3)—will have their fortunes change: they will be turned into strong and sturdy trees (<yl!ya@). YHWH calls out this identity for them (the divine passive ar*q), “it will be called”), and then will make it come about in reality, by “planting” (vb uf^n`) them in the Land. This imagery goes back to the ancient covenant promise regarding Israel’s inheritance of the (promised) Land (cf. Exod 15:17; Num 24:6; 2 Sam 7:10, etc).

In verse 4, the motif shifts from planting trees to building cities—both lines of imagery being related to the idea of the restoration of Israel/Judah in the New Age. The repeated emphasis (in four lines) on the rebuilding of ruins clearly indicates a post-exilic setting, and presumably a good number of years since the conquest and destruction had occurred. A setting in the mid-5th century B.C., prior to the building work of Nehemiah, seems likely. It has been long enough that only dried out ruins are left; the destruction took place in the “distant (past)” (<l*ou), and generations have come and gone since (rodw` roD, “cycle and cycle”, i.e., generation to generation).

Verses 5-6

“And (those who) turn aside [i.e. strangers] will stand and pasture your herds,
and sons of a foreigner (will be) your diggers and vine-workers;
but you will be called ‘priests of YHWH,’
and ‘(people) serving our Mighty (One)’ it will be said to you;
you shall eat the strength [i.e. riches/wealth] of (the) nations,
and you shall show yourselves in their weight [i.e. worth/glory/splendor].”

The shift from 3rd person plural to 2nd gives a more personal focus to the message. One may also explain the shift because of the mention of other peoples—i.e., from the surrounding nations (<y]oG), foreign (rk*n@) people, and strangers who “turn aside” (rWz) to reside among God’s people. Addressing Israel/Judah as “you” highlights the distinction with the other people (“they”). In the New Age, it is these other people who will do the manual work and labor in the Land—viz., herding, digging/farming, vine-working, etc. This frees up the people of Israel/Judah to serve as priests of YHWH, devoting themselves exclusively to religious service. Again, this line of imagery draws upon early traditions regarding the covenant role of Israel as God’s chosen people (Exod 19:6, etc).

Admittedly, this theme of the servile submission of the nations may not be particularly appealing to us as Christians today, but it is well-rooted in the ancient Near Eastern worldview. It also represents an important aspect of God’s judgment against the nations. The judgment against Israel and Judah has already been fulfilled (through the conquest and exile), and now, in these Deutero- and Trito-Isaian poems, the focus of judgment shifts to the surrounding nations. Their punishment involves a reversal—in the exile (and its aftermath), Israel/Judah served the nations, but now, in the New Age, it is the nations who will serve God’s people.

Not only do the nations serve God’s people, but they also bring homage and tribute from their lands; as a result, the wealth of the nations flows into Jerusalem. This is a particularly prominent theme in chapters 56-66 (cf. especially the prior chapter 60). The motif is hinted at here in the last two lines as well: the people will “eat” the riches (lit. strength, ly]j^) of the nations, and will exult in their “weight” (dobK*, i.e., worth, honor, glory, splendor). The precise meaning and derivation of the Hithpael form WrM*y~t=T! is uncertain. Some would derive it from the root rWm (“change, exchange”), others from the common verb rm^a* (“show, say”), or from a separate root rma (II) that specifically means “boast, pride oneself”. That posited second rma root is questionable, and is largely based on this one reference here. For the sake of simplicity, I have translated the form above as a reflexive (Hithpael) of the common verb rm^a*, in its fundamental meaning of “make visible, show”. The people will “show (off) themselves” in the wealth and splendor of the nations. This plays on the garment-motif in v. 3ab, which, it seems, continues in verse 7a.

Verse 7

“Under [i.e. in place of] your shame, a two-fold (blessing),
and (instead of) disgrace, they will cry (for joy in) their portion;
for so (it is that) in their land they will possess two-fold,
and there will be joy (into the) distant (future) for them.”

The two aspects of the restoration emphasized in vv. 3c-6—(1) a renewed strength and splendor for the people, and (2) a renewal of the richness of the land—are combined here in the final verse. This renewal/restoration will be double, or two-fold (hn#v=m!), likely corresponding to the idea that Israel/Judah suffered a double punishment in the conquest and exile (as mentioned in the Deutero-Isaian poems, e.g., 40:2; 51:19). At the same time, the concept of a double-reward for the losses suffered is traditional, and is reflected, for example, in the conclusion to the story of Job (42:10). The term <l*ou (“distant [past/future]”) emphasizes the New Age for Israel/Judah. In verse 4, it was used in reference to the distant past (and the destruction of the land); here, it refers to the distant future, and the glorious New Age in the restored Land. It also alludes to the new covenant (lit. binding agreement, tyr!B=) that YHWH will make with His people (v. 8; cf. also 59:21, etc): it will be an everlasting covenant—that is to say, it will last into the far distant future (<l*ou). This “new covenant” theme—which can be found in other Prophet writings of the exilic and post-exilic period—is one of many Isaian motifs (drawn from these Deutero- and Trito-Isaian poems) that early Christians adopted as part of their eschatological and Messianic worldview, and which became an expression of their (and our) religious identity as believers in Christ.

March 17: Isaiah 61:2-3

Isaiah 61:2b-3ab

In the previous two notes, we looked at the first two pairs of verbal phrases (infinitives) which summarize and describe the Anointed Herald’s mission in Isa 61:1-3. The third (and final) pair occurs here in the remainder of verse 2 and the first part of verse 3 (3ab). The Herald is sent by YHWH

“to breathe deep (with) all (the one)s mourning,
to set for (the) mourners of ‚iyyôn
beauty under [i.e. in place of] ashes,
oil of joy under a (look of) mourning,
a covering of praise under a dim spirit.”

Here the message is directed at those who are in mourning (root lba). The idea of mourning can be understood on several different levels. First, it may be related to the general experience of suffering and oppression within Judean society. Second, there is the context of the Exile, with the fresh memory of the destruction of the land (and the Temple) that gives occasion for continued mourning; according to v. 4, much of the territory remains in ruins, and a mid-5th century setting, prior to Nehemiah’s rebuilding work, seems likely. Third, within this post-exilic setting, an habitual practice of fasting and lamentation (mourning) came to typify a certain kind of religious devotion among Israelites and Jews.

All of these strands were beginning to come together in the early post-exilic period, and we find evidence for this in a number of writings of this time. In addition to passages in the Trito-Isaian poems (e.g., 57:18; 58:1-12; 66:10), we may note, for example, certain established practices of mourning and fasting in Zech 7:1-7ff; 8:18-19 (cf. also Mal 3:14; Blenkinsopp, p. 225). There is an underlying sense that the mourning relates not only to past tragedy, but also in hope of the glorious future that has yet to be realized for God’s people.

The verb <j^n` fundamentally means “breathe deep, sigh”, often in the sense of finding relief. The message is thus similar to that which opens the Deutero-Isaian poems (in 40:1ff), where the same verb is used. The Prophet tells the people to “breathe deep”, for they are about to find relief from their suffering and misfortune. It was not enough for the people of Judah to be allowed to return to their land; the current conditions of poverty and oppression must be eliminated, so that a New Age may truly dawn for Judah and Jerusalem.

Here the force of the infinitive <j@n~l= may be understood either as “to cause [them] to breathe deep” or “to breathe deep [with them]”. I tend to prefer the latter, emphasizing the relationship of the Herald to the people; it is comparable to his healing work among them in “binding/wrapping” the ‘wounds’ of their broken hearts.

The first line is comprehensive (“all the mourners”), while the second focuses on the central place (and symbolic location) of the city of Jerusalem. The term ‚iyyôn (Zion) can refer to the city as a whole, but more properly to the ancient hilltop site that served as the location for the Temple complex. Verse 4 suggests that much of Jerusalem is still in ruins, and the reality of the early post-exilic period remains far removed from the promise of Jerusalem’s future glory in the New Age of Israel’s restoration (cf. verses 5-7, 10-11, and the great poems in chapters 60 and 62).

There are many Judeans (and Jews in the subsequent centuries) who mourn for what has been lost, in the hope of what is yet to come. As time passed, the eschatological orientation of this hope became increasingly more prominent, and the Deutero- and Trito-Isaian poems exercised a tremendous influence on Jewish eschatology and Messianic thought in the first centuries B.C./A.D. The idea of “comfort”, expressed here (and in 40:1ff, etc), was understood in terms of the end-time appearance of God’s Anointed (Messiah), as the expressions in Luke 2:25 and 38, for example, make clear.

The second infinitive is <wcl* (“to set/put”), indicating that the Herald is to establish something for the “mourners of Zion”. There is evidence of (possible) textual corruption here, since the same basic action is repeated with an additional infinitive (<h#l* tt@l*, “to give to them”). I have tentatively followed Blenkinsopp (p. 219) and other scholars who omit this phrase; however, it may well be original.

In any case, what the Herald is to “set/put” (or “give”) for the mourners follows in verse 3, in a sequence of prepositional phrases. Each phrase involves the preposition tj^T^, literally “under, beneath”, but often used in the more abstract sense of “in place of” or “in exchange for”. Let us briefly consider each of these three exchanges:

    1. Instead of ashes (rp#a@) scattered on the head (as a gesture of mourning), there will be something beautiful (ra@P=)—probably to be understood as a grand ornamental head-covering (turban, etc).
    2. Instead of the overall look and appearance of a mourner (lb#a@), dark and disheveled, their faces and bodies will be treated with fine oil, and will shine bright and cheerful.
    3. Instead of an appearance that reflects the dimness/darkness of their spirit (within), they will be given a new garment (covering/wrapping) that reflects a new spirit—one that will utter a shout of praise (hL*h!T=) rather than a cry of mourning.

The detail of this imagery may be a bit obscure (to us), but the overall idea is clear enough. The people will be transformed, from mourners into joyful worshipers. The only way such a transformation can take place is if conditions change. At the same time, the very promise of this coming change (embodied in the Herald’s message) may be sufficient to completely alter the outlook of God’s people.

References above marked “Blenkinsopp” are to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 56-66, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 19B (2003).