Saturday Series: Isaiah 6:1-13 (vv. 9-13)

Isaiah 6:1-13, continued

In the previous study, we examined verses 1-8 exegetically, deriving the critical analysis through a verse-by-verse study. This week, while continuing through the remaining verses (9-13), we will also take the additional step of considering some of the wider theological issues that arise in the interpretation of this passage, and how it has been applied subsequently by Christians within the context of their own life-setting.

Isaiah 6:9-10

“And He said, ‘Go, and your shall say to this people:
Hearing, you must hear,
and (yet) you shall not discern;
seeing, you must see,
and (yet) you shall not know!
Make fat the heart of this people,
make heavy its ears and smear over its eyes,
so that it should not see with its eyes,
and with its ears hear, and with its heart discern,
and then turn, and there be healing for it!'”

Verses 1-8 establish the setting for Isaiah’s prophetic mission, rooted in an authentic historical (and biographical) tradition, as we discussed last week. In verse 8, Isaiah dramatically volunteers for the mission, to serve as God’s spokesperson (n¹bî°, “prophet”) and deliver His message to the people. Now the nature of this mission (and message) is presented to him, in rather jarring and disturbing terms. There is a stronger poetic character to this portion of the vision, and I have rendered it (loosely) as poetry above.

In verse 9, YHWH gives to Isaiah the message that he is to give to the people. However, this does not represent the content (or words) of the message per se, but rather illustrates the intended effect of his prophetic speaking. It makes use of a peculiar Semitic idiom, in which the verb is doubled for effect, with an infinitive together with an indicative (or imperative) form. Here the syntactical pattern involves an imperative; we can see the dramatic, staccato effect of this syntax, by displaying the Hebrew in transliteration:

šim±û š¹môa±
ûr°û r¹°ô

In translating this syntax, I find it is easier in English to give the infinitive first: “hearing, you must hear…seeing, you must see…”. The thrust is emphatic—that is, to give special emphasis to the verbal action. Here the sense is perhaps best understood as a prolonging of the effect of Isaiah’s preaching, and/or that the effect will be thorough and complete. In conventional translation, this is commonly rendered, in corresponding English idiom, as “keep on hearing…keep on seeing…”. In general, this is correct. The people will keep hearing Isaiah’s message, and yet will not understand or discern the truth; they will keep seeing the signs around them, and yet will not know or be aware of what is happening (until it is too late).

Even more striking is the way that this is described in verse 10, where YHWH commands the prophet to dull the senses of the people, so that they will not turn and repent. The theological difficulties with this idea were recognized at an early point, as indicating by the softening and rephrasing of the language in the Greek version, changing the infinitives to finite verbs, and making the people the subject of the action (i.e., “the mind of this people was made fat…”); cf. Roberts, p. 90. This will be discussed further below. For the moment, it is necessary to render the Hebrew as literally as possible, as I have done above.

The two-fold image of eyes/ears (seeing/hearing) has been turned into a three-fold image (eyes/ears/heart), folding in the separate idea of discernment/knowledge (= heart) from verse 9. For each sense-faculty, the prophet’s message involves the verbal action of covering it over. The three verbs are all imperatives in the (Hiphil) causative stem, clearly indicating that God, through the prophet, is causing this to happen:

    • “make fat” (hašm¢n) the heart, i.e. cover it over with a layer of oil or fat
    • “make heavy” (ha½b¢¼) the ears, i.e. weigh them down with a coating or covering
    • “smear over” (h¹ša±) the eyes, i.e. with a coating so that the person cannot see clearly

The purpose of this is stated in the second half of verse 10, marked by the adverbial conjunction pen (/P#). Its use negates a situation, often in the sense of something that is to be avoided, removing it from consideration. In English, such phrases are customarily translated as “lest…”, but this wording is rather archaic, and it is probably better to preserve more clearly the negative sense, which I do above (“so that…not…”):

“so that it [i.e. the people] should not see with its eyes,” etc.

What a strange mission for the prophet—to ensure that God’s people do not see or understand the truth! However, YHWH clearly tells Isaiah this is so that the people will not turn and receive healing (“and there will be healing for it”). The verb šû» literally means “turn”, often in the sense of “turn back, return”, used frequently in a moral-religious context, of people “turning back” to God. This wider application, especially when extended to include the idea of eternal salvation, makes the Christian use of vv. 9-10 genuinely problematic (see below). Here it must be understood in the more limited (historical) context of the impending Assyrian invasion(s) of Israel and Judah.

Isaiah 6:11-12

“And I said, ‘Until what (time), my Lord?’ And He said, ‘Until such (time) when cities have crashed (into ruins) with no one sitting [i.e. dwelling] (in them), and houses with no man (in them), and the ground [i.e. land] is left a (complete) devastation—and (until) YHWH (remove)s the men far away, and th(is) abandonment increases in the midst of the land!'”

Understandably disturbed by the mission God has given him, Isaiah wants to know how long (“until what [time]”) his speaking will have this negative effect. YHWH’s response (“until such [time] when…”) could not be more bleak, indicating that the prophet must continue his mission until cites have been destroyed, houses abandoned, and the land throughout has been completely devastated. This properly describes the effect of military conquest, and refers specifically to the invasion of Israel and Judah by the powerful Assyrian Empire (multiple campaigns between 733 and 701 B.C.). The northern Israelite kingdom (centered at Samaria) was conquered by Shalmaneser V in 722, and the southern Judean kingdom was devastated (and very nearly conquered) by Sennacherib some 20 years later. The exile of the people is prophesied in verse 12, emphasizing the extent of it in two ways:

    • wideness/distance from the land—i.e. the people being removed far away
    • and increase of abandonment within the land—i.e. there will hardly be anyone left in it (v. 11)

Though the Assyrians are the proximate cause of this devastation, it is YHWH who brings it about (and is the ultimate cause), as v. 12 clearly indicates.

Isaiah 6:13

“‘And (if) there is yet in it a tenth, it shall even turn (back) and shall be for (the) consuming (of it). Like the elah-tree and like the oak tree, which, in (its) being sent [i.e. cut] (down), (there is a portion) in them (that remains) standing, (and) its (portion that remains) standing (is the) holy seed.'”

The textual difficulties in this concluding verse are considerable, and cannot be dealt with in detail here. Many commentators feel that the text is corrupt, and, if so, it is practically impossible to retrieve/restore the original. The Qumran manuscripts and the versions offer little help, except to confirm the difficulty of the verse. The problems may have arisen from early scribal attempts to cast the verse in a more positive light, emphasizing an ultimate promise of hope in the midst of the devastation that was prophesied. For the purposes of this study, I have worked from the Masoretic text, without emendation.

With regard to the tree-illustration, the key term is maƒƒe»e¾, which refers to something that “remains standing (in place)” (vb n¹ƒa»). The idea is that nearly the entire tree has been “sent (down)”, i.e. cut down, felled; and yet there is the stump, a small portion that remains standing. This portion is called “the holy seed” (the Qumran Isaiah scroll [1QIsaa] includes the definite article), by which is probably meant the basis, or foundation, from which the restoration of the land (and its people) can begin. In the context of the Assyrian invasion of Judah, this may refer specifically to the city of Jerusalem, which survived a siege and was not conquered, while many of the surrounding cities were. To the extent that the Isaian context was applied to the later situation of the Babylonian invasion (and exile), this promise of restoration, centered at Jerusalem, would have taken on special significance, eventually carrying Messianic and eschatological overtones (cf. chapters 2-4, 11-12).

Christian Application of Isa 6:9-13

For many Christians, and readers of the New Testament, verses 9-13 (esp. vv. 9-10) are familiar from their use in the Gospels and by the early Christian missionaries (such as Paul). This provides an interesting example of how Old Testament passages can be taken out of their original context, and applied to a new setting and situation. For commentators who wish to affirm both a single (primarily/original) meaning to the Old Testament prophecies, and the inspiration of the New Testament authors/speakers, it is necessary to posit something like an “inspired application”, which, though secondary, carries its own inspired meaning and truth.

Jesus himself made use of vv. 9-10, citing them, according to the Synoptic tradition, as part of an explanation for why he taught and preached using parables. We tend to think of the parables as illustrations which help the average person to understand what Jesus is saying; however, according to Mark 4:10-12 par, Jesus’ intention is the opposite. He is communicating the “secret” of the Kingdom of God, but this “secret” is being revealed only to his close followers. For others, the truth of the Kingdom remains hidden, and parables serve to conceal the truth from the people at large. It is in this context that Isa 6:9-10 is cited. The Greek wording (in Mark) differs from both the Hebrew MT and the Greek LXX, especially in its use of the verb aphí¢mi (“release, let [go] from”), with its connotation of forgiveness from sin: “…so they should not (at any time) turn back and it be released for them” (the parallel in Matt 13:14-15 is closer to the LXX). If forgiveness from sin is meant here, then it gives to vv. 9-10 an application toward the idea of eternal salvation that is rather troubling, in light of God’s active role (in the original prophetic message) in keeping people from recognizing the truth.

The Gospel of John does seem to take things a step further, in this direction, when the author (and/or his underlying tradition) cites vv. 9-10 in 12:39-41, using the prophecy as a way of explaining why many Jews at the time were not able to trust in Jesus. In the Johannine writings, the verb pisteúœ (“trust”) tends to be used in the specific sense of the trust in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God) that marks the true believer, and one who possesses eternal life. Thus, to say that these people were not able to trust means that they were not (and could not be) true believers destined for salvation and eternal life.

In the closing scene in the book of Acts (28:23-28), as Paul speaks with Jews in Rome, he also cites Isa 6:9-10 (vv. 26-27), similarly, as an explanation for why many of these Jews were unable/unwilling to believe (lit. were “without trust”, v. 24f). The closing words in v. 28, pitting the trusting Gentiles against unbelieving Jews, may seem disturbing to our modern-day sensibilities, but they reflect the historical situation faced by Paul and other missionaries at the time. He deals with the Jew/Gentile problem—i.e. why many Gentiles trust in Jesus while many Jews do not—more comprehensively in his letter to the Romans (esp. chapters 9-11).

What is common in all these passages, in relation to Isa 6:9-13, is the idea that God is specifically acting so that many people do not (and cannot) see or recognize the truth. This seems to go squarely against how we tend to think about God—that he wants everyone to understand and accept the truth, and any failure to do so is our responsibility, not God’s. In balancing the sense of the control human beings have over their own destinies, with the extent to which they are controlled by God (or the deities, in a polytheistic setting), the ancient peoples tended to emphasize God’s ultimate (and sovereign) control, whereas modern (Western) society, by contrast, stresses individual human control and responsibility.

Why does God not want His people to see/understand the truth and turn back to Him (in repentance, etc)? To answer this, we must keep close to the original historical context of Isa 6:9-13. Isaiah’s mission in chap. 6ff is to announce the judgment that is coming on the people of Israel and Judah, in the form, primarily, of the Assyrian military invasion(s). If the people realized the nature of this judgment, and its imminence, they might well repent, and this would prompt YHWH to curtail the just punishment that the people deserved for their sins and crimes. Instead, in order for the full punishment to be meted out, and for the judgment to be realized in full, the people are prevented from realizing (or accepting) what is happening to them, until it is too late.

This is comparable in some ways to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in the Exodus narratives. By hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Exod 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17), God brings about the full punishment upon Egypt, the completion of all the “plagues”, including the last and greatest (death of the firstborn). This, of course, does not remove the guilt or responsibility of Pharaoh—there is a sense in which he hardens his own heart (Exod 8:11, 28; 9:34; cf. also 7:13-14; 8:15; 9:7, 35; Roberts, p. 102 note)—but ultimately it is God (YHWH) who brings this about. The point is that God’s action (here through the prophet Isaiah) allows for the full judgment/punishment of the people to be realized. Only after this punishment has taken effect—through conquest, destruction, and exile—can the restoration of the people occur (v. 13).

References above marked “Roberts” are to J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2015).

Saturday Series: Isaiah 1:2-31

Isaiah 1:2-31

In the Saturday Series studies this March and April, we will be exploring the rich trove of prophetic and historical material in the book of Isaiah. The critical areas, as they relate to the book, were discussed in last week’s introductory study. This week we will begin turning our eye to the text of the book, in practical terms, looking at a number of key passages and portions. Our analysis opens with the opening oracle in chapter 1. As the superscription in 2:1 serves just as well for the introduction to Isaiah (and certainly to chapters 2-39), many commentators feel that chapter 1 was added at a later point in the formation and redaction of the book, serving as a summary of various elements and themes that would be found throughout—both in chapters 2-39, and the so-called “deutero”- and “trito”-Isaian portions (chaps. 40-66). And, just as the book itself is composite, so the introductory chapter has a composite character, apparently including pieces of various genres, and areas of emphasis, with indications of different time-periods (perhaps) being referenced. A careful study of the chapter will bear out this evaluation, to some extent.

Isaiah 1:2-3

“Hear, (you) heavens, and give ear, (you) earth!
for YHWH opens (His mouth) to speak:
Sons have I helped grow (strong) and raised (them high),
and (yet) they have broken (trust) with me!
An ox knows (the one) purchasing [i.e. who purchases] it
and a donkey (knows) the trough of its master,
(but yet) Yisrael does not know—
my people do not recognize (this) themselves!”

The opening call to heaven and earth resembles the beginning of the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 (discussed in earlier studies):

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will open to speak,
And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.” (v. 1)

Indeed, there would seem to be a number of Deuteronomic themes and points of emphasis here in chapter 1, include several that relate specifically to the Song of Moses and its context. The background involves the idea of the binding agreement (or ‘covenant’, Heb. b®rî¾) in the ancient Near East, the religious setting of which entailed calling on various deities as witnesses to the agreement—and to bring divine judgment if either party violates its terms. Since in Deuteronomy, et al, the binding agreement is between Israel and God (YHWH), there is no need to call on the Deity as a witness; instead, all of creation is called—i.e. heaven and earth, which were often considered to be primary deities in the ancient world.

Generally speaking, chapter 1 functions as a judgment-oracle, declaring the judgment that would come upon Israel—specifically Judah and Jerusalem—for violating the covenant with YHWH. Within the confines of the agreement, the Israelite people are recognized, symbolically, as God’s children (“sons”), His own people. This makes their violation, literally a breaking of trust (vb p¹ša±), a breaking away from God, all the more tragic; it is like a son betraying his own father. This motif, too, is part of the Deuteronomic language expressed in the Song of Moses (vv. 5-6, 11ff, 19-20), and is something of a common-place in the Prophets.

A bit of irony is made use of in verse 3, to emphasize the point. Even an animal (ox or donkey) knows enough to be faithful to the one who owns it (and feeds it), and yet Israel, God’s own children and people, do not seem to know or recognize their relationship to Him!

Isaiah 1:4

“Oh, (you) sinning nation,
people heavy (with) crooked(ness)!
Seed of (those) doing evil,
sons of (those) bringing ruin!
They have abandoned YHWH,
despised the Holy (One) of Yisrael!
They have turned aside, back(ward)!”

Verse 4 is a woe-oracle in miniature, beginning with a striking alliterative declaration, the effect of which is almost impossible to capture in translation:

Hôy gôy µœ‰¢°
“Oh, sinning nation…”

The final line of v. 4 is absent from the old Greek (Septuagint/LXX), but exists in the great Isaiah scroll from Qumran (and other MSS). While perfunctory in context, these two words (n¹zœrû °¹µôr) help to establish the theme of Israel’s wickedness (and corrupt religious practice) as defined in terms of false religion and idolatry—i.e., turning away from God to follow after other deities. In the 8th-7th century Prophets, judgment comes to Israel as a result of their adopting false religious practices; however, the emphasis here in chapter 1, as in many of the later (exilic and post-exilic) Prophetic oracles, is on the corruption of religion because of the wider evils tolerated in society (i.e., injustice, mistreatment of the poor, etc). Thus there is here an interesting juxtaposition of earlier and later themes, very much typical of the book of Isaiah as a whole.

The title “the Holy One of Israel” (q®dôš yi´r¹°¢l) is distinctive to Isaiah, occurring repeatedly throughout the book, though some commentators believe that it tends to belong to a later stage/period of authorship. It may derive from the Temple liturgy (cf. Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:19; and note the context of Isa 6:1ff; Blenkinsopp, p. 183).

Isaiah 1:7-9

“Your land (is) a desolation—
your cities burned (with) fire,
your soil, (there) in front of you,
(those) turning aside are devouring it—
and a desolation like the overthrow of <Sodom>!
And Daughter ‚iyyôn is left (after it)
like a covered (shelter) in a vineyard,
like a lodging-place in a cucumber-patch,
like a city watched (by those surrounding it)!
(If it) were not that YHWH of the Armies (of Heaven)
had left (behind) for us (just) a few survivor(s),
we would have been (just) like Sodom,
(and) bear a resemblance to ‘Amorah!”

This again is an oracle in miniature—a judgment-oracle, declaring the judgment that will come upon Judah (and Jerusalem), in the form of a military attack, along with the devastation that comes in the aftermath of invasion. This aspect touches upon the area of historical criticism. If this is an authentic Isaian oracle (or at least from the late-8th century B.C.), then there are two possibilities for a military invasion of Judah that could fit this prophecy: (1) the invasion by the Northern Israelite kingdom and Aram-Syria (734-733), or (2) the Assyrian attack under Sennacherib (701), in which Jerusalem survived the devastation, but only barely so. The latter option is preferable, and well fits the historical scenario, of Isaiah’s own time, emphasized throughout much of chapters 2-39. Moreover, the imagery in verse 8, of Zion (Jerusalem) completely surrounded, certainly fits the circumstances of the Assyrian siege.

Rhetorically, this Judgment is framed by the ancient tradition of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Judah/Jerusalem barely avoids the fate of their complete devastation. The use of the noun mahp¢kâ (from the verb h¹pak) in the last line of verse 7, suggests the following word in the Masoretic text (also in the Qumran MSS), z¹rîm (“[those] turning aside”, i.e. foreigners, strangers, passers-by), repeated from the previous line, may be an error. Elsewhere the noun mahp¢kâ is always used in the context of the “overthrow” of Sodom; the motif of Sodom/Gomorrah here raises the strong possibility that the text originally read s§dœm (<d)s=) instead of z¹rîm (<yr!z`). Textual emendation should be done with extreme caution, and as rarely as possible, especially when the manuscript support for it is slight (or otherwise non-existent). However, here I do tentatively emend the final word of verse 7, indicated by the angle brackets in the translation above.

Isaiah 1:10-17

“Hear the speech [i.e. word] of YHWH,
(you) leaders of Sodom!
Give ear to the instruction of our Mightiest [Elohim],
(you) people of ‘Amorah!
For what (purpose) to me (are) your many slaughtered (offering)s?
(So) says YHWH—
I have had (my) fill of (the) rising (smoke) of strong (ram)s,
and (the burning) fat of well-fed (cattle),
and the blood of bulls and sheep and he-goats
I take no delight (in them)!
For you come to be seen (by) my Face—
(but) who seeks this from your hand,
(the) trampling of my enclosures?
You must not continue bringing (these) empty offerings
…!”

This exposition of Israel’s sin lies at the heart of the chapter 1 oracle. That it effectively represents the covenant-violation is clearly indicated by the repetition of the call to the divine witness (heaven and earth) in the opening lines of verse 10 (see verse 2 above, and compare Deut 32:1). However, there is no suggestion here of the traditional violation of the covenant, i.e. of abandoning YHWH to worship other (Canaanite) deities, despite the use of this language in verse 4 (see above). Instead, the people continue to worship YHWH dutifully, at least in terms of coming to the Jerusalem Temple and presenting the sacrificial offerings, etc, required by the Torah. However, these offerings have been rendered “empty” (š¹w°) and detestable to God because of the evil and injustice that exists throughout society (vv. 16-17ff). This is a very different sense of the corruption of religion, and one that is more in keeping with the later Prophetic tradition, though it can be found prominently in the 8th-7th century Prophets as well (see, for example, Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8).

From a form- and genre-critical standpoint, verses 10-17 are in some ways the most consistently poetic of the chapter. Throughout, the section utilizes a 3+2 bicolon format, with synonymous (and synthetic) parallelism, disrupted occasionally by emphatic points of tension. The 3+2 meter (a 3-beat line followed by a 2-beat line) is referred to as the “limping” or qînâ meter, often characteristic of a lament (also in vv. 21-23).

Isaiah 1:18ff

It may worth here considering the structure of the oracle, from a form- and literary-critical standpoint. In verses 10-31, judgment-oracles (vv. 10-17, 21-26) alternate with prophecies of salvation/restoration (vv. 18-20, 27-31) for the people. As a rhetorical (and poetic) device, a judicial setting is indicated in vv. 18-20, tied to the ancient context of adjudicating the binding agreement of the covenant—i.e. whether or not it has been violated. Only here this imagery has been turned into an exhortation for the people, indicating that it is still possible to re-establish their relationship in the binding agreement with God. The basic terms of the covenant are stated clearly in verses 19-20:

“If you are willing, and would hear [i.e. are obedient],
you shall eat (the) good of the land;
but if you refuse and resist/rebel [i.e. be disobedient],
you shall be eaten by the sword!”

In verses 21-23ff, we find another judgment-oracle, this time emphasizing more clearly the injustice in society, a wickedness that turns the once-loyal city of Jerusalem into a prostitute. The closing lines of this oracle (vv. 24b-26), like those earlier (vv. 16-17), leave open the way to avoid the coming Judgment, and from a literary standpoint, function as a transition point into the prophecies of salvation (vv. 27-31 and 18-20). The opening lines of the final section make clear that the city of Jerusalem will be saved in the judgment, but only those in her who repent:

‚iyyôn will be ransomed in (the) judgment,
and (the one)s in her (who) turn back [i.e. repent], in justice;
but destruction together (for those) breaking away and sinning,
and (the one)s abandoning YHWH will be completely (destroy)ed!”

In the closing lines of the chapter, the traditional imagery of abandoning God to follow after other deities, embracing false religious practices, etc, comes back into view. The motif of pagan cultic garden-sites functions as a kind of antithesis to the true religion centered at the Temple sanctuary of Zion, but also, perhaps, to the tradition of the Garden of God accessible to humankind at the beginning of creation. Indeed, the language and symbolism in these verses seems to parallel the final chapters of the book (Trito-Isaiah) with their eschatological emphasis, both in terms of salvation and judgment (e.g. 56:1; 57:1ff; 59:9, 16-17; 61:3, 10-11; 63:1; 65:3, 11-13; 66:3-5, 17, 24).

Thus, we can see rather clearly, I think, how the complexity of the book of Isaiah is reflected in this opening chapter. A wide range of themes, genres, sets of symbols, and literary-rhetorical devices can be discerned, which, in a very real sense, mirrors those of the book as a whole. It is certainly possible that the chapter represents an authentic 8th-7th century oracle; however, it seems more likely that it is an assemblage of different oracle-forms and pieces, which an author (or editor) has combined to form a powerful, though composite, piece of prophetic poetry. In terms of the final book of Isaiah, its primary purpose is literary—introducing the many themes and motifs which will be developed throughout the oracles, etc, that follow.

Next week, we will turn to the second chapter, which may be considered as the beginning of the book proper (esp. of chapters 2-39). This time, we will focus on a shorter passage—verses 1-5—devoting our study to a more detailed exegesis. I hope that you will join me, next Saturday.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Romans (Part 1)

As a veritable compendium of Pauline thought, it is to be expected that his letter to the Christians in Rome would also contain important passages related to his eschatology, and that it would reflect a similar level of theological development. This indeed is the case, even if there are no eschatological sections in Romans comparable to 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 or 1 Corinthians 15 (discussed in the prior articles). The first part of this article on the eschatology in Romans will survey many of the key references, looking at each passage or verse either briefly or in moderate detail, leaving more extensive discussions on chapters 8-11 for Parts 2 and 3.

Survey of Eschatological References in Romans

Romans 1:18ff

“For (the) anger of God is being uncovered from heaven upon all lack of reverence and lack of justice (among) men, the (one)s holding down the truth in a lack of justice [i.e. injustice/lawlessness]…”

This bold statement opens the main body (probatio) of the letter, following directly after the central proposition (propositio) in verses 16-17. Just as the justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God is uncovered (a)pokalu/ptetai) in the proclamation of the Gospel, and those who respond by trusting in it, so the anger (o)rgh/) of God is uncovered (a)pokalu/ptetai) for those who reject it and act/behave in an unjust manner. The expression “anger of God” is a technical phrase that refers to the end-time Judgment, in which God will finally act to punish decisively the wickedness of humankind. In Old Testament Prophetic tradition, this expression of divine anger is associated with the “Day of YHWH” motif (cf. 2:5), a time when God judges a nation or people. The phrase gradually took on eschatological significance, and, indeed, it is the end-time Judgment which Paul has in mind here. The present tense of the verb suggests that this is something already happening or about to happen, the latter being more accurate and fully in accord with the imminent eschatology of early Christians.

Paul vividly, and perceptively, analyzes the wickedness of the nations, with their polytheistic beliefs and idolatrous tendencies, tracing how this may have developed—a kind of early Christian psychology of religion. Paul turns and does much the same for Jews in chapter 2, but in 1:18-32 the focus is on Gentiles. A central tenet of Romans being the equality of Jews and Gentiles, both in terms of their bondage to sin and subsequent unity as believers, it is necessary for Paul to treat them together—separately and in common. The theme of the coming Judgment continues in 2:1-11, with the traditional motif of the separation of the righteous and wicked at the time of Judgment. This is expressed clearly in verses 6-10:

“…in the day of anger and the uncovering of the right Judgment of God, who will give back to each (person) according to his works: (on the one hand) to the (one)s seeking the esteem and honor (of God) and (that which is) without decay, according to (their) remaining under (with) good work, (the) life of the Ages; but (on the other hand), to the (one)s (who), out of (self-centered) labor, and being unpersuaded by the truth, (are instead) being persuaded by injustice, (the) anger (of God) and impulse (to punish). (There will be) distress and a tight space for every soul of man th(at) is working at (what is) bad, of (the) Yehudean {Jew} first and (also the) Greek; but esteem and honor and peace for every (one) working (what is) good, (the) Yehudean first and (also the) Greek”

The end-time Judgment, expressed in terms of the anger of God, in the traditional sense of His desire to punish wickedness, is also mentioned at several other points in the letter (e.g., 3:6; 12:19).

Romans 2:16

“…in the day when God judges the hidden (thing)s of men, according to my good message, through (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

This expresses a distinctly Christian aspect of the traditional Judgment—that it will take place through Jesus, i.e. that he will oversee the Judgment, acting in the role of Judge, as God the Father’s appointed representative. This relates to the Heavenly-deliverer or “Son of Man” Messianic figure-type, drawn primarily from Daniel 7:13-14ff, and developed subsequently in Jewish and early Christian tradition (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Jesus, as God’s Anointed, fulfills this Messianic role at the end-time, upon his return to earth. This idea of Jesus’ role in the Judgment is also found (using similar language) in the Areopagus speech of Paul in the book of Acts:

“…He [i.e. God] has set a day in which He is about to judge the inhabited world, in justice, in [i.e. through] a man whom He marked out, holding along a trust for all (people by) making him stand up out of the dead” (17:31)

For the expression “day of Jesus” or “day of the Lord” (from “day of YHWH”) with a similar meaning, see Parts 1 and 3 of the article on 1-2 Corinthians.

Romans 5:2

“So, having been made right out of trust, we hold peace toward God through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, through whom also we have held [by trust] the (way) leading toward (Him), into this favor in which we (now) have stood, and we boast upon (the) hope of the honor/splendor of God.” (vv. 1-2)

These verses introduce a new section within the main body of the letter; the focus is primarily soteriological, as Paul discusses the bondage of humankind under the power of sin, and how believers are freed from it through trust in the redeeming work of Jesus. Indeed, Paul gave special emphasis to this aspect of salvation, while continuing to affirm the traditional idea of salvation in terms of being saved/rescued from the coming Judgment. The two go hand in hand—sin and judgment, and Pauline soteriology is effective summarized here in verses 1-11. The eschatological aspect may not be immediately apparent for readers today, but it is embedded in much of the wording, especially here in the opening verses. Let us consider briefly each phrase:

    • “having been made right out of trust” (dikaiwqe/nte$ e)k pi/stew$)—this is the foundational Pauline doctrine of “justification by faith”; things have been “made right” (vb dikaio/w) for believers in relationship to God as a result of trust (faith) in the saving work of Jesus Christ.
    • “we hold…toward God” —there are two connected phrases which express this restored relationship between human beings (believers) and God; each phrase uses the verb e&xw (“hold”) and the preposition pro/$ (“toward”), and is qualified by the expression “through [dia/] (Yeshua…)”:
      • “we hold peace toward God” (ei)rh/nhn e&xomen pro\$ to\ qe/on)—the word “peace” (ei)rh/nh) refers primarily to the idea of reconciliation, of an end to hostility and the things that separate two parties; however, it also reflects the presence of God Himself in and among believers (who are His people), through the Spirit, which serves as the uniting bond of peace (8:6; 14:17; cf. also Gal 5:22; Eph 4:3)
      • “we have held the way leading toward (Him)” (th\n prosagwgh\n e)sxh/kamen)—the verb prosa/gw literally means “lead toward”, and so the derived noun prosagwgh/ a “way leading toward”, sometimes in the context of being led into the chamber, etc, of ruling authorities (Acts 16:20). In this sense, believers are led into the presence of God (1 Pet 3:18). Both verb and noun are rare in the New Testament; Paul never uses the verb, but all three occurrences of the noun are in the Pauline letters (Eph 2:18; 3:12). The idea expressed in Eph 2:18, and its wording, is very similar to the phrase here:
        “through him [i.e. Jesus] we both [i.e. Jews and Gentiles], in one Spirit, hold (the way) toward the Father”
    • “into this favor in which we have stood” (ei)$ th\n xa/rin tau/thn e)n h!| e(sth/kamen)—the way leads into (ei)$) the favor (xa/ri$) of God; believers currently experience this favor (and favored status), and so “stand” in it. The perfect tense typically signifies an action or condition which took place (or began) in the past and continues in the present. This same favor allows believers to stand before God in His chamber, being saved from the Judgment.
    • “we boast upon (the) hope of the honor/splendor of God” (kauxw/meqa e)p’ e)lpi/di th=$ do/ch$ tou= qeou=)—this hope (e)lpi/$) is fundamentally eschatological: the favor experienced by believers (in the present) will result in an exalted status in the future (parallel to Jesus’ own exaltation). Primarily this is understood in terms of the end-time resurrection, the power of which resides in the Spirit of God (and Christ) now abiding in and among believers (cf. below). The word do/ca has a wide semantic range that makes consistent rendering in English difficult. When applied to God, it can refer to the honor and esteem with which He is to be regarded, but also to that which makes Him worthy of honor, i.e. His own nature, character, and attributes. Often this latter is visualized with light-imagery, in which case “splendor” is a more proper translation, similar to the more conventional rendering “glory”. In any case, the future hope for believers involves a share in God’s own do/ca, the ultimate goal of the path leading toward Him.
Romans 5:9

“…but God makes his own love unto us stand together with (us), (in) that, (while) our yet being sinful (one)s, the Anointed (One) died away over us. Much more, then, now (hav)ing been made right in his blood, will we be saved through him from the (coming) anger (of God).” (vv. 8-9)

The love (a)ga/ph) and anger (o)rgh/) of God are contrasted here. The distinction between the verbs dikaio/w (“make right”) and sw/zw (“save”) is important for an understanding of the early Christian “order of salvation”, as expressed by Paul in his letters. This may be seen as representing two stages in a process: (1) things are “made right” between God and believers, (2) believers are “saved” from the coming Judgment. While it may also be said that we are saved from the power of sin, for early Christians the eschatological aspect of salvation was primary. Paul’s argument here is: if God showed his love for us by making things right for us, through the sacrificial death (“blood”) of Jesus (i.e. the first stage of the process), he certainly will follow through and show the same love by saving us from the end-time Judgment (his anger) in the second stage. On the term “anger” as a traditional designation for the Judgment, cf. on 1:18ff above.

A broader sense of salvation (using the verb r(u/omai, “rescue”) is indicated in 7:24:

“I (am) a man (forc)ed to endure suffering! Who will rescue me out of this body of death?”

In chapter 7, Paul is essentially describing the condition of a human being (who would be a believer) prior to the sacrificial work of Jesus—or, we may say, of a believer prior to coming to faith. Such a person genuinely is inclined to live according to the expressed will of God, and wishes to do so, but is hindered by the fact that our “flesh” (or “body”, sw=ma) is in bondage under the power of sin. This bondage to sin leads to death, thus the expression “body of death”.

Romans 6:5; 8:11

“For if we have come to be planted in the likeness of his death, (what) other (than that) we will also be (in the likeness) of his standing up (out of the dead) [i.e. resurrection]?” (6:5)
“And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of the dead will also make your dying bodies alive through His Spirit housing in you.” (8:11)

These two declarations reflect Paul’s most original (theological) contribution to early Christian eschatology—his teaching and emphasis on believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (i.e. “dying and rising with Jesus”). By uniting with his death, through faith, and symbolized in the rite of baptism, we will also be united with his resurrection, sharing in its power. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so we also will be raised; it is the indwelling Spirit of God which brings this about, which is also the life-giving Spirit of Jesus. For more detail on this aspect of the (end-time) resurrection, cf. the earlier article on 1 Corinthians 15. Clearly, “dying bodies” relates to the expression “body of death” in 7:24 (cf. above).

Romans 13:11-12

“And this: having seen the moment, (know) that (it is) already (the) hour for you to rise out of sleep—for our salvation is nearer than when we (first) trusted. The night cut (its way) forward and the day has come near. So we should put away from (us) the works of darkness, [and] sink in(to) [i.e. put on] the weapons of light!”

This is clearly an expression of Paul’s imminent eschatological expectation, shared by nearly all believers of the time. If the end was near when they first came to faith in Jesus, it is all the closer now as Paul writes to them. He uses very similar language in 1 Thess 5:4-10, a passage that is unquestionably eschatological (cf. the earlier article in this series).

Romans 14:9-12

“For (it is) unto this [i.e. for this reason] (that) the Anointed (One) died away and lived (again): (so) that he should be Lord (both) of (the) dead and (the) living. But you—(for) what [i.e. why] do you judge your brother? or (for) what even do you make your brother out (to be) nothing? For we all shall stand alongside (before) the stepped (platform) of God, for it has been written: ‘(As) I live, says (the) Lord, (it is) that every knee shall bend and every tongue shall give out an account as one to God’. [So] then, each of us will give an account about himself [to God].”

These verses conclude the practical instruction for believers in vv. 1-8, emphasizing the Judgment which all human beings must face. Even though believers are saved from the anger (punishment) that comes upon the wicked in the Judgment, it is still necessary to stand before God to give an account. The judicial context is indicated by reference to a bh=ma, or platformed area which one reaches by ascending steps (Matt 27:19; Acts 12:21; 18:12ff; 25:6ff). Here it is a heavenly tribunal, a Christian reflection of the traditional afterlife (or end-time) Judgment scene. Also uniquely Christian is the role the exalted Jesus, as “Lord of the dead and living”, plays in overseeing the Judgment (cf. on 2:16 above).

Romans 16:20

“And the God of peace will crush the Satan (all) together under your feet, in (all) speed [e)n ta/xei].”

This is another statement clearly evincing an imminent eschatology, especially with its use of the expression e)n ta/xei (“in all speed”); cf. the earlier article on this subject. The crushing of the Satan is an allusion to Gen 3:15, following the traditional interpretation of identifying the “Serpent” of the Creation narrative with Satan (Rev 12:9). It has been set in an eschatological context, indicating the final defeat of the forces of evil (cf. 1 Cor 15:24-28, etc). For Christians facing some measure of suffering and distress (even persecution), this was a welcome message, one which the book of Revelation spins out through its powerful cycles of visions.

Romans 16:25-26

The concluding words of v. 20 are followed by final greetings and the doxology of the letter. Verses 25-26 place the entire Christian message (the Gospel of Jesus) within an eschatological context:

“And to the (One) powered to set you firm, according to my good message and proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to (the) uncovering of (the) secret having been kept hidden for (the) times of the Ages, but now (hav)ing been made to shine forth, through the writings of the Foretellers, according to the arrangement of the God of the Ages (set) upon (all things), (and hav)ing been made known, unto (the) hearing under [i.e. obedience] of trust, unto all the nations…”

There is some textual uncertainty regarding verses 25-27, and even some doubt as to whether they are genuinely from Paul; if not, they still reflect Pauline thought, especially the idea that the Gospel message (of what God has done through Jesus) is something that has been hidden throughout the Ages, only to be revealed now, at the end-time. I have discussed this point as part of an earlier series of notes, studies on the word musth/rion (“secret”). The main Pauline references are 1 Cor 2:6-7ff; Col 1:26-27; Eph 1:9; 3:3-4ff. The truth about Jesus was made known in the Prophetic Scriptures, but still in a hidden manner, only to be revealed fully (and expounded) by early Christian missionaries and preachers (such as Paul). This language itself suggests that the end of the Age(s) has come with the revelation of Jesus, though the current Age will finally close only with the return of the exalted Jesus to earth, something Paul expected would happen quite soon.

December 7: Revelation 19:1-3

Revelation 19

There are three visionary scenes in this chapter, which effectively concludes the depiction of the great Judgment upon the earth. The seal-vision cycle offered a brief description (6:12-17), foreshadowing the trumpet- and bowl-cycles where the earthly Judgment was portrayed in full. It also featured in the intermediate visions of chapter 14 (vv. 8ff, 14-20). The visions and announcements of the fall of “Babylon” in chapters 17-18 belong as part of the bowl-cycle (chaps. 15-16) and must be understood in relation to that visionary narrative cycle. The same is true, to a large extent, for the visions in chapter 19. The Great City’s fall was depicted in the seventh bowl vision (16:17-21), and extended into chaps. 17-18. Meanwhile the scene of the judgment of the Nations in the sixth bowl vision (16:12-16) was left unfinished and unresolved. This delay is, in part, a narrative device which builds suspense, akin to the delay between the sixth and seventh visions in the earlier cycles. The fall of the City and defeat of the Nations (in battle) are two sets of images for the same basic idea—the end-time Judgment of the Nations by God.

Each of the main cycles of visions is preceded by a heavenly scene, in which the People of God (i.e. the righteous/believers) are gathered together and worship God and/or the exalted Jesus (the Lamb). The throne scene in chapter 4 (and 5) precedes the seal-vision cycle; chapter 7 precedes the trumpet-cycle (along with a brief heavenly scene in 8:3ff); while chapter 15 (esp. verses 1-4) precedes the bowl-cycle. Similarly, in the chapter 14 visions, the scene with the 144,000 and the Lamb (vv. 1-5) precedes the Judgment visions. So it is also here in chapter 19:

    • Heavenly scene: Worship of God and announcement of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (vv. 1-10)
    • The Judgment: Vision 1—The end-time appearance of the exalted Jesus, in his Messianic role of conquering King (vv. 11-16)
    • The Judgment: Vision 2—The defeat and destruction of the Nations (vv. 17-21)

Revelation 19:1-10

The first scene in verses 1-10 may be divided further into several components, including three specific instances where the People praise God; or, perhaps better, two parallel instances with an intervening moment:

    • The voice of a great throng [o&xlo$ pollo/$] of people praises God (vv. 1-3)
      • The twenty-four Elders praise Him (vv. 4-5)
    • The voice of a great throng [o&xlo$ pollo/$] again gives praise (vv. 6-8)

Verses 9-10 are a separate episode, an exchange between a heavenly Messenger and the seer (John). We begin in this note with the first song of praise by the “throng (of) many (people)” (vv. 1-3).

Revelation 19:1-3

“With [i.e. after] these (thing)s, I heard as (though) a great voice of a throng of many (people) in heaven saying:
‘Hallelu-Yah! The salvation and the honor and the power of our God—
(for it is) that true and just are His judgments,
(in) that He judged the great Prostitute who corrupted the earth in her prostitution,
and He worked out justice (for) the blood of His slaves out of her hand’ —
and a second (time) they have uttered ‘Hallelu-Yah!’ —
‘and her smoke steps up into the Ages of Ages!'”

This heavenly “throng of many (people)” represent the collective People of God, who speak in unison with a united voice (a “great voice”, fwnh/ mega/lh). On numerous occasions a great voice was heard coming out of heaven; generally this would be understood as the voice of God Himself, but here it is clearly that of a multitude, i.e. God’s People. I have previously discussed how many of the symbols in the book of Revelation have both earthly and heavenly aspects. That is certainly the case with the People of God, a comprehensive symbol for believers, but not limited to the idea of believers on earth; moreover, in their heavenly aspect, the People of God is hard to distinguish from the other groups and multitudes of heavenly beings. No such distinction is made here, with parallels in 7:9-10 and 15:3 (where human believers are clearly in view), and also 12:10ff (where Angels are suggested by the immediate context).

These are instances of praise to God, as is indicated by the use of the Greek a(llhloui+a/, a transliteration of the Hebrew expression Hy` Wll=h^ (Hal®lû Y¹h), meaning something like “Give a shout to Yah(weh)!” It opens a number of Psalms in the last division of the Psalter (111-113, 135, 146-150); it is used both in the opening and closing of Psalm 106. The Greek transliteration occurs only here in Revelation 19 (4 times) within the New Testament. The initial words of praise in v. 1 are similar to those in 12:10, juxtaposing swthri/a (“salvation”) and du/nami$ (“power”), along with do/ca (“honor/esteem”, = basilei/a in 12:10); cf. also 7:10, 12; 4:9, 11; 5:12-13. God’s people refer the salvation and power and honor/esteem they experience back to God as its source. This draws upon the traditional covenant idea, the bond between sovereign and vassal. In ancient Israel the covenant model was applied to the people as a whole, in their relationship with God (YHWH).

The core of this song of praise emphasizes justice and the role of God as judge, the fundamental context being the great end-time Judgment upon the wicked. Three distinct statements are made in the lines of verse 2:

    • God’s judgments (kri/sei$) are true and just (di/kaiai)
    • He judged the great Prostitute for her prostitution, i.e. for her actual crime, showing that his judgment is fair
    • He worked out justice for the victims of her crimes—i.e. for believers persecuted and put to death

The profligacy and extent of the Woman’s (the Great City’s) “prostitution” (pornei/a) was noted in 17:2, 4, 15ff and 18:3, 9 (also 14:8), involving all the kings and nations of the earth (cf. Jer 51:24-25). The same cup that poured out the wine of immorality also poured out blood—the violence done against believers in Christ (16:6; 17:6; 18:20, 24). The dual imagery of wine/blood is especially vivid in the vision of 14:17-20 (cf. also 18:4ff). Overall, the wording of verse 2 echoes that of 18:20:

    • “God judged your judgment out of her” (18:20)
    • “(God) worked out justice for the blood of his slaves out of her hand” (19:2)

The prepositional expression “out of her (hand)” refers to the reason for the judgment—i.e. her punishment comes out of (or as a result of) her own actions (“her hand”). The verb e)kdike/w (“work out justice”) is generally synonymous here with kri/nw (“judge”); since God is true and just, his judgment establishes justice.

The final expression of praise in verse 3, prefaced by another shout of “Hallelu Yah!”, draws upon the image of a destroyed and burning city (as in 18:9, 18). The announcement of “Babylon’s” fall in chapters 17-18 clearly depicts it as the result of a military attack (17:16). The specific motif of the city’s smoke rising up (eternally) is derived from the Abraham narrative (19:28); the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah came to be a traditional symbol for the end-time Judgment. A similar sense of finality is expressed in Isaiah 34:10, in the context of a nation-oracle that takes on eschatological significance. The same imagery was used in 14:11 for the heavenly aspect of the Judgment—that is, the eternal punishment that awaits for the wicked.

If the fall/destruction of the Great City represents the judgment on the Nations, it is depicted again, in different terms, in verses 17-21 (to be discussed). This is parallel to the visions in chapter 14, which, indeed, have a similar structure:

    • Declaration of the Great City’s fall (14:8; 19:1-3ff)
    • Vision of the coming of the exalted Jesus, marking the onset of the Judgment (14:14-16; 19:11-16)
    • The Judgment of the Nations, in terms of a great battle, resulting in carnage and destruction of the wicked (14:17-20; 19:17-21)

The first episode is an oracle of the Judgment, the third a description of the Judgment itself. There is thus no need to consider the fall of the Great City and the defeat of the Nations as separate events (indeed, they are combined in 16:17-21). However, it is possible that the author (and his readers) would have expected to see “Babylon” (i.e. Rome) fall at the beginning of this Judgment, with the defeat/destruction of the remaining nations following thereafter. This will be discussed further when we examine various interpretive approaches to the eschatology of the book, at the conclusion of this series.

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December 6: Revelation 18:21-24

Revelation 18:21-24

In the closing verses 21-24 we have a third heavenly announcement of Babylon’s fall in chapter 18. This time a Messenger uses a visual gesture to symbolize the message:

“And (then) one Messenger took up a strong stone, as a great grinding-stone, and threw it into the sea, saying: ‘So Babilim the Great City will be thrown (down) with violence, and shall (surely) not be found any longer!'” (v. 21)

This is a more dramatic version of the oracle against Babylon (the actual city) in Jeremiah 51:63-64, where a stone with a scroll tied to it was thrown into the Euphrates River, to visualize the message that “Babylon shall sink”. Similarly the stones of Tyre (cf. the previous note) would be thrown into the sea as part of her judgment and destruction (Ezekiel 26:12, 21). Jesus uses the same image of a millstone (mu/lo$, grinding-stone) thrown into the sea as a symbol of Judgment (Mark 9:42 par). The Prophets of Israel occasionally were directed (by God) to make use of concrete visual aids to illustrate the message of judgment, even as the Angel does here.

“‘And the voice of harpers and musicians and pipers and trumpeters shall (surely) not be heard in you any longer, and every (one) producing every (kind of) production shall (also surely) not be found in you any longer, and the voice of a grinding-stone shall (surely) not be heard in you any longer, and the light of a lamp shall (surely) not give light in you any longer, and bride-groom and bride shall (surely) not be heard in you any longer—(for it is) that your (merchant)s making passage in (the land) were the greatest (one)s of the earth, (and) that in your use of drugs all the nations were led astray! And (it is) in her (that the) blood of foretellers and holy (one)s was found, and (also) of all the (one)s having been slain upon the earth!'” (vv. 22-24)

The awkward syntax of the declaration in verses 22-24, both repetitive and with shifts in grammatical subject, reflects the harshness of the message itself, as the visions of chapters 17-18 build to a final climax. The list in vv. 22-23a is similar to the list of mercantile items in vv. 11-14; there it referred to the commercial activity that comes to an end with the fall of the Great City, here it is features of daily life (on the basic language and imagery, cf. Jeremiah 25:10). The millstone, used for grinding grain, is one of the items listed here, and its presence as the main visual symbol of the Angel’s action (v. 21) serves to indicate that daily life throughout the Great City is coming to an end. Both artists (i.e. musicians) and artisans (craftspeople and technicians) disappear; with the collapse of society, there is no need for these specialized workers. Even the basic act of grinding grain to produce food for the community, and the lamp-light by which such work is done, stops with the fall of the City. Family life ceases as well, as represented by marriage and wedding festivities (“bridegroom and bride”). The emptiness and desolation of the City is emphasized with the passive verbal references, repeated several times, that these activities of daily life “will no longer be found” and “will no longer be heard“. This sense of desolation was depicted differently in verse 2—the fallen City as the haunt of scavenging birds and wild animals.

The syntax and line of thought in vv. 23b-24 is difficult to discern. The list of daily activities that will cease is followed by two o%ti-clauses in v. 23:

    • “that [o%ti] your (merchant)s making passage in (the land) were the greatest (one)s of the earth”
    • “that [o%ti] in your use of drugs [farmakei/a] all the nations were led astray”

How do these relate to the prior list, and to each other? The first clause seems to express the reason why the things of daily life come to an end, i.e. “because your merchants…”. Perhaps this should be understood in the sense that the Judgment comes on the Great City because of its corruption, which means that its values are perverted. In Greco-Roman society, merchants and traders were often stereotyped as dishonest, coarse, and of the lower classes of society. To say that they were the “greatest ones” raises common commercial activity to the level of nobility; or, looking at it the opposite way, the nobles and “great ones” in society operate in a crass manner, addicted to the luxury and decadence supplied by merchants. The parallel between merchants and the use/supply of drugs, would confirm this basic idea that society is addicted to the material goods (esp. the luxury items) supplied by commercial dealers. This corruption and decadence marks the City’s downfall. The noun farmakei/a can also connote the practice of magic, i.e. use of potions and the like to alter the natural way of things, or one’s perception of it. In the earlier chapter 13 visions, the Earth-creature uses magical/miraculous means to lead astray the people on earth, so that they follow the Sea-creature and worship his image.

The syntax shifts again in verse 24, moving from second person address back to third person (“and in her…”). In English translations, this virtually requires that a new sentence begin, though in the original Greek vv. 22-24 are perhaps best viewed as a single sentence, despite the syntactical difficulties. It reinforces the sense that we are dealing with a genuine visionary experience; in the ordinary narrative of a planned written work, the author would generally take more grammatical care. Part of the problem throughout is that Old Testament allusions blend with visionary description, and this creates a certain tension within the narrative. Here, the statement in v. 24 alludes again to the Babylonian oracle of Jeremiah (51:49). The “blood” of believers—i.e. their being persecuted and put to death–is the pinnacle of the Great City’s crime, emphasized earlier in 16:6; 17:6, and elsewhere in the book (2:13; 6:9-11; 7:14; 11:7-10; 13:7, 10). Even as the activities of daily life are no longer found in the City, the blood of believers is still there, the stain of guilt for it remaining in her.

Yet, it is not just the blood of believers, but that of all those who have been slain. This is one of the only places in the book of Revelation where the more general aspect of the Great City’s injustice and violence is emphasized. Typically, the focus is on the suffering of believers, not humankind in general. However, early Christians were not unaware of the social injustices in the Roman Empire. With every conquest, each quelled revolt, etc, populations were put to death, impoverished and enslaved. Similar acts of violence and exploitation were part of the overall corruption of human society, in its wickedness. As such, it is very much to be included in the Judgment; the Great City’s crimes are not against Christians alone, but against all peoples and nations everywhere.

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December 4: Revelation 18:9-20

Revelation 18:9-20

Verses 9-20 continue the prophetic announcement of the fall of “Babylon”, by the heavenly voice in vv. 4-8 (cf. the previous note). Here are depicted three groups of people who cry and lament the great city’s demise: (1) “kings of the earth” (vv. 9-10), (2) “merchants of the earth” (vv. 11-17a), and (3) those who travel and “work on the sea” (vv. 17b-19). In addition to the Old Testament oracles against the actual city of Babylon (and its empire)—Isaiah 13-14, 21, 47; Jeremiah 50-51—the lament in vv. 9-20 draws upon the oracles against the city-state of Tyre (Isaiah 23; Ezekiel 26-28, esp. chapter 27), due to its prominence as a sea-faring commercial power.

Revelation 18:9-10

“And they shall cry (aloud) and beat (themselves) about her, (shall) the kings of the earth, the (one)s (hav)ing engaged in prostitution with her and experiencing (her) rough (pleasures), (now) standing from far off through the(ir) fear of her (painful) testing, (and) saying: ‘Oh, oh, (for) the Great City! Babilim the strong city! (for it is) that in a single hour your judgment came!'”

The language in these verses reflects that used earlier in chapters 17-18. It had already been mentioned several times how the “kings of the earth” had engaged in ‘prostitution’ with the Great City (as a prostitute), sharing in her lavish and reckless wickedness (17:2ff; 18:3; cf. also 14:8). The verb strhnia/w, along with the related noun strh=no$, was used in vv. 3, 7; it connotes “roughness”, living/acting roughly, i.e. in a reckless manner that violates standards of decency and morality. The expression “kings of the earth” is comprehensive, referring to the rulers and governments of the nations, especially those which were part of the Roman Empire—including the local rulers and officials in Asia Minor who participated in, and cooperated with, the imperial administration. It was, of course, the situation in the Asian province(s) which was most relevant to the author and audience of the book of Revelation. The scene alludes to Jeremiah 51:7-8, while the reaction by onlookers may also echo Jer 50:13 (cf. 18:16); the fear and horror expressed by the kings is also part of the oracle against Tyre (Ezek 26:15-17; 27:35). In verse 8, the suddenness of the judgment against the Great City (and its destruction) is said to take place in a single (mi/a) day; here it is described even more dramatically as occurring in a single (mi/a) hour. This alludes back to 17:12 and the “horns” (or vassal-kings) who will bring about the city’s destruction.

Revelation 18:11-17a

“And the (merchant)s making passage in (the lands) of the earth shall (also) cry (aloud) and feel sorrow upon her, (in) that [i.e. because] no one goes to the market-place (to purchase) the full load of their (merchandise)—not any longer!—(their) full load of: gold and silver and valuable stones, and pearls, and (fine) linen and purple (cloth), and silk and crimson (cloth), and (wood from) every fragrant tree and every vessel of elephant (tusk) [i.e. ivory], and every vessel (made out) of valuable tree(s) and copper and iron and marble, and (also) cinnamon and amomon and (other) fragrant (spice)s, and myrrh-ointment and libanos (incense), and wine and oil, and semidalis (flour) and grain, and (animal)s (for one’s) possession, and (flock)s of sheep, and horses and the four-wheeled (carriages they draw), and (even human) bodies and the souls of men!” (vv. 11-13)

The reference to merchants in verse 3b, alongside the “kings of the earth”, introduced the aspect of the commercial activity that took place throughout the empire of the great city “Babylon” (i.e. the Roman Empire). The specific expression is “e&mporoi of the earth”, parallel with “kings of the earth”. The plural noun e&mporoi essentially means those who make passage (or make their way) in a region—that is, in order to sell or trade their goods. Their lament for the Great City’s destruction is that they no longer have any place to sell their goods. It is a vivid and colorful way of referring to the economic collapse in society that goes along with the collapse of “Babylon’s” empire. Indeed, the Roman Empire supported a vast network of commercial activity, all through its enormous geographical territory. The wealth of the empire was indicated, especially, by the extensive trade in luxury items—these are generally the items mentioned in the list of vv. 12-13. The list itself is clearly inspired by the oracle against Tyre in Ezekiel 27, and essentially summarizes (in a shorthand form) the goods and transactions narrated in vv. 12-25 of the oracle.

The list climaxes with “(human) bodies and souls of men” —that is to say, slaves. The wealth of the Roman Empire, like that of nearly every powerful kingdom or state, was built upon slave labor. This is true even today, among the wealthy nations, though globalization and other factors have made the network of slave labor more complex, and less immediately apparent to the average citizen. A fitting symbol from Roman times would be the thermal bath-systems of the great cities; the slaves who labored below, stoking the fires, etc, were completely unseen by those enjoying the luxury of the baths above. The book of Revelation says very little regarding social justice, in the modern sense of the term; however, Christians at the time were not unaware of the inequities in society. Such fundamental injustice was a general part of the portrait of wickedness in the Roman Empire (and other nations) that would be punished in the great Judgment. The harshness and violence (including slave labor) that accompanied the City’s luxury is doubtless connoted in the use of the verb strhnia/w for the rough and reckless living of the Prostitute (cf. above).

The sense of loss is well expressed by the judgment-pronouncement in verse 14:

“‘And (so) the fruit of the hour [o)pw/ra], of (which) the impulse of your soul (was set) upon, (has) gone away from you; the sumptuous (thing)s and the radiant (thing)s were (all) lost from you, and not any longer—no, not (at all)—shall they (ever) find them (again)!'”

This poetic (or prosodic) verse has rather awkward syntax. The noun o)pw/ra is difficult to translate in English; literally it means something like “juice of the hour”, referring to the time or moment when the fruit is ripe. The first part of the verse, in the second person, is perhaps best understood in terms of the opportunity (for “Babylon”) to gain still greater wealth and power. Not only has that opportunity gone away, but the splendor which the City already possessed is also lost. The focus in the second part of the verse is on those others (kings, merchants, etc) who obtained wealth—symbolized by the luxury items in vv. 12-13—because of the Great City, by participating in its political and commercial networks of power. This is clear enough from the lament in vv. 15-17a:

“The (one)s making passage in (her to sell) these (thing)s, the (one)s (hav)ing been made rich from her, they will stand from far off through the(ir) fear of her (painful) testing, crying (aloud) and feeling sorrow, (and) saying: ‘Oh, oh (for) the Great City! the (one) having cast herself about with (fine) linen and purple and crimson, and having been golden-clad, [in] gold and valuable stone and pearl—(for it is) that in a single hour such rich(es have) been made desolate!'”

This is parallel to the lament of the kings in verse 10 (cf. above). The merchants similarly stand far off (makro/qen) out of fear for the judgment that has been unleashed on the City. Both in v. 10 and here the noun is basanismo/$, which fundamentally refers to testing, esp. the testing of metal in fire; it is often used in the negative sense of failing the test (i.e. the metal found to be false), in which case the fire (of testing) results in painful punishment, even destruction. This motif of testing by fire is, of course, most suitable for the destruction and burning of a city. In many English translations the decidedly negative connotation of basanismo/$ is made clear by rendering it as “torment”, “torture”, or something similar.

Kings and merchants both cry and grieve at the sight of the fallen City, expressing their sorrow in a similar form (beginning “Oh, oh for the Great City!”). Here the fine garments and gold jewelry are fitting for the lament of merchants, since the need for luxury items, and opportunity to sell/purchase them, has now come to an end. It also echoes the motif of the stripping and humiliation of the prostitute, leaving her (i.e. the City) desolate and naked (17:16; 18:7-8).

Revelation 18:17b-19

“And every (ship-)director and every (one) sailing upon (the sea to different) place(s), and boat-men and as many as work the sea, (they also) stood from far off and cried (aloud), looking at the smoke of her (burn)ing by fire, (and) saying: ‘Who is like the Great City?’ And they threw dust upon their heads and they shouted, crying (aloud) and feeling sorrow, saying: ‘Oh, oh, (for) the Great City! in whom all the (one)s holding the sailing-boats in the sea were made rich out of her valuable (wealth)—(for it is) that in a single hour she was made desolate!'”

Now everyone specifically involved in the seafaring side of the commercial activity joins the “kings of the earth” and “merchants of the earth” in making a similar lament (cf. above). A few extra details are added, such as throwing dust upon their heads, as a traditional sign of mourning. Also an additional (and climactic) question is given: “Who is like the Great City?” This echoes Ezek 27:32-33 in the oracle against Tyre. Both merchants and seamen are part of the commercial aspect here that is derived, primarily, from the Tyre-oracle in Ezek 27; the interest of the merchants is expressed in vv. 12-24, that of the seamen in vv. 26-32 (with the joining together in v. 25). However, given the special symbolism of the Sea (qa/lassa) in the book of Revelation, the emphasis on seafaring and “working (on) the sea” takes on particular significance. It alludes again, however subtly, to the wickedness of the Great City, and the Woman who sits upon the Sea-Creature and the “many waters”. Here the seamen lament their own loss, the personal (and selfish) interest of “the ones holding the sailing-boats”.

The rising smoke of the burning city (cf. verse 8, 17:16) was depicted in an earlier vision (14:8-11), and foreshadows the coming declaration in 19:3; it also serves as a symbol of the eternal punishment (i.e. the Judgment in its heavenly aspect) which awaits the wicked (14:11; cf. also 20:10, 14).

Revelation 18:20

The heavenly announcement of the Great City’s fall concludes with a note of rejoicing in verse 20:

“You shall be of a good mind upon her, O heaven, and (you) the holy (one)s and the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles] and the foretellers [i.e. prophets], (in) that [i.e. because] God (has) judged out of her the judgment (on) your (behalf)!”

The directive to be happy (vb eu)frai/w, “be of a good mind”) is addressed to the People of God (i.e. believers) in a three-fold aspect: (1) believers generally (“holy ones”), (2) apostles (“ones sent forth”), and (3) prophets (“foretellers”). Because God’s people (believers) suffered—being persecuted and put to death—during the end-time, all the more intensely as the period comes to a close, part of the Judgment against the wicked involves the working out of justice for believers (“your judgment”, i.e. judgment on your behalf). It is also possible that the Greek syntax here reflects the idea of the Great City being paid back in kind for what was done to believers (v. 6, cf. 17:6, etc). In that case, the wording would have to be translated something like: “God has judged out of her the judgment (given) [i.e. that she gave] for you”. This interpretation does not seem correct to me, since throughout the book of Revelation God is always the one judging or making judgment (vb kri/nw, noun kri/si$), not the wicked.

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December 2: Revelation 18:4-8

Revelation 18:1-8, continued

Revelation 18:4-5

“And I heard another voice out of heaven saying: ‘Come out, my people, (come) out of her, (so) that you should not have (anything) in common with her sins, and (so) that you should not (also) receive (any) out of the (thing)s striking her; (for it is) that her sins (have) stuck (one on top of the other), (reaching) as far as heaven, and God (has) remembered her injustices!'”

The voice coming from heaven indicates that the announcement is not so much coming through the intermediary of a specific Messenger (Angel), as it is a message coming from God Himself. This adds to the drama and climactic nature of the scene. In 10:4 the heavenly voice is associated with the sound of thunder, a traditional idiom for the voice of God (loq in Hebrew meaning both “voice” and “thunder”). A similar voice sounding in 16:1 directs the start of the great Judgment in the bowl-vision cycle.

The first part of the message in vv. 4-5 is directed at the people of God, which may seem strange since, within the visionary narrative, this moment occurs at the end (or climax) of the great Judgment, presumably after the faithful ones (believers) have already been rescued. This is to miss the main point of the visions, which are aimed at the people living in the Roman Empire (Asia Minor) at the time of the writing, before the great Judgment strikes. This part of the message is aimed at those believers—and, we may say, all believers—as a warning not to become enmeshed in the wicked worldly power of the “great city”. Those who leave “Babylon” are the faithful ones who will escape the coming Judgment.

The actual wording in vv. 4-5 echoes that of the oracle against Babylon in Jeremiah 50-51, specifically 51:45 (also 50:8; 51:6, 9); a similar message occurs in Isa 52:11, which is taken and applied (in a more general sense) for believers as part of the catena (Scripture chain) in 2 Cor 6:16-18. To “leave” Babylon (or the Roman Empire and its imperial government) is not meant in the literal sense of changing geographic location; rather, it means not participating in the sinfulness of its worldly power and wickedness—including, but not limited to, its pagan ‘idolatry’.

The motif of Babylon’s sins being “stuck together” (vb kolla/w), i.e. so that they are stacked one on top of the other, likely is an allusion to the ancient Babel narrative in Genesis, with its image of a ziggurat-tower that reaches high up into the sky, practically up to heaven (Gen 11:4). Here it is the city’s sins that pile up, figuratively, like a great tower. The imagery also reflects the idea of the pride and arrogance of the nations (and their rulers), with their worldly ambition to ‘reach up to heaven’ and rule like God on earth (Isa 14:13-14; Ezek 28:2; 31:3, 10, etc). This is central to the judgment against the nations in the Prophetic nation-oracles, and plays a key role in traditional Jewish eschatology and Messianism, and throughout the apocalyptic literature.

To say that God “remembers” injustice means specifically that he acts in judgment to punish it—Psalm 109:14; Jer 14:10; cf. Koester, pp. 699-700.

Revelation 18:6-7a

“You must give away to her even as she gave away, and make (it) two-fold for her—the two-fold (punishment)s according to her works!—(and) in the drinking-cup in which she mixed (the wine) you shall mix (it) for her two-fold; as much as she esteemed her(self) and (liv)ed roughly (for pleasure), give this much to her (in the pain of) testing and (its) sorrow!”

Justice requires that the punishment fit the crime and be proportionate to it. This is the ancient principle of lex talionis, and the irony for the wicked is that they will end up experiencing the same sorts of things that they did to others. However, the crimes of the “great city” are such that in the Judgment they will receive double the measure back in the form of punishment. Having done violence to others (esp. believers), “Babylon” will suffer the same kind of violence herself (Jer 50:15, 29; Psalm 137:8); on the motif of double-payment, cf. Isa 40:2; Jer 16:18 (Koester, p. 700).

It is not immediately clear just who the heavenly voice is addressing with the imperatives in verses 6-7. The address in vv. 4-5 was aimed at believers, but it is unlikely that this is the sense here. Heavenly Messengers (Angels) are usually depicted as delivering the Judgment, especially when it involved natural disaster or death. However, according to 17:16, it is clear that the “horns” of the Sea-creature—best understood as vassal kings of the Empire—are the ones who will bring destruction and desolation on the “great city”. While prompted by their own wicked impulses, they act according to the will of God, who ultimately controls the events, using the kings as a means to bring about judgment (v. 17). Frequently in the Prophetic nation-oracles, judgment comes by way of invasion and military attack (by human armies), and so it is here as well.

The measure of “Babylon’s” judgment is also based upon the extent to which this “woman” (prostitute) honored herself. Here I have rendered the verb doca/zw in the more literal sense of “esteem” (i.e., treat or regard with esteem), since it has to do with how the prostitute thinks of herself (cf. below). This self-pride leads to wanton and reckless behavior, as indicated by the verb strhnia/w (related to the noun strh=no$ in v. 3), which basically means “acting rough”, perhaps an allusion to the violence that accompanies her lavishly wicked lifestyle. While the Woman/Babylon may imagine that she is great and esteemed by all the world, the Judgment will result in a harsh and painful testing (basanismo/$) that will reveal her wicked and wretched true nature, and lead to great sorrow (pe/nqo$). This echoes the earlier idea that she will be left desolate and naked (17:16), stripped of all her fine clothing and jewels.

Revelation 18:7b-8

“(For it is) that in her heart she reckons that ‘I sit as a queen! I am not (one) lacking (a husband), and I shall (certainly) not see sorrow!’ Through this (then), in a single day the (thing)s striking her will come—death and sorrow and hunger, and in fire she will be burned down—(for it is) that strong (is) the Lord God, the (One hav)ing judged her!”

Here we see vividly what the woman thinks of herself, how she esteems herself—as a great ruler (queen, basi/lissa). Moreover, as one who has sexual intercourse (figuratively speaking) with many mates—all the “kings of the earth” —she certainly will never be “lacking” a husband. The noun xh/ra properly refers to someone lacking (that is, lacking a husband), often in the specific sense of a widow. The language here echoes that in Isa 47:8-9, a variation on the boast of kings and cities in the nation-oracles (cf. above). Rome was occasionally depicted as a queen or mistress of the world; for the personification of Rome as a woman seated (ruling) on seven hills, as in the chap. 17 vision, cf. the earlier note on 17:9. For similar wording (as in v. 7) applied to Rome as a woman, cf. Sibylline Oracles 5.173 (Koester, p. 701).

Verse 8 is parallel to verse 6, announcing that the punishment meted out to “Babylon” will be even greater and more intense than one might otherwise expect. In verse 6, this was expressed as a two-fold (i.e. double) punishment; here, the idea is that the judgment will come all at once, in a single (mi/a) moment. The use of the adjective mi/a (“one, single”) creates a wordplay allusion to the references in 17:12-13, 17, which also deal with the coming judgment on the city. The things that are to strike (plhgai/, ‘plagues’) are those very things associated with the siege and destruction of a city (cf. the previous note on 17:15-18). The “testing” (basanismo/$) mentioned in verse 7, generally refers to the testing of metal, etc, by fire; here, the woman/city is proven false and wicked in the judgment, and, as a result, is destroyed (burned to the ground) in fire.

The final phrase, declaring the strength of of God and His judgment, may be inspired by Jer 50:34, part of that earlier oracle on the fall of Babylon (the actual city). Here the emphasis is again on the fact that, even if the destruction of the “great city” will come through military attack (by the “horn”-kings), it is God Himself who brings this about—the kings and the armies act through His strength, not their own.

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December 1: Revelation 18:1-3

Revelation 18:1-8

After the vision and interpretation of the Woman (Prostitute) on the Sea-Creature (chap. 17), a second and related visionary scene occurs in chapter 18. It is not an extended vision, but a manifestation of heavenly Messengers to the seer (John). In the first announcement (vv. 1-3), a Messenger is seen descending from heaven; in the second (vv. 4ff) a great voice makes the announcement from out of heaven.

Revelation 18:1-3

“With [i.e. after] these (thing)s I saw another Messenger stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven, holding great e)cousi/a, and the earth was (fill)ed with light out of his splendor.” (v. 1)

The Messenger in chapter 17 was identified as one of the group of seven that poured out the Judgment in the bowl-visions, continuing the narrative theme of that vision-cycle. This is a different Messenger, marking a climax to that visionary narrative, announcing the fall of the great city “Babylon” in the most solemn terms. The detail of the earth being filled with light (passive of vb fwti/zw) serves two purposes: (1) it indicates that the great Judgment on earth is coming to a close, and (2) it enhances the dramatic setting for the announcement of the City’s fall. The e)cousi/a (“authority, power, ability”) the Messenger holds is given to him by God, much as the kings of the earth, etc, hold e)cousi/a from the Sea-Creature (who, in turn, holds it from the Dragon).

“And he cried out in a strong voice, saying: ‘Fallen, fallen (is) Babilim (the) great! She even came to be a house put down for daimons, and a guard for every unclean spirit, and a guard for every unclean bird, [and a guard for every unclean wild animal], even (those) having been (full of) hate!'” (v. 2)

This same announcement of Babylon’s fall appeared earlier in 14:8—the same Judgment setting, but in a different vision. The wording resembles that of Isaiah 21:9, while the announcements in chapter 18 as a whole also reflect the oracles against Babylon in Isa 13-14 and Jer 50-51. Throughout the book of Revelation “Babylon” is referred to as “the great (city)”, and symbolizes earthly/worldly power, i.e. as held and exercised by the nations and their kings. At the time of the first destruction of Jerusalem, the pre-eminent Near Eastern Empire was centered at Babylon; at the time of the second destruction, it was the Empire of Rome. For the author and audience of the book of Revelation, at the end of the first century A.D., Rome represented the pinnacle of earthly power, and also its wickedness. As most commentators recognize, the city of Rome (and her empire) is the primary point of reference for the symbol of “Babylon”. For more on this, cf. the prior notes on chapter 17 and 14:8.

Two (related) statements are made about the fallen city:

    • it has become the dwelling-place (“house [set/put] down”) of daimons
    • (it has become) the “guard” (fulakh/) of unclean (and hateful) creatures

This reflects traditional imagery related to any city that has been abandoned or destroyed, leaving it a desolate wasteland. It is typical of the Old Testament nation-oracles (e.g., Isa 34:11-15; Zeph 2:13-14; Jer 9:10-11); however, the language here is specifically drawn from the Old Testament oracles against Babylon (Isa 13:21-22; Jer 50:39; 51:37). The first-century destruction of Jerusalem, as predicted by Jesus, was similarly referred to as her “desolation” (Lk 20:21 [cp. Mk 13:14 par]; Matt 23:38, cf. also Lk 19:41-44), just as it was of “Babylon” earlier in 17:6.

Demons and evil spirits were thought especially to inhabit desolate places (cf. the ±¦z¹°z¢l  Day of Atonement ritual in Lev 16:8ff). This may seem rather superstitious to our thinking today, but it was a very real part of the worldview for many ancient peoples. As far as “unclean birds”, this is very much a natural phenomenon, referring to birds of prey and scavengers who use a desolate city as their haunt; the idea of scavenging off the bodies of the dead is probably alluded to as well. This also applies to “unclean wild animals”, such as jackals, hyenas, etc. There is some textual uncertainty about the phrase referring to “wild animals”, but it is likely original; the repetitious nature of the phrasing would have led copyists, even accidentally, to delete one of the phrases.

“‘(For it is) that out of the wine of the impulse of her prostitution all the nations have drunk, and the kings of the earth engaged in prostitution with her, and the (one)s making passage in (the lands) of the earth (as merchants) became rich out of the power of her rough (pleasure)s.'” (v. 3)

This concludes the Messenger’s announcement, emphasizing again the motif of the prostitution, central to the vision in 17:1-6ff, and also part of the earlier vision in 14:8ff. The related motif of drunkenness, as associated specifically with Babylon, goes back to Jeremiah 51:7. It is natural enough, the association between drunkenness and wickedness. The expression “wine of the impulse (qu/mo$) of her prostitution” repeats the idiom of 14:8; 17:2, and is parallel to the wine of God’s anger—his impulse to punish wickedness (14:10, 18ff; 16:19). The use of wine as a metaphor for blood also alludes in these visions to the persecution and death of believers at the hands of the wicked (16:6; 17:6).

To the imagery of 17:2, 12ff—that of kings engaged in prostitution with “Babylon” —is added the participation of merchants, etc, in her wicked ways. This represents the commercial aspects of imperial power (du/nami$), as people grow rich (vb ploute/w) in connection with the sinful luxury of the Great City. The noun strh=no$ (occurring only here in the New Testament) basically means “roughness”, and I have translated the plural here as “rough (pleasure)s”, connoting passionate and excessive behavior, which runs “roughshot” over accepted standards of morality and decency. Inclusion of merchants/traders in this imagery likely derives from a separate tradition, the oracle against the city-state of Tyre in Ezekiel 27:9-25; it will be developed further in the announcement of 18:4ff.

The second heavenly announcement parallels the first, but is much more extensive, spanning much of the remainder of the chapter (vv. 4-20). The primary message comes in verses 4-8, which will be discussed in the next daily note.

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Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 17

Psalm 17

This vivid, passionate Psalm is simply called a “petition” (hL*p!T=) in the heading, and a Davidic composition. Its tone and language are similar to several other of the Psalms we have studied so far, which also had many characteristics of a prayer or appeal to God. The meter of the Psalm is mixed, generally alternating between 4+3, 3+3, and 4+4 couplets. It may roughly be broken into two parts: in vv. 1-5 the Psalmist declares his innocence and loyalty to YHWH, while in vv. 6-15 the prayer turns to a request for protection and for the destruction of the Psalmist’s enemies. As always in these compositions, the ‘enemies’ are a nameless, faceless crowd–not individuals so much as a collective personification of the suffering and affliction felt by the protagonist. It is possible to subdivide vv. 7-15 into at least two tropes or sections (vv. 7-12 and 13-15).

Verses 1-5

Each part of the Psalm begins with a direct appeal to God, giving the work the character of a petition (hL*p!T=), as indicated in the heading. The verse 1 petition is comprised of a pair of 2+2 bicola:

“Hear, YHWH (my plea for) justice,
give attention to my cry (for help);
turn (your) hear to my petition,
(from) lips with no deceit (in them).”

To preserve the meter, with the inclusion of the divine name (YHWH) in the first line, the substance of the request is abbreviated. We might otherwise expect yq!d=x! (“my justice”) instead of simple qd#x# (“justice”), with “my justice” best understood as “my plea for justice”, “my request for justice”, justice being a frequent and constant theme in the Psalms, especially those with lament and prayer features. The parallelism in the first couplet is synonymous, while the second is synthetic. However, Dahood (p. 93) would read the MT aýB= (usually understood as preposition B= + a negative particle, “with no”) as a form of the verb alb (= hlb), “wear out”. This would give to the line the meaning “wear out [i.e. consume/destroy] lips of deceit”; then the parallelism of the couplet would be synonymous (and, in a sense, antithetic), contrasting the Psalmist’s prayer with the words of wicked/deceitful men. While this is possible, the parallel with verse 6, as well as the overall tone of vv. 1-5, suggests that the focus of the petition is entirely on the Psalmist, rather than the wicked.

Verses 2-3ab are comprised of a pair of 3+3 bicola in which the Psalmist declares his own loyalty and adherence to justice, and asks YHWH (as Judge) to test him in this regard:

“May my judgment (shin)e forth from (be)fore your face,
may your eyes look (clearly) at (my) straightness (in all thing)s;
you (may) test my heart, examine me (during the) night,
melt me (in the fire)—you will not find my intention (to be evil)!”

Each couplet contains a kind of synthetic parallelism, the second line building upon the first, increasing the dramatic tension. In the first line of each couplet the Psalmist calls on YHWH to test him, and deliver the judgment (fP*v=m!) which will confirm his just and faithful character. In the second line, he predicts how this test will come out for him. The motif of the first couplet involves the clarity and brightness of God’s judgment, since it comes from His very face which shines forth (vb ax*y`, “go out”) light, and His eyes which penetrate the darkness (of night). The Divine Presence thus sees and reveals all things. The second couplet deals with the idea and imagery of testing (metal, etc) with fire, this comes out clearly in line two with the verb [r^x*, which has to do with the smelting/refining of metal; it makes more concrete the testing (vb /j^B*) and examining (dq^P*) mentioned in line one.

Establishing an accurate division of vv. 3-5 into lines is somewhat difficult, the standard versification is problematic, both metrically and in terms of the parallelism of the lines. Moreover, the sense is not entirely clear regardless of how they are divided. Assuming that the MT preserves the text of the Psalm here more or less intact, it would seem that vv. 3c-5 should be taken together as a pair of (4+4?) couplets. In these lines the Psalmist declares more precisely the just nature of his character and conduct:

“My mouth does not cross over toward the deeds of man,
(but) by the word of your lips (do) I keep (myself);
(from the) paths of destruction my steps stay firmly (away),
(and) my footsteps are not shaken (from) within your tracks.”

In each couplet the Psalmist declares that he keeps away from the world and its wickedness (line 1), while at the same time keeping himself close to the ways of God (line 2). The juxtaposition of words (mouth/lips) and deeds in the first couplet is a bit odd, something of a mixed metaphor; probably here hL*u%P= should be understood in the general sense of “activity, behavior”, which would include how a person speaks. Dahood (pp. 94-5) reads the first line a bit differently, with the verb rb^u* in the sense of transgressing (i.e. crossing a boundary), and MT <da not as the common noun signifying humankind (“man”), but as a rare/archaic dual form of dy` (= da*), “hand”, i.e. God’s hand. The line would then read: “My mouth does not cross over against the works of (your) hands”. I do not find that interpretation particularly convincing; moreover, it distorts the parallelism of the couplets, which fits better if “paths of destruction” is juxtaposed with “deeds of man“.

The imagery in the second couplet is clearer—that of a person walking (steps/footsteps) in certain established paths. In the first line the paths are of destruction (Jyr!P*), i.e. broken down, as the result of violence (implied); the Psalmist keeps away from these (the verb Em^T*, “keep firm”, in the sense of keeping firmly away from something). Instead, his feet are kept securely in the tracks (pl. of lG`u=m^) God has laid down. The root lgu seems to indicate a round or circular track, such as the ditch which encircles a fortified site, which would serve as a suitable contrast to a site that had been broken down and destroyed (vb Jrp).

Verses 6-15

I am inclined to divide this second part into three components: (1) an initial petition (v. 6, parallel to that in v. 1), (2) a call for protection from the wicked/enemies (vv. 7-12), and (3) a renewed call to be rescued from the wicked, along with their punishment (vv. 13-15).

Verse 6

“I call on you, for you will answer me, Mighty (One);
stretch (down) your ear to me (and) hear my speaking [i.e. hear me as I speak].”

This is a single 4+4 bicolon which echoes the petition in verse 1 (cf. above). The request assumes that God will answer the Psalmist, a reflection of the covenant bond shared between El-YHWH and those loyal/faithful to him. Quite often in the Psalms this covenant emphasis blends together with idea of God as Judge, delivering justice for His people. That is certainly the case here.

Verses 7-12

In both verse 7 and 13 there is a call on YHWH to act, i.e. in His primary role as Judge—to protect the righteous and punish the wicked. This call marks the beginning of the two main sections in this part of the Psalm. The meter of verse 7 is apparently 3+3:

“May you set forth your goodness, (you the one) bringing salvation,
stopping with your right hand (the one)s standing up (against me)!”

I am inclined to derive <ys!oj from the root <sj (“stop up, muzzle”), along with Dahood (p. 96); this seems to make better sense of the text than reading it as a plural particple of hsj. The parallelism is synthetic—in the first line the Psalmist calls on YHWH to act (in covenant loyalty) to bring salvation, while in the second this act entails, specifically, the stopping of those hostile to the Psalmist (i.e. the wicked).

Verses 8-9 represent a pair of couplets (with mixed meter, 3+3 and 4+4), emphasizing the Psalmist’s request for protection from his enemies:

“May you guard me as (the) center within your eye,
in the shade of your wings you will keep me hidden,
from (the) face of wicked (one)s (who) would ruin me,
my enemies in (the) soul (who) come round against me.”

The main difficulty in these verses is the syntax of the fourth line with the expression vp#n#B= (“in/with [the] soul”); it is best understood as modifying “my enemies” (yb^y+a)), i.e. those seeking the soul of the Psalmist. In English idiom we might say, “my mortal enemies”. Also uncertain is the word tb in line 1. The MT /y]u*-tB^ literally means “daughter of (the) eye”, but it is possible that tB relates instead to tyB@, construct of the noun meaning “house”, or sometimes the place within a house or room. This might accord better with the context—i.e. the center (pupil) within the eye.

Verse 10 is hard to place, being a single couplet (with an irregular 2+3 meter) that, apparently, functions as an aside, an insulting description of the wicked person’s character:

“They are shut up in their (own) fat,
(and) with a rising up (of) their mouth they speak!”

The motif of being “shut up” or enclosed with fat (bl#j#) relates to the idea that the wicked are unable to hear and understand the word of God; instead, they speak arrogantly, proud of themselves. The uneven meter continues in verses 11-12, couplets alternating 3+4 and 4+3; it shows the hostile and violent action of the wicked:

“They observed me (as prey and) now they surround me,
they set their eyes to pulling (me) down in(to the) earth;
their likeness (is) as a lion longing to tear (its prey) apart,
and as a maned (lion) sitting in the hidden (place)s.”

The text of the first line is likely corrupt; yet all attempts at reconstruction are dubious. The context suggests that the initial verb should be derived from the root rWv II, which can be used for an animal lying in wait observing its prey (Hos 13:7), the very image here in verse 12. On the idea of the wicked as a predator (a lion, etc), cf. the imagery in Psalm 10:9ff.

Verses 13-15

In verse 13, the Psalmist again calls on YHWH to act, this time even more forcefully:

“Stand up, YHWH! May you confront his face (and) bring him down!
May you rescue my soul from (the) wicked (with) your sword!”

It is possible that the final word ibrj is not the noun with suffix (MT “your sword”), but a verbal noun with object suffix (“one using weapons [i.e. making war] on you”, “one attacking you”), ;B#r=j) (cf. Dahood, p. 98). The line would then read “May you rescue my soul from (the) wicked (one) attacking you” —the idea presumably being that, by attacking the people of God the wicked are attacking God Himself.

The deliverance of the righteous here entails the defeat and destruction of the wicked, as described in the two couplets of verse 14:

“Your hand bringing death, YHWH, you bring (them) death
from (the) duration (of their) life, their portion among the living!
And (the one)s (who are) your hidden treasure, you fill their belly;
(the) sons are satisfied and set down the remainder for their children.”

The textual situation in these verses is extremely complicated. There is evidence of corruption throughout, and the Masoretic text as we have it is confusing as well as rhythmically awkward. It is not entirely certain whether both couplets describe the fate of the wicked, or only the first; the latter option seems to be preferable. The Masoretic pointing cannot be relied upon and likely reflects an attempt to make sense of a confusing situation. The versions offer little help in clearing this up, and the fragmentary Qumran MSS 8QPs and 11QPsc are not complete enough to offer a distinct alternative to the MT; in any case, the textual confusion may already have been established by the 1st century B.C./A.D.

To begin with we have the repetition of <yt!m=m! in line 1, which the MT pointing reads as “from (the) men”. This makes little sense in context, and a number of commentators would derive it instead from the root twm (“die, bring/cause death”), which is preferable in terms of the scenario of judgment against the wicked. It is possible to read <ytmm as an intensive plural (<yt!omm=, cp. Jer 16:4; Ezek 28:8; Kraus, p. 244). Dahood (pp. 98-9) would parse it as a causative participle with plural suffix (<t*ym!m=); I tentatively follow this approach above. The repetition may simply be a stylistic device for emphasis. If so, there is a similar sort of repetition in line 2— “from the duration (of their) life” / “their portion among the living” —creating a unique parallelism in the couplet.

The second couplet (v. 14b) is even more problematic, with an extremely awkward rhythm and no obvious way to divide the lines; possibly something has dropped out of the text (or been added) to create this difficulty. The Masoretes already recognized a problem in the first word, identifying it as a verbal form with an object or possessive suffix. Even so, the meaning remains obscure. The root /p^x* signifies something that is hidden, sometimes in the sense of a hidden treasure. If it is the fate of the righteous being described in v. 14, then that is likely the connotation here as well. More awkward is the position of the phrase “(the) sons are satsified” (<yn]b* WuB=c=y]); rhythmically it fits with neither what precedes nor what follows, nor does it work to divide the couplet into smaller lines. However, the basic imagery seems relatively clear, establishing a poetic sequence:

    • YHWH fills their bellies
    • (The) sons are satisfied
    • They lay down the remainder (rt#y#) for their children

Thus, in spite of the textual difficulties, the couplets of vv. 13-14 effectively continue the two-fold theme of the Psalm—the deliverance of the righteous and the defeat/punishment of the wicked. Overall this language and imagery reflects the covenant bond between YHWH and His people, which includes the promise of protection and blessing. In the concluding couplet of v. 15, the Psalmist specifically identifies himself with the righteous/faithful ones of the people of God who are able to receive the covenantal blessings:

“(And) I, in justice, I will look at your face,
in waking I will be satisfied (with) your likeness.”

The physical blessings of v. 14 (i.e. “filling the belly”), we may say, have been transformed into spiritual blessing—understood in terms of a beatific vision of God. Beholding a theophany, i.e. the appearance of God Himself, represented the pinnacle of religious experience for the people of God in Old Testament tradition. Most important in this regard were the traditions involving Moses (cf. especially Exodus 34). In Numbers 12:8 YHWH declares that only Moses is able to behold His hn`WmT= (“likeness, form, shape”), the same noun used here in v. 15b. It seems clear enough that the Judgment scene of the afterlife is in view here, with the parallel between “in justice” (qd#x#B=) and “in waking” (JyQ!h*B=), i.e. waking out of sleep, the ‘sleep’ of death. This is one of the few passages in the Old Testament which indicates belief in a blessed afterlife for the righteous, though allusions to the idea seem to occur rather more frequently than is generally admitted. We have already encountered several instances in the Psalms studied thus far, beginning with the initial Psalm 1. The afterlife Judgment scenario was, in fact, a typical element in ancient Near Eastern Wisdom traditions; as we have seen, such Wisdom traditions are prevalent throughout the Psalms, and played an important role in shaping their outlook.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S. J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 16 (1965). Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, Biblischer Kommentar series (Neuchkirchener Verlag: 1978), translated in English as Psalms 1-59, Continental Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1993).




Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Corinthians (Part 3)

Survey of Passages in 2 Corinthians

Most of the eschatological references in 2 Corinthians generally follow those of 1 Corinthians (Part 1), including at least one section dealing with the promise of the end-time resurrection for believers (cf. Part 2 on 1 Corinthians 15).

2 Cor 1:13-14

“For we write to you no other (thing)s but th(ose) which you (can) know again (through reading them) and (so) know about (them), and I hope that you will know about (them) until (the) completion, even as you knew about us from a part [i.e. partially], that we are your boast, even as you (are) ours, in the day of [our] Lord Yeshua.”

The opening address in Paul’s letters frequently contain eschatological references or allusions, as we see here, in a climactic position, where they serve to exhort his readers to remain faithful until the end-time coming of Jesus, which he believed would take place quite soon. The expression “until the completion” (e%w$ te/lou$) is certainly eschatological, with the “completion” (te/lo$) referring primarily, if not exclusively, to the completion (or end) of the current Age (cf. 1 Cor 1:8). For other occurrences of the expression “day of (our) Lord (Jesus)”, and similar abbreviated versions, cf. the references in Part 1 (1 Cor 1:8; 5:5, etc). Believers who remain faithful are able to stand before God (and Christ) in the Day of Judgment, their/our faith being demonstrated by the works done on behalf of Christ. For Paul and his fellow ministers, this involves specifically the apostolic mission-work of proclaiming the Gospel and establishing congregations (such as those in Corinth). Much of 2 Corinthians is devoted to a defense by Paul of his role as an apostle, in relation to the Corinthians, urging them to recognize and affirm the relationship; this is well summarized here in the introduction.

2 Cor 1:22

“And the (One) making us stand firm with you in the Anointed (One), (hav)ing anointed us, (is) God, the (One) also (hav)ing sealed us and (hav)ing given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts.” (vv. 21-22)

As part of his lengthy narration (narratio), Paul makes this reference, in passing, to the Spirit. The sealing (vb sfragi/zw) of believers, related to the idea of anointing (xri/w), very much has an eschatological significance. The seal is what marks the believer as belonging to God, and is based on our anointing (i.e. our union with the Anointed One), which is manifest through the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and Christ. In the end-time Judgment, those marked as belonging to God (i.e. to Christ) will be saved. This eschatological emphasis is vividly depicted in the book of Revelation (7:3-4ff; 9:4; 14:1-5 [cp. 13:16-18]; 15:2; 17:8; 20:4). The Greek word a)rrabw/n is a Semitic loanword (Heb /obr*u@) used as a technical commercial term—something paid or given beforehand to confirm that a transaction will be fulfilled.

2 Cor 4:14

“And, holding th(is) the (same) Spirit of trust, according to the (thing) having been written, ‘I trusted, therefore I spoke’ [Ps 115:1a], even as we trusted, therefore also we spoke, seeing that the (One) (hav)ing raised the Lord Yeshua will also raise us (together) with Yeshua, and will make us stand alongside (him together) with you.” (vv. 13-14)

The passage in 4:7-15 builds upon the earlier discussion in 3:1-4:6 (see below), emphasizing the presence and work of the Spirit as an indication of the New Age being realized for believers already in the present, prior to the actual end of the current Age. Here this eschatological dimension to Paul’s argument is made clear with this reference to the future resurrection of believers (for more, cf. Part 2 on 1 Cor 15). We already share this power of the resurrection, being united with Jesus and participating (both symbolically and spiritually) in his own death and resurrection. Here the motif of the end-time resurrection includes the idea of believers being gathered together with Jesus at his return, and standing before him in the time of Judgment.

2 Cor 4:17-5:5

Here the same theme of resurrection and future life is developed further, using the natural image of the physical body as a tent. Of all the New Testament authors, Paul makes most use of the imagery of believers—individually and collectively—serving as the dwelling-place (tent/house/shrine) of God (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Rom 8:9-11; also Eph 2:21-22). Here the emphasis is more on the transitory nature of the tent as a dwelling place. Paul refers to this in the context of current/present suffering and hardship among believers:

“For the light(ness) of our distress th(at is) along at this (time) is work(ing) according to a throwing over (and) over (into) the weight of honor of the Ages for us.” (v. 17)

The Greek syntax here is almost impossible to translate literally. The main point is that the current “distress” (qli/yi$) believers face is slight compared to the eternal honor that awaits them at the end; indeed, the present suffering (on earth) leads to that heavenly honor and splendor. The honor that will come, especially, to those persecuted during the end-time period of distress is a common theme in the New Testament. The noun qli/yi$ served as an eschatological technical term for early Christians (Mark 13:19, 24; 1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 2:4, 6; Rev 7:14, etc), and it is unlikely that Paul would use it here without this connotation in mind (other occurrences of the word in 2 Corinthians are at 1:4, 8; 2:4; 6:4; 7:4; 8:2,13). It was believed that he and his readers were living in the end times, and the suffering experienced by believers (that for the sake of their Christian faith and identity, especially) was very much part of this end-time period of distress (Mk 13:9-13 par, etc).

References to believers as a house or shrine for the Spirit tend to have a strong ethical (and exhortational) context, drawing upon the idea that the dwelling place of God must be kept pure and holy (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16). The same is true here. That Paul has the sanctuary of the Tent-shrine (and Temple) primarily in mind is confirmed by the previous references to the Moses-traditions in 3:7-18 (cf. below). Moreover, the use of the adjective a)xeiropoi/hto$ (“made without hands”) almost certainly relates to the contrast between the earthly Temple and a “new” Temple as the true/spiritual dwelling of God, found at several key points in early Christian tradition—Mark 14:58; Acts 7:41, 48; cf. Col 2:11. Here, however, the “new” shrine is expressed in terms of the resurrection, a heavenly/spiritual ‘building’ which will be inherited by believers:

“For we have seen that, if our tent-house upon earth should be loosed down [i.e. dissolved], we hold a house-structure out of God, a house of the Ages [i.e. eternal] made without hands, in the heavens.” (v. 1)

The same verb katalu/w (“loose down”, i.e. dissolve, destroy) was used in the Temple-saying traditions of Jesus (Mark 13:2 par; 14:58 par; simple lu/w in John 2:19). In verse 2, the imagery shifts from a building structure to that of clothing—new clothing instead of a new house:

“Indeed, for in this we groan, longing for our house (we) keep (on earth) to be sunk in [i.e. clothed] (with) the (house) out of heaven upon (it).”

The middle verb en)du/omai literally mean “sink oneself in(to)”, usually in reference to a garment. In English idiom we might say “get into (some) clothes”. The verb e)kdu/omai means the opposite, i.e. get out of clothes. This leads to the motif of a person being naked (gumno/$, i.e. unclothed) with its strong ethical implications (v 3). Paul’s words in verse 4 emphasize the importance of the body in the Christian worldview. Contrary to the more extreme instances of metaphysical and ethical dualism, the goal is not to abandon the physical body, but to see it transformed. This takes place at the resurrection, and is accomplished through the Spirit of Christ; thus the passage concludes with the same statement as in 1:22 (cf. above)—the Spirit as a promise (a)rrabw/n), in the present, of what is to be fulfilled at the end.

2 Cor 5:10

The section 4:7-5:10 concludes with a traditional reference to human beings standing before the tribunal of God to face the Judgment. According to the Messianic and eschatological belief of early Christians, it is Jesus, as the Anointed and heavenly representative of God, who oversees the Judgment. Thus it is referred to as the “bh=ma of the Anointed One”, the word bh=ma meaning a raised location one reaches by ascending steps. For other references in 1 Corinthians, with a similar ethical purpose, cf. Part 1.

2 Cor 5:17

“So then, if any (one) (is) in (the) Anointed, (that is) a new formation [kti/si$]—the old (thing)s came [i.e. passed] along, (and) see! they have come to be new”

We are so accustomed of thinking of such statements by Paul (Gal 6:15, cf. also Eph 2:15; 4:24) in terms of the present aspect of our Christian identity, that it is easy to ignore the strong eschatological aspect that is primary to early Christian thought. Indeed, as previously noted, the presence and work of the Spirit among believers is a manifestation of the New Age having come, even before the current Age has actually ended (Acts 2:16-17ff, etc). The end of the Age was still thought to be imminent, coming soon, but there would be a period, however brief (or long), during which the New Age would experienced, but only by believers, in the Spirit.

2 Cor 6:2

“For he says: ‘In a (well-)received moment I heard to you(r request), and in a day of salvation I gave help to you.’ See, now (is) the well-received moment for (this); see, now (is) the day of salvation!”

Paul cites Isaiah 49:8, applying it to his own time and the situation of his readers. It is part of his entreaty in verse 1, “…we call you alongside, not to receive the favor of God into emptiness [i.e. in vain]”. This relates to the overall message of the letter, as he urges the Corinthians to acknowledge his apostolic role and position in relation to them. The citation from Isaiah functions as a reminder (and warning) to them that the end-time “Day of the Lord” is very near, and could occur at any moment. For non-believers this day or moment (kairo/$) is one of judgment and punishment, but for believers, it is a moment of salvation and deliverance. Many Christians have doubtless taken this out of context as a kind of evangelistic message, urging people to come to faith in Jesus. While Paul certainly affirms such a message, it is not at all what he means here. It is specifically an eschatological reference, though the actual expression “day of salvation” is rather rare, occurring only here.

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

One of the most striking (and beautiful) passages in the letter is Paul’s illustration making use of the Moses/Exodus traditions (of Exod 34) in 3:7-18. It is part of his series of arguments, built into the narration (narratio) section of the letter (1:12-2:17; 7:5-16), dealing with his own role and position of apostle, in relation to the congregations at Corinth. Chapter 3 specifically introduces the idea of Christian ministers, from outside, who become established (and accepted) in a new location through letters of recommendation introducing them to the congregations. Because of Paul’s missionary (apostolic) role in founding the Corinthian churches, he argues that it is hardly necessary for him to rely on such letters of recommendation (3:1ff). More than this, the deep bond of relation, between he and the Corinthians, is spiritual, as indeed it is for all believers in Christ. This leads to a discussion of the Christian ministry as part of the new covenant between God and His people (believers), a covenant based no longer based on the Old Testament Law (of Moses), but on the Spirit (v. 3). I have discussed this passage as part of a set of notes in the series on Paul’s View of the Law; here I wish to focus on the eschatological aspect of this “new covenant” teaching.

An important, and often overlooked, dimension of Paul’s view of the Law is that, as the central component of the old covenant, is fundamentally part of the older dispensation that governs the current Age. The work of Jesus, and, with it, the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, marks the onset of the new Age, even before the current Age actually comes to an end. For believers, the old has already come to an end, including the binding force of the old covenant and its Law (Torah). Many Christians today, eager to see Paul as a Jewish Christian who continued to recognize the binding force of the Torah, are reluctant (and/or unwilling) to admit the implications of his arguments—in Galatians, Romans, and here in 2 Corinthians. In referring to Jesus as “the completion of the Law”, he uses a word (te/lo$, “completion, end”) which also has strong eschatological significance, i.e. for the completion (end) of the current Age. This same idea is expressed rather differently in our passage; note how he frames the illustration in vv. 7-18, in two interlocking parallel parts (vv. 7-11, 12-18):

    • The glory of Moses’ face: Parameters of the Old Covenant—God’s People (Israel) could only see the glory of God through the intermediary of Moses (v. 7, 13)
      • This reflected glory has been fading, and now comes to an end—use of the verb katarge/w (a Pauline favorite), signifying that something is made to stop working (vv. 7b, 14b)
        • Christ is the end of the Old Covenant and beginning of the New—the Spirit
        • Image of the removal of the veil (vv. 8ff, 14-16)
      • This establishes a permanent glory, that never ends (vv. 10-11, 18a)
    • The glory of Believers’ faces: Parameters of the New Covenant—God’s People (Believers), united with Christ, through the Spirit, are now able to see the Glory of God directly (v. 18)

It is in the climactic verse 18, among the most beautiful statements Paul ever wrote, that the eschatological dimension of the illustration come most clearly into view:

“And we all, the cover having been lifted up (from our) face, (and) ourselves looking at the splendor of God (as) against (a glass), are being transformed into th(is same) image, from splendor into splendor, just as (it is) from the Spirit of the Lord.”

Here Paul simultaneously expresses both aspects of early Christian eschatology: (1) the future being already realized for believers in the present, and (2) the promise of it being fulfilled completely at the end. This two-fold aspect is indicated by the parallel prepositional phrase: “from [a)po/] splendor into [ei)$] splendor”. The first phrase represents the current situation, the splendor (do/ca) believers experience in the present; it is from this point that we move ahead. The second phrase indicates what awaits believers in the future, at the end—the future splendor (do/ca) into which we are moving. Central to the statement is the noun do/ca, primarily meaning something like “esteem, honor”, but, when used of God, often refers to His manifestation in splendor. After his encounter with YHWH, Moses reflected this divine splendor on his face, but the people were unable themselves to look on the same splendor. For believers, the situation is different—we are able to look upon the Divine splendor, as reflected in the pristine clarity of the Spirit (“the Spirit of the Lord”). However, and this is a key point—it can only be seen through the Spirit, at least in the present. In the future, at the end time, it will be seen by believers in a different way, no longer relying upon the inner sight given to us by the Spirit; instead, our transformed bodies (cf. 1 Cor 15, discussed in Part 2), given new form by the Spirit of the Lord, will be able to see all things openly.