April 29: Numbers 11:10-30

Numbers 11:10-30

There is an interesting historical tradition recorded in the narrative of Numbers 11. Like most such narratives, there are simplifications involved in the telling of the story, and that can make it difficult, at times, for us to gain a clear picture of the underlying historical situation.

The basic tradition begins in verse 10 (see vv. 1-9 for the narrative context), as Moses is feeling overwhelmed at the responsibility for leading the people on their difficult journey across the desolate stretches of the Sinai peninsula. Within the Tent where Moses speaks with YHWH, he complains of this to God (vv. 11-15). In response, YHWH decides to relieve Moses of some of this burden, by having it be shared with seventy elders specially appointed for the role (on the tradition of seventy elders, cf. Exod 24:1ff, and cp. Gen 46:27; Exod 1:5 etc). Though it is not stated as such here, this relates to the idea of Moses as the ayb!n`, the spokesperson and intermediary between YHWH and Israel (cf. Exod 19:18-21, etc). In a real sense, prophecy in Israel begins with Moses, at least in terms of the Scriptural narrative, and he stands in many ways as the ultimate prophet-figure.

This is not to say that there was no prophecy and no prophets prior to Moses, since various forms of prophecy were practiced in the ancient Near East centuries before. Some of our best, and most relevant, information in this regard comes from the site of Mari, where at least two kinds of prophets were known (cf. Milgrom/JPS, pp. 380-4):

    1. ¹pilum, those functioning in an official capacity, it would seem, such as at the royal court
    2. mu——ûm, those operating at a more popular level, their gifted status marked especially by ecstatic experience

The use of the word “prophet” to translate Hebrew ayb!n` is actually rather misleading, since it tends to imply the limited function of telling/seeing the future. While the role of the ayb!n` may involve a measure of clairvoyance and visionary experience (as a “seer”, Heb. ha#r) / hz#j)), it is better defined as that of a spokesperson—i.e. one who speaks and acts on God’s behalf. The noun ayb!n` is quite rare in the Pentateuch, occurring just four times in Genesis–Numbers; this, along with the three passages in Deuteronomy where it is used (13:2-6; 18:15-22; 34:10), confirms the point above that the position of ayb!n` in Israel properly begins with Moses. Though in Exod 7:1 the word is used of Aaron (as Moses‘ spokesperson), the implication is that Moses himself is the one representing YHWH (Num 12:6ff; the use of the word in Gen 20:7 may be influenced by the Exodus/Moses traditions).

This brings us back to the tradition in Numbers 11, and YHWH’s response to Moses’ complaint in verses 16-17ff. Regarding the 70 elders chosen to share in Moses’ role (as spokesperson/ayb!n`), God says this about them:

“…and I will lay aside (some) from the spirit [j^Wr] that (is) upon you, and I will set (it) upon them, and they will carry with you (the) burden of the people, and you will not carry (it) by yourself alone.” (v. 17)

Though it is never so stated elsewhere in the Pentateuch, here it is clearly implied that Moses prophetic ability—that is, his role as spokesperson (ayb!n`) for God—is the result of a special gifting from the spirit (j^Wr) of God (on this, cf. the previous note). Now YHWH says that he will “lay aside” (vb lx^a*) something from this same spirit, and put it upon the 70 elders, just as it is upon Moses. In later terminology, this could be referred to more abstractly as “the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10). According to the ancient way of thinking, all varieties of ‘prophetic’ experience were the product of divine inspiration—that is, the possession of (or by) a deity or spirit. For Christians, of course, true prophecy comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21; Eph 3:5; 1 John 4:1-5, etc), and a comparable idea is expressed numerous times throughout the Old Testament (this will be discussed in upcoming notes).

The chosen elders are to gather around the Tent of Meeting, and, while Moses is inside, this transfer of the ayb!n`-spirit will take place. This is narrated in verses 24-25, precisely as declared earlier by YHWH:

“And YHWH came down in a cloud and spoke to him [i.e. Moses], and He laid aside (some) from the spirit [j^Wr] that (is) upon him, and gave (it) upon the seventy elder men; and, it came to be, as the spirit rested upon them, they also (themselves) acted as ayb!n` [WaB=n~t=y!]…” (v. 25)

While the specific noun ayb!n` is not used here (cf. below), the related verb ab*n`, a denominative from ayb!n`, does occur. The basic meaning is “act/speak as a ayb!n`” —that is, to fulfill the role as an inspired spokesperson for God. This is the same role Moses has, but now it is being shared by these 70 elders. The extent of their prophetic role is a matter of some dispute, given the ambiguity of the last two words of the verse: Wpsy aýw+. The Hebrew text wpsy could be parsed as Wps*y` (“they continued [to do]”, i.e. did repeatedly, vb [s^y`), or as Wps%y` (“they ceased [doing]”, vb [Ws). According to the first reading, the negation (with the particle ) would be “and they did not continue” (i.e. in this role as ayb!n`)—that is, it was only temporary, under special circumstances. The second option would be “and they did not cease” (in their role as ayb!n`). The latter is much to be preferred syntactically (but compare e.g. Gen 38:26), and in the context of the narrative; it is also supported by the Targums (Onkelos, Jonathan), while the former reading has the support of the LXX and other Rabbinic authorities. It remains an open question of interpretation. Cf. Milgrom/JPS, pp. 89, 308.

A fascinating related tradition follows in verses 26-30. Two of the appointed elders—named Eldad and Medad—apparently were not gathered around the Tent with the others, and yet the prophetic spirit still came upon them. They, too, acted as ayb!n` —the same reflexive Hithpael form of the verb ab*n` used in v. 25 (cf. above). Such use of this verb seems to have the technical meaning of exhibiting a certain form of inspired prophetic experience. Based on similar occurrences elsewhere in the Old Testament (to be discussed in the upcoming notes), it would imply an ecstatic experience, manifested at times in strange or aberrant behavior. If so, it would have been striking indeed for these two men to go about through the camp, speaking and acting under such ecstatic inspiration. It is understandable why Moses’ young attendant Joshua might be troubled by reports of their activity (v. 27), calling out as he does to his master, “My lord Moshe, restrain them!” (v. 28). Moses’ answer in verse 29 is not what we might have expected, given the importance (expressed elsewhere) of regulating and testing apparent prophetic experience; here is his reply to Joshua:

“Are you red (with concern) for me? And (yet) who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) <ya!yb!n+, that YHWH would give His spirit [j^Wr] upon them!”

One is reminded of Jesus’ response to his disciples’ complaint about people, outside his immediate circle, performing miracles in his name (Mark 9:38-41 par). Moses’ words also seem to foreshadow the use of Joel 2:28-32 in Peter’s famous Pentecost speech, with the promise that the Spirit of God would come upon all His people, and that they (i.e. all believers) would act as prophets. The initial question posed to Joshua suggests that the younger man’s concern may have been for any possible threat to Moses’ leadership that might arise out of such prophetic activity in the camp. Since Moses was aware that the inspiration of the 70 elders was the direct result of YHWH’s action, he had no immediate cause for concern. This also confirms Moses’ position as supreme ayb!n`, a point made even more explicit in several other passages which would greatly influence the subsequent Old Testament and Jewish tradition.

In the next few notes, we will continue to explore this important emphasis on the relationship of the Spirit to prophecy.

References above marked “Milgrom/JPS” are to The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers rbdmb, commentary by Jacob Milgrom (Jewish Publication Society: 1990).

April 28: Genesis 41:38

Genesis 41:38, etc

In the previous note, we saw how the spirit/breath (j^Wr) of God, more than simply giving life to human beings, is also the source for the wisdom and understanding within the person. This wisdom is available to all, as part of the way humankind was created (by God), though many people do not hear or listen to its voice. At the same time, certain people are uniquely or specially gifted with certain kinds of wisdom and ability. In the ancient world, such gifted individuals were seen as possessing a special divine presence or “spirit” (our term genius reflects its origins in the ancient concept of an indwelling deity). Israelite and Old Testament tradition followed this ancient way of thinking, ascribing the special talent and insight of certain individuals to the spirit of God (El-Yahweh).

There are a number of such references in the Old Testament Scriptures, beginning with the Pentateuch. Regardless of when the final form of the books were actually composed, there is no reason to doubt that these references reflect genuine historical tradition and the most ancient way of thinking (i.e. going back to the time of the Patriarchs).

Genesis 41:38

In response to Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, and the prospect of an impending famine-crisis, the decision was made to appoint a special overseer to manage the crisis (vv. 33ff). It was to be a man discerning (/obn`, i.e. possessing discernment) and wise (<k*j*). The Pharaoh realized that there was no one better qualified than Joseph, as he declares in verse 38:

“Can there be found (anyone) like this man [i.e. Joseph], wh(o has the) spirit [j^Wr] of (the) Mightiest [<yh!ýa$] in him?”

Joseph’s ability to know the meaning of Pharaoh’s dream was proof of his wisdom/discernment (v. 39). The main point here, however, is that such wisdom is an indication of God’s spirit at work in Joseph, much as Elihu declared that the wisdom/understanding available to human beings has its source in the spirit/breath of God (Job 32:8, cf. the previous note).

I have translated <yh!ýa$ above in accordance with the basic usage in Scripture. However, it is worth pointing out here that it is a plural form, which, as a substantive, would literally mean something like “mighty (one)s”, more or less equivalent to the simpler plural <yl!a@. There has always been some difficulty explaining the use of this plural in a monotheistic setting, to refer to the one God (El-Yahweh). In my view, the best explanation is that the word serves as an intensive plural—i.e., “mightiest (one)”—and so I typically translate in these notes and articles (as opposed to blandly rendering it as “God”). Yet, if we accept the authenticity of tradition recorded here, it is possible that the Egyptian Pharaoh would have had a true plural in mind (i.e. Mighty Ones, “gods”). The parallel in Dan 5:14, where Belshazzar makes a similar statement regarding Daniel (in Aramaic), would tend to confirm this: “I have heard about you that (the) spirit [j^Wr] of the Mighty Ones [/yh!l*a$, i.e. “gods”] (is) in you”.

For more on the meaning and significance of the related titles la@ (‘El) and <yh!ýa$ (‘Elohim), cf. my earlier articles indicated by the links here.

Exodus 31:3; 35:31

Such special wisdom and knowledge can be demonstrated in other ways, and these no less reflect the working of God’s j^Wr. It can apply to persons with considerable gifts and talents in areas of art and science, for example. We see this expressed in the case of Bezalel, a craftsman and artisan, who was appointed (along with at least one other man) to design the Tent-shrine (Tabernacle) and its furnishings (Exodus 31:1ff). The divine source of this ability is clearly stated in verse 3:

“And I have filled him (with the) spirit [j^Wr] of (the) Mightiest—with wisdom, and with discernment, and with knowledge, and with all (the) work [hK*al*m=] (he is to do)”

The common word hK*al*m= is a bit difficult to translate in English. It means something like “business”, i.e. the work a person is expected to do. Sometimes the word connotes the skill or ability required to perform such duties. The first three terms—wisdom, discernment, knowledge—show one side of this ability, while hK*al*m= signifies the working out of it in practice, in the actual business of his craft. Interestingly, it is YHWH who is speaking, and yet the expression “spirit of the Mightiest [i.e. of God]” is still used (rather that “my Spirit”), indicating how fundamental it was to the idea involved.

This same declaration regarding Bezalel is repeated, this time by Moses, in 35:31:

“And He [i.e. YHWH] (has) filled him (with the) spirit [j^Wr] of the Mightiest…”

In using the word inspiration, we tend to think strictly in terms of the composition of the Scriptures, or in the related sense of inspired prophecy (within the context of Scripture). However, these passages we have examined thus far demonstrate that the concept of divine inspiration cannot—and should not—be limited in this way. In the next daily note, we will turn to the idea of the “prophet” —that is, the ayb!n`, one who serves a position of leadership, a spokesperson for God in relation to His people.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 18 – Part 3

Psalm 18:21-31

Verses 21-31 [20-30], function as a distinct unit within the Psalm. Many commentators would view it as the closing portion of the first half—or the first of the two original poems that make up Ps 18 / 2 Sam 22—and this would seem to be correct (cf. below). It is also possible to view these verses as intermediary, forming a bridge between the poem of deliverance (discussed in Parts 1 and 2) and what follows in verses 32-46, as a hymn giving thanks for (military) victory. The worthiness of the Psalmist is emphasized in vv. 21-31, from two thematic standpoints: (1) a judicial setting, stressing action that is in accord with justice, and (2) the idea of covenant loyalty, i.e. between a vassal and his sovereign. Both of these aspects are frequent in the Psalms, and reflect, to varying degrees, their royal theological (and ritual) background. The royal background is especially strong in the discernibly older poems, including those (such as Psalm 18) which may genuinely go back to the time of David.

Verses 21-25

It is possible again to divide verses 21-31 [20-30] into two parts, with vv. 21-25 [20-24] as they stand forming an inclusio, v. 25 essentially repeating the declaration in v. 21. The middle three couplets (vv. 22-24) most clearly evoke the judicial setting, as the Psalmist demonstrates his claim from verse 21/25.

Verses 21 [20]

“YHWH (has) dealt with me according to my justice,
according to (the) cleanness of my hands he returned (it) to me.”

In the context of the preceding verses, the Psalmist here states the reason why YHWH has heard his cry for help and acted to rescue him. It was because of “my justice” (yq!d=x!), that is, because the Psalmist has acted in a just and upright manner. The parallel in line 2 is the “cleanness [rb)] of my hands”. The basic idea of the root rrb seems to that of a substance (such as metal) that is clean and shining, free from impurities, etc. Clearly it is used here in an ethical sense—i.e., to be free from sin and guilt, with the idiom of “clean hands” being natural (drawn from the idea of ritual purity), and attested variously in the Scriptures, especially within the Wisdom traditions (e.g., Psalm 24:4; 73:13; Job 17:9; 22:30, etc).

Metrically, yq!d=x!K= is to be preferred over yt!q*d=x!K= in 2 Sam 22, which has the more abstract noun hq*d*x= instead of qd#x#. The rhythm of the 3+3 couplet is better preserved here in Ps 18.

Verses 22-24 [21-23]

“For I have guarded the ways of YHWH,
and have not done wrong (against) my Mighty [One];
(in) that all His judgments are th(ere) in front of me,
and His inscribed (decree)s I did not turn (away) from me;
I have been complete(ly straight) with Him,
and guarded myself from (any) crookedness (with) Him.”

In this trio of 3+3 couplets, the Psalmist, as in a judicial setting before YHWH, demonstrates his claim to justice in v. 21. It involves three instances of synonymous parallelism—one in each couplet—by which his loyalty and faithfulness to YHWH is affirmed. Here, we are dealing more properly with the idea of covenant loyalty, and this is expressed three ways, corresponding to the three couplets.

The first couplet generally refers to the “ways of YHWH”, a kind of blanket reference to God as a sovereign exercising authority over a vast domain (the Er#d# can refer fundamentally to a territory). The Psalmist, as a subordinate (vassal), declares his faithfulness with the dual-aspect motif of “guarding” (vb rm^v*, repeated in v. 24b) the covenant bond, along with avoiding the opposite (i.e. doing wrong against his sovereign). The syntax of the second line is a bit uncertain, as the MT reads yh*ýa$m@ yT!u=v^r* aýw+ (“and I have not done wrong from my Mighty [One]”). However, the use of the preposition /m! (“from”) after the verb uv^r* is somewhat awkward and unexpected. Cross and Freedman (p. 27) propose that the text be emended to an original þm ytuvp, reading the verb uv^P* instead of the more general uv^r*. This is an attractive solution, as the verb uv^P*, which can distinctly connote the breaking of a covenant relationship, even to the point of a rebellion/revolt, can also be used with the preposition /m! (cf. 2 Kings 8:20, 22), i.e., “break (away) from”, “rebel from (the authority of)”.

In the second couplet, the focus is on the royal decisions and decrees of YHWH. The noun fP*v=m! (“judgment”), preserves the overall judicial context of the passage, but also refers specifically here to the idea of the sovereign as ultimate lawgiver and adjudicator. The noun hQ*j%, provides the parallel, emphasizing the written (authoritative) decrees of the sovereign. For the people of Israel generally, this refers to the decrees and regulations inscribed in the Torah, the written document(s) that preserve the terms of the binding agreement (covenant) with YHWH. The ruler (and the ruling family/dynasty) has his own related binding agreement, as a vassal king under YHWH, the ultimate sovereign. Here the Psalmist’s conduct has to do with not turning (i.e. setting) aside (vb rWs) the very terms of the covenant that are right there in front (dgn) of him; the implication in the first line is that he has kept God’s decrees in front of him, an indication of his faithfulness. The expression “from me” (yn]M#m!) is parallel to “from my Mighty One [i.e. God]” in the first couplet, and would seem to confirm that the prefixed –m there is indeed the preposition (and correct, contra Dahood, p. 111).

The 3+3 meter in the third couplet is less secure, in the text as it stands (the second line has two beats). The longer form of the initial verb in 2 Sam is more likely to be original (with or without the w-conjunction, cf. Cross and Freedman, p. 28). There is also a difference in the preposition in the first line: ol (“to[ward] him” 2 Sam) vs. oMu! (“with him” Psa). There is presumably little difference in meaning, since both would refer to the covenant bond between the Psalmist and YHWH, but the reading in Ps 18 (oMu!) should perhaps be preferred on metrical grounds. While it is possible that a word has dropped out of the second line, I tentatively follow Dahood (p. 112) in reading yn]ou&m@ as preserving an archaic 3rd person singular (object) suffix, “perversion/crookedness [i.e. acting crookedly] (with) Him”. This establishes the parallel with the first line—the Psalmist’s complete (<mt) loyalty and integrity means that he never bends or twists, so as to act crookedly toward his Sovereign.

Verse 25 [24]

“And (so) YHWH has returned to me according to my justice,
according to the cleanness of my hands in front of His eyes.”

This effectively restates the declaration in v. 21, having been proven and affirmed by the evidence presented in vv. 22-24. The Psalmist’s covenant loyalty has been confirmed before God in this judicial setting. The verb in this regard, in both vv. 21 and 25, is bWv (“[re]turn”)—since the Psalmist has proven himself just, YHWH returns justice to him, based on the covenant bond, acting to rescue and protect him in his time of need.

Verses 26-31

The second portion functions as a hymn of praise to YHWH, for His faithfulness and justice. Even the Psalmist declared it on his own behalf in vv. 21-25, now he affirms the same of His Sovereign. It is thus a fitting conclusion to the first half of the Psalm, and prepares the way for the hymn of victory that follows in vv. 32-46.

Verses 26-27 [25-26]

“With (the) loyal, you (yourself) are loyal,
with (the) complete, you (yourself) are complete;
with (the) pure, you (yourself) are pure,
but with (the) crooked, you (yourself) are twisted!”

These two couplets form a gnomic (proverbial) pair, which affirms the covenant faithfulness of YHWH, in terms of the extent to which the other party (i.e. the vassal) has been faithful. This reflects a perfect kind of justice, since God’s response mirrors that of His human vassal (the lex talionis principle). The first three statements are synonymous, with the goodness (loyalty, ds#j#) of the faithful servant expressed by two other characteristics previously mentioned in vv. 21-25 (cf. above)—complete integrity (<mt) and purity (rb), both of intention and conduct. The fourth line indicates the opposite, the other possibility—i.e., disloyalty and lack of integrity—and the initial w-conjunction should be read in an adversative sense (“but…”). The idea of crookedness, of bending away from covenant loyalty, was previously expressed by the noun /ou*, but here by the adjective vQ@u!, indicating something that has been distorted. Here, too, YHWH responds in kind; if the person is crooked, distorting the covenant bond, then He also will be twisted toward him. The verb used is lt^P*, which can connote the twisting that occurs as one grapples/wrestles with another.

Verse 28 [27]

“For you, you save (the) people bent down,
but (the) eyes raised high you bring (down) low!”

This couplet continues the motifs from v. 27, including the image of bending, here expressed in terms of the result of the crookedness/perversion of the disloyal (wicked), who oppress the populace. Built into this is the same contrast from v. 27—God is faithful to the righteous, but opposes the wicked. In each instance, there is a reversal of fortune—the oppressed are raised (saved/rescued), while those with worldly ambition (“eyes raised high”) are humbled. The reading of this verse in Ps 18 more accurately reflects the original (cf. the discussion in Cross and Freedman, p. 28).

Verses 29-30 [28-29]

“For you are my (shining) light, O YHWH,
my Mighty [One] makes bright my darkness;
for with you I run strong of limb,
and with my Mighty [One] I (can) leap a wall.”

These two 3+3 couplets, like that of v. 28 [27], begin with the particle -yK!. The implication seems to be that the promise of salvation for the faithful is here being applied personally by the Psalmist. I.e., what you do for those loyal to you, YHWH, when they are oppressed, may you do (now) for me. This theme of deliverance, so central to the earlier sections of the Psalm (cf. Parts 1 and 2), is here expressed through two different motifs: (1) light to see by, and (2) strength of limb (for battle, etc). The first motif is more general, common to many different religious and wisdom traditions. The reading of Ps 18 in this line appears to be conflate, with the variant readings(?) rn@ and ra) combined (2 Sam has only rn). Both words essentially mean “light”, though rn@ more properly indicates a shining/burning light (or “lamp”). Otherwise, the reading of Ps 18 is to be preferred over 2 Sam.

The motif in the second couplet involves physical strength, which foreshadows the military imagery in vv. 32-46 (to be discussed in the next study). Somewhat difficult is the exact meaning of the word dwdg; I tentatively follow Dahood (p. 114) in relating it to the root dyG, generally denoting strong limbs (i.e. muscles, sinews). Elsewhere, the noun dWdG+, presumably derived from ddg (“cut [through]”), seems to refer to an attacking military force. That may also be the sense here; the parallelism could be: “I rush through an army // I leap over a wall”.

Verse 31 [30]

“The Mighty (One)—His way is complete,
the word of YHWH is (as) pure (metal),
He is protection for the (one)s taking shelter in Him.”

The final verse is a 3+3+3 tricolon, the first line of which echoes early poetic language such as in Deut 32:4, while the latter two lines seem to reflect (later) Wisdom tradition (being very close in wording to Prov 30:5). As I have already mentioned several times in these studies, many Psalms, in their closing portions, appear to have been influenced by Wisdom traditions. This was a natural by-product of the adaptation and use of earlier poems for a wider audience, giving to the ritual and royal-theological setting a wisdom application for the people as a whole. A possible explanation for the tricolon form of v. 31 is that an early couplet was modified in light of Prov 30:5 (or a similar Wisdom tradition), the second line being ‘replaced’ by an additional wisdom-couplet which would close the poem (cf. Cross and Freedman, p. 29). If so, it would confirm that verse 31 marks the end of the first of two poems that eventually came to make up the Psalm, and may have circulated independently for a time, before being joined with the second poem (vv. 32ff).

References marked “Dahood” above are to Mitchell Dahood, S. J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).
“Cross and Freedman” refers to the study by F. M. Cross and D. N. Freedman Cross and Freedman, “A Royal Song of Thanksgiving: II Samuel 22 = Psalm 18”, originally published in the Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 72/1 March 1953, pp. 15-34.





April 23: John 17:26

John 17:26

“…and I made known to them your name, and will make (it) known, (so) that the love by which you loved me would be in them, and I in them.”

In the previous note (on v. 25), we discussed the important Johannine theme of Jesus as the Son who makes the Father known to believers. This idea of knowledge (vb ginw/skw) is central to the Gospel—we come to know the Father through the Son. With the Son’s departure (return) back to the Father, this process of revelation—of making known (vb gnwri/zw) the Father—occurs through the presence of the Holy Spirit, operating in Jesus’ place. It is the related verb gnwri/zw (“make known”) that is used here, and the Father is made known by way of His name (o&noma). Both of these are key points of emphasis in the Gospel, and especially here in the Prayer-Discourse.

Jesus speaks in the name of His Father (5:43)—that is, as His chosen representative, and more, as His beloved Son. Similarly, he works in that name (10:25), referring to the entirety of his mission (e)ntolh/) on earth—the signs and miracles, etc—culminating in his sacrificial death. In so doing, he makes the Father’s name known to his disciples. In verse 6 of the Prayer-Discourse, this is expressed through the verb fanero/w—literally, “make (to) shine (forth)”. This blends together the motifs of knowing (ginw/skw), and seeing (ei&dw, and other verbs), expressing knowledge (and revelation) in visual terms. The verb fanero/w occurs 8 other times in the Gospel (1:31; 2:11; 3:21; 7:4; 9:3; 21:1 [twice], 14), and 9 more in 1 John (1:2 [twice]; 2:19, 28; 3:2 [twice], 5, 8; 4:9). Here is how Jesus’ statement reads in 17:6a:

“I made your name shine forth to the men that you gave to me out of the world.”

The emphasis on the name of the Father continues in vv. 11-12:

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are (still) in the world, and I come toward you. Father (most) holy, may you keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, (so) that they would be one, just as we (are). When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, and I guarded (them), and not one out of them went to ruin, if not [i.e. except] the ‘son of ruin’, (so) that the Writing might be fulfilled.”

Two points are clear: (1) the Father has given His name to Jesus (the Son), and (2) believers are protected and kept united in this name. As previously noted, in the ancient world, a person’s name was thought to embody and represent the essential nature and character of the person, often in a quasi-magical manner (cf. my earlier notes and articles on this point in the series “You shall call his name…”). Thus, in giving and making known the Father’s name, the Son is revealing the Father Himself (14:6-11, etc). Ultimately this is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit, by which we are united with Father and Son, and in the bond of love that the two share.

Indeed, here in 17:26, the name of the Father and the divine love are closely connected, and both are fulfilled through the presence of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that Jesus can continue to make known the Father (His name)—note the use of the future tense, “and will make (it) known [gnwri/sw]”. Moreover, it is only through the uniting bond of the Spirit that both God’s love, and the presence of His Son (Jesus), can be in us. God is Spirit, and union with Him can only occur in the Spirit (4:24). The abiding presence of this love—the Father’s love, given to us, as His children, through (and as part of) His love for His own Son—has been emphasized at a number of points throughout the Last Discourse, and again here in verse 23 (cf. the prior note). The same structural idiom is used: the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives the same to those who trust in him.

This indeed makes for a powerful and fitting end to the Last Discourse, and to the Johannine Discourses as a whole. All of the key themes and theological points are distilled, in these few verses, into a poetic description of our union with God. It follows the chain of relationship—Father-Son-Believers—but is ultimately resolved into a triadic unity, which I like to represent (however inadequately) through the following simple diagram:

April 22: John 17:25

John 17:25

“Father (most) just, indeed the world did not know you, but I (have) known you—and these (have) known that you se(n)t me forth”

After closing verse 24 with a reference to the creation (i.e. laying down the foundation) of the world (ko/smo$), the statement in v. 25 picks up again with the use of the word ko/smo$. This may be seen as an example of “catchword-bonding” —the joining of two sayings or traditions based on a common word or theme—a key building block in the development of the early lines of the Gospel Tradition. In such a developed Discourse as chap. 17 (in the wider context of the Last Discourse, 13:31-16:33), however, it is more likely that this simply reflects a creative recapitulation of the themes expressed elsewhere in these chapters.

As previously noted, the term ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”) is a regular part of the Johannine vocabulary, and occurs 18 times in the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse alone. It is used two different ways: (1) for the inhabited world, in a geographic and social sense, and (2) for the current world-order, as it is dominated by sin and darkness and is opposed to God. The word is used in the first (neutral) sense in v. 24, and in the latter (negative) sense here in v. 25; there is a similar alternating play on these two aspects of meaning throughout chap. 17.

The other key term here is the verb ginw/skw, with the theme of knowledge—specifically, that of knowing God the Father through the person of Jesus the Son. This is virtually synonymous in the Gospel with the theme of seeing (sight, vision), expressed through the use of several different verbs. Indeed, the verb ei&dw (“see”) is essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw (“know”), and this corresponds with the theological idiom of the Gospel—to “see” God is the same as to “know” Him, and occurs through seeing/knowing Jesus as the Son sent by the Father. Here this knowledge of God is represented by three different subjects:

    • the world (o( ko/smo$)—i.e., those who belong to the world, dominated by the evil in it
    • Jesus himself, the Son (“I”, e)gw/)
    • “these” (ou!toi)—that is, Jesus’ disciples and believers in Christ—those (elect) who belong to God, and not to the world.

This triad is really a duality—a clear and stark contrast between believers who know God, and all others in the “world” who do not. That their knowledge of God the Father is based on a knowledge of Jesus the Son, is clear from the specific wording used here: “…that you se(n)t me forth”. The verb a)poste/llw literally means “set (away) from”, often in the positive (or neutral) sense of setting someone out, as a messenger or representative. The noun a)po/stolo$ (transliterated in English as “apostle”), of course, derives from this root, referring to someone who is “se(n)t out” on a mission. The verb is thus largely synonymous with pe/mpw (“send”), and, indeed, both are used interchangeably in the Gospel of John. The verb a)poste/llw, however, more properly connotes the idea of the Son (Jesus) being sent from the Father; it occurs 7 times in the Prayer-Discourse, beginning with the key theological declaration in verse 3:

“And this is the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]—that they would know [ginw/skwsin] you the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth [a)pe/steila$], Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

Eternal life is defined in terms of knowledge (of God and Christ), and specifically entails trust in Jesus as the Son sent by the Father. This confirms the identity of “these” as believers in Christ—those trusting in him (v. 20). The “world” is unable to trust in Jesus; only the elect (believers), who belong to God, can and will do so. On the special use of ko/smo$ in vv. 21-23, cf. my earlier note.

Some would regard the self-declaration “but I (have) known you” as parenthetical; however, I feel that it more properly is intended to center the entire construct—the dualistic contrast—clearly in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Son. It is the Son who truly knows the Father, having been ‘born’ from Him, and sharing/inheriting all that the Father gives to him. Our knowledge of the Father, as believers, is based upon Jesus’ own knowledge of Him—it is this knowledge which he reveals to us. With his departure back to the Father, the imparting of this knowledge takes place primarily through the presence and work of the Spirit (14:26; 15:26; 16:13ff). It is this that the author of 1 John has in mind when he speaks of believers as ones taught by God, requiring no human teacher (2:27; cp. 2 Jn 9; Jn 7:16-17; 1 Thes 4:9; 1 Cor 2:13). The Spirit is identified as the very Truth of God (14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6; cf. also Jn 4:23-24).

A word should be said about the use of the adjective di/kaio$ (“just, right[eous]”) at the beginning of v. 25. The idea of justice (or “justness”) and righteousness as attributes of God is common to nearly all religious traditions, and certainly is prominent among Jews and Christians in both Old and New Testaments. The dikaio- word-group is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, occurring a bit more in the Letters (1 John) than the Gospel. In 5:30 and 7:24, the other two occurrences of the adjective in the Gospel, it is used in the customary ethical sense of exercising sound or “right” judgment (kri/si$). The related noun dikaiosu/nh (“justness, justice” or “right[eous]ness”) occurs only at 16:8, 10, in reference to the work of the Spirit as a witness to the justice/justness of God. In 1 John 2:1, 29, the adjective is used specifically as an attribute of Jesus, essentially as a divine attribute shared with the Father (1:9). This differs somewhat from the earliest Christian use of the term as a reference to Jesus’ innocence—that is to say, he was put to death unjustly (e.g., Lk 23:47; Acts 3:14; 7:52).

When believers act justly toward one another (through the bond of love), it demonstrates that they/we are true believers, united with the Father and Son, and reflecting the (divine) justness/righteousness that the two share—1 Jn 3:7, 10, 12. The contrast between believers and the world here indicates that the current world-order (ko/smo$), as opposite to God, is fundamentally unjust, characterized by wickedness and injustice. This is an important part of the truth that the Spirit will make known (16:8-11)—i.e., regarding sin (a(marti/a), justice (dikaiosu/nh), and judgment (kri/si$). The Spirit will demonstrate the truth of this to the world—and this indicates that it is primarily the work of God’s Judgment, already realized in the present, prior to its fulfillment at the end-time. The witness regarding sin and judgment (vv. 9, 11) are relatively straightforward, but that regarding justice (v. 10) is a bit more difficult to understand:

“…and about justice, (in) that I go back toward the Father and you no longer look at me”

How is it that Jesus’ departure (return) back to the Father manifests justice? From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, this refers to a confirmation of Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father, and to the honor (do/ca) that comes to him following his sacrificial death (an act of injustice by the world). True justice is not based on the world’s standards, however noble they may seem, but on the nature and character of God Himself (“Father [most] just…”). The Son makes known this nature/character of the Father, and, in uniting with the Son (through the Spirit), as believers we come to share in it. The world, however, cannot accept this truth, and is so is judged (by God) accordingly. The relationship between believers and the world is a key theme of the Prayer-Discourse, running through the entire chapter, to its climax here.

April 21: John 17:24 (continued)

John 17:24, continued

o%ti h)ga/phsa$ me pro\ katabolh=$ ko/smou
“(in) that [i.e. because] you loved me before the casting-down [i.e. foundation] of the world”

This is the last of the three i%na/o%ti-clauses in verse 24. Following the first two (i%na) clauses (discussed in the two previous notes), this o%ti clause builds upon the prior clause—especially the phrase “my honor/splendor [do/ca] that you have given to me”. Both conjunctive particles (i%na and o%ti) can be translated generally as “that”, but o%ti often indicates specifically the reason that something is— “(in) that…”, i.e. “for, because”. In particular, this clause states the reason for God the Father having given do/ca (honor/splendor) to Jesus the Son. The verb de/dwka$ (“you have given”) is a perfect form, while h)ga/phsa$ (“you loved”) is an aorist. In context, this difference is perhaps best understood as indicating the priority of the act of love—i.e., the love (past action) precedes the gift (action/condition continuing into the present). In 3:35, a similar point is made, using the present tense of a)gapa/w (indicating the love as it is generally, and regularly, demonstrated):

“The Father loves [a)gapa=|] the Son, and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”

This “all” certainly includes the do/ca of the Father. As discussed in the previous note, the word do/ca, which properly means something like “esteem, honor”, as applied to God, refers essentially to the nature and character of His person that makes him worthy of our honor/esteem. As the Son, Jesus receives this same do/ca from the Father, possessing it as his own (1:14; 17:5), just as a child carries within him/her, in various ways, the nature and character of the parent. The Son then reveals this do/ca to his disciples (believers) in the world (2:11; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4, 40). This is his mission on earth,  the duty (e)ntolh/) given to him by the Father, and the reason why he was sent into the world; it was completed with his sacrificial death (and resurrection), which “gives honor” (related vb doca/zw) to Father and Son both (12:16, 23, 28; 13:31-32; 14:13; 17:1, etc).

The phrase “before the casting-down [katabolh/] of the world” refers to the creation of the universe (the current world-order, ko/smo$), utilizing the image of a craftsman or builder laying down a foundation. The same expression occurs 10 other times elsewhere in the New Testament, including twice (as here) with the preposition pro/ (“before”)—Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20. These latter passages evince a belief in what we would call the “pre-existence” of Jesus—that is to say, he existed as the divine/eternal Son of God prior to his life on earth, indeed, prior to the very creation of the world. The Gospel of John clearly presents such a Christological view as well (1:1-2, etc), though, in the Discourses of Jesus, it is nowhere stated so clearly as here in the Prayer-Discourse (also in v. 5). It merely confirms the idea, expressed throughout the Gospel, that, as the Son of God, Jesus shares the same (divine/eternal) nature and character of the Father.

However, the main point here is that believers are able to see this do/ca, and to share in it as well (as the offspring/children of God). By being with (meta/) Jesus, in union with him, we can see his do/ca—that is, to see the Father—and will be able to look upon it (vb qeore/w) even more closely when we are with him in heaven. As I noted, this same idea is expressed in 1 John 3:2-3, and Paul promises something similar in his famous declaration in 2 Cor 3:18:

“And we all, with a face having been uncovered, (look)ing against (the glass) at the splendor [do/ca] of the Lord [i.e. as looking at it in a mirror], we are (chang)ed over in (the) shape (of) th(at same) image, from splendor into splendor, even as from (the) Lord, (the) Spirit.”

The phrase “from do/ca into do/ca” is probably best understood as a transformation from what we are now as believers (in the Spirit), into what we are destined to be in the end. This latter splendor also comes from the Spirit—which is both the Spirit of God (the Father) and of Christ (they share the same Spirit, 1 Cor 6:17; 15:45, etc). This basic idea would certainly be worded differently in a Johannine context, but as a fundamental promise for believers, and as a theological statement, it is much the same.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study, by turning to the next verse (25), the second to last of the Prayer-Discourse, as Jesus circles around to another theme of the Discourses, building on the common key-word and theme of the “world” (ko/smo$).

April 20: John 17:24 (continued)

John 17:24, continued

i%na qewrw=sin th\n do/can th\n e)mh\n h^n de/dwka/$ moi
“that they would look upon my honor/splendor that you have given to me”

This is the second of the three i%na/o%ti clauses that make up verse 24. The first (i%na) clause, discussed in the previous note, states the primary wish or request that Jesus makes to the Father (“I wish that [i%na]…”). It is parallel to the i%na-clause in the first line of the two stanzas of vv. 21-23 (discussed in prior notes), in which he requests that [i%na] all believers would be one. This unity is based on the union we have with Jesus (the Son)—and this union is reflected in the initial wish-clause of v. 24:

“that [i%na] wherever I am, they also would be with me”

This raises the question of how we should understand the force of the second i%na-clause here. Is it epexegetical, further explaining and building upon the first clause? or, does it reflect the goal/purpose and result of that clause? According to the latter view, believers are to be with Jesus so that they/we can see his do/ca. I tend toward the first view, in which case the second i%na-clause builds upon (and explains) the first—i.e., that believers would be with Jesus and that they/we would behold his do/ca. The implication is that wherever Jesus is, believers will see the honor/splendor given to him by the Father, since this is based on his identity as the Son.

There can be no doubt, however, that a heavenly setting is in mind. The context (cp. 14:1-7) is Jesus’ departure (return) to the Father, to be alongside of Him just as he (the Son) was in the beginning (1:1-2ff). While believers can see him now, in the present, through the Spirit, a different sort of vision will be possible in heaven, being present with Jesus alongside the Father. An eschatological/afterlife context is certainly implied, marked, in terms of the traditional early Christian eschatology, by the end-time appearance of the exalted Jesus on earth. It is at this moment that all believers will be gathered to him, and taken up with him into heaven (Mk 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:14-17, etc), even as Jesus indicates in 14:3.

There is a powerful reference to this in 1 John 2:28-3:3, as the author presents his instruction with an eschatological framework (a common feature of ethical-religious instruction in the New Testament). The nearness (i.e. imminence) of his coming (v. 28, cf. verse 18) makes it all the more important that believers remain faithful, continuing in union with Christ (and each other). As believers, we are already the offspring of God—His children, even as Jesus is the Son—but, in the end, with the appearance of Jesus, the full nature of this identity will be revealed (cp. Rom 8:18-25). This revelation comes by way of a direct vision of God (“we will see Him just as He is”), and the vision transforms believers so that they/we will also be just as God is. Some commentators understand 1 Jn 3:2-3 as referring to the vision of Jesus, rather than of God the Father; this does not seem to be correct, though it could just as easily apply, and it certainly is what is being referenced in Jn 17:24.

The verb used here in v. 24 is qewre/w, which is sometimes translated blandly as “see”, but more properly signifies an intense or careful observation of something—i.e., “look (closely) at, look upon, behold” —sometimes with the sense of “perceive”. It is used frequently in the Gospel of John (28 out of the 58 NT occurrences), including 7 times in the Last Discourse (14:17, 19 [twice]; 16:10, 16, 17, 19). In those references, the emphasis is on the world (including the disciples) not being able to look upon Jesus—because he is going away to the Father. However, at a deeper level, this also refers to an inability to see the truth about Jesus. At the moment, in the narrative context of the Discourse, the disciples have only a limited awareness of this as well; but, following the resurrection, and with the coming of the Spirit, they will truly know and understand who Jesus is, as the Son sent by the Father. This visionary knowledge finds its completion, and fulfillment, when they are united with the Father and Son in heaven.

The key term in this regard is do/ca, typically translated “glory”, but more properly rendered as “esteem, honor”. It corresponds (loosely) to the Hebrew dobK* (“weight, worth, value”), which, when applied to God, may connote that which makes him worthy of our honor and esteem. For lack of a better term in English, this quality may be referred to as “splendor”, a shorthand honorific for the nature and character of God Himself. It is sometimes conceived of visually, through various light- and color-imagery, and so forth; however, according to the traditional Israelite theology, no human being can truly see God (visually) in this life.

A central theme of the Johannine theology (and Christology) is that Jesus, as the Son sent by God the Father, makes this do/cathe nature and character of the Father—known to his disciples (believers). This is because Jesus (as the Son) shares the same do/ca, given to him by the Father. The point is made specifically by Jesus here in v. 24, as also earlier in the Prayer-Discourse (v. 5). What is most important about this do/ca, is that it was given to the Son (Jesus) by the Father. This follows the guiding theological principle of the Johannine Gospel, that the Father gives “all things” to the Son (3:35). This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

April 19: John 17:24

John 17:24

Having discussed each line of the 5-line stanzas in vv. 21-23 last week, the daily notes this week will focus on the remaining verses (24-26) of the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17.

“Father, (for that) which you have given to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me, (and) that they would look (upon) my honor [do/ca] that you have given to me, (in) that [i.e. because] you loved me before (the) casting-down [i.e. foundation] of (the) world.” (v. 24)

The wording of Jesus’ request here follows that of vv. 21-23, in the use of the subjunctive verb of being to express his wish for believers (“they would be…” [w@sin]). In vv. 21-23, as we discussed last week, the emphasis was on unity or oneness; now, the request relates back to ideas expressed earlier in the Last Discourse, regarding the identity of Jesus (as Son of the Father) and the relationship of believers to him.

The neuter relative pronoun o% (“that which”) is a bit awkward, combined with the plural pronoun and syntax (“they…”) in the remainder of the verse. Many manuscripts and versions naturally read the easier masculine plural relative pronoun ou%$, but this is certainly a ‘correction’ for the neuter form. The neuter pronoun must be understood as relating back to the neuter numeral e%n (“one”) in verses 21ff—i.e., for the collective sense of all believers, in union. It also reflects the earlier wording in verse 2 (“all that [o%] you have given to him…”). This refers generally to “all things” (cf. 3:35 etc), but more specifically to all believers (the elect).

One of the main themes of the Last Discourse, restated here, is that of Jesus’ departure from the world and his return to the Father. Given his impending departure, two primary issues are dealt with in the Last Discourse:

    • That the disciples (believers) would be “with” Jesus, including, and ultimately, with him in heaven alongside the Father.
    • That, correspondingly, Jesus would remain in/with believers as they/we continue to live in the world.

The first of these is emphasized especially in 14:1-7ff, and is also the focus here in v. 24.

As in vv. 21-23, the key clauses are subordinate clauses marked by a beginning i%na (or o%ti) particle. There are three such statements (i%na/o%ti clauses) in verse 24, and it will be useful to look at each of them in order.

i%na o%pou ei)mi\ e)gw\ ka)kei=noi w@sin met’ e)mou=
“that where(ever) I am, they also would be with me”

Just as in the two stanzas of vv. 21-23, the first i%na clause states the primary wish/request of Jesus (“I wish that…”). In vv. 21-23 the request was “that they [all] would be one”, and the wish here must be understood in the light of that earlier request for the unity/oneness of believers. As we discussed, the basis of that unity is the union of believers with Jesus the Son (and God the Father), and that this union is realized both in terms of the presence of the Spirit, and our sharing in the love that binds Father and Son together.

The difference in v. 24 has to do with the emphasis on Jesus’ departure back to the Father (in heaven). This is one of the main ways that Jesus uses the locational conjunction o%pou (“where[ever]”) in the Discourses. In 7:34-36; 8:21-22, the thrust was negative—people in the world were not able to come to the place where Jesus goes. At the beginning of the Last Discourse, he says the same thing to his disciples (13:33, 36), but with the promise to them (spec. to Peter) that ultimately they will be able to follow him. This sets the stage for the sayings in 14:3-4, and the subsequent exposition by Jesus. By seeing Jesus (= knowing & trusting in him), believers know the “way” to the Father (vv. 6-7ff). This trust/knowledge leads to being united with Father and Son through the presence of the Spirit, a point expounded by Jesus in the remainder of the Last Discourse. By way of this union, believers are with Jesus wherever he might be. This was declared by Jesus, using more conventional (discipleship) terminology, earlier in 12:26:

“If any one would serve me, he must follow me, and where(ever) I am [o%pou ei)mi\ e)gw\], there also my servant will be…”

The wording is quite similar to that here in v. 24.

Returning to 14:1-7, this portion of the Last Discourse seems to preserve a traditional eschatological understanding of Jesus future/end-time return, at which point all believers will be gathered to him (and taken up to heaven)—Mark 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:14-17, etc. Admittedly, the emphasis throughout the Gospel of John is on what we would call a “realized” eschatology—that is, the end-time events (resurrection, judgment, inheriting/entering eternal life) are already being realized for believers, in the present, through the presence of the Spirit. There, are however, instances of the more traditional future aspect that are preserved in the Gospel Discourses as well. While believers are present with Jesus even now, through the Spirit, this union will be fulfilled, and made complete, when he appears to us at the end-time.

Paul expresses this eschatological dimension of our union with Jesus, in a slightly different (but highly memorable) manner, in Colossians 3:1-4. This passage builds upon the Pauline theme of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (i.e. dying and rising with him), expressed at numerous points in the letters (and drawing upon the symbolism of the baptism ritual). At first, the wording suggests customary early Christian ethical instruction, using the context of baptism as a starting point: “So, if you were raised together with the Anointed, you must seek the (thing)s above, where the Anointed (One) is… You must set your mind (on) the (thing)s above, not the (thing)s upon the earth” (vv. 1-2). Then comes the powerful and striking eschatological declaration in vv. 3-4:

“For you died away, and you life has been hidden with the Anointed (One), in God; (and) when the Anointed (One) should be made to shine forth, (who is) your life, then also you will be made to shine forth with him in honor/splendor.”

This emphasis on honor/splendor (do/ca) is central to the next i%na-clause of verse 24, and will be discussed in the next daily note.