January 31: 1 Thessalonians 5:5 (continued)

1 Thessalonians 5:5, continued

Continuing from the previous note, on 1 Thess 5:5, it will be useful to examine Paul’s declaration in context, in order to see more clearly how the designation of believers as “sons of light” is understood. The declaration is at the heart of the instruction in vv. 1-11, which has a decidedly eschatological emphasis. An eschatological issue was dealt with in the preceding section (4:13-18), and eschatology also dominates the discussion in 2 Thessalonians (which was conceivably written prior to 1 Thessalonians). Like virtually every first-century Christian (including the New Testament authors), Paul held an imminent eschatology—a point clearly in evidence by a careful reading of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In particular, this orientation (of eschatological imminence) informs both the instruction in 4:13-18 and the ethical exhortation of 5:1-11.

This imminent expectation of the end means that the “day of the Lord” could come suddenly, at any moment. In vv. 2-4 this is expressed by the illustration of a thief who comes in the middle of the night (“thief in the night,” kle/pth$ e)n nukti/, v. 2). This image plays on the day-night motif (a variation of the light-darkness motif), discussed in the previous note. Here “night” (nu/c) represents, symbolically, a period of time characterized by darkness—where “darkness” (sko/to$) is used in the ethical-religious sense of that which is apart from, and even in opposition to, the light of God (His Word and Truth, etc). The period of time in question is the ‘present Age’ —and, in particular, the ‘last days’, in which first-century believers (such as Paul) saw themselves living. The ‘end of the Age’ was near, soon to arrive; and, according contemporary eschatological beliefs and tradition, it was expected that things on earth would become increasingly ‘dark’, dominated by wickedness and sin, evil and false deception—a time of great “distress” (qli/yi$), for all humankind, but particularly for believers, who will face persecution and testing. From the standpoint of the illustration, people on earth are in the middle of a dark night, during which disaster (i.e., the thief) will come.

Verse 3 utilizes a different image to illustrate the sudden arrival of distress: that of the labor pains that come suddenly upon a pregnant woman—the expression literally is “the pain [w)di/n] to/for the (woman) holding (a child) in (her) belly”. The arrival of labor pains was a natural image for the idea of a period of distress (involving pain and suffering) that comes upon (vb e)fi/sthmi, “stand upon, set upon”) a person. It is used in the Old Testament Scriptures, typically in the context of the coming of Divine judgment upon human beings—and thus is quite appropriate in reference to the end-time judgment. Indeed, in Isaiah 13:8, the motif is clearly connected with the expression “the day of YHWH” (v. 6), just as it is here in our passage. For other examples, cf. Isa 26:16-18; Jer 6:24; 22:23; 50:43; Micah 4:9-10; and, subsequently in Jewish tradition, e.g., 1 Enoch 62:4f.

Jesus utilized both the thief and woman-in-labor illustrations in his eschatological teaching, as preserved variously in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 13:8 par; Matt 24:43 par). The same thief-image also occurs in 2 Pet 3:10 and Rev 3:3; 16:15 (Jesus speaking). As for the woman-in-labor motif, note the eschatological significance of Jn 16:21f; Rom 8:22, and Rev 12:2. It is possible that Paul’s use of the motifs, together, here in 1 Thess 5:2-4, derive from the Gospel Tradition and the preserved teachings of Jesus; at the very least, he was almost certainly influenced by that Tradition.

In verse 4, Paul comes to the point of his illustration:

“But you, brothers, are not in (the) darkness, (so) that the day should not take you down as a thief (would)…”

Even though the Thessalonian believers were living in the darkness of the end-time, they are not truly in (e)n) the darkness—that is, they are not dominated by it, thoroughly influenced by the forces of sin and wickedness. For this reason, the Day of the Lord, when it comes (suddenly), will not take them down. The verb katalamba/nw could also be rendered “overtake”, but I prefer to keep to its fundamental meaning (“take down”), in the negative sense of defeating, overcoming, etc. The “day” certainly refers to the “day of the Lord,” the time/moment of the end-time Judgment, when all evil and wickedness will be brought to light and judged. This is another way of referring to a basic early Christian principle regarding salvation—viz., that believers in Christ, who remain faithful, will be saved/rescued from the coming Judgment. For believers in the first century, their understanding of salvation was primarily eschatological in nature.

This leads to the central declaration in verse 5:

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night, nor of darkness.”

Believers belong to the light, and thus are not in the darkness—rather, they/we are fundamentally separate from it, just as light was separated from darkness (Gen 1:4-5) and the two remain forever separate. Paul states this bluntly in v. 5b, including himself (and his fellow ministers) along with the Thessalonian believers: “we are not of (the) night, nor of darkness”. The noun ui(oi/ (“sons”) is omitted in v. 5b; this simply affirms the use of the idiom “sons of” as essentially meaning “belonging to” (on this use of the Hebrew yn@B=, cf. the previous note). The pairs light-day and darkness-night are parallel and antithetic; their occurrence in the phrasing of v. 5 is chiastic, suggesting an inverse-mirrored relationship:

light / day // night / darkness

The eschatological thrust of this religious identity for believers is expressed clearly in v. 9f:

“(So it is) that God did not set us unto (His) anger, but unto (the) bringing about of salvation, through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, who died off over [i.e. for] us”

In the Judgment, we, as believers, are not destined to face God’s anger (o)rgh/), but instead will experience salvation (swthri/a). The noun peripoi/hsi$ is derived from the verb peripoie/w, “make [i.e. bring] over/about”, with a range of meaning that is difficult to translate into English. A basic meaning would be something like “make secure”, or (more literally), make (i.e. cause) something to remain. It can refer generally to effecting a particular situation or circumstance, or, more specifically, to obtaining a result, gaining possession of something, etc. The verb can occasionally connote the idea of keeping something (or someone) safe, i.e., preserving, saving. I have translated the noun here in terms of the “bringing over” (or “bringing about”) of a situation—namely, salvation from the Judgment (and from God’s anger). This situation is ‘brought about’ through the death of Jesus Christ.

In vv. 6-10, Paul moves from the day-night motif to the related motif of awake-asleep (part of the traditional eschatological imagery, cf. Mk 13:33-37 par). The person who is in (i.e. belonging to) the darkness of night is asleep, overcome by the power of night/darkness, and unaware of what is going on. Believers, who belong to the light, are not like this, and must not behave in such a way—which is the thrust of Paul’s exhortation. Even while living in the darkness of the end-time, believers in Christ belong to the day/light, and thus are like those who are wide awake. Remaining awake is particularly important because of the wickedness that is prevalent in the end-time period of darkness; in addition to being watchful and guarding oneself against this wickedness, believers have certain protections, provided by God, which Paul depicts as pieces of military equipment (armor)—namely, a breastplate (faith and love) and a helmet (the hope of salvation). The helmet, in particular, reflects the eschatological context of vv. 1-11, with the expression “hope of salvation” —i.e., salvation from the coming Judgment (cf. above).

Much of this language and imagery is repeated in Romans 13:11-14, where the believer’s protective armor is referred to, more generally, as “the weapons of light” (ta\ o%pla tou= fwto/$), v. 12. Referring to them as “light” indicates their Divine origin and source, but also keeps the imagery firmly rooted in the ethical dualism of the light-darkness contrast: “Therefore, we should cast away the works of the darkness, and should sink into [i.e. put on] the weapons [i.e. armor] of light”. This military imagery of weapons/armor is developed more extensively (and famously) in Eph 6:10-18f.

As discussed in the previous note, the designation of believers as “sons of light” is conceptually related to the designation as “sons of God”. Belonging to the light (of God) means belonging to God Himself. This identity has eschatological and soteriological significance. There remains also a fundamental ethical consequence: believers who belong to God and are “of the light” cannot—and should not—allow themselves to be immersed in darkness or to be overcome by it. Here, by “darkness” is meant, primarily, the sin and wickedness that characterizes the world during the end-time. It should not characterize the life and conduct of believers. The end-time period of darkness—which is a time of distress for believers—represents a moment of testing: will we remain faithful to our identity (as believers in Christ), and thus be assured of salvation from the coming Judgment?

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next Pauline reference featured in our study: Galatians 3:26. In exploring this reference, we will also be examining a series of arguments, developed by Paul, in chapters 3-4 of that letter.

October 27: John 15:6

John 15:6

“If any (one) should not remain in me, he is cast out of (the place), as the broken (branch) (is), and it is dried up, and (when) they gather them together, is also cast into the fire and is burned.”

In this portion of the exposition of the vine illustration, Jesus explains what happens to the ‘branch’ (klh=ma) that does not “remain” in the vine: “it/he is cast out of (the place)” (e)blh/qh e&cw). The land-worker who does this work is God the Father (v. 1), and the Father must be seen as the implied actor of the passive verb here—an example of the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum). The act of casting/throwing (vb ba/llw) away is parallel (and essentially equivalent) to the “taking away” (vb ai&rw) of the branch that does not bear fruit (v. 2). As is clear from vv. 4-5, the branch that does not remain in the vine, does not (and cannot) bear fruit.

The taking/casting away of such branches is part of the overall cutting/pruning of the vine that is indicated within the illustration. The noun klh=ma, typically translated “branch”, properly denotes something that is “broken (off)”; here in verse 6, the verbal aspect of the branch being broken off, is particularly prominent. The branches/tendrils that do bear fruit are also cut away and pruned, but this yields a fundamentally different result: the branch is not simply “taken away”; rather, it is “cleaned” (vb kaqai/rw) by the pruning process, so as to be able to produce more/better fruit.

The branch that is cut/broken off and “cast out” (the adverb e&cw indicating removal from a place) simply dries up (vb chrai/nw, “be[come] dry”), since, being separated from the vine (that is itself rooted in the ground), it no longer has access to the vine’s vital essence and life-giving nutrients. All the passive verbs in v. 6 should be read as “divine passives”, with God the Father effectively performing the action. However, at least in the case of the verb chrai/nw, the passive can also indicate the condition of the branch that is now on its own, apart from the vine (cf. the previous note on v. 5).

At this point, the grammatical number in the verse suddenly shifts from the singular to the plural (before shifting back again to the singular): “and they gather them together” (kai\ suna/gousin au)ta/). While some manuscripts read the singular here (“they gather it together”), that reading most likely represents a scribal ‘correction’ to match the singulars elsewhere in the verse. By the sudden shift to the plural, the individual ‘branch’ is recognized as part of a group—i.e., all of the branches that do not bear fruit (because they do not “remain” in the vine), and are thus removed and “thrown out”.

It is these branches that are “gathered together” and thrown into the fire, utilizing imagery that reinforces the eschatological emphasis of other comparable harvest-illustrations (see esp. Matt 3:12 par; 13:30 / 41), alluding to the end-time Judgment by God. The plural subject of the verb suna/gw, could refer to the end-time role of the angels (Matt 13:41; Mark 13:27 par), acting as God’s representatives in the onset of the Judgment. The implication thus is, that if a disciple (believer) does not remain in Jesus, he/she will perish in the Judgment (“and is burned [up]”, vb kai/w). In the upcoming notes, we will examine, in some detail, precisely what it means to “remain” (vb me/nw) in Jesus.

In the exposition/application of the vine illustration, Jesus focuses on the identification of the disciples with the cut/pruned branches. Here in verse 6, he is clearly speaking of the disciples, mentioning at the same time, again, their place in the illustration (as the ‘branches’)— “he [i.e. the disciple] is cast out of (the place), as the broken (branch is)”. The shift in verbal tense, from aorist to present, is best explained in terms of Jesus’ application of the illustration: the aorist verbs refer to the fate of the individual branch at a specific point in time; while the present verbs describe the regular activity of the workers who deal, each season, with the branches that are cut off. We may outline this as follows:

    • Aorist—the branch is “cast out” and “dried up”
      and so is dealt with as regularly happens for all such branches:
    • Present—the workers “gather together” all such branches, and the individual branch, being among them, “is cast” into the fire and “is burned (up)”.

It is also possible that the present tense could refer to an eschatological orientation—whether to the imminent (future) eschatology of early Christians, or to the realized eschatology that is emphasized in the Gospel of John:

    • Imminent—the ‘branches’ are about to be gathered together and thrown into the fire (of the end-time Judgment)
    • Realized—the cut-off ‘branches’ are even now, in the present, because of their failure to “remain” in Jesus, under God’s Judgment

An interesting aspect of the vine-illustration, that is not particularly emphasized in the exposition, is that the fruit-bearing branches are also cut away (as part of the pruning process). Presumably, these branches (or the cut-off portions of them) also also burned up in the fire. Yet, in terms of the Johaninne theology, the true believer has (already) passed safely through the Judgment (see esp. 5:24), and thus will not face its “fire”. It is possible to extend the imagery to refer to the “fire” as part of the cleansing process for the believer—the sinful portions (i.e., sins) are removed from the believer and ‘burned away’ in the fire. The Spirit is sometimes associated with the image of fire in this regard—cf. Isa 4:4-5; Mal 3:2-3; Matt 3:11 [par Lk 3:16]; 1QS 4:20-21.

 

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 73 (Part 2)

Psalm 73, continued

The first section of the Psalm (vv. 1-12) was discussed in the prior study.

VERSES 13-17

Verse 13

“Truly, in vain have I cleansed my heart,
and washed with clear (water) my palms.”

Like the first section of the Psalm (cf. the previous study), this second section begins with the affirmative particle Ea^ (“surely, truly…”). The initial couplet here establishes the protagonist’s struggle with the wisdom-question—viz., as to why God allows injustice to prevail in the world, and the wicked to prosper. He feels that he has devoted himself to righteousness “in vain”; if the wicked can flourish in this life, then what is the value of living in an upright and devout manner? The Psalmist’s active righteousness is described by the parallel idiom of cleansing/washing (vb hk*z` / Jj^r*) one’s heart and hands (lit. “palms”). The idiom draws upon the idea of ritual purity, but is also used in a figurative (ethical-religious) sense—cf. 18:20, 24; 24:4; 26:6; 51:2, 7; Prov 20:9; Isa 1:16; Jer 4:14, etc.

There is also a bit of conceptual wordplay in these lines, as both the root qyr (noun qyr!) and hqn (noun /oyQ*n]) denote the idea of emptying. Here the noun qyr! refers to “emptiness” in the negative sense of worthlessness or vanity (“in vain”); while /oyQ*n] captures the idea of something made clear through “pouring out”, specifically here of being made clean/pure through the pouring of water. I have preserved the scope of this imagery by translating /oyQ*n] above as “clear [i.e. pure/purifying] water.”

Verse 14

“For I have been touched all the day (long),
and (then) endure rebuke in the morning.”

Here we have a clear allusion to the suffering of the righteous, which forms the flip-side to the wisdom-problem of the prosperity of the wicked. The Psalmist has been “touched” (vb ug~n`) by misfortune (from YHWH), perhaps in the form of a physical ailment or disease (a frequent motif in the Psalms). After enduring this “all the day (long),” he then has to face accusation and rebuke in the morning. This rebuke (vb jk^y`) can be understood as either coming from God, or from the Psalmist’s wicked adversaries; the latter is a regular theme in the Psalms. On the parsing of ytjkwt as a verb form, cf. Dahood, II, p. 191.

Verse 15

“If I had said ‘I will give account thus,’ see!
I would have betrayed (the) circle of your sons.”

To give voice to his doubts in public (vb rp^s*, “give account, recount”) would be an act of treachery (vb dg~B*) against the covenant bond uniting the children of Israel (as YHWH’s ‘sons’, “your sons”). The root dgb denotes acting in a deceitful or unfaithful manner, sometimes in the harsher or dramatic sense of “treachery” or “betrayal”. The noun roD is typically translated “generation”, but properly means “circle”; here, as often in the Psalms, the assembly of the righteous—whether envisioned literally (in corporate worship) or in a figurative/symbolic sense—is intended. The righteous are God’s faithful children (“sons”).

Verse 16

“And (yet when) I gave thought to know this,
it (seemed like) hard labor in my eyes,”

Rather than express his own doubts publicly, the Psalmist seeks to understand (vb ud^y`, “know”) the matter better. Yet as he began to ponder it (vb bv^j*), it seemed like hard and wearisome labor (lm*u*), suggesting the intractable difficulty of the wisdom-question he faces. Indeed, it is a question (of theodicy) that has long provoked (and perplexed) wise and learned persons throughout the centuries, providing a thematic staple of ancient Near Eastern Wisdom literature.

Verse 17

“until I came to (the) holy place of (the) Mighty (One),
(and) discerned (the thing)s following for them.”

These lines continue the thought from v. 16. It is only when he comes to the “holy place” of God—i.e., the Temple precincts in Jerusalem—that the protagonist is able to find an answer to the wisdom-question that has plagued him. The plural <yv!D*q=m! (lit. “holy places”) may refer to the Temple precincts as a whole, or may indicate a single sanctuary; cf. Dahood, II, pp. 111, 192, on the Canaanite practice of using plural forms for buildings and dwelling-places.

The “holy place” of El-YHWH ultimately refers to His cosmic/heavenly dwelling, after which the local mountain on earth (including the Temple locale on mount Zion) is patterned, serving as its symbolic and ritual representation. There is likely an allusion here to God’s abode in Heaven (cf. Dahood, II, p. 192), which introduces the afterlife Judgment idea that is featured in the final section of the Psalm (cf. below).

The suffix <t*– (“them”) of the final word refers to the wicked. The Psalmist comes to understand (vb /yB!) the things that await (lit. “follow”) for the wicked.

Verses 18-28

Verse 18

“Truly, in the (land of) ruin you set (a place) for them,
you make them fall into (the) place of destruction.”

The parallel plural nouns toql*j& and toaWVm^ are rightly understood as intensive plurals. The first word is typically rendered “smooth [i.e. slippery] place(s)”, i.e., on which the wicked slip and slide down to destruction. However, Dahood (II, p. 192; cf. also I, pp. 35, 207, 211) makes a convincing argument that toqlj here is to be derived from a separate root qlj (III), related to Ugaritic —lq—a root with a relatively wide semantic range (“perish, disappear, be[come] ruined, wear out”). I have thus translated toql*j& here as “(place of) ruin”, which makes a proper parallel with toaWVm^ (“place of destruction”) in the second line. Clearly, the dual-reference is to death (and the grave) as the ultimate fate for the wicked.

As in the first two sections of the Psalm, this final section begins with the affirmative particle Ea^ (“surely, truly”).

Verse 19

“How they are (brought) to ruin in a moment,
swept away and finished by (the) terrors!

The noun hM*v^ (“desolation, ruin”) is more or less synonymous with the two earlier nouns in v. 18 (cf. above); they all refer to the realm of death and the grave. The exclamation Eya@ (“how…!”) reflects a certain wonderment by the Psalmist, as he realizes the terrible fate that awaits the wicked. It is not merely the fact of death, something which every human being faces, but an experience accompanied by frightening “terrors” (tohL*B^); the terrors of death overwhelm them as they perish. The verb pair WMt^ Wps* “(they are) swept away (and are) finished” can also be read as a hendiadys—i.e., “they are completely swept away”. The verb [Ws can mean, generally, “come to an end”, being thus synonymous with <m^T* (“[be] finish[ed]”); however, given the meaning of the related noun hp*Ws (“storm-wind, whirlwind”, cf. Isa 5:28; Hos 8:7), it is proper to translate [Ws here as “(be) swept away”.

Verse 20

“Like a dream from (which) one awakes, O Lord,
in (the) rousing (from it) you despise their shadow.”

The couplet is somewhat awkward, and there have been different attempts re-parsing/vocalizing the second line (cf. Dahood, II, p. 193; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 223). Conceptually, however, it seems possible to retain the MT without emendation. The “shadow” (<l#x#) of the wicked is compared to a dream from which one awakes. YHWH, in being “roused” (i.e. from sleep), casts off the shadow of the wicked, now deceased, as an insubstantial and lifeless ‘dream’. The implication is that there is no real afterlife for the wicked; they exist only as shadows in the realm of the dead.

Verses 21-22

“Then (when) my heart had become sour,
and my kidneys were hit by sharp (pain),
(so) also I (was) brutish and did not know,
(like) a dumb animal was I with you.”

The wisdom and insight gained by the Psalmist in the previous verses, suddenly disappears as he is struck (again) by a physical ailment (i.e., sharp pain inside), which also has emotional and psychological effects (“my heart became sour [vb Jm@j*]”). Cf. verse 14 (above) for an earlier allusion to physical (and emotional) suffering by the protagonist. His understanding is gone and the Psalmist feels like a dumb animal now in the presence of YHWH (“with you”). Apparently, as is often the case for mortal human beings, physical distress overpowers insight and rational thought.

Verse 23

“And (yet) I (am) continually with you,
you grab hold of me by my right hand.”

The Psalmist, in his distress, may feel like a mere animal in God’s presence, but he is still in God’s presence. And the first line is a declaration of faith and trust in YHWH’s abiding presence; the righteous can say: “I am continually [dym!t*] with you”. YHWH gives help and support to the righteous, through the motif of grabbing hold of his (right) hand. The idea of Divine protection and deliverance for the righteous, a frequent theme in the Psalms, is implied.

Verse 24

“With your counsel may you guide me,
and then with honor take me to (you).”

I follow Dahood (II, p. 195) in reading the imperfect verb form in each line as having the force of an imperative. The Psalmist is requesting YHWH to guide him in the remainder of his life (even as death nears), and then to bring him into His presence, in the blessed heavenly afterlife. The noun dobK* literally means “weight,” often in the sense of “worth, value”; when applied to God, it regularly connotes “honor, splendor, glory,” much as I translate it here; the heavenly afterlife context makes the translation “honor” particularly fitting. YHWH will receive the righteous/faithful one with honor, taking him to Himself. This fate for the righteous clearly contrasts with that of the wicked; the righteous-wicked contrast is a common element in Wisdom-tradition, and features notably in many Psalms (famously in Psalm 1, etc).

Verse 25

“Who (else is there) for me in the heavens?
Even with you I desire no(thing else) on earth.

The syntax of this couplet is somewhat cryptic, but the basic idea seems to be that YHWH Himself is the Psalmist’s ultimate delight and desire, in heaven, just as it has been on earth. The blessedness of the afterlife, for the righteous, rests in being continually in the presence of God; this builds upon the earlier thought in vv. 22-23 (cf. above), with the repeated use of the expression ;M=u! (“with you”).

Verse 26

“My flesh and my heart may cease, O Rock,
(but) my heart and my portion, Mightiest, (is) forever.”

This difficult verse makes most sense when divided as a 4-beat (4+4) couplet. By this division, rWx (“rock”) is to be taken as the familiar Divine epithet (“[my] Rock”), parallel here with <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest,” Elohim, ‘God’); cf. Dahood, II, p. 195f). The syntactic structure of the couplet is clear, but complex:

    • “shall cease/end
      • my flesh and my heart
        • O Rock
      • (but) my heart and my portion
        • O Mightiest
    • (shall be) for ever”

The expression <l*oul=, which I here translate (for poetic concision) as “forever”, properly means “for/into (the) distant (future),” i.e., lasting into the distant future. The dual-positioning of the word bb*l@ (“heart”) indicates that here the heart represents the point of contact between the earthly and the heavenly, the mortal (human) and the Divine. The heart paired with “flesh” signifies human life and existence on earth, while heart paired with ql#j@ (“portion”) signifies that which is allotted to the righteous as their heavenly inheritance (in the blessed afterlife).

Verse 27

“For, see! (those who are) far from you shall perish;
you destroy every (one) having intercourse (away) from you!”

The fate of the wicked is reiterated here, in simpler and less colorful terms. They are fundamentally “far away” (qj@r*) from YHWH, in contrast to the righteous who are “with” (<u!) Him (vv. 22-23, 25). The verb hn`z` basically denotes illicit sexual intercourse, for which there is no good English equivalent. Here the verb signifies in what sense the wicked ones have ‘gone away’ from God—viz., off in pursuit of wicked (i.e., immoral) and idolatrous ways (hnz frequently connotes idolatry and/or worship of any deity other than YHWH).

Verse 28

“But I, (the) nearness of (the) Mightiest (is) good for me;
I have set my Lord YHWH (as) my place of refuge,
(so as) to give account of all your works.”

The Psalm concludes with a four-beat (4+4) couplet, in which the Psalmist again expresses his trust and devotion to YHWH. As in verse 25 (cf. above), he declares that being in the presence of God is his greatest (and only real) delight. Here he defines what he considers as the greatest good (bof) for him: “the nearness [hb*r*q=] of God”. The righteous trust in YHWH as their protection and “place of refuge” (hs#j&m^); this is a frequent theme in the Psalms, with the verb hs*j* (and the related noun hs#j&m^) used frequently to express it; the locative noun occurs 12 times in the Psalms, more than half of all OT occurrences (20).

The short final line, with its sudden shift back to second person address, could be viewed as a secondary addition. It is typical of many Psalms that they close with a reference to giving praise to YHWH, declaring the greatness of His deeds, etc, in a public/corporate worship setting. For other examples of a similar shift from third person to second person (direct) address in the same verse, cf. 22:26; 102:16[15] (Dahood, II, p. 197).

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

May 15: John 16:11

John 16:11

In verse 11, we have the third (and final) item of the triad in the Paraclete-saying of v. 8:

“that (one) will show the world (to be wrong)…about judgment [kri/si$]”

In the previous notes on v. 9 and 10, two key points were established: (1) the Spirit will show the world to be wrong in its understanding (of sin and righteousness), and that (2) the true nature of sin and righteousness is to be understood in Christological terms—that is, in relation to Jesus’ identity as the Son sent (from heaven) by God the Father. The same two points apply to the final statement regarding judgment (kri/si$).

The noun kri/si$ fundamentally refers to a separation, often in the sense of discerning or making a decision about something. It is typically translated “judgment”, either in this general sense, or within the specific legal-judicial context of a decision rendered in a court of law (by a judge). For the most part, in the Gospel of John, as throughout the New Testament, kri/si$ specifically refers to the coming end-time (eschatological) Judgment, when God will judge the world, punishing humankind for its wickedness.

The noun occurs 11 times in the Gospel (out of 47 NT occurrences), and once in 1 John (4:17); the related verb (kri/nw) occurs 19 times in the Gospel, but not in the Letters. Occasionally, the more general sense of judgment is intended (cf. 7:24), or kri/si$/kri/nw is used in an ordinary legal-judicial context (7:51; 18:31); however, as noted above, primarily the reference is to the coming end-time Judgment (see esp. 5:29-30; 12:31, 48; 1 Jn 4:17).

Even though the eschatological context is primary, this is presented in a very distinctive way in the Gospel Discourses. At several points, we find signs of what is called “realized” eschatology—that is, the idea that end-time events, such as the resurrection and the Last Judgment, are understood as having, in a sense, already occurred, being realized in the present. This does not mean that the Gospel writer (or Jesus as the speaker) denies a future fulfillment, but only affirms that it is also fulfilled in the present. This is seen most clearly in the chapter 5 Discourse, where the resurrection is defined, not simply as a future event, but as realized in the present, through the presence of the Son of God (Jesus)—vv. 25ff; cp. 11:25-26. In terms of salvation from the coming Judgment, this is realized for believers (in the present), through their/our trust in Jesus:

“the (one) hearing my word, and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) life of the ages [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over, out of death, (and) into life.” (5:24)

If believers are saved from judgment in the present, through trust, then unbelievers correspondingly come under God’s judgment, having the judgment (already) passed against them (in the present), through their lack of trust. The key passage alluding to this is 3:19-21; cf. also 9:41; 15:22-24. In the wider Gospel tradition, the end-time period of distress, seen as the beginnings of the Judgment, commences with the suffering and death of Jesus (see, e.g., Mark 14:38-41 par, and the context of the “Eschatological Discourse” [chap. 13 par]). The Johannine tradition evinces the same basic eschatological view, and this is confirmed by Jesus’ declaration in 12:31, and is strongly implied throughout the Last Discourse.

The explanation of the Paraclete-saying in v. 8 concludes with the words of Jesus in v. 11:

“…and about judgment, (in) that the Chief of this world has been judged”

The perfect tense of the verb kri/nw (ke/kritai, passive, “he has been judged”) indicates a past event, the effect of which continues in the present. The implication is that the “chief of this world” has already been judged, just as believers have already passed through [perfect form of the vb metabai/nw] the Judgment (5:24, cf. above).

The expression “the chief of this world” (o( a&rxwn tou= ko/smou tou=tou) occurred earlier the 12:31 declaration:

“Now is (the) judgment of this world, now the Chief of this world shall be cast out!”

The idea expressed is very close to that here in v. 11: “shall be cast out” (future tense) is parallel with “has been judged” (perfect tense). Essentially the same expression was used earlier in the Last Discourse, at the close of the first discourse (14:30f):

“Not much more shall I speak with you, for the Chief of the world comes, and he does not hold anything on me, but (this is so) that the world would know that I love the Father, and, just as He laid on me (a duty) to complete, so I do (it).”

This is a rather complicated way for Jesus to refer to his impending suffering (and death). The approach of the “Chief of the world” signifies the world’s role, under the dominion of its “Chief”, in putting Jesus to death. The point is strongly made that this does not mean that the world (or its Chief) has any power over Jesus, or has anything incriminating on him (deserving of death)—cf. Jesus’ words to Pilate in 19:11, and note the emphasis in 10:18. In his own way, Pilate is one of the world’s “chiefs”, though ultimately subservient to the dominion/control of its main Chief (the Devil). Jesus’ suffering and death will happen so that everyone (“the world,” in a more generic sense) will know of the love between Father and Son, and that the Son (Jesus) is simply fulfilling the duty and mission given to him by the Father.

In speaking of the “coming” of the world’s Chief, coinciding with the onset of Jesus’ Passion, one is reminded of the Synoptic Garden scene, when Jesus announces to his close disciples that “the hour (has) come [h@lqen h( w%ra]” (Mark 14:41 par; cp. Jn 12:23, 27 in connection with v. 31). In the Lukan version (22:53), this declaration is given more vivid and personal form:

“…but this is your hour, and the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness”

In many ways, this language approaches the Johannine theme of the world’s opposition to Jesus; the plural “you” essentially refers to those people, hostile to Jesus, who belong to the current world-order (ko/smo$) of darkness and evil. Functionally, they are servants of the Devil, the “Chief” of the world.

According to the world’s view of things, Jesus was judged and punished by the world’s authority; yet this view of judgment (kri/si$) is decidedly wrong. Jesus’ suffering and death actually marks the beginning of his exaltation—of his being “lifted up” (as the Son of God) in glory. While it might appear as though Jesus was judged, it was actually the world (and its Chief) that underwent judgment. This is the true nature of judgment that the Spirit will bring to light, exposing the false understanding of the world. Jesus himself declared the true situation at the close of the Last Discourse (16:33):

“…in the world you have distress, but you must take courage, (for) I have been victorious (over) the world!”

Again a perfect tense form (neni/khka, “I have been victorious”) shows how the future (eschatological) event of the Judgment is realized in the present. That Jesus’ victory over the world includes the “Chief of the world” —something already alluded to in 12:31—is confirmed by the author of 1 John:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth [i.e. appear on earth], that he should dissolve [i.e. destroy] the works of the {Devil}.” (3:8)

The mission of the Son on earth, culminating in his death, had the purpose (and effect) of destroying the ‘works’ (implying dominion/control) of the Devil. This is another way of stating that, with the death of Jesus, the “Chief of the world” has been judged.

Another way that the world is wrong about judgment relates to the future expectation of the end-time (Last) Judgment. The conventional religious view was that only at the end time, in the future (however immediate or far off), would God judge the world—judging human beings for their ethical and religious behavior. In two respects, the Gospel of John presents a very different perspective on the great Judgment: (1) the Judgment is effectively realized in the present, based on whether or not one trusts in Jesus (as the Son of God), and (2) people are judged ultimately, and principally, on their response to the witness regarding Jesus identity (as the Son). This ‘realized’ eschatological emphasis in the Johannine writings (esp. the Gospel) was discussed above, but it is worth mentioning again here. Point (2) has already been addressed in the prior notes (on v. 9 and 10), but, in this regard, the Christological emphasis of the Paraclete-saying cannot be overstated.

In the next daily note, our analysis of vv. 8-11 will be summarized, along with some exegetical comments on the following vv. 12-15.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 58

Psalm 58

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This Psalm is another prayer-Psalm with lament characteristics, similar in many respects to those in the ‘Elohist Psalter’ that we have recently studied (cf. the previous study on Ps 57). Indeed, Psalm 58 has the same musical direction as Ps 57, designating it as a  <T*k=m! (miktam, cf. the study on Psalm 16) sung to the melody “Do not destroy” (or “May you not destroy”), tj@v=T^-la^, apparently the name of a well-known lament (the phrase itself probably is an allusion to Deuteronomy 9:26).

However, if both Psalms were to be sung to a common lament-melody, it is worth nothing that the meter of each poem is different; Psalm 58 contains longer verses, predominantly 4-beat (4+4, or 4+3) couplets.

The thematic structure of the Psalm may be outlined as follows:

    • Verses 2-6 [1-5]: Descriptive lament regarding the wicked
    • Verses 7-10 [6-9]: Imprecation-prayer to God, calling for judgment on the wicked
    • Verses 11-12 [10-11]: The reward of the righteous (contrasted with the fate of the wicked)

VERSES 2-6 [1-5]

Verse 2 [1]

“Are you firm, mighty (one)s, (in) justice (when) you speak?
You should judge (with) straightness (the) sons of men.”

These opening line is probably best read as a rhetorical (and accusatory) question. The MT <l#a@ should be parsed as a defective form of <yl!a@, “mighty ones;” alternatively, it could be a plural of ly]a^ (“leader, ‘ram’ [figurative for a human noble or ruler]), with defective spelling (<yl!ya@ > <yl!a@). Clearly, the Psalmist is referring to those powerful men who are supposed to be leading and ruling the people; when they are corrupted by wickedness, society becomes oppressive, characterized by lawlessness and perversion of justice. The emphasis here is thus on speaking (vb rb^D*) with justice (qd#x#), and on rendering judgment (vb fp^v*). The concept of being firm (root /ma) in justice (line 1) is parallel with the idea of judging in a straight (rvy, i.e., fair and right) way (line 2).

Verse 3 [2]

“Yet, in (your) heart you act (with all) crookedness,
in (the) land your hands balance (the scales with) violence!”

The wickedness of the situation here is contrasted with what it should have been (v. 2). The first line strikes a formal (contrastive) parallel with the first line of v. 2:

    • “…(with) justice | you (should) speak” (v. 2)
    • “…(with) crookedness | you act” (v. 3)

The plural form tl)ou (lit. “crooked/perverse [thing]s”) may perhaps be intended as an intensive or comprehensive plural. On the other hand, the plural could be understood in the judicial sense of “crooked judgments”. Dahood (II, p. 58) suggests that this spelling represents a Phoenician dialectal form of the Hebrew singular hl*w+u^. The noun lw#u* (“crookedness, perversion”) is often used in the specific socio-legal sense of injustice, and, given the context of v. 2, the idea of a perversion of justice is certainly in view.

The verb in line 2 is sl^P*, which specifically refers to weighing something out on the balance-scales; here it can be understood in the sense of the ‘scales of justice’. Injustice and corruption among the rulers in society inevitably leads to lawlessness, oppression, and violence (sm*j*).

Verse 4 [3]

“Perverse (are the) wicked (one)s, from (the) womb they stray,
(and) from (the) belly (they are) speakers of lie(s)”

This couplet has something of an awkward structure with an off-beat (4+3) rhythm, which may well be intentional, as if expressing poetically how the wicked stagger and stray (vb hu*T*). They are said to be perverse and deceitful (“speakers of lie[s]”) from birth. Again, the primary idea is of the perversion of justice brought about by the wicked leaders, and the corrupting effect this has on the whole of society.

Verses 5-6 [4-5]

“The hot poison of them (is) like that of a (venomous) snake,
like that of a deaf adder (which) closes its ear,
which does not listen to (the) voice of (those) whispering,
(the) binding of (those) binding (who) are (so) wise.”

These two verses should be taken together as a pair of 4+3 couplets that form a quatrain. The syntax of each couplet is a bit uneven. It would seem that the second occurrence of construct noun tm^j& in the first line ought to be omitted, in order to preserve the meter (cf. Kraus, p. 534). The image itself is straightforward: the deceit, perversion, and violent impulse of the wicked is like the venom of a poisonous snake. In particular, the figure of an adder is used,one which is “deaf,” a motif clarified (in v. 6) as referring to a snake that cannot be rendered harmless by the sounds of a snake-charmer. This person who “whispers” (vb vj^l*, resembling the ‘hissing’ of a snake) the charms represents the vain and futile wisdom of the world, which is unable to curb the wickedness in society.

Verses 7-10 [6-9]

Verse 7 [6]

“O Mightiest, break down their teeth in their mouth!
(The) fangs of (the) young lions, pull down, YHWH!”

The tone of the Psalm shifts here from a lament, describing the wicked, to a call for YHWH to bring down judgment on them. There is thus an imprecatory character to the Psalmist’s prayer here.

These lines have a chiastic syntax spread over the eight (4+4) beats:

    • O Mightiest [Elohim]
      • break down
        • their teeth
          • in their mouth
          • (the) fangs
        • of the young lions
      • pull down
    • [O] YHWH

The image is of the wicked as a group of ravenous lion-whelps, with their deadly and oppressive teeth/fangs. The plural noun touT=l=m^ is apparently the same (by metathesis) as touL=t^m=, referring to the devouring teeth/bite of an animal.

Verse 8 [7]

“Let them flow (away) like waters (that) go to their (place);
like (the) <grass> (on which) one treads, may they wither!”

The second line of the MT as we have it makes little sense. Here we are very much in need of a reliable Dead Sea manuscript to offer clarity, but, alas, nothing of Psalm 58 survives. A reasonably sound line can be achieved by a small emendation of the text (cf. Kraus, p. 534), reading ryx!j* (“grass”) instead of wyX*j! (Qere, “his arrows”). The motif of the grass that is worn down on the path (ird) is a suitable parallel with the flowing waters in line 1, preserving the nature-imagery of the couplet. This also fits the verb in the second line, which I take to be ll^m* (III), “wither, languish, fade”; also possible is ll^m* (IV), “cut off”. My translation above of the second line requires a reordered text (with the one emended word) that reads:

Wll*m)t=y] Er)d=y] ryx!j* omK=

Verse 9 [8]

“Like a <miscarriage> dissolving, may they go (away);
(like the) failed birth of a woman, may they fail to see (the) sun!”

Instead of the MT lWlB=v^, I am inclined to read lWKv* (or loKv*), which is a less significant emendation than it might at first appear, since some manuscripts read lwlkv instead of lwlbv. The image of a miscarriage provides a suitable parallel for the motif of a failed birth (lp#n#, i.e., stillbirth or abortion) in line 2 (cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 77f).

Verse 10 [9]

“Before thorn-bush(es) can <produce> their thorns,
(the) Living (One in His) burning anger, shall sweep them away!”

The MT of this verse makes very little sense, and is doubtless corrupt. Again, one wishes a reliable Dead Sea manuscript of the Psalm had survived, as it likely would have clarified the situation; but unfortunately that is not the case. Any reading or reconstruction of these lines will have to remain hypothetical and speculative. I have adopted the following changes, so as to produce a relatively clean 4+3 couplet that makes decent sense:

    • Following at least one Hebrew MS, I read <h#yt@r)ys! with the third-person suffix (“their thorns”)
    • I follow Kraus (p. 534) in reading WbWny` (“they bear [fruit],” “they produce”) in place of MT Wnyb!y`.
    • I omit the two occurrences of the suffixed preposition omK= in the second line; these probably crept into the text at this point due to their presence in the prior lines.

Here we have an announcement of YHWH’s coming judgment on the wicked, with the Psalmist anticipating God’s answer to his imprecatory prayer.

Verses 11-12 [10-11]

Verse 11 [10]

“The righteous shall be glad when he sees (the) vengeance;
(with) his footsteps, he shall wash in (the) blood of (the) wicked.”

The contrasting fates of the wicked and the righteous are presented in these closing verses. The scene, in spite of the promise of rejoicing, will doubtless strike modern readers as unduly harsh and gruesome. Very few Christians, I think, would find any enjoyment in the idea of washing our feet in the blood of the wicked who have been slaughtered. However, there can be no denying that the terrible death and destruction of the wicked is an integral part of the tradition of the (end-time) Divine judgment inherited by early Christians. It is depicted vividly enough in the book of Revelation (6:10ff; 14:14-20; 16:3-6; 19:2, 13).

Verse 12 [11]

“And man will say, ‘Surely (there is) fruit for the righteous!
Surely there is a Mightiest (One) making judgment on the earth!'”

The eschatological dimension of the Judgment is expressed here rather clearly, as humankind (collectively) is forced to admit that God exists, and that YHWH is the true God (Elohim, “Mightiest [One]”). He has the power and authority to act as Judge over the entire world (“making judgment on the earth”). By contrast to the imagery in verse 10 [9] (cf. above), where the wicked are depicted as thorn-bushes that are swept away in the wind, the righteous are presented as plants that produce a rich and succulent fruit. This is part of a well-established Wisdom tradition that was inherited by the Psalms, and which exerted a significant influence on many of the compositions. The same basic contrast is featured in the famous Psalm 1 (vv. 3-4) at the beginning of the collection.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

Notes on Prayer: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2:16-17

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2:16-17

In the previous study, we looked at Paul’s references to prayer in 1 Thessalonians, and saw how they were focused on two primary themes: (1) Paul’s relationship to the Thessalonian believers, and (2) Paul’s (apostolic) ministry as a missionary and preacher of the Gospel. The Thessalonians were asked to pray for Paul (and his fellow missionaries) in their ministry work, while Paul prays for the Thessalonians, in relation to his work of preaching the Gospel—that is, he gives thanks to God and makes request for the Thessalonians, that they will continue to demonstrate the positive results of their acceptance of the Gospel.

We see much the same in 2 Thessalonians, both in the introduction (exordium, 1:3-12) and the concluding exhortation (3:1-15). These sections bracket the central section of the letter (probatio) that deals with the specific issue addressed by Paul. Thus, the references to prayer in 2 Thessalonians are more integral to the deliberative rhetoric of the letter. The main issue of the letter, on which Paul wishes to persuade the Thessalonians, involves a point of eschatology—the nuance of which is difficult to recapture at this far remove. The eschatological emphasis is clearly expressed in the introduction. The thanksgiving (1:3-4) mentions the suffering and persecution faced by believers (part of the end-time period of distress); the exordium proper (1:5ff) makes abundantly clear that the end-time judgment by God is at hand, and that the return of the Lord (the exalted Jesus) will soon occur. It is in this light that Paul speaks of praying for the Thessalonians:

“(It is) unto this [i.e. for this reason] that we speak out toward (God) always over you, that you might hold up (as worthy) of th(is) calling, and (that) our God would fulfill every good consideration of goodness and work of trust in power, so (that) the name of our Lord Yeshua would be honored in you, and you in him, according to the favor of our God and (our) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed.” (vv. 11-12)

The main focus of his prayer, according to this statement, is summarized by the phrase “that you might hold up (as worthy) [a)ciw/sh|] of th(is) calling”. The verb a)cio/w derives from the context of something being measured (in value) on the balance-scales, bringing up the balance to match a specific weight/value. What believers are measured against is the calling (klh=si$)—that is, the call of God to salvation. For early Christians, salvation was understood primarily in an eschatological sense—i.e., being saved from the coming Judgment—and that is very much the sense here, as the context of vv. 3-12 makes quite clear. Specifically, we read in the preceding verse (v. 10):

“…when he should come—to be honored among his holy (one)s, and to be regarded with wonder among the (one)s (hav)ing trusted, (in) that they trusted our witness to you—on that day.”

Note the clear eschatological context: “when he should come (i.e. return of the exalted Jesus from heaven)…on that day”. His appearance means judgment and punishment for the world, but salvation for those who have trusted in the Gospel—the preaching of the Gospel here specifically defined in terms of the ministry work of Paul and his colleagues (“our witness to you,” cf. above). The focus of Paul’s exhortation for the Thessalonians is that they will remain faithful to the end, showing themselves worthy of the salvation that is to come. Through this faithfulness, the exalted Jesus (together with God the Father) will be given honor when he appears.

The specific eschatological issue addressed by Paul in chapter 2 continues to be debated by commentators. It involves the expression “the day of the Lord” (h( h(me/ra tou= qeou=), and, in my view, Paul’s concern is to draw a clear distinction between the end-time suffering believers are enduring and the “day of the Lord”. Both are end-time events, but they should be treated as distinct stages in the eschatological sequence. The suffering of believers is part of the end-time ‘period of distress [qli/yi$]’ which precedes the “day of the Lord” proper. The latter denotes the moment when God appears (through His Messianic/heavenly representative [Christ]) to usher in the great Judgment on humankind; at this time, the wicked/faithless ones will be punished, while the righteous (believers) will be rescued and saved. Paul introduces this eschatological discussion in vv. 1-2 (the partitio, where he makes his point), before demonstrating and arguing the proof (probatio) of it in vv. 3-15.

The latter portion of the probatio (vv. 13-15) is framed as a declaration of thanksgiving (to God) and an exhortation (for believers) to remain faithful until the moment of Christ’s return. This exhortation is followed by a wish-prayer (peroratio) for the very purpose (and goal) he had expressed:

“Now he—our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed—and God our Father, the (One hav)ing loved us and (hav)ing given us a calling along of the Ages, and a good hope in (His) favor, may He call along your hearts and make (you) firm in every work and good account.” (vv. 16-17)

The “calling along” (para/klhsi$, vb parakale/w) is related to the “calling” (klh=si$) in 1:11 (cf. above), and this calling is to be understood as the call to salvation—i.e., the hope (e)lpi/$) of deliverance from the coming Judgment. Through the favor (xa/ri$) of God, we, as believers, were called to salvation (eternal life); and Paul’s prayer is that God (along with the exalted Jesus) would continue to “call along” our hearts all the way to the end, strengthening us (vb sthri/zw) in every important way. Such strengthening and help is necessary due to the suffering believers face—and will continue to face—during the end-time period of distress.

The closing exhortation and conclusion to the letter (chap. 3) follows this same thematic emphasis, but adds the aspect of the Thessalonian believers also praying for Paul (cf. above). The persecution faced by Paul and his fellow missionaries is part of the same end-time suffering faced by the Thessalonians themselves. The two sides of the prayer-relationship—between Paul and the Thessalonians—are captured in verses 1-2:

“For the remainder [i.e. in conclusion], may you speak out toward (God), brothers, over us, (so) that the account of the Lord might run (unhindered), and might be honored, even as (it gives honor) to you, and that we might be rescued from the improper and evil men—for (there is) not trust (present) among all (people).”

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 37 (Part 4)

Psalm 37, continued

Verses 30-40

This final section of Psalm 37 reiterates the different themes that have run throughout the Psalm (cf. Parts 1, 2, 3, on the earlier sections). As such, it effectively summarizes the proverbial message of the composition, with its strong emphasis on the contrast between the righteous and the wicked (and their respective fates).

Verses 30-31

p “(The) mouth [yP!] of (the) just murmurs wisdom,
and his tongue speaks (right) judgment;
(the) Instruction of his Mighty (One is) in his heart,
his steps do not slip away (on the path).”

These two couplets neatly capture the character of the righteous (adj. qyd!x*, “just, right”), drawing upon traditional religious and proverbial language. The first couplet defines the righteous in terms of their speech: they speak wisdom (hm*k=j*) and justice (fP*v=m!, lit. “[right] judgment”). This essentially means that the righteous person both acts (i.e. behaves) in a wise and just manner, and exhorts others to do the same. Such a person is also preoccupied with wisdom and justice, a characteristic that is reflected by the use of the verb hg`h* (“murmur, mutter”). The verb denotes a low, rumbling sound (like an animal’s growl), and, in this context, refers to a person speaking (muttering) to himself/herself on a regular basis—note the famous parallel in Psalm 1:2, where it is the Instruction (Torah) of God that the focus of the righteous person’s attention.

And, indeed, the Torah is emphasized in the second couplet (v. 31), where the focus is on the overall conduct of the righteous, utilizing the familiar wisdom-motif of “walking” in a straight/right path—i.e., the path of God, represented by the precepts and regulations of the Torah. The righteous person is so preoccupied with the Torah—embodying as it does wisdom and justice (v. 30)—that it may be said to reside “in his heart.” As such, it guides his steps (sing. rv%a&) along the way—on the straight/right path that YHWH has laid out for him. On this path, his feet will not slip (vb du^m*), thanks to his faithfulness and the secure guidance of YHWH.

Verses 32-33

x “(The) wicked is looking out [hp#ox] for (the) just,
and is seeking to cause him death;
(but) YHWH will not leave him in his hand,
and will not treat him as (the) wicked in his judgment.”

The behavior of the wicked, in contrast to the righteous, is described in the first couplet here. It is characterized by an interest in doing harm (violence) to the righteous; it is thus an extreme form of injustice that occupies his attention, compared with the justice that occupies the righteous person. The purpose of this planned violence is ultimately to kill the righteous (“cause death”, vb tWm in the Hiphil stem), a theme that we have encountered a number of times in the Psalms thus far. The verb hp^x* (“look out [over], watch”) indicates that the wicked is looking for an opportunity to cause death for the righteous, and the use of the participle form in each line emphasizes that this is regular behavior—i.e., something he is constantly doing.

The promise in the second couplet is that YHWH will not give the righteous over into the power of wickedness. Quite literally, this means that the wicked person will not be able to fulfill his desire to kill the righteous (line 1). The idiom used here is of being “in the hand” of another person, that is, subject to his power and control. The effective promise is that YHWH will not leave the righteous behind (vb bz~u*), helpless in the hands of the wicked.

If the idea of being saved from death in this life is emphasized in the first line, it is the final Judgment and the afterlife that is view in the second line. If YHWH will not give over the righteous to the power of a wicked person, neither will he treat them like the wicked in the time of the Judgment. The verb uv^r* is, of course, related to the adjective uv*r* (“wicked”), and in the Hiphil stem can have the specialized sense of “treat/regard (someone) as wicked”. It is best to retain this wordplay and translate the root uvr consistently, however the verb uv^r* could also be rendered according to the fundamental meaning “do/cause wrong” —i.e., YHWH will not do wrong to the righteous in the Judgment. The syntax “his judgment” refers to the judgment of the righteous person; it thus differs in point of reference with the parallel “his hand” (i.e., hand of the wicked person) in the first line.

Verse 34

q “Look [hW@q*] (patiently) to YHWH,
and guard His path (with care);
and He will raise you (up) to possess the land,
(and) in (the) cutting off of (the) wicked you will see (it).”

In contrast to the 3-beat (3+3) meter that dominates this Psalm, the first bicolon here is a terse 2-beat (2+2) couplet. The short lines contain a clear and direct exhortation for the righteous. Again, the juxtaposition with the wicked is implied; even as the wicked “looks out” for a chance to harm the righteous, so the righteous “looks” (vb hw`q*) to YHWH with hope and devotion, trusting that He will bring deliverance and will rectify things (with justice) in the time of Judgment. Indeed, it is the great Judgment that is in view here in the second couplet, contrasting the fate of the righteous and wicked, using the same combined idiom from vv. 22 and 28-29: viz., the righteous will possess the earth (or land), while the wicked will be “cut off” (vb tr^K*).

In this regard, the wording of the last line is difficult. The basic idea seems to be that the judgment of the righteous and wicked is simultaneous, and occurs at the same moment: the righteous is “raised high” (vb <Wr), while the wicked is cut down; and, as the wicked falls, the righteous has a clear view of the land he will inherit. Some might interpret the last line to mean that the righteous will see the wicked person fall, but I feel that this is incorrect: he sees the land, not the wicked person who has fallen out of view. This “land” is a symbol for the blessed life with God (in Heaven).

Verses 35-36

r “I have seen [yT!ya!r*] (the) wicked (appear) awesome,
(spread)ing leaves like a (lush) green native (tree);
and (yet) he passed over, and see! he was no (more),
I searched (for) him and he was not found.”

The syntax of these lines, along with their mixed metaphors, is a bit awkward. Kraus (p. 403), based on the LXX reading, would emend the adjective Jyr!u* (“terrible, awesome, mighty”) to JyL!u*, meaning something like “raised high (in triumph)”. This would perhaps better fit the image of a majestic tree. The LXX also indicates a different reading for the second line of the first couplet, referring to the “cedars of Lebanon”, rather than the curious wording of the MT, which would have to be seriously emended to match the LXX. An underlying Hebrew text, corresponding to the LXX (cf. Kraus, p. 403), would yield the following translation for the first couplet:

“I have seen the wicked raised high (in triumph),
and lifted up like (the) cedars of (the) white-peaked (mountains) [i.e. Lebanon]”

In any case, the basic message of these couplets is clear enough, and is well-rooted in Wisdom tradition. The wicked may prosper, appearing mighty and majestic, during their lifetime, but with their death, all of that suddenly vanishes, and they “are no more”. This fate of disappearance also alludes to the Judgment, when the wicked will be “cut off” (or cut down, following the tree-motif), cf. above. The verb rb^u* (“pass/cross over”) almost certainly refers to crossing over into the realm of the dead (i.e., the death of the wicked).

Verses 37-38

? “Watch [rm*v=] (the) complete and see (the) straight,
for (what) follows for (that) man (is) fulfillment;
but (those) breaking (the bond) are destroyed as one,
(and what) follows for (the) wicked is (to be) cut off.”

The wording of these couplets seems somewhat forced and awkward; however, the Wisdom-theme comes through clearly, continuing the striking contrast between the righteous and the wicked (and their respective fates). The initial verb (rm^v*) literally means “guard”, but can also be rendered “watch closely” (i.e., keep watch over); paired as it is here with ha*r* (“see”), the simple translation of “watch” is appropriate.

The adjectives <T* (“complete”) and rv*y` (“straight”) should be understood here as substantives which refer to the righteous—i.e., that which characterizes the righteous: their complete devotion to the covenant bond with YHWH, and their upright conduct (in both a moral and religious sense). One should look to such people as an example, but also, more particularly, as an indication of what the fate of the righteous will be. Their righteousness finds completion and fulfillment (<olv*) with YHWH; that is, fulfillment of what is promised by the covenant bond: blessing and security, both in this life, and in the life to come.

The wicked, by contrast, break the covenant bond, and this is the specific meaning of the verb uv^P*, used here as substantive (participle) to characterize the wicked, even as <T* and rv*y` characterize the righteous. The fate (lit., “[what] follows”) for the wicked is to be “cut off” (vb tr^K*), a motif that has been used several times already in this Psalm. This “cutting off” is a specific element of the ancient Near Eastern covenant format. Originally, it referred to a ritual cutting up of an animal, as a way of symbolizing what will happen to the person who violates the terms of the binding agreement—that is, they will be “cut up” in a similar manner. Even when the use of such a concrete ritual had faded, the associated language remained: the covenant formula had built-in “curse” language implying that God would bring about the death of one who violated the covenant (i.e., they would be “cut off”). On the theme of the death of the wicked, cf. the discussion above.

Verses 39-40

t “(The) salvation [tu^WvT=] of (the) just (comes) from YHWH,
(their) place of strength in time of distress;
and YHWH will help them and will rescue them,
He rescues them from (the) wicked and saves them,
for they (have) sought protection in Him.”

In order to preserve the acrostic format, the initial prefixed conjunction (-W) in the MT should probably be omitted. The theme of these concluding couplets is salvation (hu*WvT=)—that is, the safety and security that YHWH provides for the righteous. This relates specifically to the covenant bond (cf. above) between YHWH and His people. Those who remain faithful to the bond are under YHWH’s continual protection, and He will rescue them from danger. In the context of the Psalm, this refers to the threat to the righteous from the wicked, who seek to bring about their death. God will rescue the righteous from this danger.

This imagery, of YHWH as a “place of strength” and protection, has been used repeatedly in the Psalms. In particular, the verb hs*j* is distinctive of the Psalms, and occurs frequently; already, in the Psalms we have studied thus far, it has occurred 14 times (2:12; 5:12; 7:2; 11:1; 16:1; 17:7; 18:3, 31; 25:20; 31:2, 20; 34:9, 23; 36:8). The verb denotes a person seeking (and/or finding) protection; it also connotes the trust one places in that protection. As this usage makes clear, hs*j* is part of the covenantal language and imagery that is characteristic of many Psalms, and which runs through the composition.

The final couplet is expanded into a tricolon, adding a short, climactic third line, as is befitting of the conclusion to such a grand poem. The closing line, appropriately, emphasizes the trust that the righteous have in God. It is this, perhaps more than anything else, that distinguishes them from the wicked, and which serves as the basis for the fundamental contrast between the two groups.

References marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 37 (Part 2)

Psalm 37, continued

The first section of Psalm 37 (vv. 1-11) was examined in the previous study. This is an acrostic Psalm, and I notate the opening letter of each verse in the translations below.

Verses 12-22

Verses 12-13

z “(The) wicked is planning [<m@z)] (evil) for (the) just,
and grinds his teeth upon him;
(but the) Lord laughs at him,
for He sees that his day comes.”

In the first section, the righteous are urged not to react in anger or resentment when the wicked appear to prosper in this life. This Wisdom-message is part of a general (and familiar) contrast between the righteous and the wicked. Here, however, the contrast has sharpened into a sense of outright hostility and opposition—that is, the wicked opposing and attacking the righteous—such as we have seen expressed in a number of other Psalms. We need not imagine that any particular adversaries are in view; rather, the hostility is characteristic of the wicked in general.

What the wicked intend for the righteous is referenced in the first couplet (v. 12); it is described in terms of planning (vb <m^z`)—that is, intentional acts of evil directed at the righteous. The inherent violence of what they intend is expressed through the familiar idiom of “grinding the teeth”.

God’s response to the evil plans of the wicked is described in the second couplet (v. 13). He simply laughs (vb qj^c*)—playfully and derisively—at all they intend to do. The dismissive laughter conveys two points. First, the righteous are under God’s protection, and, even if they do suffer for a time, they ultimately will be delivered and blessed/rewarded for their suffering. Second, whatever cruelty the wicked would inflict on the righteous is trivial and insignificant compared to great suffering that they (the wicked) themselves will endure on the day of Judgment.

Indeed, the “day” in v. 13 certainly is an early reference to the “day of YHWH” theme, as it would be developed in the Prophetic writings. The poetic idiom has not been sharpened to the point that it would be, for example, in the late pre-exilic and exilic Prophets. Here it simply refers, in a general sense, to the Judgment that the wicked will face at the time of their death (and thereafter). There can be little doubt that the death of the wicked is primarily in view.

Verses 14-15

j “(Their) sword [br#j#] (the) wicked (one)s open (wide),
and they tread their bow (as they string it),
(so as) to fell (the) oppressed and needy,
(and) to slay (the one)s straight o(n the) path;
(but) their sword will come in(to) their (own) heart,
and their bows will be shattered (to pieces).”

In the first pair of couplets, the evil plans of the wicked have taken the form of preparation for violent action. The preparation is expressed in the first couplet, using military imagery. The wicked “open” their swords, by which is meant drawing it out (into the open), so as to sharpen and whet it. The collective action of the wicked as a group (and character type) is indicated by the singular “sword” (br#j#). The wicked also step (“tread”) on their bows to string them, in preparation for using them in battle, etc. Again, the noun (tv#q#) is singular, though it also may be possible to parse/vocalize it as a plural (“their bows”, cf. Dahood, p. 228f).

The purpose of this weapon-preparation is expressed in the second couplet, with a pair of phrases governed by infinitives:

    • “to fell [i.e., cause to fall]” (lyP!h^l=)
    • “to slay [i.e., kill in a violent manner]” (j^obf=l!)

The purpose is to kill the righteous, but the language perhaps is meant to convey, in extreme terms, a range of cruel and violent actions. The righteous are characterized as “oppressed” (yn]u*) and “needy” (/oyb=a#). This identification of the righteous with people who are poor and oppressed may seem overly simplistic, but it is an essential aspect of the Old Testament and subsequent Jewish tradition. It is precisely because of their righteousness that there is such opposition from the wicked. The expectation of poverty and affliction suggests that the attacks by the wicked will succeed, at least for a time. In any case, painful experience has taught many devout believers the truth of this apparent contradiction. The day of Judgment (v. 13, cf. above) will correct any wrongs done to the righteous during this life.

The judgment-theme returns in the final couplet, utilizing the lex talionis and ‘reversal of fortune’ motifs found so frequently in the Psalms. By a harsh irony, what the wicked intended for the righteous will be turned upon their own person: their sword will enter their own heart bringing about their own death. The ultimate failure of the wicked is summarized by the image of their weapons (spec. their bows) being “shattered” by God.

Verses 16-17

f “Good [bof] (is the) little (belonging) to (the) just,
from (the) wealth of (the) wicked (who have) much;
for (the) arms of (the) wicked (one)s will be shattered,
but YHWH is giving support (for the) just (one)s.”

I have translated the Hebrew syntax /m!bof quite literally above (“Good [is]…from…”); however, such phrasing typically indicates a comparison. In conventional English, this would be rendered “Better is…than…”; a corresponding translation of the first couplet would be:

“Better (is the) little belonging to (the) just
than (the) wealth of (the) wicked (who have) much”

The just/righteous one (singular, qyD!x^) is juxtaposed with the wicked ones (plural, <yu!v*r=) who have much (<yB!r^). Some commentators would emend <yB!r^ to the singular br^, to reinforce the parallel with fu^m= (“little”) in the first line. However, there is good reason to maintain the reading of the Masoretic text here, with the plural <yB!r^ modifying <yu!v*r=. The contrast is between the righteous person, who is often poor and needy (v. 14), and the wealthy (i.e. successful/prosperous) wicked ones.

God’s support for the righteous, and opposition to the wicked, is expressed in the second couplet. Again, there is an allusion to the ultimate (final) Judgment of God upon the wicked, framed entirely in terms of the dualistic contrast of righteous vs. wicked.

Verses 18-19

y “YHWH knows [u^d@oy] (the) days of (the) complete (one)s,
and their portion shall be for (the) distant (future);
they will not dry (up) in (the) time of evil,
and in (the) days of hunger they will be satisfied.”

In these couplets, the attacks by the wicked have vanished, and the emphasis is on the future reward for the righteous. Clearly, the day of Judgment is in view, along with the blessed afterlife that awaits for the righteous (in contrast with the suffering and punishment that belongs to the wicked). This is very much part of the Wisdom-tradition as we see it expressed in the Psalms (cf. the earlier study on Psalm 1).

Here the righteous are characterized as the “complete (one)s” (<m!ym!t=)—that is, those who have proven themselves to be completely devoted to YHWH, pure in heart and mind, and obedient to the covenant bond between God and His people. The idea that YHWH “knows their days” implies the providential care that He has for the righteous, including the blessing that He will provide for them at the end of their life (i.e., in the afterlife). Indeed, the “portion” (hl*j&n~) that the righteous will inherit belongs to the “distant (future)”, or, in later Jewish terminology, “the Age to come”, which often signifies “eternal life”, i.e., the blessed life in heaven with God.

This blessing, in the second couplet, is described in terms of agricultural/farming imagery. Like the crops that come through to a successful harvest, the righteous will endure, and will not “dry up” (vb vby) in the harsh heat of summer (here called the “time of evil”). More than this, they will eat their fill and be satisfied (vb ubc), even in time of famine (“days of hunger”). Harvest imagery came to be a standard way of depicting the end-time Judgment, and of the inherent contrast between the righteous and wicked (i.e., the grain vs. the chaff).

Verse 20

k “(And it is) that [yK!] (the) wicked (one)s shall perish,
and (the one)s hostile (to) YHWH shall be finished—
like (the) rich(ness) of meadows (on fire),
they shall be finished (off) with smoke!”

This is a most difficult verse, and the certain confusion that is present in the lines (as they stand) suggests possible corruption in the text. Unfortunately, there is no help to be had here from the Dead Sea manuscripts, and any significant emendation would be highly questionable. As a tentative, working solution, I have made one small emendation, moving the first occurrence of the verb form WlK (“they will be finished”) back two words into the second line. The result is a 3-beat (3+3) couplet, followed by a short 2-beat (2+2) couplet. This gives to the unit a dramatic climax, and retains a relatively consistent poetic rhythm and structure.

The general sense of the verse is clear enough: it narrates the fate of the wicked, in contrast to that of the righteous (in vv. 18-19, cf. above). While the righteous will endure the heat of summer, and come through as fine crops for the harvest, the ‘fields’ of the wicked will be destroyed, burned up by fire. While the righteous are “complete” (<mt), the wicked are “completed” (llk)—that is, finished off, meeting their end; they are completely destroyed.

Unless there is something missing from the text, the last brief couplet, as we have it, gives only a vague allusion to fields being destroyed by fire. However, this seems to be the imagery that is involved, as a contrastive parallel with the positive harvest imagery in vv. 18-19. Even so, it must be admitted that any treatment of the verse, based on the current data available, must be regarded as tentative and preliminary. For different ways of understanding and rendering these lines, compare, for example, the approaches of Dahood (p. 230) and Kraus (p. 403).

Verse 21

l “(The) wicked borrows [hw#l)] and does not fulfill (his obligation),
but (the) just (person) is (always) showing favor and giving.”

This proverbial couplet, while rooted in the Wisdom-tradition that we find expressed throughout the Psalm, seems somewhat out of place here (and might fit better as part of the first section [cf. the previous study]). However, it continues the contrast between the righteous and the wicked that is central to this Wisdom-Psalm. The contrast is straightforward enough. The wicked person tends to borrow (vb hw`l*) but does not fulfill (vb <l^v*) his obligation. The righteous person, on the other hand, is always showing favor to others and giving (rather than taking). The pair of participles suggests an ongoing action, behavior that characterizes the righteous.

Verse 22

“For (the one)s being blessed by Him will possess (the) earth,
but (the one)s being cursed by Him will be cut off.”

This couplet continues the contrast from v. 21, and should be probably be joined with that verse as a unit, forming a pair of couplets. However, I have isolated it here as the climactic point that brings the section to a close. Likewise, the first section concluded with a promise that the righteous would “possess the earth” as an inheritance (v. 11), and the third section also ends in a similar manner (v. 29, to be discussed in the next study). As previously noted, Jesus essentially quotes verse 11 in his famous Beatitudes (Matt 5:5).

The contrast here involves a pair of passive participles, an example of the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. The righteous are designated as those “being blessed” (vb Er^B*) by YHWH, while the wicked are those “being cursed” (vb ll^q*) by Him. This juxtaposition of blessings/cursings is part of the ancient Near Eastern covenant pattern, as also is the contrasting fate of inheritance and being “cut off”. The faithful and loyal vassal will inherit a territory, while the one who violates the binding agreement will be “cut off” (tr^K*).

This ‘cutting’ was often symbolized, in ancient times, by the actual dismemberment of a sacrificial animal, sometimes accompanied by a formula that effectively affirmed, “as this animal has been cut up, so let it (i.e., so it will) be done to me if I violate the terms of this agreement,” etc. In Old Testament and Israelite tradition, the death penalty was not always applied in such situations, when the covenant with YHWH was violated—a symbolic “cutting off” could be substituted in its place. However, the idea that the transgressor will ultimately meet death at God’s hand (perhaps in a violent or untimely manner), is very much present in many Scripture passages, including a number of places in the Psalms. Almost certainly, the death of the wicked is in view here, along with indications of future punishment after death.

References marked “Dahood” above are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol 16 (1965).
References marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

October 28: Philippians 2:10b-11

Philippians 2:10b-11

“…every knee shall bend
of (those) upon the heavens and upon the earth and below the ground
and every tongue shall give account as one,
that Yeshua (the) Anointed (is the) Lord,
unto (the) honor of God (the) Father.”

These lines complete the clause begun in v. 10a (cf. the previous note), “(so) that, in the name of Yeshua…”. The force of the preposition e)n (“in”) was discussion in the previous note. While the traditional usage of the phrase “in the name of Jesus” is certainly in view, it carries a special meaning and nuance here. While the idea of prayer and baptism “in Jesus’ name” was common among early Christians, worshiping God “in the name of Jesus” is more unusual. We are not dealing with the same sense of Jesus as an intermediary; rather, it would seem that the worship and homage (bending the knee) is being directed to Jesus. For this reason, it is perhaps better to gloss the translation as “in (honor of) the name of Jesus” (cf. O’Brien, pp. 239-40). The sense of “at the name of Jesus” is also possible, meaning that the presence of the divine Jesus (in his glory/splendor, cf. the earlier note on the expression “form of God”, v. 6a) causes all creatures to bow in recognition of his exalted position, as they would to God Himself.

The principal statement in vv. 10b-11a is a citation (or allusion) to Isaiah 45:23b. The hymn reads:

pa=n go/nu ka/myh|

kai\ pa=sa glw=ssa e)comologh/shtai
“every knee shall bend
….
and every tongue shall give account as one”

The text of the LXX is nearly identical, except that it has future indicative verb forms rather than the aorist subjunctive forms of the hymn. Both the LXX and NT are relatively accurate translations of the Hebrew, which I render literally as follows:

“For to me every knee will bend,
and every tongue will bind (itself) sevenfold”

Like most English translators, the LXX translator did not render literally the Hebrew idiom contained in the verb ub^v* (in the passive-reflexive Niphal stem), something like “bind (oneself) seven(fold)”, instead capturing the basic idea of a solemn oath or confession (the Greek verb e)comologe/w is an intensive form of o(mologe/w, “give account as one”, i.e., acknowledge, confess [together]).

A more important point, is that, in the original prophecy, God is speaking, and declares that every knee will bend to Him (“to me”, yl!). Thus, by applying these lines to Jesus in the hymn, it is clear that the exalted Jesus takes the place of God Himself, receiving the worship and acknowledgment that belongs to YHWH. This would seem to provide added confirmation to the view that the “name” given to Jesus (vv. 9b-10a) is God’s own name, represented by the divine title “Lord” (/oda*/ku/rio$); for more on this, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

The context of Isa 45:22-25 is significant for an understanding of its use here in the hymn. The basic orientation of the passage is eschatological, drawing upon the “day of YHWH” motif in the Prophetic tradition. In particular, we find the developed idea of the Day of YHWH as the time of (collective) Judgment for all the nations (v. 20). The primary basis of the Judgment is the recognition of YHWH as the Creator, the one true God (vv. 21b-22). The call goes out to Israel (and all the nations), to turn to YHWH, trusting in Him, before the moment of Judgment comes. Such trust will result in salvation (from the Judgment), with the promise that the people of God (Israel) will be deemed righteous by God, and thus be saved. All of these Prophetic (and eschatological) themes were picked up by early Christians, substituting trust in Jesus for the older idea of trust in YHWH. And this, indeed, is what we find here in the hymn as well; recognition of the divine status of the exalted Jesus (as Lord) is parallel to the traditional motif of “calling on the name of the Lord” (with Jesus as Lord), which leads to salvation (Acts 2:21; Rom 10:13f, citing Joel 2:32).

Another way that the Prophetic traditions in Isa 45:22-25 were adapted in the hymn has to do with the eschatological Judgment-scene depicted in vv. 10-11. The motif of the Judgment of the Nations has been enhanced and expanded to give it truly a universal scope. This is indicated first by the pronominal adjective pa=$ (“all”) denoting totality, wholeness, and completion. Here it is used to signify every being in the universe “every name” applied to the religious context of worshiping and acknowledging a deity. This religious aspect is two-fold: (a) gestures of homage (bending of “every knee”), and (b) acknowledgment in speech (“every tongue”). The universalistic focus is enhanced by the qualifying statement inserted between the lines of Isa 45:23: “…of (those) upon the heavens and upon the earth and below the ground”.

The three adjectives in this statemente)poura/nio$ (“upon [i.e. above] the heavens”), e)pi/geio$ (“upon the earth”), and kataxqw/nio$ (“beneath the ground”)reflect the basic tri-partate (three-part) cosmology widespread throughout the ancient world. The three parts are: (i) the hemispheric space above the earth, (ii) the flat disc/cylinder of the earth itself, and (iii) the space under the earth. The adjectives here are substantive plurals, referring to beings which inhabit each of these regions. The genitive form indicates that the knees and tongues, used to give worship, belong to these beingsimplying that they are personal beings possessing intelligence and will. It is common to define these three groups of beings as: heavenly beings (Angels, etc), living human beings, and the spirits of the dead (and/or evil spirit-beings bound under the earth). While this is doubtless correct, in a general sense, one be cautious in attempting to define the terms more precisely.

The main point in vv. 10-11 is that all of these created beings will give homage and worship to the exalted Jesus, bending the knee to him and acknowledging him as Lord (ku/rio$) with a spoken declaration. The verb e)comologe/w literally means “give out an account as one”, referring to something that people say together, in unison, and/or with common consent. It is possible that the scene here is of all beings making the declaration (“Yeshua the Anointed [is the] Lord”) together, in unison; more likely, however, it simply means that every being effectively says the same thing. The text allows for the possibility of a final universalism here, in a soteriological sense; that is to say, all beings ultimately come to trust in Jesus, recognizing him as Lord, and thus find salvation (cf. the context of Isa 45:22ff). A more probable scenario is that the wicked beings are forced to submit to the ruling authority of the exalted Jesus, rather contrary to their will (we may assume), as part of the Judgment that is brought against them.

The importance of the Judgment-scene, often missed by readers and commentators, in vv. 9-11 will be discussed in more detail in the next daily note, along with a specific discussion of the final phrase of the hymn: “…unto (the) honor of God (the) Father”.

References marked “O’Brien” above, and throughout this set of notes, are to Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC] (Eerdmans: 1991).

 

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.