Supplemental Note on Isaiah 24-27 (5): Isa 27:12-13

Isaiah 27:12-13

This is the last of five special notes supplemental to the recent Saturday Series studies on Isaiah 24-27 (see #1 on v. 1, #2 on vv. 2-5, #3 on v. 6, and #4 on vv. 7-11). The poem of vv. 7-13 concludes with two “day of YHWH” stanzas, as do the previous poems in 25:1-26:6 and 26:7-27:6. We will examine each of these stanzas in turn.

“And it will be, on that day [bayyôm hahû°]—
YHWH will beat out (the grain)
from (the) stream of (the great) River,
unto the river-bed of Egypt,
and you will be gathered up
from (there) one by one,
(you) sons of Yisrael.” (v. 12)

The harvest imagery of beating out (i.e. threshing) the grain and gathering it up (verbs µ¹»a‰ and l¹qa‰) follows the line of agricultural symbolism in these poems, and is entirely appropriate to the eschatological orientation of chaps. 24-27 as a whole. The harvest, marking the end of the growing season, came to be a popular motif for the end of the current Age, and the threshing—the separating of the grain from the chaff—was likewise suitable for the idea of separating the righteous from the wicked in the great Judgment.

It is a judgment on the nations, particularly those surrounding Israel, spanning the entire territory of the ancient Near East, using the “(great) River” (Euphrates) and “river of Egypt” (Nile) as the traditional boundary points. God’s Judgment on these nations means a return from exile for the people of Israel. They will be “gathered up” (by God) and returned to their land. The two-fold use of the numeral °eµ¹¼ (dj*a#, one), i.e. “one by one”, emphasizes both the restoration of the people, and that each person belonging to the restored people will return. This alludes again to the threshing-motif, with each single grain being gathered up as part of the harvest.

“And it will be, on that day [bayyôm hahû°]—
(the signal) will be struck on (the) great horn,
and they (all) will come,
the (one)s being lost in (the) land of Assur,
and the (one)s being cast off in (the) land of Egypt,
and they will bow down (in homage) to YHWH,
on the mountain of holiness in Yerushalaim.” (v. 13)

The second stanza, brings the return from exile more clearly into view. The time for returning is announced on the great horn, as would be used on festival occasions. The lands from which the people come correspond with the boundary markers mentioned in verse 12:

    • “the (great) river” (Euphrates) = the land of Assur (Assyria)
    • “the river of Egypt” (Nile) = the land of Egypt

The fact that Assyria is specifically mentioned (and not Babylon) raises the possibility that these lines stem from a period prior to the Babylonian conquest/exile, and that the “sons of Israel” refer primarily to the captives of the fallen northern kingdom of Israel. Parallels with the oracle in 11:11-16 are noteworthy; indeed, Assyria and Egypt are mentioned together there in v. 11. The prophecy in v. 12 declares that both Israel and Judah will be gathered from the nations where they have been exiled. The historical circumstances of such references can be difficult to determine with precision. The obvious explanation is that the lines in 11:12ff were composed following the Babylonian conquest, and yet there were certainly Judeans who had been taken captive (exiled) during the earlier Assyrian conquests as well. Roberts (First Isaiah, Hermeneia [Fortess Press: 2015], pp. 189-90) suggests the possibility that, in the case of the poem in 11:11-16, an earlier Isaian oracle (set in the Assyrian period) was adapted and reinterpreted by a later author/editor (in the Babylonian period).

There can be no real question that chapters 24-27 do make such use of earlier Isaian traditions (I have discussed the point in the prior notes and studies), and that the time-frame of the poems is fundamentally that of the Exilic period of the 6th century B.C. It may well be that here Assyria, as the territory marked by the Euphrates, serves equally for Babylon—both nation-states representing comparable powers from the east that conquered and exiled God’s people.

As far as Egypt is concerned, its significance here has multiple layers of meaning:

    • It is the ancient site of Israel’s first captivity
    • It played a (political) role in the events surrounding both the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests
    • Israelites and Judeans took refuge in Egypt in the wake of those invasions, and many remained there as ‘exiles’
    • The return from exile would follow the type-pattern of the Exodus, with Israel being gathered out of Egypt (Isa 11:15-16, etc)

That being said, the reference to Israelites/Judeans in Egypt, most likely reflects the historical circumstances of the fall of Jerusalem (587/6 B.C.), when large numbers of Judeans fled in its wake (to Egypt), particularly after the assassination of the governor Gedaliah (see 2 Kings 25:24-25; Jeremiah 41ff).

On the (eschatological) theme of Israel’s restoration centered on the “mountain” of God—that is, the city of Jerusalem (Zion), couched in the imagery of cosmological myth—see the earlier study on Isa 2:1-5.

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

Isaiah 27:7-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The description in verse 10 begins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 27:6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IsaIAH 5:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 27:2-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 22 – Part 3

Psalm 22, continued

Verses 24-32 [23-31]

These verses represent the third (and final) section of the Psalm; the emphasis on lament and a plea for help has given way to one of praise and thanksgiving to YHWH, suggesting that God has provided (or is expected to provide) deliverance for the Psalmist. And, since this protagonist, whether or not understood as the king, represents the people as a whole, the individual salvation he experiences similarly represents the salvation God brings collectively for His people. This helps to explain the focus in verses 24-32 on exhortation to praise, and how the Psalmist’s own worship of YHWH blends with that of the “great congregation”. There may be an indication of a ritual or liturgical context for the composition preserved here as well, though one must be cautious in any attempt to reconstruct it.

Verses 24-25 [23-24]

“(You the one)s fearing YHWH, shout praise (to Him),
(you) seed of Ya’aqob, give weight [i.e. honor] to Him,
and (may) you be in awe from Him, all (the) seed of Yisra’el!
For He has not despised,
and did not treat as filthy,
(the) chanting of the oppressed—
(indeed) He has not kept His face hidden from him,
but in his calling to Him for help, He has heard!”

This initial portion begins and ends with a 3+3 bicolon (v. 24ab, 25b); in between there are lines of irregular meter—apparently a single 4-beat line (v. 24c) and a 2+2+2 tricolon (v. 25a), the rhythm of which I have tried to preserve visually above. The interplay of the singular (i.e. deliverance for the Psalmist) and plural (i.e. for the people collectively), noted above, is established in these lines. The case of the Psalmist serves as an example for the rest of Israel—as YHWH has saved him, so will God save all the faithful ones who call to Him for help (vb uwv) in their time of distress.

In the third line of the tricolon in v. 25a, there is a bit of wordplay—MT yn]u* tWnu$ (±§nû¾ ±¹nî), which would be a cognate expression (i.e., “oppressions of the oppressed”, “afflictions of the affliction”). I am inclined, however, to follow Dahood (p. 142) in reading twnu as derived from a separate root hn`u* (“sing, chant”), in which case it should presumably be vocalized as an infinitive, tonu& (or Piel toNu^), cf. Exod 32:18; Psalm 88:1. Dahood also suggests that ryT!s=h! in v. 25b should be understood as a reflexive (infixed-t) form of the verb rWs (“turn [away]”), rather than a form of the root rt^s* (“hide”); this would alter the translation, but not the essential meaning of the line—i.e. God “turning away” his face vs. “hiding” it.

Verse 26 [25]

“From (what) you (have done) (comes) my shout in (the) great assembly,
(and) my vows (to you) I will make good in front of (the one)s fearing Him.”

This 4+4 couplet continues the theme of the Psalmist as an example for the people, as he performs his acts of gratitude and worship (i.e. his “shout” of praise, etc) in the public setting of the assembly (lh*q*). The initial word is problematic, especially with its second person suffix that seems to contradict the third person suffix at the end of the second line. However, the mixing of person in ancient poetry is not all that unusual, and we should not be startled by the sudden shift from addressing God directly, to speaking of Him indirectly, especially since the third person usage in the second line is likely a relic of a fixed expression regarding righteous as “the ones fearing Him”. The MT points the initial word as a prepositional expression—;T=a!m@, “from you”, presumably in the sense of “from [i.e. as a result of] what you have done”. Dahood (p. 142) offers the interesting interpretation of itam as a verbal form, a denominative derived from ha*m@ (“hundred”), in which case in context it would mean something like “my praise is to you a hundred (fold)”. This is an attractive solution, but perhaps rather unlikely, given the lack of any other clear examples of such a denominative in the Old Testament.

Verse 27 [26]

“The oppressed (one)s will eat and be satisfied,
they will shout praise to YHWH, (the one)s seeking Him—
may your heart live for (all time) until (the end)!”

Again there is a shift from the protagonist (i.e. individual salvation) to the congregation (“assembly”) of the people (collective). Clearly, however, it is the righteous and faithful ones who are in view— “the ones seeking [vb vr^D*]” YHWH—and not the entire people in a simple national/ethnic sense. These same righteous Israelites, faithful and loyal to God, are characterized as “oppressed”, using a plural adjective (<yw]n`u&, ±¦n¹wîm) that would take on great importance as a religious self-identification for devout Jews in subsequent generations (including at the time of the New Testament). The promise is that these faithful ones will find salvation in their time of distress, and will enjoy a long and fulfilling life (expressed in the third line as a blessing). The implication throughout is that the oppression that the righteous experience is due, in large measure, to the very fact of their faithfulness to YHWH, which stimulates opposition from the wicked.

Verses 28-29 [27-28]

“They will remember and (re)turn to YHWH,
(from) all (the) ends of (the) earth;
and they will bow (down) before your face,
all (the) offspring of (the) nations—
for the kingdom (belongs) to YHWH,
and (is) ruling o(ver the) nations!”

This sequence of three couplets (with slightly irregular meter, 3+2 and 2+2[?]) has the common theme of YHWH’s position as king and ruler of the entire earth. The salvation He is able to bring for his people, in the face of oppression from the wicked (i.e. of the nations), is ultimately due to this sovereignty and power which He possesses. It is thus natural that the praise and worship of YHWH, in this setting, would turn toward the theme of His sovereignty.

The idea of the nations “remembering” (vb rk^z`) and “turning” (or re-turning, vb rWv) to YHWH can be misleading, if understood in the sense of Christian evangelism, etc. While there may be reflected here a tradition regarding the common worship of the one true God by all humankind (cf. Gen 10:32-11:1ff), the more proper meaning is that of the nations coming to recognize the truth of YHWH’s position as King over the universe, being forced to this point by the exercise of His power. This motif of all the nations coming to worship YHWH is rather more typical of the Prophetic writings in the exilic and post-exilic periods; however, it has its roots in older tradition, and cannot necessarily be used as a reliable means for dating the Psalm. Cf. for example, the similar thought and wording in Ps 59:14 [13].

Verse 30 [29]

“Indeed, to Him will they bow down, all (those) sleeping (in the) earth;
they will bend the knee, all (the one)s going down (into the) dust—
even (though) his soul does not remain alive!”

I understand these lines as a tricolon (with irregular meter), parallel in certain respects to that of verse 27 [26] (cf. above). On that basis, there is a clear contrast between the righteous ones of v. 27 and the rest of humankind here (i.e., the nations, following the thought of vv. 28-29). The righteous have their lives preserved by God, while the rest of humankind simply die off and are buried. This rather confirms that the “bowing down” of the nations to YHWH is compulsory, and not necessarily reflective of a genuine conversion to true worship of God. At the very least, the nations who bow down (vb hj^v* reflexive) and “bend the knee” (vb ur^K*) do not have the same relationship to YHWH as do the righteous/faithful ones of His people. This is entirely in accord with Israelite religion and theology, however much it may conflict with later Christian ideals.

I follow the commentators (such as Dahood, p. 143) who parse the initial word wlka (MT Wlk=a*, “they will eat”) as ol Ea* (“indeed to him”), which better fits the context. The reading Wlk=a* may have arisen due to the parallelism with verse 27, and the opening word there; at the very least, there would seem to be some wordplay involved. Also problematic is the expression Jr#a#-yn@v=D!, which would appear to mean “(the) fat (one)s of the earth”; however, this does not fit the parallelism of the lines particularly well. A more likely parsing, it seems to me, recognizes the participial form yn@v@y=, “(the one)s sleeping” (vb /v@y`); this yields the appropriate parallel (cp. Dan 12:2):

    • “(the one)s sleeping (in the) earth”
    • “(the one)s going down (into the) dust”

The initial D! would then be explained as the old Semitic relative pronoun (yD!), which was preserved in poetry (and continued to be used in Aramaic), but otherwise disappeared from Old Testament Hebrew prose (where the relative particle rv#a& is far more common). Thus, if correct, the derivation  yn@v@y= + yD! = yn@v=D!; through elision/syncope the consonant y drops out (cf. Dahood, p. 143).

The meaning of the third line in verse 30 is also uncertain; however, based on the parallel with the third line of v. 27, it would seem that the contrast is between the life of the righteous being preserved (by God), and the inability of the rest of humankind to save their life (i.e. “soul”, vp#n#) from death and the grave.

Verses 31-32 [30-31]

“(May my) seed (always) serve Him,
(and) give account of the Lord to (each) circle;
they will come and put His justice (out) front, (showing)
to people coming to be born, that He has done (this).”

These final couplets have a highly irregular rhythm; however, they serve as a fitting conclusion to the Psalm, emphasizing how each generation of Israelites has a duty to continue declaring (such as in performance of this Psalm-composition) how YHWH has acted to save His people, even as they themselves remain faithful to the covenant. The noun roD is often translated “generation”, but it literally means “circle, cycle, revolution”, i.e. a life-cycle or Age. The basic sense of “generation”, however, is correct, as the parallel between the 2nd and 4th lines makes clear—i.e., “circle” (roD) = “people coming to be born” (dl*on <u^). The noun hq*d*x= can also be difficult to translate precisely; it denotes “straightness, right(ness), rectitude”, often in the specific sense of “justice” (so translated above) or religious and moral “righteousness”. In a covenantal context, however, it can also connote loyalty—faithfulness and adherence to the binding agreement.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).

 

Saturday Series: Isaiah 2:1-5

Isaiah 2:1-5

“The word which Yesha’yahu son of Amos saw (as a vision), upon [i.e. regarding] Yehudah and Yerushalaim” (v. 1)

This superscription mirrors that of 1:1, and should be taken as the opening of the book proper, that is, of chapters 2-39. Another similar superscription follows at 13:1, which indicates that chapters 2-12 form a distinct division, though whether or not they reflect a specific source document or stage of composition for chaps. 2-39, is difficult to say. In any case, it is important to view a passage (such as Isa 2:1-5) within its wider Scriptural context–which here involves the division comprised of chapters 2-12. Thematically, chaps. 2-4 form a smaller unit, with a parallel section (11:1-12:6) at the end of this division. They share the (eschatological) theme of the restoration of Israel, alternating with oracles of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem. The eschatological aspect of these chapters, with its theme of restoration, is more typical of so-called Deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 40-66), which critical commentators believe was composed later on, reflecting an exilic or post-exilic setting. This would be contrasted with the core section 6:1-9:6, which clearly is set in Isaiah’s own time, dealing with the 8th century Assyrian crises. The surrounding judgment poems and oracles of chapters 5 and 10 also appear more closely related to the late-8th century Assyrian setting.

Before looking at the individual verses and lines of 2:2-5, it may be worth considering the passage briefly in terms of the various areas of Biblical Criticism (see the introductory study).

Textual Criticism

This passage is, of course, contained in the great Qumran Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa), as well as (partially) in manuscripts 4QIsab,e,f. There are several interesting variants between 1QIsaa (the Isaiah Scroll) and the Masoretic Text (MT); most notably, the text of 1QIsaa is shorter in verse 3 (absent the portion in italics):

“(Let us) go, and we shall go up to (the) mountain of YHWH,
to (the) house of the Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob”

The other main difference is the reading of the plural verb form “and they will instruct us” (w®yœrûnû) instead of the MT singular “and He will instruct us” (w®yœr¢nû). There are a few smaller, minor variants, as well as some orthographic differences; but, otherwise the Masoretic Text is relatively secure, and we can work from it without undue complications.

Source Criticism

A textual point of note is that the text of Isa 2:2-5 has a parallel version (with some key differences, noted below) in Micah 4:1-5. This raises a number of source- and composition-critical questions. The relationship between the two versions has been explained in various ways:

    • The book of Isaiah derives it from Micah
    • The book of Micah derives it from Isaiah
    • Both versions are derived from a common earlier source

I am inclined to the latter view, which would tend to support the idea that the opening and closing portions of this division—i.e. chapters 2-4 and 11-12—date from a later period than the material in the central chapters 5-10, but that they still contain old prophetic material (even from Isaiah himself), united by certain key thematic and literary points. Our passage 2:2-5, in particular, seems to have much in common with the Deutero-Isaian oracles in the second half of the book.

Historical Criticism

The eschatological aspect of 2:2-5, with its theme of the restoration of Israel, centered around the Jerusalem Temple, and the outreach to the surrounding (Gentile) nations, is certainly typical of many of the Deutero-Isaian oracles in chaps. 40-66—see, for example, 40:9; 42:6-7; 45:14-23; 49:6; 51:4; 56:7; 57:13; 60:1-18; 65:11, 26; 66:20, etc. Most critical commentators would ascribe the Deutero-Isaian material, generally, to the exile or post-exilic period. A thematic comparison with texts from this period (e.g. Zech 2:14-16 [EV 12-14]; 8:20-23; Hag 2:7-9) would tend to point in this direction (cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 191). I have already noted (above) the idea that the framing sections in chapters 2-4, 11-12, while likely containing earlier/older material, may well have been composed somewhat later. If this is correct, it would tell us something significant about how the book of Isaiah was composed, with the message of the historical Prophet being applied to the situation of Judah/Jerusalem in a later time. In this case, according to this theory, the promise of deliverance (for Jerusalem and a faithful remnant) from the Assyrian invasion would have been applied to the Babylonian exile and the promise of a future restoration/return.

Literary Criticism

Isa 2:2-5 is short oracle, written in a highly poetic prose style; it may be called a poem, though with a loose metrical and verse structure. It would be characterized as a salvation- or restoration-oracle, rather typical, as I have noted, of the oracles in chapters 40-66 (so-called Deutero-Isaiah). The thematic structure of the poem can be outlined as follows:

    • Opening stanza on the Jerusalem Temple (v. 2, lines 1-4)
    • Visionary scene regarding the Nations (v. 2, line 5; v. 3)
    • Closing stanza on the New Age for humankind (v. 4)
    • Concluding exhortation (v. 5)

Thematically, the central scene has a chiastic structure:

    • The Nations come to the Temple to hear God’s word
      • Declaration of the Nations
    • God’s word goes out from the Temple to the Nations

Now, let us briefly examine each of these portions.

Exegesis

Verse 2a-d

“And it shall be, in the days (coming) after (this),
(the) mountain of the house of YHWH shall be set (up),
on the head [i.e. top] of (all) the mountains,
and lifted up from [i.e. over] (the) high (hill)s.”

This opening stanza, as such, establishes the central theme of the Jerusalem Temple, referred to traditionally as the “house” (bê¾) of YHWH, but also as a mountain (har). The mountain motif relates to the ancient fortified hill-top location of the Temple, the Canaanite site taken over by Israel to form the core of the future Jerusalem (the “city of David”, also known as Mount Zion). However, the mountain has an even more archetypal (mythic-religious) association with the Temple. The mountain was a figure-type for the meeting place between heaven and earth, i.e. the place where human beings could come into contact with the divine. A temple building served much the same symbolic purpose, and temples frequently were constructed on mountain or hilltop locations. Ancient Mesopotamian tradition, beginning with the Sumerians, constructed their great city-state temples to resemble a mountain (i.e. the ziggurat form).

The expression b®°aµ¦rî¾ hayy¹mîm, translated “in the days (coming) after (this)”, gradually came to have a specific eschatological connotation—i.e. in the “last days”, or “latter days”, the days to come in the future, at the end of the current Age. Though not as precise here, perhaps, it certainly still carries an eschatological significance. Thus, it is a prophecy of the role the Temple will play in the end-time—marking the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the New Age to come.

Verse 2e-3a

“And all the nations will stream to it,
and many peoples will go and say:”
Micah:
“And peoples shall stream upon it,
and many nations will go and say:”

This couplet opens the central visionary scene of the oracle and introduces the declaration of the Nations in verse 3. The verb n¹har creates the image of people “streaming” to the Temple like rivers, all flowing into a central location, a great reservoir or sea.

Verse 3b-e

“(Let us) walk, and we shall go up to (the) mountain of YHWH,
to (the) house of the Mighty (One) [°E_lœhîm] of Ya’aqob;
and He will instruct us from His ways,
and we will walk in His (well-)traveled (path)s.”

This statement, introduced in 3a, is essentially a declaration of faithfulness by the nations, collectively. The idiom of “walking” (verb h¹lak) is used here specifically for the idea of obeying and worshiping God. Even as the nations walk (travel) to the Temple in Jerusalem, they are demonstrating their loyalty and obedience to YHWH, the God of Israel, walking in His “ways” and “paths”. Again, traveling a path is figurative for following instruction, in a religious or ethical/moral sense. The verb y¹râ is related to the Hebrew noun transliterated as Torah (tôrâ); it literally signifies aiming or pointing in a particular direction (as when one shoots an arrow, etc), thus blending effectively the motifs of travel and instruction.

The idea that the surrounding nations, the non-Israelite peoples, might be converted, coming to worship YHWH—and even joining with Israel as the people of God—is a notable theme in Deutero-Isaiah (as indicated above), but is less prominent in chapters 2-39. It came to be part of the Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) expectation, and, as such, was inherited by early Christians who gave to it a unique interpretation. Naturally, it was applied to the early mission to the Gentiles, and was a key theme in the book of Acts (being foreshadowed also in the Lukan Gospel), as also by Paul in his letters.

On the mountain-motif, see the discussion above. The idea of the Temple as the “house” of God is traditional; here, the expression is “house of the Mighty One [i.e. God] of Jacob [i.e. Israel]”, referring to YHWH specifically as the God of Israel. The Temple is the place where Israel interacts with God, thus it is, in a sense, also Israel’s house (cf. verse 5 below). The expression is typical of the Deutero-Isaian oracles (e.g. 46:3; 48:1; 58:1), but also occurs a number of times in the Psalms.

Verse 3f-g

“For from ‚iyyôn (the) instruction goes forth,
and the word of YHWH from Yerushalaim.”

The couplet is parallel to that of 2e-3a (see above). Just as the nations come to the Temple to hear the God’s instruction (torah), so also God’s word goes out from the Temple, radiating outward to reach the nations. The narrative in the early chapters of Acts plays on both these ideas, both ‘directions’ —people from the surrounding nations come to Jerusalem to hear the Gospel proclamation (chap. 2), and then those who believe go out from Jerusalem to proclaim the same message into the nations (from chap. 8 onward, see 1:8, etc).

Verse 4

“And He shall judge between the nations,
and bring decision for many (people)s;
and they will beat their swords (in)to digging (tool)s,
and their thrusting (weapon)s (in)to trimming (kniv)es.
A nation will not lift a sword to a(nother) nation,
and they shall not learn again to make war.”

Micah 4:3-4:
“And He shall judge between many peoples,
and bring decision for mighty nations,
(even) unto (those) far away;
and they will beat their swords (in)to digging (tool)s,
and their thrusting (weapon)s (in)to trimming (kniv)es.
A nation will not lift a sword to a(nother) nation,
and they shall not learn again to make war.
And they shall sit (together)—
a man under his vine, and under his fig-tree,
and no one will bring fear (to them)—
for (the) mouth of YHWH of the (heavenly) armies utters it.

This three-couplet stanza is parallel to the opening stanza of verse 2; in both, the eschatological context is primary. Here it is defined qualitatively, describing the New Age to come—a ‘Golden Age’ of peace and righteousness. Because the nations now follow YHWH, obeying His instruction, their wicked and violent impulses, i.e. to attack one another, have been curbed and transformed. This ideal hope and promise of peace remains one of the most beloved of all Old Testament passages.

The Mican version is notably different, with additional lines in bold (above), and another minor difference in word order in italics.

Verse 5

“House of Ya’aqob, walk—we shall walk (together) in the light of YHWH!”

Micah 4:5:
“For all the peoples will walk—
a man in (the) name of his Mighty (One) [°E_lœhîm]—
but we will walk in (the) name of YHWH our Mighty (One),
(in)to the distant (future) and unto (the end).”

This final exhortation also summarizes the eschatological promise of the oracle—that the nations will join with Israel (“the house of Jacob”) as the people of God. The version in Micah again differs noticeably, patterned after the prior verse 4; it also establishes a contrast between Israel and the nations—i.e. “our God” (YHWH) vs. the deit(ies) of the surrounding peoples. The emphasis in Isaiah 2 appears to be more inclusive.

References above marked “Blenkinsopp” are to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 19 (2000).

 

 

February 27: Revelation 22:18b-19

Revelation 22:18b-19

The declaration of the truthfulness of the book’s message, as testified formally by the exalted Jesus himself (v. 18a, cf. the previous note), is followed by a curse in vv. 18b-19. Such a “curse” is part of the ancient concept of the binding agreement, which utilized various religious and magical formulae as a way of guaranteeing adherence to the agreement. Quite frequently, deities were called upon as witnesses to the binding agreement, who would, it was thought, punish those who violated the terms of the agreement. Punishment (or “curse”) forms were built into the structure of the agreement, and the description of what would happen if the terms were violated was equally binding.

The exalted Jesus, functioning as God’s witness (1:1, etc), has the power and authority to effect the divine punishment for violating the agreement—which here must be understood in terms of verses 7ff, the expectation that all true and faithful believers will guard the message of the book. Anyone who violates this implicit agreement will face the punishment declared by Jesus in vv. 18b-19:

“If any(one) would set (anything else) upon these (thing)s, God shall set upon him the (thing)s (that will) strike, (those) having been written in this paper-roll [i.e. scroll]; and if any(one) would take (anything) away from the accounts of the paper-roll [i.e. scroll] of this foretelling [i.e. prophecy], God shall take away his portion from the tree of life and out of the holy city, (all) the (thing)s having been written in this paper-roll [i.e. scroll].”

This curse-formula follows the ancient lex talionis principle, whereby the punishment matches the nature of the transgression. The violation is two-fold, each part mirroring the other:

    • Violation: Put (anything else) upon [i.e. add to] what is in the book
      Punishment: God will put upon him (same verb, e)piti/qhmi) what is described in the book (i.e. the Judgment on the wicked)
    • Violation: Take (anything) away from what is in the book
      Punishment: God will take away from him (same verb, a)faire/w) what is in the book (i.e. the reward of eternal life for the righteous)

Some commentators would question whether this strictly refers to altering the book itself—its content and text—or if, instead, the primary reference is to faithful observance, etc, of the prophetic message. Certainly, there are examples, both in Greco-Roman and Jewish literature, of warnings given against tampering with a written work, especially one considered to be a sacred text—cf. Epistle of Aristeas 311; Josephus Against Apion 1.42; 1 Enoch 104:10-13; Artemidorus Onirocritica 2.70; Koester, p. 845). However, in this instance, a closer parallel is perhaps to be found in the traditional understanding of adherence to the Torah (the terms of the Covenant between YHWH and Israel), such as expressed in Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32, etc:

“You shall not add (anything) upon the word that I (have) charged you (to keep), and you shall not shave off (anything) from it (either), (but you are) to guard (the thing)s charged (to you) of [i.e. by] YHWH your God, which (indeed) I have charged (you).” (Deut 4:2)

In the Greek LXX, the verb corresponding to “add upon” (Heb. [s^y` + preposition lu^]) is prosti/qhmi (“set/place toward [i.e. next to]”), which is close to the e)piti/qhmi (“set/place upon”) here in v. 18. The Hebrew “shave off from” (ur^G` + preposition /m!) is translated by the verb a)faire/w (“take [away] from”), just as here in v. 19.

Thus, once again, the book of Revelation draws upon Old Testament tradition, regarding Israel as the people of God (according to the old Covenant), applying it to believers in Christ (in the new Covenant). Just as one who willfully disobeyed or disregarded the Torah could not belong to the true people of God, based on the terms of the old Covenant, so one who similarly disobeyed the inspired message of Revelation’s prophecies could not be part of God’s people (believers) in the new Covenant. Since the message of the visions centered on the need to remain faithful to Jesus during the end-time period of distress, with a clear distinction between those who belong to the Lamb and those who belong to the forces of evil (Dragon and Sea-creature), a true believer would not (and could not) violate this message.

It is also likely that the curse was meant to warn people from tampering with the book itself; if so, I would tend to agree with Koester (p. 858) that this emphasis is secondary. The message, not the text, is primary; and yet, so vital is this message, in the context of the imminent/impending time of distress, that it is to be preserved and transmitted with the utmost care.

References marked “Koester” above, and throughout this series, are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

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February 22: Revelation 22:17-18a

Revelation 22:17

In the previous note, I treated verse 17 as the conclusion to the section spanning vv. 6-17; however, it is also possible to view it as transitional to the concluding section (vv. 18-21). I have chosen here to discuss verse 17 along with v. 18a:

“And the Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come!’ And the (one) hearing must (also) say: ‘Come!’ And (the) one thirsting must come—the (one) willing (to do so), let him take/receive the water of life as a gift [i.e. freely]. I (myself) bear witness to every (one) hearing the accounts of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this scroll…” (vv. 17-18a)

In verse 17 there are three distinct imperatives, exhorting/commanding people to come (vb. e&rxomai). Together these serve as a beautiful communal image of believers in the end-time; their response, as believers, is centered around the book of Revelation itself. Let us briefly consider each statement:

“And the Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come! [e&rxou]'”

This reflects two aspects of the prophetic visions and messages in the book:

    • Source of the visions—their inspiration by the Spirit (pneu=ma) of God (and Christ), which communicates with the prophetic spirit of the seer
    • Content of the visions—their depiction of the community of true believers as the Bride (of Christ), i.e. the people of God in its exalted, heavenly aspect

It may also be that the community of believers adds its own (inspired) voice to that of the Spirit; certainly this would express the actual dynamic of how the prophetic gift was understood and realized in early Christianity.

“And the (one) hearing must (also) say: ‘Come! [e&rxou]'”

Once the prophetic message had been written down and made available for others, it would have been read aloud in the congregations—in the early Christian setting, such texts would have been heard, rather than read, by the majority of people (cf. the previous note on v. 16). Having received (i.e. heard) this message, true believers in the local congregation would add their voice to the inspired Community—i.e., the people of God in their earthly aspect.

“And (the) one thirsting must come [e)rxe/sqw]…”

Here the verb is a third person imperative, and it elucidates what is meant by the second person command, and how people (believers) respond to the command. The wording alludes to Isaiah 55:1 (as in 21:6b, cf. below), and reflects the true believer’s longing (i.e. “thirst”) for God and desire for eternal life. This is very much a Johannine motif—the verb and idiom occurs in the Gospel Discourses of Jesus (4:13-15; 6:35; 7:37, cf. also Matt 5:6); the exhortation in Jn 7:37 provides a close formal parallel:

“If any (one) should thirst, he must come [e)rxe/sqw, i.e. let him come] toward me and drink.”

Here, however, we are not dealing with a person’s response to the Gospel, but to their faithfulness in following Jesus, even in the face of suffering and testing, during the end-time period of distress. This is the significance of the believer’s response to the message of the book—he/she will take special care to remain faithful, aware of the severe tests and challenges to trust in Jesus that are coming, but also reminded of the promise of God’s ultimate victory over evil.

“the (one) willing (to do so), let him take/receive the water of life as a gift [dwrea/n, i.e. freely]”

The same statement, and allusion to Isa 55:1, occurred earlier in the “new Jerusalem” vision (21:6b, cf. the earlier note). Here the imperative is best rendered as an exhortative (“let him take/receive”, labe/tw), corresponding to the imperative pine/tw (“let him drink”) in Jn 7:37. The verb lamba/nw is often translated “receive”, but here it is perhaps better to render it in its fundamental sense as “take”. The context is that of the Paradise-motifs—river, tree of life—which symbolize eternal life, and which were inaccessible to humankind during the old order of Creation (i.e. the current Age). Now, however, in the New Age (and a new order of Creation), believers are able to come and take (i.e. eat and drink) from the tree and water of Life.

Revelation 22:18-21

Revelation 22:18a

“I (myself) bear witness [marturw=] to every (one) hearing the accounts of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this paper-roll [i.e. scroll]”

Here the exalted Jesus repeats his personal declaration from v. 16—again with the emphatic personal pronoun e)gw/ (“I”)—only this time he makes explicit the significance of his declaration as a witness (ma/rtu$), i.e. one who gives truthful and reliable testimony (cf. the previous note). It is once again the congregational setting, where the written accounts (lo/goi) of the visions in the book of Revelation are heard read aloud. Jesus himself bears witness that they are true; since he himself is the original witness who received the revelation from God (1:1), this confirms the truth of the message in a special way. In the Greek-speaking world of the time, official documents (esp. living wills and other binding agreements) would often begin with the person’s name, followed by marturw= (“I bear witness…”), e.g. P.Oxy. 105.13-14; 489.24-26; 490.15-16; cf. Koester, p. 844.

The remainder of the concluding section, beginning with vv. 18b-19, will be discussed the next few daily notes.

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February 12: Revelation 21:27

Revelation 21:27

“And (in) no (way) shall all (that is) [i.e. anything] common come into her, and (even more) the (one) doing (what is) stinking and false, (none shall come in) if not [i.e. except for] the (one)s having been written in the paper-roll [i.e. scroll] of life of [i.e. belonging to] the Lamb.”

Verse 27 essentially concludes the description of the “new Jerusalem”, and it is, I think, fundamental to a proper understanding of the vision as a whole, especially the details in vv. 24-26 (discussed in the previous note). The declaration in verse 27 defines who will dwell in the city; and this definition has both a negative (who/what will not) and positive (who will) aspect. Dwelling within the city is here expressed in terms of entering it (vb ei)se/rxomai, “come into”).

    • Negative—who/what does not come into the city:
      “all (that is) common” (pa=n koino/n)— “common” (koino/$) referring to the ordinary things of the world, in direct contrast to that which is holy (a%gio$) and of God.
      “the (one) doing (what is) stinking and false” —the noun bde/lugma (“stinking [thing]”) refers generally to the evil and wickedness in the world (characteristic of the “great city”, Babylon, 17:4-5); it also signifies a special kind of eschatological wickedness, or idolatry, that desecrates the sacred things of God (cf. Mark 13:14 par, citing Daniel 9:27 LXX); the related verb bdelu/ssw was used earlier in verse 8.
    • Positive—who does come into the city:
      “the (one)s having been written in the scroll of life of the Lamb” —this is a way of identifying believers in Christ, also used in 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15, often in direct contrast to those who are not true believers; the idiom is based, in part, on citizenship-rolls in the Greco-Roman world, i.e., a list of names of those who rightly belong to a particular city.

Based on this contrast, the inclusion of the neuter pa=n koino/n (“all [that is] common”) seems a bit out of place; it is derived from the Old Testament imagery, and especially of the future/ideal Jerusalem as the “holy city” (Isa 52:1 and 35:8; cf. also Zech 14:19-20; Psalms of Solomon 17:30; 11Q19 [Temple Scroll] 47:3-5). In a technical religious sense, to be “common” means it is impure or ‘unclean’. The “new Jerusalem”, as the dwelling place of God, is holy and sacred throughout, as is indicated by the purity and clarity of its design (vv. 11, 15-21).

This dualism of holy vs. common, together with the reference to the “nations” that, apparently, still surround the “new Jerusalem”, creates certain difficulties of interpretation, as was mentioned in the previous note. If believers dwell within the city, then are these nations and kings non-believers? Were not all the non-believers punished/destroyed in the Judgment scenes of the prior chapters? Who exactly are these “nations”?

In the previous note, I touched upon the most relevant and informative parallel to this imagery in the book of Revelation—the vision scene of chapter 7, with its two-fold depiction of believers as the people of God:

    • 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 4-8)
    • A great multitude from all the Nations (vv. 9ff)

In early Christianity, the imagery found in prophecies such as Isaiah 60:3ff, with its theme of the nations coming (to Jerusalem) to give homage and worship to the God of Israel, was applied directly to the proclamation of the Gospel and early Christian mission to the Gentiles. In other words, the eschatological/Messianic imagery was re-interpreted in the context of Gentiles (the “nations”) coming to faith in Christ. These Gentile believers, together with their fellow Israelite/Jewish believers, formed the true people of God, the people of the new Covenant. Paul was the most fervent and consistent advocate of this new theological and religious approach, but it can be seen throughout the New Testsment, and features prominently in the visionary narrative of Revelation (as has been discussed). The symbolism of the nations and their gifts in vv. 24-26 must be interpreted in this light. Consider, then, the details of this description:

    • “the nations will walk about through her light” —believers from the nations, who are in the city (and so walk through the light of God which pervades it); in a sense, the nations, as such (i.e. the ethnic divisions and distinctions), are sanctified and made holy this way.
    • “the kings of the earth carry their honor/splendor into her” —the presence of believers is here depicted as a gift from the nations (their kings); through the coming of Gentiles into the city (as believers), the nations, figuratively speaking, give all that is their true honor and splendor—believers being the glory (do/ca) of the nations.
    • “her gate-ways certainly shall not be shut by day…” —these ‘gifts’ are eternal, they are not based not natural (worldly) or temporal factors, “day” now being derived from the light of God Himself, without any darkness or “night”; for believers, these gate-ways are always open, while they are closed/barred to the wicked.
    • “and they will bring the honor and the value of the nations into her” —this essentially re-states the situation in v. 24b; the dual-reference to the honor (do/ca) of the nations is best understood as (1) the entry of believers in the city, followed by (2) the specific honor/worship of God which they give, eternally, as they come ever through the always-open gates.

This imagery of the nations coming to faith in Christ may seem incongruous with the previous visions, if we attempt to read them as a continuous and consistent narrative. In point of fact, however, chapters 21-22 represent the climax of the book, in which all of the previous themes, and many of the earlier visionary symbols, are brought together, and restated in new forms and combinations. Throughout the book, Old Testament motifs, which would have originally related to Israel (as the people of God), have been applied to believers. Moreover, even the Scriptures, which had been given a Messianic and eschatological interpretation in Jewish writings of the period, have been reinterpreted in light of Christian eschatology. This is certainly true of Isa 60:3ff in relation to the description of the “new Jerusalem”. In 11:1ff, believers are concentrated in the Temple sanctuary, while outside the “great city” is overrun by the wickedness of the nations. Now the situation has been transformed, and the entire city is the dwelling of believers, while the nations eternally bring holy gifts (that of the believers themselves) into her.

While the description of the city proper concludes at the end of chapter 21, the theme of the “new Jerusalem” continues in the opening verses of chapter 22 (vv. 1-5), which are also transitional to the final sections of the book. We will consider the scenario of 22:1-5 in the next daily note.

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February 11: Revelation 21:24-26

Revelation 21:24-26

This is the second of three parts of the description in verses 22-27; it deals with the relationship between the “new Jerusalem”, and the light of God’s presence in it (cf. the previous note on vv. 22-23), with the surrounding nations. This mention of “the nations” (ta\ e&qnh) is a bit surprising, given the apparent elimination of non-believers—their defeat, judgment, and destruction—in the preceding visions (16:12-21ff; 19:11-21; 20:7-15). Before dealing with this aspect of the interpretation, let us consider verses 24-26 themselves:

“And the nations will walk about through her light, and the kings of the earth will bear their honor/splendor [do/ca] into her—and her gate-ways shall not be closed (at all) by day, and there will be no night there—and they [i.e. the kings] will bring the honor [do/ca] and value of the nations into her.”

This language and imagery derives from the oracle of Isaiah 60 (vv. 3, 5, 11), even as verse 23 alluded to Isa 60:19 (cf. the previous note). It is thus traditional, drawing upon a key Scripture passage understood as a prophecy of the Messianic period and future New Age. How does it relate to the vision in chapter 21, and to the visionary narrative of Revelation as a whole? Here it may be worth considering just how much this description depends on Isa 60:3ff; note the wording in each phrase:

“And the nations will walk about through her light, and the kings of the earth…” (v. 24)
“And (the) nations will walk to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa 60:3, translated from the Hebrew)

“…nations…kings… (they) carry their honor/splendor into her” (v. 24)
“…the strength of the nations will come to you” (Isa 60:5)

“and her gate-ways shall not be closed (at all) by day, and…night…” (v. 25)
“Your gates shall be open continually day and night, they shall not be shut up [i.e. closed]…” (Isa 60:11a)

“…and they shall bring the splendor/honor…of the nations into her” (v. 26)
“…for (the) bringing (of) the strength of the nations to you…” (Isa 60:11b)

The Greek do/ca (“esteem, honor, splendor”) corresponds here to the Hebrew ly]j^, which generally means “strength”, but can also connote “wealth, worth, value”, especially when used of people. The main difference between verse 25 and Isa 60:11a is that, in Isaiah the gates are open “day and night”, i.e. continually; however, in Revelation it is always daytime—there is no night in the city. This particular detail derives from Zech 14:7:

“And there shall be one day, known to YHWH, (that is) not day and not night; but it shall be (that), at the setting (of the sun) [i.e. evening], it will be light.”

As a Messianic and eschatological prophecy, the oracle in Isaiah 60 draws upon the fundamental idea of the future restoration of Israel—a time when once again, as in the kingdom of David and Solomon, the nations will give honor and homage to Israel. From a Messianic standpoint, it relates to the motif of the defeat and subjugation of the nations, who will bring tribute to the Israelite kingdom, centered at Jerusalem (Isa 45:14 [note also v. 23]; 49:23; 60:5-16; 61:6; Mic 4:13; Zeph 2:9; 3:9-10; Zech 14:16; Tobit 13:11; Ps Sol 17:34-35; 1QM 12:13f, etc). Along with this portrait, there developed the more positive tradition of the nations coming to join Israel in worshiping the one true God (YHWH), at the Temple in Jerusalem; this tradition even allowed for the idea that many in the nations would be converted, becoming part of God’s holy people. All of these themes are highlighted in the verses (3, 5, 11) utilized here in the book of Revelation. Of the many other Old Testament passages which express the hope that the nations will come to learn the truth of God, along with Israel herself, cf. Isa 2:2-4; Mic 4:1-4; Jer 3:17; Psalm 22:27-28; 86:9; 138:4; Isa 45:22; 49:6; 56:6-8; 60:3 (also 66:19); Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; (cf. also 14:16ff); and, in later Jewish writings, e.g., Tobit 14:6ff; 1 Enoch 90:30-33, etc.

Among early Christians, this nationalistic portrait was given an entirely new interpretation—now the idea of the restoration of Israel, and, with it, the inclusion of the nations, was understood almost entirely in terms of the mission to the Gentiles. This is certainly the case in the book of Acts (cf. my earlier article in the series “The Law and the New Testament”), and is also reflected in the Lukan Gospel, by the incorporation of Isaian prophecies into passages such as 2:29-32. Paul had much the same understanding of his own mission, as can be seen in his preaching and at many points in his letters.

The tendency in early Christianity was to see believers in Christ—Jews and Gentiles both—as the true people of God, with believers becoming in the new Covenant what Israel was in the old. Given the importance of this theme in the book of Revelation, and especially here in chapter 21, the symbolism of the nations must be understood and interpreted in this light. The closest parallel is found in the vision of chapter 7, with its two-fold vision of believers as the people of God:

    • 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 4-8)
    • A great multitude from all the Nations (vv. 9ff)

How, then, should the specific details of 21:24-26 be understood? This will be discussed in the next daily note, when we look at verse 27.

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