July 19: 1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6, 14; Jude 19-20

Today’s note continues (from the one previous) the survey of references to the Spirit in 1 Peter and Jude.

1 Peter 3:18-19

The exhortation and ethical instruction in 1 Pet 3:13-22 continues the eschatological orientation from the prior sections of the letter. This is fully in keeping with much early Christian instruction (in the New Testament), where the need for believers to conduct themselves in a holy and upright manner takes on special urgency, due to the nearness of the coming Judgment. Thus, we should not be surprised when the author (Peter) draws upon the ancient tradition of the great Flood (vv. 19-20ff) to expound and illustrate the instruction in vv. 13-16ff. By the mid/late-1st century A.D., the Flood, through which God judged the world of old, had come to be seen as a type-pattern for the end-time Judgment. This usage goes back to at least the 6th century B.C. (cf. the Isaian “Apocalypse”, chaps. 24-27), and was well-established by the time our letter was written (cf. my earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”).

The instruction in vv. 17-18 provides the transition to the Flood illustration that follows. The key point is the contrast between death in the flesh, and life in the Spirit. This essentially reproduces the same dualistic contrast found regularly in Paul’s letters, and is tied to the same central (Pauline) theme—of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Such participation is symbolized in the baptism ritual (cf. the explicit reference to baptism in vv. 20b-21). In verse 18, it is Jesus’ own death and resurrection that is in view:

“(For it is) also that (the) Anointed suffered one time over sins, a just (person) over (the) unjust (one)s, (so) that he would lead the way for us toward God—(on the one hand) being put to death in (the) flesh, but (one the other) being made alive in (the) Spirit.”

Believers experience new life from the dead, in the Spirit, even as Jesus himself did. This emphasis on resurrection from the dead leads to the rather enigmatic reference in v. 19 on Jesus’ encounter with “the spirits in (the prison) guard” —that is, the realm of the dead and those who are imprisoned there. The precise nature of this episode is not entirely clear, and interpretations continue to be debated by commentators today. In particular, it is not clear whether the “spirits” refer to divine/heavenly beings (i.e. [fallen] Angels) who were punished, or to the human beings who perished in the flood. Probably the former is primarily in view in v. 19; however, it is clear that the author has the latter in mind as well, and, indeed, it serves as the basis for the subsequent instruction in 4:1-6.

1 Peter 4:6, 14

The focus in the instruction of 4:1-6 is on the need for believers to remain faithful, with the expectation that they will endure suffering as the current Age nears it end. According to the traditional view, the end-time is a period of ever-increasing wickedness and godlessness, comparable to the condition of the world prior to the great Flood. A similar Judgment is coming upon humankind, as stated clearly in verse 5—it is a judgment that will apply to “(the) living and (the) dead”, that is, those who are currently alive and those who have died. This juxtaposition of life vs. death prompts the author (Peter) to recall the instruction from 3:18ff, with its contrast between death in the flesh and life in the Spirit (cf. above). The Gospel is proclaimed to all people, even those who are dead—understood both literally and figuratively—so that they can live in the Spirit. Again this ‘life from the dead’ is to be understood in both a concrete and symbolic sense—the promise of resurrection (in the future), along with the experience of new life in the Spirit (realized for believers in the present). The precise wording in verse 6 is interesting:

“…that they would be judged (on the one hand) according to men, in (the) flesh, but (on the other) according to God, in (the) Spirit.”

The judgment in the flesh, “according to men”, can be understood on two levels:

    • All human beings face the Judgment in the sense that they/we all die physically (“in the flesh”), and
    • All people will be judged for the things done during their/our earthly life (i.e. done “in the flesh”)

Believers face this same judgment, but with a different end result—they/we pass through it, into eternal life. This life also includes the raising of the physical body from the dead. It is only believers who experience this other side of the Judgment, “according to God” —that is, according to our identity as sons/children of God, realized through union with Christ and the abiding presence of the Spirit. This identity is well expressed in verse 14:

“If you are reproached in (the) name of (the) Anointed [i.e. because you are Christ’s], happy (are you), (in) that [i.e. because] the honor [do/ca] and the Spirit [pneu=ma] of God rest upon you.”

In other words, to be “in Christ” means that God’s Spirit is upon us, and that all that happens to us on account of Christ’s name will end in our sharing the honor/glory (do/ca) of God, which already “rests” upon us. The idea of heavenly reward here accords well with the beatitude-form (on this, cf. my earlier study).

Jude 19-20

At the close of the short letter of Jude, we find two references to the Spirit, both of which are well-founded on early Christian tradition, such as we have seen in the Pauline letters (and elsewhere). Verse 19 comes at the end of the main body of the letter, which is comprised of a series of forceful instructions (and warnings) regarding the threats to true Christian faith and teaching that have arisen (and continue to grow) at the end-time. The particular eschatological orientation, as it is expressed, is very close to that of 2 Peter, and most commentators posit some sort of relationship between the two letters.

Especially significant is the way that the wickedness of the end-time is seen as having infiltrated the Christian congregations. This outlook is typical of many of the later writings of the New Testament, in the period c. 60-100 A.D. We find it, for example, prominently as a feature of the Pastoral letters (esp. 1 Timothy), the Johannine letters, and (as noted above) 2 Peter. False believers are seen as exerting a baleful influence over the congregations, to the point of drawing some away from the true faith; certainly, such a danger is considered to be present. In vv. 17-18, the presence and activity of such false/wicked Christians is said to be a fulfillment of early Christian prophecies regarding the end-time (cp. Acts 20:29ff; 1 Tim 4:1ff; 2 Tim 3:1ff; also 1 John 2:18ff; 4:1-3). Here is how the author of the letter (“Jude”) summarizes these ‘false’ believers:

“These are the (one)s separating from (the things) marked out, (hav)ing (only a) soul [yuxikoi/], (but) not holding (the) Spirit.”

The adjective yuxiko/$ is extremely difficult to translate in English. I discussed Paul’s use of it in 1 Cor 2:14; 15:44, 46, where he contrasts it with pneumatiko/$. The latter is typically translated as “spiritual”, for which there is no corresponding English to render the former (i.e., “soulish”). Yuxiko/$ is often translated blandly as “natural”, but this is rather inaccurate and misleading. As the terms are contrasted by Paul, they clearly have the basic meaning “having (only) a soul” and “having the Spirit”, respectively. Non-believers do not have the Spirit, but only a soul; while believers, on the other hand, hold the Spirit in addition to their soul. This meaning is confirmed by the usage here in verse 19, as well as in James 3:15 (the only other occurrence of yuxiko/$ in the New Testament). The false believers are like the rest of humankind, possessing a soul but living without the Spirit of God.

Another characteristic of the ‘false’ believers, is that they separate from (a)po/) the things “marked out” (root vb o(ri/zw) and by God—i.e. the Gospel and the established (apostolic) traditions, etc. More to the point, this means that they do not belong to the gathering of the true believers. The wording here, using the compound verb a)podiori/zw, compares with what the author of 1 John says of the ‘false’ believers there: that they separated, going out from the true believers, into the world (2:19; 4:5-6; 2 John 7ff).

The reference to the Spirit in verse 20 has a different focus, emphasizing the need for believers to pray in the Spirit. On the specific association of the Spirit with prayer—and the special role the Spirit has in the prayer of believers—see Romans 8:26-27ff and the earlier note on Eph 6:17-18.

Supplemental Note on Isaiah 24-27 (4): Isa 27:7-11

Isaiah 27:7-11

Isa 27:7-13 represents the final section of the “Apocalypse” of chaps. 24-27. It is to be viewed as a distinct unit, and the third of three eschatological poems which follow a common pattern: a main poem, followed by two “day of YHWH” stanzas. The only question is whether verse 6 should properly be considered the beginning of this poem or the conclusion of the one prior (26:7ff). I prefer to view it as the conclusion of the earlier poem (see the previous note), though an argument can certainly be made for its inclusion as part of vv. 7-13. The scribe of the Qumran Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa) appears to have regarded verse 6 as the start of a new section, based on how he spaced the text.

Commentators have found some difficulty interpreting this poem, due to the way that it seems to shift suddenly—from a discussion of Israel (Jacob) in vv. 7-9 to that of an unidentified city in vv. 10-11. I would say that the opening couplet in verse 7 provides the key; though stated elliptically, there is a definite juxtaposition between God’s judgment on His people and that of the other nations (esp. those who oppressed/conquered Israel):

“Was (His) striking him like the striking of (the ones who) struck him?
Is he slain like (the) slaying of (the one) slaying (him)?”

God struck his people with judgment (i.e. conquest/exile), but has also struck (or will strike) those who attacked and conquered Israel (Assyria/Babylon). The Hebrew syntax is very difficult; each line has three component words, the one in the first position being a construct noun (with) preposition. The verbal forms in the second and third positions create problems with establishing the construct chain of relationship. Adding to the difficulty of translation is the fact that all three words in each line are cognate—two roots are involved:

    • Line 1—n¹kâ (hk*n`), “strike”
    • Line 2—h¹rag (gr^h*), “slay”

This duality reflect two aspects of judgment: (1) the initial blow that “strikes” the people, and (2) the result of (many of) the people being killed (“slain”, implying a military attack).

“In driving her, in sending her, He contended with her,
He removed her with His hard wind, in (the) day of q¹¼îm;
based on this, (the) crookedness of Ya’aqob will be wiped (away),
and (with) this, all (the) fruit—(the) turning (away) of his sin.” (vv. 8-9a)

The language in these lines is most difficult, and any translation must be considered tentative at best. Three different verbs are used in the first line, the first of which is quite uncertain. It may mean something like “measure”, related to the word s®°â (ha*s=); however, other commentators suggest a root meaning “drive along/away”, based on the Arabic sa°sa°. I tentatively follow this latter option, as providing a better parallel to the wind-motif in the second line. Another difficulty is the apparent 2nd person verb form t®rnâ (“you contended with her”), which is otherwise out of place in this section; most commentators opt for emending to a 3rd person form (“He [i.e. YHWH] contended with her”), even without any clear textual support for this (from the Qumran scrolls or the ancient versions). The gender shift from feminine suffixes (v. 8) to masculine (v. 9) is also confusing, though not unfrequent in ancient Hebrew poetry (for a similar use of the feminine, see the previous note on verse 6).

The first couplet in v. 8 refers to the Exile, especially vivid with the imagery of harsh east wind blowing, driving the people away (into exile). I left the noun q¹dîm (<yd!q*) untranslated above; technically, it refers to the east-wind (i.e. qdm as alluding to the eastern direction). The root properly refers to something in front, that meets (or strikes) a person; in English idiom, we might speak of something “hitting you in the face”, which would be appropriate here, since the primary image is that of people receiving a blast from the powerful (and hot) eastern wind. This “wind” (rûaµ j^Wr, also meaning “breath” and “spirit”) symbolizes God’s action—the divine judgment that comes upon Israel (and Judah) in the form of a devastating military invasion. By this, YHWH “contends” (vb rî» byr!) with Israel on account of her sins.

Yet, in the case of His people, this divine judgment has a redemptive purpose—it serves to “wipe off/out” (vb k¹¸ar rp^K*) their crookedness (twistedness/perversion) and to “turn away” (vb sûr rWs) their sin. This idea reflects a common theme in the 7th-6th century Prophets: that there will be a faithful “remnant” left following the judgment. However, depending on the precise dating of this poem (see below), it is possible that the message here is meant as a warning to Judah, so that it might yet avert the same kind of punishment experienced by the northern kingdom. More likely, the reference is more general, referring to the return of the people (Israel and Judah) from exile; the removal of all idolatry and wickedness represents part of Israel’s restoration.

Imagery associated with Canaanite religion syncretism—i.e., worship of Canaanite deities along with YHWH—is used to depict wickedness and false religion in traditional terms that would certainly have been familiar to readers/hearers in the 7th-6th centuries. The destruction of pagan altars and the removal of Asherah-images (v. 9b) follows the Deuteronomic prescription—Deut 7:5; 12:13 (see also Exod 32:20; 34:13), etc—and the corresponding reform under Josiah (2 Kings 23:15 par). Thus the land of Israel in the period of restoration will be purged and free from idolatry.

The scene in verse 10-11 suddenly shifts from Israel to an otherwise unnamed “city”. This is best understood in light of the contrast between the judgment on God’s own people (which is redemptive) and the judgment on the other wicked nations (which results in total destruction). Thus the city in vv. 10-11 is similar to the devastated “city of confusion” in 24:10ff; note also the contrast with the secure, fortified city (of the righteous) in 26:1-6. Probably Babylon is most directly in view here, but functioning also as a representative figure-type for the cities of all the nations. The fall of Babylon, with its great city left desolate and in ruin, served as a powerful symbol in the exilic period—one which would last for many centuries (see esp. the use of the imagery in the book of Revelation).

The description in verse 10 begins:

“For the fenced [i.e. fortified] city (is left) alone,
a habitation (with people) sent away, and left (empty)”

The city is desolate and empty, the use of passive forms of the verbs š¹laµ (“send”) and ±¹za» (“leave”) specifically connoting the deprivation of any people—i.e., no one is left living in it. It becomes a pasture (play on the word n¹weh, translated “habitation” above) where animals graze and feed. The branches of once fertile trees and plants have become dry/withered and fallen off; they serve as kindling for the fire of the great Judgment (vv. 10b-11a).

“It [i.e. the city] has no discernment,
(and) for this (reason) the (One) making it has no care for it,
(and) the (One) forming it will show it no favor.” (v. 11b)

This lack of discernment/understanding (bînâ) is frequently brought as a charge against God’s own people Israel in the prophetic oracles of judgment. Here, however, the context suggests that we are dealing with the other nations, viewed collectively as a single “city”. Given the specific juxtaposition in verse 7 (see above), this should be understood primarily as a reference to the conquering empire-states of Assyria and Babylon (the latter being the more direct point of reference). God shows mercy to His people, even in the time of judgment, since the conquest/exile has a redemptive purpose (see above), with a restored people returning from exile into a New Age. By contrast, in the great Judgment against the nations, YHWH will show no mercy—the great City (of the nations) will be utterly ruined and destroyed, ultimately being consumed by fire.

Certain details and points of emphasis in the poem raise the possibility that it stems from a setting in which the Babylonian conquest of Judah (the southern kingdom) has not yet taken place. This could mean a date anywhere from the late 8th to the early 6th century. Some commentators (such as J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah, Hermeneia [Fortress Press: 2015]) would date the entirety of chapters 24-27 to the late 7th or early 6th century, prior to the fall of Jerusalem (587). While this is possible, a time-frame more firmly in the mid-6th century seems to me more likely. Indeed, I would say that the final shaping of chaps. 13-27, as a whole, is best located in the mid-6th century, sometime prior to the fall of Babylon (539).

This will be discussed further in the next (and final note) of this set, as we consider the two “Day of YHWH” stanzas in verses 12-13.

Supplemental Note on Isaiah 24-27 (3): Isa 27:6

Isaiah 27:6

There is some question as to whether verse 6 more properly belongs as part of the poem in 26:7ff or with what follows in 27:7-13. The scribe of the great Qumran Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa) left a space after verse 5, which indicates that he felt verse 6 started a new section. In my view is seems better to consider it as the closing refrain of the poem in 26:7-27:6. After the two “Day of YHWH” stanzas (see the prior notes on v. 1 and vv. 2-5), we have this final declaration of what will take place for Israel in the coming days.

“(In) the coming (day)s,
He will cause Ya’aqob to take root,
He will make Yisrael blossom and sprout,
and they will fill the face of the t¢»¢l (with) fruit.”

This climactic stanza is a declaration of the restoration of God’s people in the Age to Come. The restoration of Israel (and return from exile) was a frequent theme in the 7th and 6th century Prophets, and one which gradually took on an eschatological significance. That is to say, Israel’s restoration/return would mark the beginning of a New Age for God’s people, coinciding with the end of the current Age. The end of the Age is the time of the great Judgment (the “Day of YHWH”) against the nations and the wicked on earth. This eschatological orientation is found throughout most of chapters 24-27, and is one of the reasons the section is commonly referred to as the Isaian “Apocalypse”. Later Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic literature (such as the book of Revelation) was greatly influenced by these chapters.

In our discussion of the vineyard poem in vv. 2-5 (see the previous note in this set), we saw how the severe announcement of judgment in the earlier poem of 5:1-7 was softened considerably in chap. 27, expressed more in terms of a message of hope for God’s people. The sense of warning remained, but framed as an exhortation for Israel to remain faithful to God, in the face of the coming judgment on all the nations of the earth.

The horticultural imagery of the vineyard poem continues in this final stanza, predicting the future fruitfulness of Israel and Judah. In the Age to Come (“[the] coming [days]”), YHWH will act out anew his role as owner of the vineyard, planting and caring for it. Now, however, instead of it producing rotten grapes or thorn bushes (in whole or part), there will be growth so prodigious, and fruit so complete, that it will cover the surface of the earth. The noun t¢»¢l (lb@T@), left untranslated above, is a tricky word to render precisely in English. It generally signifies the surface of the earth or land, along with what is contained in it. Sometimes this refers to the people who live and move about on the land—the earth and its inhabitants, i.e. the inhabited world—other times to natural and geographic features. Implicit in the noun, with its derivation from a root meaning “bring, carry, bear”, is the idea of the fertile parts of the earth—i.e.  those which bring forth and produce fruit. These are also the parts of the land where human beings are likely to set up communities, and where populations will grow. Thus the word t¢»¢l is essential to the overall agricultural imagery of the stanza, a fact that is almost completely obscured when translating it simply as “world” or “earth”.

The fruitfulness of Israel here relates to the common 6th century prophetic theme that the restoration of God’s people will involve a complete transformation of heart and mind—i.e. a new heart and a new spirit—brought about entirely by the action of God’s own Spirit. It is no longer a question of whether or not Israel will choose to be faithful to the covenant; the presence and work of God’s Spirit will ensure that His people remain faithful, holy and pure, now and into the distant future. This important emphasis represents the development of a more general motif—of God “pouring” his Spirit upon the land (and its people) as a whole (see Isa 32:15; 44:3, and my earlier note on these verses). The connection of this agricultural imagery with our passage here in vv. 2-6 is certainly clear enough.

Supplemental Note on Isaiah 24-27 (2): Isa 27:2-5

Isaiah 27:2-5 (and 5:1-7)

Verses 2-5 of chapter 27 represent the second of the two “day of YHWH” stanzas for the poem in 26:7-27:6. The first stanza (27:1, cf. the previous note) dealt with God’s Judgment on the nations; the second stanza here focuses on God’s people Israel. It involves the illustration of a vineyard to represent Israel, a symbolism found elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Psalm 80:9-17; Jer 2:21; 12:10-11; Ezek 15:1-8). In addition, the vineyard featured as a motif earlier in the book of Isaiah (1:8; 3:14), and especially the poem in 5:1-7; indeed, the vineyard poem in 27:2-5 clearly draws upon the earlier one in 5:1-7. This is an example of intertextuality (the citing or referencing of Scriptural texts) in chaps. 24-27, based here, in particular, on the critical theory that the Isaian “Apocalypse” was composed in the 6th century B.C., and develops, in various ways, the older Isaian traditions, such as the vineyard poem of chap. 5. In any case, 5:1-7 certainly is the older poem, and a proper understanding of 27:2-5 requires that we examine it first.

IsaIAH 5:1-7

“I will sing, now, for my beloved [y®¼î¼]
a song of my love [dô¼î] for his vineyard.”

So the poem begins with this couplet in verse 1a, involving some wordplay that continues to trip up commentators. Two related roots are involved—y¹¼a¼ (dd^y`) and dô¼ (doD)—each of which has the fundamental meaning “love”, especially in the context of romantic/sexual love. It is one of many examples in support of original biconsonantal roots that were expanded or developed into triconsontal roots in Hebrew (by the inclusion/addition of weak consonants, here w/y); in this case, the fundamental root would be dd (dd). The noun dô¼ can mean either “love” in the abstract sense or the object of love (i.e. “beloved”); here it must be understood in the former sense, as the context and the expression “song of love” (i.e. love song) makes clear.

It may seem odd to sing a love song for a piece of land, like a field or vineyard, but it was a common device in ancient love poetry. In traditional farming societies, the association between sexuality and agricultural fertility was natural and obvious—i.e. the (male) sky/heaven ‘impregnating’ the (female) earth through rain. A field or vineyard thus came to be a standard symbol for the “beloved”, the (female) object of love. It is well-attested in ancient Near Eastern love poetry, for which we need look no further than the Old Testament Song of Songs (1:6, 14; 2:3, 15; 4:12-16; 7:6-13; 8:12).

The “song” itself is brief, occurring in vv. 1b-2:

“There was a vineyard (belonging) to my beloved,
on a (mountain) horn, a son of fatness;
and he dug through it and removed (the stones from) it,
and planted it (with) red-flowering (vines);
and he built a great (high) place [i.e. tower] in its midst,
and also a (wine-)trough he cut out in it;
and he waited for (the) making of (good) grapes,
and it made (only) stinking [i.e. rotten] (one)s (instead).”

Some of the idioms and vocabulary may be a bit obscure to us, but the sense of the song is clear enough. The vineyard was planted in a choice location (the expression “son of fatness” means that it is characterized by richness and fertile [soil]). Moreover, the owner took great care to manage and tend the vines, and yet they only produced foul, rotten grapes. In verses 3-4, it is the owner of the vineyard (i.e. God) who speaks, in the first person. The illustrative meaning of the song follows in vv. 5-7; in particular, verse 7 interprets the vineyard as the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (and their people), and the ‘rotten’ fruit it produces is the wickedness—the injustice, violence, and oppression—prevailing in the land.

The illustration serves to announce the coming judgment, on the northern kingdom of Israel, in particular. The poem is addressed to the people of Judah (v. 3), the southern kingdom, and this suggests that the primary announcement is of the coming Assyrian conquests in the north (c. 734-721 B.C.). The south would face invasion as well, but the fate of the north here serves as a warning for Judah, implying that there is still time for repentance. In all likelihood, this poem was composed prior to the fall of the northern kingdom (described in the oracle that follows in vv. 8-24), meaning sometime before 722/1 B.C.

Isaiah 27:2-5

In light of the earlier poem in 5:1-7, we can now consider the comparable vineyard-poem here in vv. 2-5 of chap. 27.

“On that day [bayyôm hahû°]—
a vineyard of delight, sing for her!” (v. 2)

There is a clear allusion to the earlier “song of love” for the vineyard, though the specific love-poetry context is obscured somewhat by the peculiar detail in this brief line. The expression “vineyard of delight [µeme¼]” captures the sexual/romantic metaphor of the vineyard (on which, see above). Also we have the feminine suffix (here and throughout vv. 3-4), even though the noun kerem (“vineyard”) is masculine. It has been suggested that here h– stands for the masculine suffix o-, using the older (pre-exilic) script. This is possible, and indeed such confusion is evident at many points in the transmission of Old Testament poetry. However, in my view, the use of the feminine gender, in this instance, simply preserves the love-poetry setting, with the vineyard metaphor (= the female beloved).

“I, YHWH, (am the one) guarding her,
(and) at (each) moment I give her to drink,
(so) that no (one) should visit (harm) upon her—
(yes,) night and day do I guard her.” (v. 3)

These lines correspond to the devoted care given to the vineyard by the owner in the original song (5:1b-2, see above). Only now the harsh and bitter juxtaposition of the owner’s care vs. the failure of the vineyard has largely disappeared. Instead, YHWH declares something more along the lines of an unconditional concern for the welfare of the vineyard (Israel). The fate of the vineyard still depends on the fruit it produces, but this is expressed in more hopeful terms:

“There is no hot (anger) for me (about her)—
who would give me thorn and thistle-brush,
I will rush (out) in battle on her,
I will consume her in a blaze as one.” (v. 4)

The message of the vineyard’s failure has softened considerably, represented by its producing “thorn and thistle-brush” rather than “rotten/stinking (grape)s”. There is also no mention of the wickedness in Israel and Judah that will bring about the terrible judgment of conquest and exile. The main reason for this has to do with the presumed 6th century (exilic) setting of chaps. 24-27. The message for Israel/Judah is one of hope and promise for restoration. Indeed, the focus in the Isaian “Apocalypse” is not on the immediate judgment of conquest/exile (by Assyria or Babylon), but on the Judgment that is coming for all nations, at the end of this Age. The warning for God’s people is that they must remain faithful, or risk experiencing the same judgment that faces the wicked nations.

If Israel produces “thorns and thistles” of faithlessness, then it is no human army, but God Himself, who will wage war against her, even as He will against the nations (with His great sword, v. 1). She would then be burnt up in the fire that will consume the earth at the end-time.

The curious syntax in v. 4 may be intended to express this idea that the judgment will come on the wicked/faithless ones in Israel, and not on the land or people as whole. The wording in the second line of v. 4 is: “who(ever) will give me thorn and thistle-bush” —these are the ones, thorns and weeds in the midst of the vineyard, who will be attacked and burned up, “as one” (i.e. all together). In other words, it is not the entire vineyard, but only those parts that produce thorns/weeds. This eschatological message, involving the separation of the righteous and the wicked, is comparable to Jesus’ parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; cf. also his vineyard parable in Luke 13:6-9, and also the vine-illustration in John 15:1-5.

The overriding message of hope, rather than judgment, in this poem (compared with that of 5:1-7) is indicated especially in the closing lines of verse 5:

“And (so) he shall [i.e. let him] take hold of my place of strength,
(and) he shall make peace to(ward) me,
(yes,) peace he shall make to(ward) me.”

The feminine gender (see above) has shifted back to the masculine, indicating that the love-poetry setting has disappeared, and that it is now a more direct reference to Israel as a people. The imperfect verb forms have jussive force, i.e. “let him take hold…”, “let him make…”. The precise meaning of the noun š¹lôm (<olv*) here is a bit difficult to express in English translation. The rendering “peace” (i.e. “make peace”) does not entirely capture the sense, which has more to do with the idea of safety and security, in light of the emphasis on YHWH’s “place of strength” (m¹±ôz zoum*) in the first line. It might perhaps be better rendered “he shall make (himself) safe with me”. By trusting in YHWH, and taking firm hold of Him as a place of refuge, the people of Israel find peace with God and are kept safe from the coming Judgment.

 

Supplemental Note on Isaiah 24-27 (1): Isa 27:1

Isaiah 27:1

These notes are supplemental to the recent Saturday Series studies on the book of Isaiah, and the so-called Isaian “Apocalypse” of chaps. 24-27. The past three studies have offered a critical overview of these fascinating chapters, with introductory analysis of the main poems. As it was not possible to treat the material with detailed exegesis in those articles, I felt it would be good to devote several notes to a more in-depth critical examination of the last thirteen verses (27:1-13). This will allow for a demonstration of how critical methods and theories, for example, relate to a detailed verse-by-verse exegesis.

In the most recent study, I outlined the structure of 26:7-27:6, which I give again here:

    • Part 1—Contrast between the righteous and the wicked (26:7-11)
      • Exhortation for YHWH to act in judgment (vv. 12-13)
    • Part 2—Contrast between the fate of the righteous and wicked (vv. 14-19)
      • Exhortation for God’s people in the face of the coming judgment (vv. 20-21)
    • Stanza 1 on the Day of YHWH (“on that day…”, 27:1)
    • Stanza 2 on the Day of YHWH (“on that day…”, vv. 2-5)
    • Closing refrain—Israel’s restoration (v. 6)

The same pattern is found in 25:1-26:6 and the final section 27:7-13, and would seem to function as a thematic and poetic structuring principle for the composition as a whole.

Isa 27:1 is the first of the two “day of YHWH” stanzas, each of which involves the expression “in/on that day” (bayyôm hahû° aWhh^ <oYB^)—the “day” referring to  the Prophetic tradition of the “day of YHWH”, a time when God (YHWH) will bring judgment upon a particular nation or people. In the eschatological orientation of the Isaian “Apocalypse”, however, this day becomes a time when God will judge all of the nations together, at the end of the current Age. In this first stanza, the focus is on the judgment against the nations, while in the second, it is the people of Israel who are in view.

“On that day, YHWH will make a visit,
with His hard, great, and strong sword,
upon Liwyatan (the) fleeing snake,
even upon Liwyatan (the) twisting snake,
and He shall slay the monster that is in the Sea.”

This is one of the few examples in the Old Testament where ancient Semitic cosmological myth has been preserved. Stripped almost completely out of the Genesis Creation account, such language and imagery survives only in the older poetry, or in poems which intentionally draw upon ancient/archaic motifs. This use of cosmological myth can be glimpsed in the structure of the stanza here, in which the message is expressed through the joining of the last line to the first two:

“On that day, YHWH will make a visit,
with His hard, great, and strong sword…
and He shall slay the monster that is in the Sea.”

The first two lines, as a single poetic couplet, declare the coming Judgment, following the traditional “day” of YHWH motif (cf. above). The verb used here is p¹qa¼ (dq^P*), one of the most difficult in all the Old Testament to translate consistently, there being no viable English equivalent for its semantic range. It frequently connotes the activity of an authority figure functioning in a supervisory role—inspection, making appointments, administration of authority, rendering judgment/justice, and so forth; sometimes it is a specific military context (i.e. marshaling troops, etc) that is in view. Clearly, the context here is that of the (end-time) Judgment delivered by God upon humankind, with both its judicial and military aspects. For this purpose YHWH will “visit” the earth carrying his sword of Judgment—a sword characterized by three attributes: “hard” (q¹šeh), “great” (g¹¼ôl), and “strong” (µ¹z¹q). This indicates the severity and completeness of the Judgment. The same verb occurs a number of times elsewhere in the “Apocalypse”, and is a distinctive part of the vocabulary of the nation-oracle division of the book (chaps. 13-27)—cf. 13:4, 11; 23:17; 24:21-22; 26:14, 16, 21; 27:3.

This Judgment is expressed symbolically with the image of God slaying “the monster that is in the Sea”. The word rendered loosely as “monster” is t¹nnîn (/yN]T*), of uncertain derivation; the use of the word elsewhere in the Old Testament indicates a dangerous or powerful creature, typically in snake or serpentine form. The Egyptian setting in Ezek 29:3 suggests a crocodile; however, in passages such as Isa 27:1 (cp. Psalm 74:13), the reference is to a mythical sea-monster, drawn from ancient Near Eastern cosmological myth. This is confirmed by the two-fold mention of Liwyatan here in lines 3 and 4. Customarily transliterated in English as “Leviathan”, the Hebrew word liwy¹¾¹n (/t*y`w+l!) itself preserves a much older Semitic term, the exact meaning of which may well have been lost for Hebrew speakers in the 6th century B.C.

The reference here (and in Psalm 74:14; cf. also Job 40:25) would have remained obscure to us, if not for the discovery of the 14th century B.C. Canaanite texts from Ugarit. This same Liwy¹¾¹n (L£t¹n¥) is mentioned in the Ugaritic texts; in the cosmological Baal ‘Epic’ (III.3.41-42; V.1.1-2), it is the name of a “twisting” Snake-like figure (with seven heads) associated with the primeval Sea (personified, Yamm). The conflict between Baal and the Sea is narrated in the second tablet (II, CAT 1.2), though in III.3.38-40, the deity Anat (= Heb tn`u&) speaks as though she were the one who defeated the Sea (Yamm), contrary to what is narrated in II.4.11-31. This can perhaps be explained by the complex relationship between Baal and Anat, who are said to be brother and sister, and by Anat’s identity as a kind of personification of battle.

Along with the defeat of the Sea by Baal/Anat, mention is made of the defeat of other monstrous creatures which apparently were allies of the Sea. In III.3.38ff, these include a great serpentine Sea-monster (tnn), a similar being called “Twisting Serpent” (b¾n ±qltn), and another referred to as “the Ruler with seven heads” (šly‰ d šb±t rašm). The last two are also mentioned in V.1.1-3, along with Litan (ltn) also called “Fleeing Serpent” (b¾n brµ). All four of these mythic beings are mentioned in the Old Testament, but in conflict with YHWH, rather than Baal-Haddu. The same expressions “twisting serpent” and “fleeing serpent” occur here in Isa 27:1 (only with the root nµš instead of b¾n for “snake/serpent”). The same pairing of liwy¹¾¹n and t¹nnîn is also found in Isa 27:1 (and in Psalm 73:13-14). All of this confirms that the imagery in Isa 27:1 derives from ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite) cosmological myth.

In the ancient Near Eastern cosmology, the primeval waters (“Sea”) represented the state of the universe prior to the establishment of the created order (by God). It was viewed as a dark, watery mass, characterized by unformed chaos and confusion (cf. Gen 1:2). However, in cosmological myth, the (Creator) deity defeats or subdues this chaos, imagined as a battle against terrible monsters. In the case of the Canaanite deity Baal-Haddu, associated with the storm and rains, the “defeat” of the Sea meant that he had control over the life giving waters that surround the universe. The defeat of the Sea by El-Yahweh is not part of the Creation Account in Genesis, but it does feature at several points in the Psalms and other Old Testament poetry. For more on this “Conflict with the Sea” myth, cf. my earlier article in the “Ancient Parallels” series.

The imagery was also used to express God’s judgment against certain nations, especially those who brought destruction and chaos through their wickedness and violent conquests. This association (Sea—Nations) is best known from Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic (cf. throughout the book of Revelation, esp. chapters 12-18), but its roots are found in the nation-oracles of the 7th-6th century Prophets. The most common allusion connects the sea-monster (t¹nnîn) with Egypt—cf. Ezek 29:3; 32:2, and note also Isa 30:7 (raha», another name for the sea-monster, cp. 51:9; Psalm 87:4). The association with Egypt is probably due to the motif of crocodiles in the Nile river (cf. above). However, the mention of Egypt at the close of Isa 27 (vv. 12-13) raises the possibility that the mythical sea-monster (t¹nnîn) in v. 1 is also an allusion to Egypt (Roberts, p. 337f).

In my view, 27:1 is not to be connected directly with vv. 7-13, but with the earlier poem in 26:7ff, and the references here to the sea-monster (liwy¹¾¹n and t¹nnîn) are best understood as symbolic of all the wicked nations (together), and of the Judgment God brings upon them. I have already noted, in the prior studies, how chaps. 24-27 make use of imagery and motifs from the primeval history (including the Creation account), and that the “conflict with the Sea” myth here relates to the primeval condition of the universe in Gen 1:2 (note the use of the keyword tœhû in Isa 24:10). The end of the current Age will be like its beginning—dissolving into darkness and disorder. This is due to the wickedness of the nations, but also to the devastating Judgment God brings upon them. Only after the Judgment, can the New Age begin.

 

Saturday Series: Isaiah 24-27 (concluded)

Isaiah 24-27, concluded

As we have seen, chapters 24-27 of the book of Isaiah represent a complex and multifaceted composition. This is indicated by the different ways that commentators have analyzed the structure of this material. While a variety of approaches might be adopted, I believe that a definite structure can be discerned, especially in chapters 25-27. I touched upon this in last week’s study; the basic pattern in 25:1-26:6 is found also in 26:7-27:6, and I would summarize it as follows: an eschatological poem, in several sections, followed by two “day of YHWH” stanzas. These concluding stanzas, which involve the expression “in/on that day” (bayyôm hahû°), emphasize the coming Judgment by God upon the nations of the earth.

Isaiah 26:7-27:6

Here is my outline of this section, according to the pattern established above:

    • Part 1—Contrast between the righteous and the wicked (26:7-11)
      • Exhortation for YHWH to act in judgment (vv. 12-13)
    • Part 2—Contrast between the fate of the righteous and wicked (vv. 14-19)
      • Exhortation for God’s people in the face of the coming judgment (vv. 20-21)
    • Stanza 1 on the Day of YHWH (“on that day…”, 27:1)
    • Stanza 2 on the Day of YHWH (“on that day…”, vv. 2-5)
    • Closing refrain—Israel’s restoration (v. 6)

The main eschatological poem (26:7-21) is divided into two parts, each of which emphasizes a contrast between the righteous (i.e., the faithful ones of Israel) and the wicked (i.e., the faithless and the other nations). The initial couplet of 26:7 establishes this, focusing on the righteous, using the language of Wisdom poetry (and Psalms):

“(The) path for (the) just (person) is (all) straightness,
[Straight (One)], the track of (the) just (person) you make level”

In passing, it is worth noting the text-critical question involving the word in square brackets (y¹š¹r, “straight”). It disrupts the rhythm of the couplet (otherwise 3-beat, 3+3), and is omitted by the Greek Septuagint [LXX] version. If original, it involves a wordplay with the noun “straightness” (mêš¹rîm, an intensive plural); the path of the righteous is straight because the One who is straight (i.e. YHWH) makes it so.

Verses 8-9 describe the character and behavior of the righteous; by contrast, the character of the wicked is described in vv. 10-11. The paradigmatic Wisdom Psalm, contrasting the righteous and wicked, is Psalm 1 (discussed in an earlier article); and this section of the apocalyptic Isaian poem follows the same general wisdom-pattern. If the path of the righteous is “straight”, the wicked “twists” and perverts (vb ±ûl) things, moving away from YHWH (v. 10); such a person is unable to see God’s hand, even as it is raised to deliver judgment (v. 11). The righteous seek after God’s judgments, and, in the New Age, they become the vehicle through which God’s own righteousness is communicated to all people.

This raises an interesting point about the identity of the righteous and wicked. As in chapter 24 (see on vv. 14-16ff in the previous study), the focus seems to be on the righteous and wicked among Israel—the point of the message being that the faithless ones will suffer the same fate/punishment in the Judgment as the other wicked nations. This is how I understand the sense of the final couplet here in verse 11:

“and they will feel shame (at the jealous) zeal of (your) people,
even (as the) fire of your oppressors shall devour them!”

The construct phrases “zeal of (your) people” and “fire of your oppressors” are best understood as object genitives—i.e., the zeal God shows for His people (the faithful ones), and the fire He unleashes on His enemies. This language leads into the exhortation for YHWH to act in judgment, as is appropriate for the righteous (v. 12) and wicked (v. 13), respectively. In verse 13, the sense of the wicked has shifted to the nations (such as the Babylonian empire) who oppress God’s people and are enemies of YHWH.

Part 2 (vv. 14-21) of the poem deals with the contrasting fate of the righteous and wicked, in terms of death and the afterlife. Here the order of treatment is reversed: first the fate of the wicked (“[the one]s being dead shall not live”, v. 14), then that of the righteous (“your dead [one]s shall live”, v. 19). Bracketed within these two statements is a difficult passage (vv. 15-18) in which the people of Israel call out to YHWH, reflecting on their troubled history and suffering as a nation. It is worth considering these verses in a bit more detail; they may be further divided into two portions:

    • Vv. 15-16—Historical summary: The growth of the nation (v. 15) and its subsequent suffering (v. 16)
    • Vv. 17-18—Illustration of a woman in labor: Her pain (v. 17) and apparent miscarriage (v. 18)

The image of a pregnant woman (and her labor pains) came to be a widely-used symbol, in Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic, for the time of distress that marks the end of the current Age and beginning of the Judgment. Early Christian eschatology made effective use of the same motif (Mark 13:8 par; 1 Thess 5:3; Rom 8:22; Rev 12:2ff, etc). Here, however, it is the exile of Israel and Judah that is primarily in view, seen both as a time of distress (ƒar) and a chastening instruction (mûs¹r) by God. The motif of the woman in labor gives to this suffering an even greater sense of apparent hopelessness. The people writhe in pain and cry out to God (in His presence), and yet give birth only to the wind (rûaµ), not to a child; the wording here in verse 18 is significant:

“We were pregnant, we twisted (in pain), (but) as it (was),
we gave birth (to the) wind—
salvation we did not achieve (on) earth,
and (one)s dwelling (in the) inhabited (world) were not made to fall (as newborn children)”

The specific language is difficult, especially in the final line, and was apparently misunderstood by the Greek LXX. The word y®šû±â (“salvation”) is used in an ironic (negative) sense, referring to the failure to secure the lasting success of the people through child-bearing (understood symbolically). There may also be a specific allusion to a failure by Israel to fulfill its role as the people through whom God will bring the light of truth to all other nations (see above, on verses 8-11). Despite this lack of national success and blessing, the situation will change markedly with the restoration of Israel in the New Age. As in the famous prophecy in Ezekiel 37, this restoration-promise is here expressed in terms of new life from the dead (i.e. resurrection). The climactic words in verse 19 make this clear:

“Your dead (one)s will live,
your corps(es) will stand up (again)—
wake (up) and cry (for joy),
(you the one)s sitting in (the) dust!
For your dew (is) a dew of (pure) light,
and (the) earth will make (the) shades fall (as newborn children).”

As in verse 18, the use of the verb n¹¸al in the Hiphil stem (i.e. “cause to fall”) to refer to childbirth (i.e., the falling/dropping of newborn children), has caused confusion for both ancient and modern translators. Otherwise, however, the imagery is straightforward—the dead bodies of the righteous will live again in the New Age. The only real question is whether this resurrection-motif is simply symbolic (as in Ezek 37), or is to be taken literally as a promise of future bodily resurrection (cf. Daniel 12:2f).

Many commentators would question the extent to which Israelites in the Kingdom period believed in life after death, much less in a bodily resurrection; however, there would seem to be more afterlife allusions in the Old Testament than are commonly admitted, even throughout the earlier poetry. Such beliefs were expressed figuratively, primarily through a developed poetic (and mythological) idiom, and so are not stated as clearly as we might like. In any case, by the mid-6th century B.C., the increasing occurrence of resurrection-imagery in the Prophets suggests that the motif is drawing upon older, established traditions.

The poem concludes with an exhortation to the people of Israel (vv. 20-21) to prepare themselves for the coming Judgment. In particular, YHWH will punish the nations for their wickedness, violence and oppression, and the warning for Israel, repeated throughout these chapters, is that those who are unfaithful will share in this punishment. The emphasis on the Judgment leads into the two “day of YHWH” stanzas (27:1, 2-5), followed by a closing refrain (v. 6). I feel it is worth examining these verses in some detail, so I will be devoting several supplemental notes this week to their study, along with a separate note on the final poem of chaps. 24-27 (27:7-13). This will complete our study here on the Isaian Apocalypse, which must be considered only an introductory survey meant to illustrate how the principles and methods of Biblical criticism can help us understand such a challenging text of Prophecy, and to elucidate its message and meaning.

Next week, we will move further ahead in the book of Isaiah, to chapters 36-39, where we will explore how the historical episode of the Assyrian invasion of Judah under Sennacherib (and the siege of Jerusalem) was handled within the Isaian Tradition.

Saturday Series: Isaiah 24-27 (continued)

Isaiah 24-27, continued

In the previous study, we looked at the so-called Isaiah “Apocalypse” (chaps. 24-27) from a historical-critical and composition-critical standpoint, along with a short exegesis of the initial poem in 24:1-13. This week we will continue our study with a critical survey of the sections that follow.

Isaiah 24:14-23

It is not immediately clear if these verses belong as part of the earlier poem (vv. 1-13), or are better understood as a separate poetic section of the overall composition. Certainly the eschatological theme of the coming worldwide Judgment continues from the earlier section; however, the abrupt shift to the subject of worldwide praise suggests that the verses ought to be read as a distinct compositional unit. Perhaps it is meant as a contrast to the destruction and desolation of the great cities of the nations. Even as the entire earth is shaken, the faithful ones of God’s people (living in exile) all over the world sing out in praise. This is the two-sided character of the Judgment—destruction for the nations, but salvation for God’s people.

The context of vv. 14-16a is the dispersion of Israelites and Jews among the nations, primarily as a result of the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests. Quite possibly the central image of the sea (hayy¹m) here is meant to depict the nations in mythological terms, even as the motif would later be used in the book of Revelation. On the cosmological image of the Sea, as representative of the dark chaos of the primeval waters (Gen 1:2), cf. my earlier article in the “Ancient Parallels” series. The reason why there would be praise and singing coming from the “sea” (v. 14), i.e. from the nations, is that, for the faithful ‘remnant’ of God’s people in exile, this Judgment on the nations is a time of salvation. With the oppressive power of the nations broken, Israelites and Judeans will experience God’s deliverance. This rejoicing spans the earth from one end to the other (vv. 15-16a)—the realms of light (°¥rîm) in the East (i.e. where the sun rises) and the distant islands in the West. Quite possibly there is a bit of alliterative wordplay here between b¹°¥rîm (“in the [realm]s of light”) and b®°iyyê hayy¹m (“in [the] islands of the sea”).

Verse 16b poses a difficulty for interpretation. There is certainly a clear contrast intended, between the worldwide praise (of the faithful) in vv. 14-16a and the word of woe (against the faithfuless) in v. 16b-17. However, the point of transition in v. 16b is not entirely clear; the text reads:

“And (yet) I said: r¹zî-lî, r¹zî-lî!

The difficulty lies in the word r¹zî (yz]r*, doubled in exclamation along with (we may assume) the suffixed preposition (yl], “to me, for me”). The Greek Septuagint (LXX) omits the words in translation, perhaps an indication that the translator simply did not understand the meaning (such translation omissions can be found elsewhere in Old Testament poetry). Commentators and translators have typically derived it from the root r¹zâ (“be[come] thin, weak”), in which case the meaning of the exclamation could be something like “weakness for me!”, i.e. “I grow weak!”. Perhaps the sense is that, while God’s people around the world rejoice, the prophet is burdened by the realization that the faithless ones (among God’s people) will face judgment together with the other nations.

While the LXX does not translate r¹zî, other old Greek versions (Lucianic, Symmachus, Theodotion) understand it to be the Aramaic noun r¹z (zr*, “secret”) with first person singular suffix (i.e., “my secret”), and in this the Greek versions are followed by the Syriac and the Latin Vulgate translation. The sense would then be that, in the face of the worldwide rejoicing, the prophet holds a secret regarding the judgment that faces the faithless/disloyal ones among God’s people. If the exclamation does derive from the Aramaic r¹z (a Persian loanword, Dan 2:18-19, 27-30, 47; 4:6), then it would provide further confirmation that the section was composed in the Persian period (no earlier than the mid-6th century); on the historical-critical question, see the discussion in the previous study.

The restatement of the coming Judgment in vv. 17-20 provides another example of intertextuality in these chapters, apparently drawing upon earlier prophetic oracles and Scripture texts. We note, for example, the similarity between verse 18 and Jeremiah 48:43-44 (see Amos 5:18-20); or, again, how the opening of the windows in the high places alludes to the narrative of the great Flood (Gen 7:11; 8:2). These references indicate a blending of two Scriptural traditions: (1) the “Day of YHWH” in the prophetic nation-oracles, and (2) the great Flood; both motifs are used to express the idea of God’s judgment on the entire world at the end of the current Age (described dramatically in vv. 19-20). Subsequent Jewish and early Christian eschatology would make extensive use of the same two lines of tradition.

Verses 21-23 form a curious appendix to the poem(s) of chapter 24, and may be the product of a later editor. The heavenly entities (“armies of [the] high places [i.e. heaven]”), including the sun and moon, are set parallel with the kings of the nations on earth. From the standpoint of Israelite monotheism (in its more developed form), the worship of divine powers (deities) in the sky, sun, and moon, etc, by the Canaanites and other peoples, was a mark of wickedness and false religion—entailing a refusal to recognize YHWH as the (one) true God. In the great day of Judgment, YHWH will punish the nations together with the deities they worship (in the sun and moon, etc).

The basic idea has to do with the dissolution of the universe at the end of the current Age, especially as this is manifested in the heavenly places (of the sky); on the same eschatological imagery elsewhere in Isaiah, see 34:2ff. Possibly the motif of imprisoning the divine powers in a deep pit draws on a separate line of tradition (regarding heavenly beings [angels] who rebelled against God), similar in certain respects with accounts of war among the deities in ancient Near Eastern cosmological myths. Jewish apocalyptic literature would make much use of this tradition, and it also features prominently in the book of Revelation, including the specific idea of the wicked powers being held in prison for a long period of time before their final punishment (v. 22, Revelation 20:1-10).

Isaiah 25:1-26:6

The brief reference to praise in 24:14-16a (see above) is given much fuller treatment in chapter 25, where we find a poem of praise and thanksgiving to YHWH, composed in three main parts. The poem, and its components, emphasizing the faithfulness of God and the salvation He brings to His people, draws upon a good number of Scriptural and prophetic traditions, including a range of Isaian motifs. Compared with chapter 24, it is not so clearly eschatological in orientation; indeed, it shares much in common with a number of the Old Testament Psalms. A critical study of this section also reveals a more complex compositional setting; this may be noted by a survey of the three sections:

    • 25:1-5: A psalm, following in the Isaian tradition, which identifies (and characterizes) a great city of the nations, (to be) destroyed in the Judgment, as an oppressor of God’s people
    • [25:6-8: Refrain on the (eschatological) feast to be held on the mountain of God]
    • 25:9-12: Stanza 1 on the day of Judgment (“on that day…”)
      the great city (with its walls, etc) will be brought down to ruin
    • 26:1-6: Stanza 2 on the day of Judgment (“on that day…”)
      the fallen city will be taken over by the people of Israel/Judah

Complicating this picture are the lines on the eschatological feast (25:6-8) and the specific reference to Moab in vv. 10b-12—both of which seem to be intrusive to the remainder of the poem in its overall context.

The eschatological feast, at its core, represents a development of the ritual meal that marked the ratification of the covenant between God and Israel (see Exod 24:9-11), which took place on the mountain where God dwelt. The communal meal, with its sacrificial aspects, during the great pilgrimage festivals (e.g., Passover, Sukkot/Booths) draws upon a similar line of covenant-symbolism (compare Isa 55:1-3). It was only fitting that, at the end of the current Age, following the Judgment, the salvation of God’s people would be celebrated, in grand style, by a similar meal. Actually, the meal itself is mentioned only in verse 6; the emphasis in vv. 7-8 is on the New Age that is ushered in for God’s people, an Age in which suffering and sorrow will be eliminated. This suffering is the result of death, primarily (i.e. the motif of the mourning shroud), but also of the oppression and opposition Israel faces from the surrounding nations; this, too, has come to an end. All of it takes place on the mountain of God, a reference to the city of Jerusalem, cast in mythological/cosmological terms (see Isa 2:2-4).

The mention of Moab in vv. 10b-12 is more difficult to explain; it appears to be a holdover of the nation-oracles in chaps. 13-23 (see chs. 15-16), but is otherwise quite out of place in chaps. 24-27 where the emphasis is on all the nations of the world in a collective sense. Perhaps “Moab” serves as a cypher for Babylon here, much as “Edom” would for Rome among Jews of a later time. Certainly Babylon and Moab are closely connected in the Isaian nation oracles (chaps. 13-14, 15-16), and Moab was a traditional enemy of Israel, notorious especially from the episode in Numbers 25 (involving idolatry and immorality). Since the emphasis in Isa 25 is on the destruction of a great city of the nations, the insertion of Moab suggests that it represents either (1) Babylon as the wicked city, or (2) the cities of the nations (in their wickedness) as a whole.

The remainder of this survey will continue (and conclude) in next week’s study, where we will also consider the various critical aspects of chaps. 24-27 as a whole.

March 26: John 12:31-34

John 12:31-34

“‘Now is (the) judgment of this world, now the chief (ruler) of this world shall be thrown out(side); and I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself.’ And he (was) say(ing) this, signifying [shmai/wn] what sort of death he (was) about to die away from.” (vv. 31-33)

In the discourse as we have it, the dual-saying of Jesus in vv. 31-33 follows directly after the sounding of the voice from heaven—the declaration of God the Father in response to Jesus’ request (cf. the previous note on vv. 27-30). Thus, Jesus’ own declaration in v. 31 must be understood here in that context: “Now is (the) judgment of this world…”. The hour of Jesus’ death—which is also the moment when he (the Son of Man) will be given honor/glory—marks the judgment (kri/si$) of the world. This is an example of the “realized” eschatology that is so prominent in the Gospel of John. The events which were believed to occur at the end of the current Age—the resurrection, the great Judgment, and eternal life for the righteous who pass through the Judgment—are already being experienced now, in the present, especially for believers in Christ. Indeed, there are several places in the Discourses where Jesus clearly states that those who trust in him have already passed through the Judgment, and, by contrast, those who are unable/unwilling to trust have already been judged—cf. 3:19; 5:22-24 [cp. 27-30]; 9:39; 12:47-48; 16:8-11. For more on this, see the recent article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

In the Johannine theology and religious outlook, the term “world” (ko/smo$, perhaps better rendered “world order“) refers to the current Age (i.e. the current order of things) that is dominated by darkness and wickedness and fundamentally opposed to God. The end-time Judgment—already being experienced in the present—involves the judgment/defeat of these forces of evil, led and embodied by the figure here called “the chief [a&rxwn] of this world”, perhaps also personified as “the Evil (One)” (o( ponhro/$, cf. 1 John 5:18-19; John 17:15, etc). In more traditional religious language, this figure would be identified as the Satan/Devil. This expression “the chief of this world” also occurs at 14:30 and 16:11:

“…the chief of the world comes, and he holds nothing in/on me” (14:30)
(the Spirit will demonstrate [the truth] to the world) …about (the) Judgment, (in) that the chief of this world has been judged” (16:11)

The statement in 16:11 corresponds closely with that in 12:31; in terms of the context of the narrative, 14:30 and 16:11 are ‘located’ before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus, which confirms the idea that his death/resurrection is the moment when the “ruler of this world” is judged. The actual verb used is e)kba/llw (“throw/cast out”), with the adverb e&cw giving added emphasis (“thrown outside“). This means that the power/control of the Evil One is broken and he no longer has dominion over the world. Revelation 12 similarly sets the Satan’s expulsion from heaven (being thrown out/down) in the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection (vv. 5-9ff). The saying of Jesus in Luke 10:18 (“I observed the Satan [hav]ing fallen as a flash [of lightning] out of heaven”) relates to the time of his earthly ministry, and the authority he has (over evil spirits, etc), the same power/authority he gives to his disciples (i.e. believers) over the forces of evil (cp. the statement on the purpose of Jesus’ mission in 1 Jn 3:8). His death, of course, represents the completion of his mission on earth, and is to be seen especially as the moment of the Evil One’s defeat. This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

To this statement is added, in v. 32, an apparently separate saying which resembles, and repeats the message of, that in 3:14f:

“…even as Moshe lifted high the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him would hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].” (3:14-15)

“…and I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself” (12:32)

As previous noted, the verb u(yo/w (“lift/raise high”) in these Johannine passages (cf. also 8:28) has a dual meaning: (1) Jesus’ death, being lifted up on the stake, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father). The author’s comment in v. 33 specifies that the first of these is primarily in view, as is fitting for the Passion-context of the narrative at this point. To come toward (pro/$) Jesus means to trust in him, even as the Greeks who wish to “come toward” Jesus and see him (vv. 20-22) represent all the believers from the surrounding nations who will come to trust in him.

A sense of election/predestination (to use the traditional theological terminology) is connoted by the verb e(lku/w (“drag”), a verb that is rare in the New Testament, being used in 21:6, 11 in the context of fishing (i.e. pulling/dragging in the nets). It is also used in the judicial context of ‘hauling’ someone into court, etc, which would fit the judgment theme in verse 31 (cf. Acts 16:19; James 2:6). The most relevant parallel, however, is found in 6:44, in the Bread of Life discourse, as Jesus speaks of the dynamic of people “coming” to him (i.e. to trust in him):

“No (one) is able to come toward me, if (it is) not (that) the Father, the (One) sending me, should drag [e(lku/sh|] him (there)…”

The language almost suggests someone being pulled against his/her will, which would be a bit too strong of an interpretation; however, there is a definite emphasis in the Johannine Discourses on what we would call election or predestination—believers come to Jesus because they (already) belong to God, and have been chosen. The inclusive language in 12:32— “…I will drag all (people)” —is best understood in terms of all believers, especially in light of the presence of Greek (i.e.  non-Jewish) believers here in the narrative context; that is to say, believers from all the nations/peoples will come to him.

Verse 34

The response of the crowd in verse 34 is another example of the motif of misunderstanding that is built into the Johannine discourse format. Which is not say that these instances do not reflect authentic historical details, but only that they have been tailored to fit the literary context of the discourse. Indeed, the response of the crowd here is entirely believable. It refers primarily to the main line of the discourse—the saying in verse 23, along with the latter statement in v. 32—that is to say, the core tradition regarding the death of the “Son of Man”:

Then the throng (of people) gave forth (an answer) to him: “We heard out of the Law that ‘the Anointed (One) remains into the Age’, and (so) how (can) you say that ‘it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

This is best understood as a summary of different questions Jesus’ followers (and other interested hearers) had regarding his message. It reflects two basic issues, in terms of Jesus’ Messianic identity:

    • The idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, would die (and/or depart) before establishing the kingdom of God (on earth) in the New Age.
    • The manner in which he identified himself with the “Son of Man” figure—in two respects:
      • The Son of Man sayings which refer to his upcoming suffering and death
      • The eschatological Son of Man sayings, which refer to the appearance of a heavenly deliverer at the end-time

This will be discussed further in the upcoming note for Palm Sunday; you may also wish to consult my earlier series on the Son of Man Sayings of Jesus.

 

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Hebrews

Hebrews

Nearly everything surrounding the so-called Letter to the Hebrews—its authorship, date, audience, provenance, and genre—has been the subject of longstanding debate among New Testament scholars. Dating of the book ranges widely, between 60 and 100 A.D. Some commentators would use the references to the Temple, and lack of any specific allusion to its destruction, as an indication of a pre-70 A.D. date, but this is hardly decisive. The Christology of Hebrews shows a relatively high degree of development—perhaps more than in the Pauline letters, but less than the Johannine writings. I would tend to narrow the time-frame for composition to c. 70-90, probably leaning toward the earlier part of this period (c. 75-80?). This would be consonant with the eschatology of the book, for which two points may be noted: (1) the sense of imminence has faded somewhat, replaced by a more expanded form of traditional exhortation (warning of the Judgment, etc); and (2) a “realized” eschatology goes more firmly in hand with future expectation, though the former aspect is not nearly so prominent as it is in the Johannine Gospel and Letters (to be discussed in the next article).

Christology dominates Hebrews, and, to some extent, the Christological development of Messianic thought means that the early Christian eschatology has undergone development as well; cf. the earlier article dealing with the relationship between eschatology and Messianism. There are few passages in Hebrews which are fundamentally eschatological in emphasis; however, the traditions are present throughout, run through by a new and deeper line of theological exposition. It will perhaps be best to approach the eschatology of Hebrews by adopting a survey format, looking at particular aspects or elements of each passage, rather than attempting a detailed exegesis.

Hebrews 1:1-4

The prologue to Hebrews (1:1-4) offers a good example of the dynamic referenced above. The eschatological aspect of the passage is almost incidental, marked by the phrase e)p’ e)sxa/tou tw=n h(merw=n tou/twn (“upon [i.e. in] the last of these days”), v. 2. On the surface, this detail seems thoroughly eschatological, emphasizing that believers are living in the end-times, looking toward the imminent return of Jesus, etc (cp. Acts 2:17; James 5:3; 2 Pet 3:3; 2 Tim 3:1; cf. also 1 Pet 1:5, 20; Jude 18). However, in the context of Hebrews, the traditional phrasing serves rather a different purpose, establishing a contrast that represents (and foreshadows) the end of the old Covenant and the beginning new—a central theme that is developed throughout the letter:

    • God speaks in the old (pa/lai) times and ways–through the Prophets, but
    • He speaks in new way now in the last days—through his Son Jesus

Also eschatological in significance are the references to inheritance (receiving the lot or portion, klh=ro$) and to the Ages (ai)w/n, pl.) in v. 2, but, here again, the emphasis is Christological—God set Jesus to be the heir of all things (cf. also verse 4), even as He made all of Creation (all the Ages) through him. The earlier concept of Jesus’ divine status and position as the result of his exaltation is here combined with a clear belief in his eternal pre-existence. This developed Christology effects the way that the traditional eschatological motifs are expressed and understood in Hebrews.

Hebrews 1:14

The introductory section that establishes the theme of Jesus’ superiority (vv. 5-14) builds on the prologue, and concludes with a statement of the idea that believers will inherit salvation, even as Jesus inherits all things in glory alongside the father. This is yet another example of the early Christian understanding of salvation as eschatological—to be experienced at the end-time; believers are “…the (one)s being about [me/llonta$] to receive the lot/portion of salvation”.

Hebrews 2:2-3ff

This is the first of several exhortative passages in Hebrews, which draw upon the traditional theme of the coming Judgment, used as part of ethical and religious instruction. In earlier writings, the warnings are very much driven by the sense of urgency that comes from an imminent eschatology. In some measure, this is retained here in Hebrews:

“For, if the account (hav)ing been spoken through Messengers came to be firm, and every stepping alongside [i.e. over the line] and hearing alongside [i.e. being careless/disobedient] received its wage given forth in justice, how will we flee out (of danger) [i.e. escape], being [i.e. if we are] without concern (for) so vast a salvation, which, being received at the beginning, to be spoken through the Lord, it was made firm unto us under [i.e. by] the (one)s (hav)ing [i.e. who] heard (him)…”

In other words, the Judgment is coming, and we will not be able to flee from it, or escape it, if we are careless and do not remain faithful to Christ and the truth of the Gospel. This warning follows the same contrast, between the Messengers (as part of the old Covenant) and Jesus the Son (the new Covenant), that was introduced in chapter 1. Only now the focus is more properly on believers in Christ, rather than Jesus himself. Even so, the identity of believers as the people of God and children (“sons”, ui(oi/) of God, is based on our relationship with Jesus the Son (ui(o/$) of God. This the point made in vv. 10-18:

“For it was proper to him, through whom and through [i.e. for] whose (sake) all (thing)s (were made), leading many sons into honor, to make the chief leader of our salvation complete through sufferings.” (v. 10)

The eschatological dimension of believers as the sons/children of God—i.e., a religious identity that will only be realized fully at the end time—is dealt with most memorably by Paul in Romans 8:18-25ff (cf. the earlier article in this series).

Hebrews 3:1, 12-14ff

“There(fore), holy brothers, (one)s holding (a share) of the heavenly calling…” (v. 1)

This is a good example of how the Christological exposition in Hebrews is set within an exhortational framework, urging believers to live and act in the light of the truth regarding Jesus Christ. The opening phrase of this section establishes the essential identity of believers; this is a rhetorical device—by stating the identity of believers up front, the author puts in place the ideal, or standard, by which Christians should live. The expression that is particularly worth noting here is klh/sew$ e)pourani/ou me/toxoi, which refers to believers as “ones holding (a share) with (others)” (me/toxoi), i.e. with other believers, but also with Jesus himself. The share they hold is “of (the) heavenly calling”; this may be understood three ways:

    • The source and origin of the calling is from above the heavens (e)poura/nio$), i.e. where God Himself dwells; the Gospel revelation, and the manifestation of the Son (Jesus), is from God, as the Prologue (1:1-4) makes clear (cf. above).
    • It refers to what believers experience in the present, through the Spirit, in union with Christ.
    • It speaks of what waits for believers in the future—i.e. we are called to the heavenly abode, where we will dwell together with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This last aspect, of course, is eschatological. Cf. below on 11:10ff; 13:14, etc.

Following the Christological exposition (vv. 2-6), and the Scriptural citation (vv. 7-11 [Psalm 95:7-11]), this message is applied to the context of believers’ identity as stated in v. 1. The emphasis of the exhortation (and warning) is decidedly eschatological:

“You must look (to it), brothers, (so that) there will not ever be, in any of you, an evil heart without trust [a)pisti/a], in the standing away from (the) living God; but (rather), you must call each other alongside, according to each day, until the (time in) which it is (no longer) called ‘today’, (so) that no one of you should be(come) hard in (the) deceit of the sin. For we have come to be (one)s holding (a share) with [me/toxoi] (the) Anointed, if (indeed) we hold down firm(ly) the beginning of (our) standing under (in him), up to (its) completion [te/lo$]” (vv. 12-14)

Again the noun me/toxoi is used of believers, only now it clearly relates to our union with Christ, weaving the Christological message of vv. 2-6 into the earlier statement. Also woven in is the Scriptural example from Psalm 95—using the example of Israel’s disobedience (in the wilderness) as a warning to believers to remain faithful. The references to “the standing away [a)posth=nai] from God” and “(the) deceit of the sin” almost certainly have eschatological significance—i.e. allusions to the increasing wickedness at the end of the Age (the period of distress, etc)—as also does the temporal aspect of the (relatively) short time that remains until the end (i.e., while it is yet called “today”). The term “completion” (te/lo$) clearly has a strong eschatological connotation, as it does in many other passages we have studied.

Hebrews 4:1-13

The Scripture passage cited in chapter 3 (Psalm 95:7-11) is expounded further in chapter 4, developing the important theme of the pleasant rest that awaits the people of God. The Greek word is kata/pausi$, literally meaning something like “settling down”, “easing down”, with the idea of stopping or pausing (i.e. from one’s labor). The historical context of Israel entering the Promised Land is applied to believers; the implication being that “Israel” (the people of the old Covenant) was unable to enter this peaceful “settling down” in the Land, due to their disobedience. Nor was this fulfilled by the children of that wicked generation, who entered the Land under Joshua’s leadership (v. 8); thus, the author states clearly in verse 9:

“S0 then, there is left (behind) from (this) [i.e. there remains] a Shabbat [i.e. Sabbath]-like (settling down) for the people of God.”

The “settling down” for the true people of God (i.e. believers in Christ) has more in common with God’s “easing down” from the work of Creation, as symbolized by the Sabbath regulations in the Torah, etc. It is thus represents something far beyond the historical settlement of Israel in the Promised Land:

“For the (one) coming into His settling-down [kata/pausi$] (has) also settled-down [kate/pausen] from his works, just as God (did) from His own (work)s.” (v. 10)

This “settling down” is something that will only take place in the future, at the end. The promise is thus eschatological, as is indicated by the reference to the final Judgment in verse 13.

Hebrews 6:1-8

Hebrews seems to share much the same worldview as the book of Revelation, and may well have been written at about the same time. In both works there is a strong warning to believers against losing faith and ‘falling away’, all the more during the time of severe testing that precedes the end. Especially in Hebrews one senses the very real possibility that some might be led astray and could actually fall from faith in Christ. The first portion of chapter 6 in Hebrews contains one of the strongest such warnings along this line. The nearness of the end perhaps helps to explain the specific eschatological emphasis in vv. 4-5:

“For it is without power [i.e. impossible] (that) the (one)s (hav)ing once been enlightened, and (hav)ing tasted the heavenly gift, and (hav)ing come to be (one)s holding (a share) of the holy Spirit, and (hav)ing tasted the beautiful utterance of God and (the) powers of the coming Age—and (then hav)ing fallen alongside—(for them) to be made new once again…”

The harvest imagery in vv. 7-8 also seems to allude to the great end-time Judgment, as we have seen in numerous other passages, going back to the early Gospel tradition (Mark 4:29; Matt 3:12 par; 13:30, 40-43, etc).

Hebrews 7 (v. 19)

The “Melchizedek” exposition in chapter 7 is perhaps the most famous example of the kind of Christological (re)interpretation of eschatological and Messianic traditions, etc, that we see throughout Hebrews. The parallels with certain texts from Qumran (e.g. 11QMelchizedek) show that, by the first century A.D., the ancient traditions regarding Melchizedek were being applied to Messianic heavenly-redeemer and Anointed-priest figure-types, and that this explains how the author of Hebrews could similarly identify Jesus the Messiah with Melchizedek. However, the discussion in chapter 7 is fundamentally Christological, not eschatological, Melchizedek being utilized to establish how Jesus Christ (who was not a descendant of Aaron) could function as a High Priest—and with a Priesthood far greater than that of the Aaronid and Levitical priests of the old Covenant. For more on this, cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, together with the supplemental article on Hebrews.

Even so, the eschatological aspect of the new Covenant remains not far below the surface in the discussion, coming through at several points, most notably in verse 19:

“…but (on the other hand), (the) bringing in upon (us) of a stronger hope, through which we come near to God.”

The noun e)lpi/$ (“hope”) in the New Testament frequently has a definite eschatological connotation (i.e. the future hope, of the resurrection, etc), as we saw, for example, in the earlier studies on Romans 8:18-25 and 1 Peter 1:3ff. The idea of “coming near” to God also alludes to our standing before him at the Judgment, and of passing through into eternal life. The specific imagery used to express this, in context, is that of the High Priest entering into God’s presence within the sanctuary of the Tabernacle/Temple.

Hebrews 8:8-13

An often overlooked aspect of the early Christian understanding of the “new Covenant” is that it marks the beginning of a new Age—and is thus eschatological. This interpretation of the Covenant-theme goes beyond the basic idea that believers are living in the “last days” (Acts 2:17); rather, it means that believers are already experiencing the Age-to-come now, in the present, through the manifestation and work of the Spirit. Only believers in Christ have this experience of the New Age, prior to its full realization following the return of Jesus and the great Judgment. Thus, there is a definite eschatological aspect to the various “New Covenant” references in the New Testament, such as here in Heb 8:8-13, drawing upon the famous passage in Jeremiah 31:31-34 [LXX 38:31-34]. The words in v. 31 of the oracle, initially referring to a time in Israel’s (immediate) future, when applied to believers in their time (late 1st century A.D.), has an eschatological—and imminent eschatological—context:

“See, the days come [i.e. are coming], says the Lord, and I will bring together completely [suntele/sw] upon the house of Yisrael and upon the house of Yehudah a new diaqh/kh…” (v. 8)

The word diaqh/kh is typically translated “covenant”, but literally refers to something (an agreement, etc) that is “set through”, or “set in order”, as in English idiom we might speak of “putting (our affairs) in order” with a will or contract. The Greek work is used to render the Hebrew tyr!B=, which properly signifies a binding agreement. The verb suntele/sw (“bring together to completion [or completely]”) is related to the term te/lo$ (“completion, end”) which is often used in an eschatological sense (cf. above). In early Christian thought, the end of the old Covenant (v. 13) corresponds generally with the end of the current Age, a correspondence Paul brings out, for example, in passages such as 2 Cor 3:7-18.

Hebrews 9:23-28

Together with this “new Covenant” theology, and the idea of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, Hebrews utilizes the sacred space of the Tabernacle/Temple—particularly its sanctuary—as an image of the New Age that believers experience in Christ. This eschatological aspect is brought out at the end of the Christological exposition in 9:23-28, with its theme of a heavenly sanctuary—the true and real sanctuary which currently exists in heaven (with God and Christ):

“For the Anointed (One) did not come into holy (place)s (that were) made with hands [xeiropoi/hto$], (thing)s patterned after the true, but (instead he came) into heaven it(self), now to shine forth in the sight God, over us [i.e. on our behalf]…” (v. 24)

This corresponds to the motif of the heavenly city, i.e. a heavenly “Jerusalem”, a motif that is found elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. on 11:10f; 13:14 below). The entirety of Jesus’ work (as Priest)—including his earthly ministry, death and resurrection, and future return—is all understood as being set in the end-time, the “last days”, and is thus eschatological:

“…but now, once, at the completion (all) together [sunte/leia] of the Ages, unto the setting aside of sin through the (ritual) slaughter [i.e. sacrifice] of him(self), he has been made to shine forth.” (v. 26b)

This is typical of early Christian thought, and his hardly unique to Hebrews; it is the Christological emphasis, and development of the underlying tradition, that is special to this letter. The eschatological aspect is stated even more clearly in verse 28, in which the future (impending) appearance of Jesus is related to his first coming—both being end-time events, from the standpoint of early Christian eschatology:

“So, also the Anointed (One), (hav)ing once been carried toward (God) [i.e. as an offering], unto the taking up on (himself) the sin(s) of many, will be seen out of a second (shining forth), (quite) apart from sin, to the (one)s looking out to receive (him) from (heaven), unto (their) salvation.”

The early Christian understanding of salvation was primarily eschatological, as I have noted on numerous occasions; in this sense it refers to being saved from the great end-time Judgment, as indicated here in verse 27. Jesus first appearance involved the removal of sin, while his second appearance fully (and finally) brings salvation to those freed from sin (i.e., his second appearance is “apart from [xwri/$] sin”).

Hebrews 10:11-13, 19-25ff

The theme of the Priesthood of Jesus, as part of the “new Covenant”, spans the entirety of 4:14-10:18, being expounded and developed a number of ways. Here in 10:11ff, this exposition comes to a close, re-emphasizing the Christological dimension of the new Covenant. Throughout the letter, various Messianic themes and motifs were introduced and given a deeper Christological interpretation. This is certainly true of traditional Messianic passages such as Psalm 110:1, cited frequently by early Christians (e.g., Mark 12:26 par; Acts 2:34-35), as also by the author of Hebrews (1:13). It was the prime reference for the idea of Jesus’ exaltation to heaven at God’s right hand (cf. the discussion in my earlier article). Psalm 110 was also a key passage for the royal theology that would establish (and support) the priestly prerogative for the Davidic line (including the Davidic Messiah). It is thus altogether fitting that the author of Hebrews would again allude to it here.

The eschatological anticipation is emphasized in verse 13, where it speaks of waiting “until his enemies are set (down as) a foot(stool) under (his) feet”. This same aspect is brought out again in the recapitulation of the “new Covenant” theme (citing Jer 31:33) in verse 16, speaking of the covenant that will be made (i.e. fully realized) “after those days”.

The lengthy exposition of chapters 4-10 is capped by a final exhortation, in the form of an eschatological warning, in vv. 19-25. The various themes of the exposition are brought together concisely, woven through the exhortation, but the basic emphasis is clear enough, with its eschatological implications:

“we should hold down (firmly) the common account of the hope [e)lpi/$] (we share), without bending (from it)—for the (One) giving the message [i.e. promise] about (this is) trust(worthy)—and we should set (this) down in mind (for each) other, unto the sharpening of love and beautiful works…” (vv. 23-24)

The urgency of this exhortation to faithfulness (and action) is made especially clear in the closing words:

“…and (to do this) so much more as you see the day coming near”

This “day” is the “day of the Lord”, the day of Jesus’ return, which will usher in the great day of Judgment.

Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22-23; 13:14

“For he looked out for the city holding the (foundation)s set down, whose producer [i.e. builder] and public-worker [i.e. construction worker] (is) God.” (11:10)

This statement is part of the Abraham section (vv. 8-12) of the famous Faith-chapter (chap. 11). Abraham’s trust (pi/sti$) in God was demonstrated by his willingness to leave his homeland, in expectation of finding a new inheritance from God (cf. Gen 12:1ff). The author’s line of interpretation is very much like that used in 4:1-13 (cf. above), where the “settling down” of God’s people refers, not to the settlement of Israel in the promised Land, but to the eternal rest that awaits for believers in heaven, in the Age to Come. Similarly, Abraham is seen as going in search of an eternal, heavenly city—designed and built by God Himself—and not to any earthly land. The same is stated more clearly in the following section (vv. 15-16):

“And if they were remembering that (place) from which they stepped out, they (certainly) held a moment to turn back [i.e. when they could have turned back], but (instead) now they reach out for a stronger—that (is), a heavenly—city. Therefore God does not feel shame about them, (and is willing) to be called their God, for (so) he (has) made ready for them a city.”

The nature of this heavenly “city” is further described in 12:22-23:

“But you have come toward ‚iyyôn {Zion}, mountain and city of (the) living God, Yerushalaim above the heaven(s) [e)poura/nio$], and (the) multitude of Messengers all (together) in (its) market-square [i.e. a)gora/], and (the) e)kklhsi/a of (the one)s first-produced [i.e. first born] having been written (down) from (the registry) in (the) heavens, and (also) God (the) Judge of all, and the spirits of (the) just having been [i.e. who have been] made complete”

The locale and space of the city, patterned after that of Jerusalem on earth, blends over into those persons (or beings) who dwell in the city. Thus, as in the great vision of the “new Jerusalem” in Rev 21-22, we are dealing not so much with an actual city as we are its people. This is an important point of emphasis. The list of four kinds of dwellers seems a bit confusing at first glace—it is not immediately clear how the “e)kklhsi/a of the firstborn” relates to “the spirits of the just”. Both seem to refer to believers, and perhaps it is best to view the list as a parallelism:

    • “the multitude of Messengers”, i.e. divine beings, the Messengers (Angels) of God
      • “the e)kklhsi/a of the firstborn”, i.e. believers, modified by a perfect passive participle:
        • having been written down in the heavens”, i.e. their names have been written down (from the registry) as citizens belonging to the ‘heavenly city’
    • “God the Judge of all”, God who rules over all the multitudes
      • “the spirits of the just”, i.e. believers, modified by another perfect passive participle:
        • “having been made complete”, i.e. perfected and sanctified by God

The noun e)kklhsi/a, of course, though a bit difficult to render literally in English, refers to a gathering or congregation of believers—lit. those “called out” to gather/assemble together. For more on the significance of ‚iyyôn (/oYx!, Zion, Siw/n), here designated as both mountain and city, cf. the recent note on Revelation 14:1.

The final reference to this heavenly “city” is in 13:14, in the form of an eschatological promise:

“For we do not hold here [i.e. on earth] (any) city remaining (for us), but (instead) we seek for the (one) being about [me/llousan] (to come).”

The eschatological significance of the verb me/llw, indicating that something is about to occur, is discussed in the earlier study on imminent eschatology. As for the idea of a heavenly Jerusalem, in clear contrast to the earthly city, consult the recent notes on the vision in Revelation 21-22, beginning with the note on 21:2-4. Believers follow the example of Abraham, et al, in searching and longing for this “city”; it is, to be sure, not an actual city at all, but a theological symbol for which I would give a three-fold interpretation—as a symbol of: (1) eternal life, (2) our union with God (and Christ) in heaven, and (3) our (collective) identity as the people of God.

Hebrews 12:5-11, 25-29

The final two eschatological passages to consider come from the dual exhortation in chapter 12, which may be divided into two main sections, each with its own primary emphasis:

    1. 12:1-17, with a concluding warning in vv. 14-17
      Theme: The need to endure a short period of suffering and testing
    2. 12:18-29, again with a concluding warning in vv. 25-29
      Theme: The need to remain faithful in light of the great “shaking” (i.e. the Judgment) that is about to come upon the earth

The period of testing, summarized most clearly in vv. 5-11, refers essentially to the end-time period of distress, which, according to the eschatology of early Christians, believers were either: (a) already living in, or (b) were about to enter. This is expressed in terms of the discipline that a parent shows to a child, out of love, in order to perfect their personal character and growth. Such an interpretation helps to explain why believers would have to endure this (end-time) suffering, but also to provide encouragement in the face of it. From an eschatological standpoint, the thrust of the message is two-fold: (i) it is not yet as bad as it could be (and will be), v. 4, and (ii) such suffering is only temporary and will last but a short time (vv. 10-11).

The Judgment-theme of the second section (vv. 18-29) begins with an allusion to the manifestation of God (theophany) on mount Sinai (Exod 19:16; Deut 4:11-12, etc). In a similar way, the end-time Judgment will be a time when God manifests himself to humankind on earth, with an equally awesome and terrifying appearance, accompanied by supernatural phenomena and disturbances in the natural world. This aspect is emphasized in the warning of vv. 25-29, drawing upon past examples when humankind (even God’s own people, Israel) were disobedient and refused to heed the word of God:

“For if they, (being) upon (the) earth, did not [i.e. were not able to] flee out (away from God), (hav)ing asked alongside [i.e. in the sense of refusing] the (One) dealing (with them), how much more (shall it be so for) us, the (one)s turning away [i.e. if we turn away] from the (One who is) from heaven, whose voice shook the earth then, but now has given a message about (it), saying, ‘Yet once (more) shall I shake, not only the earth, but also the heaven(s)’?” (vv. 25-26)

The author’s handling of this traditional motif is complex, and a bit difficult, as is observable from the syntax (which I have attempted to preserve, as far as possible, in the translation above). This difficulty continues in the eschatological exposition, of the word “yet once (more)” (a%pac), in verse 27; the statement effectively combines the promise of eternal life with a most clear sense of the end of the current Age (i.e. the end of the world):

“And th(is) ‘yet once (more)’ makes clear the placing beyond [i.e. removing] of the (thing)s being shaken, (so) that only the (thing)s not being shaken should remain.”

In the New Age, following the end of the current Age, only the eternal—those things of God that are unable to be shaken—will remain. Believers are said to receive this “unshakable kingdom” (v. 28), which expresses precisely the same thing as the heavenly “city” of 11:10, 16, etc (cf. above), using different (but related) imagery. However, believers will only receive this kingdom if they/we remain faithful to the end, an eschatological message that is reinforced by the closing reference in v. 29, which combines the theophany and judgment themes in this section: “…for our God (is) a fire taking away [i.e. burning up] (all things complete)ly!”

February 18: Revelation 22:7b, 14-15

Revelation 22:7b, 14-15

This is the third component within the parallel sections of vv. 6-17. Following the exalted Jesus’ announcement of his imminent return (vv. 7a, 12-13, cf. the previous note), there is a beatitude, or “macarism”, marked by the opening adjective maka/rio$ (makários, “happy”). The background of the beatitude-form is essentially eschatological, as I discuss in an earlier article (part of a series on the Beatitudes of Jesus). Here, of course, at the end of the book of Revelation, it is unquestionably so, referring to the blessed happiness that awaits for believers who remain faithful through the end-time period of distress. Ultimately, the source of this blessedness is the eternal life that the true believer is to experience, dwelling with God and Christ in the heavenly “Jerusalem” of the New Age (21:1-22:5).

The beatitude in verse 7b is brief and concise:

“Happy [maka/rio$] (is) the (one) keeping watch [thrw=n] (over) the accounts [i.e. words] of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this scroll.”

As in vv. 6, 10, the reference is literary, i.e. to the book (bibli/on, “paper-roll, scroll”) of Revelation as a whole—all of the visions and messages contained in it. The beatitude thus relates to how people respond to the book (when they hear it read aloud, etc), and treat its contents. The verb thre/w means to “keep watch” over something; it is often used in an eschatological sense in the New Testament, as part of ethical instruction and the exhortation to remain faithful as the end comes nearer (cf. earlier in 2:26; 3:3, 8, 10). This reproduces the beatitude in the opening of the book (1:3), where this aspect of imminence is clearly stated (“…for the moment [is] near.”).

The beatitude in verse 14 is more extensive:

“Happy (are) the (one)s washing their robes, (so) that their e)cousi/a will be upon the tree of life, and (that) they should enter into the gate-ways of the city.”

Here “keeping watch over” the prophecy is parallel with the expression “washing their robes” (plu/nonte$ ta\$ sto/la$ au)tw=n); however, in many (later) manuscripts, and some versions, the reading is instead the similar sounding poiou=nte$ ta\$ e)ntola/$ au)tou= (i.e., “doing His commands”, cp. 12:17; 14:12). The idiom of washing one’s robe (stolh/, a long ceremonial garment) was used earlier in 7:14, specifically in the context of believers who have remained faithful during the end-time period of distress (“…coming out of the great distress [qli/yi$]”). The implication of the parallelism, between verses 7b and 14, is that the true believer will accept the prophecies in the book, and will guard them with care. The verb thre/w is combined with the motif of keeping one’s garments clean in the beatitude of 16:15.

The idea of “washing” (vb plu/nw) alludes to the flowing (i.e. living, eternal) waters of the great river (of life) in the “new Jerusalem” (22:1), indicating a reward that corresponds to the believer’s actions. Here the same Paradise-setting is indicated by the motif of the “tree of life” (22:2, also 2:7); cf. the earlier note on 22:1-3a.

English translations tend to obscure the actual wording of the Greek in v. 14, as the subject of the second verb is not the believers themselves, but their e)cousi/a. The noun e)cousi/a is notoriously difficult to render accurately (and consistently) in English. Literally, it indicates something that comes out of a person’s own being, i.e. something he/she is able to do; however, it can specifically connote an ability that is given to the person from a superior, in which case, we might understand it in terms of permission. The word “authority” is perhaps the best option for capturing this semantic range in English. Here, the context is the ancient tradition of humankind being barred from access to the “tree of life”; in the New Age, for believers, this ‘curse’ is removed (v. 3), and we have the ability to come into the Garden of God and eat from the fruit of this tree. This access is part of the wider image of entering into the heavenly “city”, through the gate-ways that always stand open (21:25).

For the blessings described in v. 14, there is a corresponding curse in verse 15, defined in terms of being left outside (e&cw) the city (cp. Matt 8:12; 25:11-12, 30, etc):

Outside (are) the ‘dogs’ and the drug-handlers and the prostitute-(seek)ers and the murderers and the image-servers—indeed, every (one) being fond of, and doing, (what is) false.”

This more or less reproduces the vice-list of 21:8 (cf. also 9:20-21; 21:27), with the addition of the deprecatory label ku/ne$ (“dogs, hounds”); as a traditional term of opprobrium, it suggests both that a person is unclean and is deserving of contempt. On the idea of dogs (the actual animals) being excluded from the holy city, cf. the Qumran text 4Q394 fr. 8 iv. 8-9 (Koester, p. 843). The four terms, taken together, serve as a summary of human wickedness, traditionally associated (in Judaism and early Christianity) with the pagan culture of the “nations”:

    • fa/rmakoi (drug-handlers, drug-users)—a label for any kind of magical practice, perhaps best understood here, more generally and figuratively, for evil and mind-altering deception.
    • po/rnoi (those engaged in, or seeking, prostitution)—a traditional catch-term for any kind of immorality, sexual or otherwise.
    • fonei=$ (murderers, killers)—generally covering any kind of violent and lawless action.
    • ei)dwlola/trai (lit., ones serving images)—representing, not merely the idolatrous aspects of pagan religion, but false religion of any kind, and even, we may say, of pagan culture as a whole (i.e. the surrounding Greco-Roman world).

These are all summarized under the aspect of people “being fond of” (filw=n), as well as actually “doing” (poiw=n), what is false (yeu=do$).

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