June 16: Acts 2:4, 17-18ff (continued)

Acts 2:4, 17-18ff, continued

The central aspect of the Spirit’s role in the book of Acts is expressed by the citation of Joel 2:28-32 [Hebrew 3:1-5] in the Pentecost speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-40). This sermon-speech, discussed at length in an earlier two-part article, follows the Pentecost narrative of vv. 1-13 (on which, cf. my earlier set of notes). This use of the Joel oracle demonstrates how the coming of the Spirit upon the Jerusalem believers is seen as a fulfillment of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Spirit in the restoration of Israel. I have discussed the association of the Spirit with this restoration-theme in earlier notes (see esp. the note on Joel 2:28-32); it is a theme which is prominent in the early chapters of Acts, as I have also discussed in previous notes.

While the Greek citation of Joel 2:28-32 differs somewhat from both the Hebrew and LXX versions (for the details, cf. my earlier article), it preserves the fundamental message. This message entails a promise that, in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, the Spirit will no longer come only upon specific chosen/gifted individuals, but instead will be “poured out” upon all the people. This point is driven home emphatically by the inclusive references to male and female (“sons and daughters”), young and old, slave/servant and free person alike. It is essentially a fulfillment of the ideal expressed in the episode of Numbers 11:10-30 (see esp. Moses’ words in v. 29)—that is to say, all the people would function as prophets (<ya!yb!n+).

As I have previously discussed, the ayb!n` is best understood as a spokesperson for God—one who communicates the word and will of God to the people. In the ancient Israelite (and Near Eastern) tradition, this meant a divinely-inspired position of leadership and prominence in society, reserved only for select chosen or gifted individuals. Moses was the supreme ayb!n` in the early period, but eventually, as the tradition in Num 11:16-30 suggests, the role came to be filled by many others over time. It was based on the principle of charismatic leadership—of the Spirit’s presence manifest by unusual (and ecstatic) phenomena. The early Israelite kings (Saul and David) shared in this form of Spirit-inspired leadership (cf. my earlier notes on 1 Sam 16:13-15, etc). Eventually, however, this aspect of the Prophetic experience waned, and was given less emphasis, as indicated by the disappearance of the use of the denominative verb ab^n` (in the passive-reflexive stem) to denote this charismatic/ecstatic form of prophecy.

Such Spirit-inspired activity, in the ancient mode, was manifest by unusual behavior and strange speech—an indication that the person was under the powerful influence of a divine spirit. The narratives in the book of Acts show that the reappearance  of this basic phenomenon marks the “pouring out” of the Spirit in the New Age. The disciples of Jesus, who represent and symbolize the restored Israel (cf. my note on Acts 1:15-26), are the firstfruits of this harvest of blessing from the Spirit. The men and women in Jerusalem, who are believers in Christ, mark the first instance of the Spirit being poured out on “all flesh”. This coming of the Spirit will be repeated for others, as the Gospel is proclaimed and more people come to trust in Jesus. As Jesus’ words in 1:7-8 make clear, this dual dynamic of (a) the presence/work of the Spirit, and (b) the proclamation of the Gospel, is the essential means by which God’s Kingdom will be established in the New Age. The narratives in the book of Acts document this process in the earliest stages. The Spirit-filled believers serve as prophets/spokespersons for God (and Christ) and the proclamation of the Gospel, the message of Christ, is their “prophecy”.

This brings us to the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”, which I regard as part of the same religious phenomenon as the ancient mode of ecstatic prophetic utterance (cf. above). What is thoroughly unique about this phenomenon among the early believers in Acts is the way that it is so closely tied to the specific (prophetic) mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to all the surrounding nations. As these nations speak many different languages (“tongues”), it would be necessary for the Christian missionaries to preach the message in these languages as well. This is the essence of what is described initially in 2:4:

“and they were all filled (with the) holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, even as the Spirit gave (it) to them to sound forth.”

These “other tongues” (e(te/rai glw/ssai) here unquestionably refer to ordinary foreign languages, as what follows in vv. 5-13 makes clear. As the disciples begin to speak out publicly, under this prophetic inspiration, the various Jews, who had come to Jerusalem (for the festival) from the surrounding nations, could understand the message in their own language (vv. 5-6). The experience was unusual and dramatic enough to cause surprise that local Galileans would be speaking in these other languages (vv. 7-8). Moreover, the claim that the believers were intoxicated (v. 13) suggests that there was an ecstatic quality to their speech and behavior, which, according to the ancient principle of inspiration (cf. above), was a striking sign of being in a prophetic state under the influence of a divine spirit. Some of the people mistake this for drunkenness (i.e. the influence of wine)—a misunderstanding that Peter addresses in the speech that follows. There is a bit of thematic wordplay here, as the claim that the believers are filled (“soaked full”, vb mesto/w) with sweet wine serves as an ironic contrast to the reality that they have been filled (vb plh/qw) with the Spirit.

In the next daily note, I will be turning from the Gospels and Acts to the remainder of the New Testament, focusing on how the traditions regarding God’s Spirit were developed by Paul in his letters.

June 3: Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1, 14-19

Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1, 14-19

In the Synoptic narrative, there are three references to the Spirit, connected with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—the saying of the Baptist (Mk 1:7-8), the Baptism of Jesus (1:9-11), and the tradition of Jesus’ time in the desert following his baptism (1:12-13). The first two were discussed in the previous daily notes (June 1, 2); today I will be discussing the third of these, with special attention given to how the tradition is treated (and developed) in the Gospel of Luke.

According to the Synoptic narrative, immediately after Jesus’ baptism, once he has been ‘anointed’ by the Spirit of God, the Spirit thrusts him into a desolate area where he is tested by the Satan. This tradition is narrated only briefly in Mark:

“And straightaway the Spirit cast him out into the desolate (land); and he was in the desolate (land) forty days, being tested under the Satan, and he was with the wild animals, and the Messengers attended to him.”

The use of the verb e)kba/llw (“throw out, cast out”) sounds most harsh to our ears, and is not how we might expect God’s Spirit to treat His Son and Anointed One. The Matthean version softens this considerably:

“Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under the Spirit to be tested under the Diabo/lo$ [i.e. the Devil].” (4:1)

The Markan version unquestionably represents a more primitive form of the tradition. It is best to retain the literal sense of the verb e)kba/llw, understanding it as “thrust out”, rather than “throw out”. This properly reflects the violent character of the Spirit in Old Testament tradition, which would “rush” onto the gifted/chosen prophet or leader, like a powerful blowing wind (the fundamental meaning of Grk pneu=ma and Heb j^Wr alike). The violence of the action is also appropriate for the testing that Jesus will undergo in the desert—traditionally understood as the domain of dangerous spirits, in addition to wild animals. While Mark says nothing more of this “testing”, Matthew and Luke each include an extensive narrative account (Matt 4:2-10 / Lk 4:2b-12), drawn from a common line of tradition (the so-called “Q” material).

In terms of Jesus as a Spirit-empowered Messianic prophet (cf. the previous note), the desert locale may be particularly significant, in at least two ways:

    • Moses—the forty days and nights he spent on Sinai (Exod 24:18; 34:28; Deut 9:9), par. with the forty years spent by Israel in the Sinai desert (Exod 16:35; Deut 8:2ff). The Torah which Moses received from God on Sinai plays a central role in the Temptation narrative.
    • Elijah—of all the Old Testament Prophets, Elijah is most commonly associated with time spent in the desert; cf. especially 1 Kings 19:8, and the forty days and nights spent without food on Horeb (|| Sinai).

Following the Temptation scene in Matthew, Jesus properly begins his ministry, in Galilee. The Gospel writer marks this with a citation from Isaiah 9:1-2, presumably understood in a Messianic sense (4:12-16). Luke similarly narrates the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, though in a rather different way, with the episode at Nazareth (par Mark 6:1-6; Matt 13:54-58). It is important to realize how this episode is framed in relationship to the Baptism and the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus:

    • 3:21-22—the Baptism scene (descent of the Spirit)
    • 3:23ff—notice of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
    • 4:1-2a—the Spirit leads him into the desert
    • 4:2b-13—the Temptation scene
    • 4:14-15—Jesus returns in the Spirit, starting his public ministry (teaching)
    • 4:16-30—the episode at Nazareth

Scenes involving the Spirit (in bold above) alternate with narrative episodes and notices marking the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This indicates a uniquely Lukan development of the traditional portrait of Jesus as a Spirit-inspired Prophet. I previously mentioned the two aspects of Jesus ministry (in the Galilean period) which directly relate to this (Messianic) prophetic role—(1) teaching and preaching, and (2) healing miracles which demonstrate his power over evil spirits. The second aspect was implicit in the Temptation scene (4:1-13), while the first aspect features in what follows (4:14-30). Consider especially how Luke develops the tradition in Mark 1:12—first, the notice in 4:1:

“An Yeshua, full of (the) holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden (river) and was led (about), in the Spirit, in the desolate (land)”

Luke shares the Matthean idiom of Jesus being led by the Spirit (rather than “thrust out” into the desert, as in Mark), but has gone even further in emphasizing the role of the Spirit, and Jesus’ relationship to it. First, contrary to Mark and Matthew, only in Luke’s version of the Baptism scene is the expression “holy Spirit” used (3:22), and this usage continues here in 4:1. Moreover, we find here two phrases which occur elsewhere in Luke-Acts, regarding the role and activity of the Spirit:

Much the same is repeated by the Gospel writer after the Temptation scene, when Jesus returns from the desert to begin his ministry:

“And Yeshua turned back, in the power of the Spirit, into the Galîl {Galilee}” (4:14)

Jesus is thus identified as a Spirit-inspired prophet, a chosen representative of God, empowered to teach (proclaiming God’s word and will) and work miracles. This is the setting for the episode at Nazareth in verses 16-30. I have discussed this scene at length in earlier notes and articles; in terms of the Lukan development of the traditional material, including the role of the Spirit, please consult my article in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (there is also a series of notes you might find helpful). Here I wish to highlight certain points which relate specifically to the citation of Isaiah 61:1-2 and Jesus’ own Messianic identity.

First, there are the themes and motifs of Isa 40-66 (so-called deutero- and trito-Isaiah), those related to the restoration of Israel and the return of God’s people from exile. The Lukan Gospel contains allusions to a number of such Isaian passages, including in the Infancy narrative (cf. Lk 2:25-38), prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry narrated in chapters 3-4. These references occur in the context of a portrait of devout Jews who are waiting (to receive) the “consolation [para/klhsi$] of Israel” (v. 25) and the “redemption [lu/trwsi$] of Jerusalem” (v. 38). These passages are thus to be understood in a “Messianic” context, and generally reflect the expectations and hopes of many Jews of the period. By the first century B.C./A.D., the idea of the “restoration” of Israel (and its kingdom), was closely tied to the coming of a new (Anointed) Ruler who would re-establish the Davidic covenant (cf. 2 Sam 7/Psalm 89, etc).

Second, Isaiah 61:1ff was likely understood as a Messianic passage by many in the 1st century A.D. Evidence for such interpretation and application in Jesus’ own time is indicated by the Qumran text 4Q521. This text survives in several fragments, the largest of which (frag. 2 [col. ii]) contains a blending of several Old Testament passages, primarily Psalm 146 and Isaiah 61:1-2 (for a somewhat similar use of Isa 61:1f cf. also 11QMelchizedek [11Q13]). The role of the Messiah (line 1) in what follows is not entirely clear, but it is possible that he is the agent through whom God will perform “marvellous acts” (line 11ff). It is hard to be certain, but the remaining fragments (especially frag. 2 col iii with its allusion to Mal 4:5-6) suggest the Anointed One (see also pl. “Anointed Ones” in frag. 8) should be understood as a prophetic figure, in the manner of Elijah.

If we accept the historical accuracy and authenticity of the tradition in 4:17-21, then the Anointed (i.e. Messianic) figure with whom Jesus explicitly identifies himself is the prophetic herald of Isa 61:1ff. The accuracy of this self-identification would seem to be confirmed by the separate (and independent) tradition recorded in 7:18-23 (par Matt 11:2-6), where Jesus alludes to the same passage, applying it to himself and his ministry.

Isa 61:1, in its original context, referred to the prophet himself (trad. Isaiah)—the Spirit of Yahweh was upon him and anointed him to bring good news to the poor and oppressed; vv. 2-11 describe and promise the restoration of Israel, including a (new) covenant with God (v. 8) and (new) righteousness that will be manifest to all nations (vv. 9-11). Once the full sense of this “restoration” was transferred to the future, the speaker came to be identified with an Anointed eschatological (end-time) Prophet. Admittedly, prophets are not usually referred to as “anointed” in the Old Testament, but in later Judaism it became more common, and in the Qumran texts the word is used a number of times (especially in the plural) for the Prophets of Israel. On the role of the Spirit in Isa 61:1, in light of wider Old Testament (Prophetic) tradition regarding the Spirit of God and the restoration of Israel, cf. my earlier note in the series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament.

June 2: Mark 1:9-11 par

Mark 1:9-11 par

Along with the saying of the Baptist (cf. the previous note), there is a related early Gospel tradition involving the Spirit of God (and/or the “holy Spirit”)—the famous narrative of the Baptism of Jesus. I have discussed the entire episode of Jesus’ Baptism at great length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”; here, in this note, the discussion will be limited to how this narrative tradition reflects a development of the earlier lines of Old Testament and Jewish tradition, regarding the Spirit of God.

The core Synoptic narrative is best represented by the Markan version (1:9-11), with the descent of the Spirit described in verse 10:

“And straightaway, stepping up out of the water, he saw the heavens being split (open) and the Spirit as a dove stepping down unto him”

The Matthean version (3:16) is expanded, offering more precise (if blander) detail:

“And (hav)ing been dunked, Yeshua straightaway stepped up from the water, and see!—the heavens were opened (up), and he saw [the] Spirit of God stepping down, as if a dove, [and] coming upon him”

The Lukan version (3:21-22), by contrast, is briefer, but embedded within a complex syntactical structure that is difficult to translate; the relevant portion reads:

“…(an) opening (up) of the heaven and (the) stepping down of the holy Spirit, in bodily appearance as a dove, upon him”

The main details are consistent across the Synoptic tradition, and are also shared by the Johannine version (1:32ff), presented as an indirect narration by the Baptist:

“I have looked at the Spirit stepping down as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him”

The three key details, found in all versions, are: (1) the Spirit “stepping down” out of heaven, (2) the form/appearance as a dove, and (3) its coming “upon” Jesus. Let us briefly consider each of these.

1. “stepping down” (vb katabai/nw) out of heaven

This signifies the heavenly origin of the Spirit, implying that it comes from God in heaven. The Markan and Johannine versions specifically state that it came “out of” (e)k) heaven, while Matthew has “from” (a)po/) heaven. The dramatic opening up of the heavens (i.e. the skies) in Mark/Matthew makes clear the idea that the Spirit comes down onto the earth. The use of the verb katabai/nw (lit. “step down”, i.e. come down) has special significance in the Gospel of John, which uses both katabai/nw and the related a)nabai/nw (“step up”) in a uniquely theological (and Christological) sense. The “descent” of the Spirit marks the beginning of this descent/ascent motif—that is, the incarnation and exaltation of Jesus, respectively—in the Gospel (cf. 1:51, etc).

2. The Dove

Commentators continue to debate the significance of the dove appearance of the Spirit in this episode. Many ideas and associations have been suggested, but three seem particularly relevant:

    • The Creation account, which depicts the spirit (or breath) of God “hovering/fluttering” like a bird (Gen 1:2, cf. the earlier note); other Old Testament passages similarly describe God’s presence in creation (that is, among His people) using bird-imagery (e.g., Deut 32:11-13).
    • The fundamental meaning of both pneu=ma in Greek and j^Wr in Hebrew is that of wind, i.e. something blowing; this makes for a natural association with the image of a bird in flight. Similarly, the image of a bird in the expanse of the skies (or heavens) connotes freedom, exaltation, purity, and so forth. Many religious traditions worldwide depict the life-breath (i.e. soul, spirit) of a person as a bird.
    • The whiteness that characterizes many doves, and is traditional of the dove, serves as a natural symbol for the holiness (i.e. purity) of God’s Spirit.

Only the last of these relates specifically to a dove, and is particularly important to the baptism setting, with its emphasis on cleansing. It is worth remembering that the literal expression in Hebrew is, most commonly, “spirit of [God’s] holiness” (vd#q) j^Wr), rather than “holy spirit”; that is, the emphasis is squarely on holiness and purity as a divine characteristic.

3. Coming “upon” Jesus

The Markan version uses the preposition ei)$, which is somewhat ambiguous; literally, it could mean “into”, but most commentators would render it here as “unto”. In Old Testament tradition, this could be comparable to the idea of God’s Spirit coming (or “rushing”) to a person, using the preposition la#. By contrast, Matthew and Luke (along with the Johannine version) use the preposition e)pi/ (“upon”), corresponding to the Hebrew lu*. There are even more Old Testament passages which express the idea of God’s Spirit being (or coming) upon a person—cf. Num 11:17ff; Judg 3:10; 14:6; 1 Sam 10:6, 10; 11:6, etc (discussed in recent notes). Moreover, this was the basic idiom that was developed in later Prophetic tradition, involving the image of the Spirit being “poured out” upon a person (cf. the discussion below).

The Significance of the Baptism Scene

This needs to be considered from several vantage points:

    • The Baptism scene in the context of the early Gospel narrative
    • The language and imagery in the scene itself, especially the detail of the “voice” from heaven
    • How the scene was understood, in context, by the Gospel writers
The Context of the early Gospel narrative

This involves: (a) the baptism rite in the setting of John’s ministry, and (b) the saying of the Baptist regarding “the one coming”. Both of these aspects were discussed in the previous note, where I pointed out the significant parallels with the water-ritual performed for entrants into the Qumran Community. The ritual symbolized the person’s “spirit” being cleansed (and made holy) by God’s own Spirit; moreover, this cleansing was preparatory for the purification that would take place at the end-time. The Gospel narrative clearly indicates that the baptism rite, as performed by John, was for the cleansing of sin, and that it similarly anticipated the end-time Judgment of God—when the righteous/faithful ones would be purified, while the wicked would be consumed.

What is distinctive about the Baptist’s message in this regard, is the localization of this end-time cleansing with the Messianic figure of “the one coming”. On the derivation of this expression from the tradition in Malachi 3:1, as interpreted in a Messianic sense, cf. the previous note, along with my supplemental note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Implicit in the early Gospel narrative is that Jesus, with his initial appearance at his baptism, is being identified with this Messianic figure. The point is not made explicit at all in the simpler Synoptic narrative of Mark, but the connection is evinced, in different ways, by the other Gospel writers. For example, the inclusion of the Infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke establishes the Messianic identity of Jesus even prior to the Baptism, a point reinforced by Matthew’s citation of Isa 9:1-2 in 4:12-16. Luke sets the Baptism episode in the context of questions regarding whether John the Baptist might be the Anointed One (3:15ff); this is presented even more prominently in the Johannine Gospel (1:19-27).

The pouring of water in the baptism-rite also suggests the idea of anointing—indeed, both motifs were associated with the Spirit of God in Old Testament Tradition, as discussed in prior notes. In the ancient kingship traditions—going back to the earlier leadership of Moses, Joshua, and the Judges—the Spirit of God came upon the ruler, in a manner similar to prophetic inspiration (cf. 1 Sam 10:6, 11; 11:6, etc). In the case of Saul and David, there is a close connection between the coming of God’s Spirit and the anointing ritual (1 Sam 16:13f); even after the principle of Spirit-inspired charismatic leadership waned, the presence of the Spirit was still tied to the king’s anointing in the (Judean) royal theology. There is less evidence for the anointing of prophets; however, the expression “anointed one” (j^yv!m*, i.e. messiah) could be applied to prophets, as well as kings and priests. As mentioned in the prior note, the early Gospel tradition, during the period of his ministry, seems to have identified Jesus as a Messianic prophet rather than the Davidic ruler figure-type. Cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The Voice from Heaven

The heavenly voice in the Baptism narrative primarily represents a theophany—that is, the manifestation of God among human beings (His people, or their chosen representative[s]). The main Old Testament example, of course, is the Sinai theophany, when the people heard the voice of God speaking (Exod 19:19ff; 20:18-21; Deut 4:10-12). In the Gospels, this theophanic voice relates specifically to key moments during Jesus’ ministry, demonstrating God’s relationship to him specifically. In addition to the Baptism and Transfiguration episodes (Mk 9:7 par; Lk 9:35 [v.l.]), there is a comparable occurrence in the Gospel of John (12:27-32). The heavenly voice at the Transfiguration essentially repeats the voice at the Baptism (in Matthew’s version they are virtually identical), and the parallel episodes serve to divide the structure of the Synoptic narrative:

    • The Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry
    • The Transfiguration marks the end of that ministry, and the beginning of the events leading up to his Passion

The declaration made by the heavenly voice, and its precise significance, continue to be debated. There does seem to be an allusion to Psalm 2:7, which would strongly indicate an identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) of the Davidic ruler type—i.e., future/end-time king from the line of David. In some manuscripts of Luke 3:22, the voice actually quotes Psalm 2:7, an indication, at the very least, that early Christians had made the connection. However, it seems more likely that the primary allusion is to Isaiah 42:1, which clearly references the Spirit coming upon God’s chosen one (cf. my earlier note on the passage). The Greek word translating db#u# (“servant”) is pai=$, which literally means “child”, and so could easily be interpreted in the specific sense of “son” (ui(o/$). The Servant of the deutero-Isaian poems is best understood as an Anointed leader patterned after Moses, who will lead Israel in their return from exile (a ‘new Exodus’). He thus serves as a Messianic prophet-figure, parallel to the end-time Prophet patterned after Elijah (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6, cf. the previous note). In the Transfiguration scene, Jesus is associated with both Moses and Elijah.

The Meaning of the Scene in the Gospels

Given the explicit notice that the purpose of John’s baptizing was for repentance and forgiveness of sin, it is interesting that the Gospel writers do not give any evidence of the theological implications of this in relation to Jesus. At the level of the historical tradition, the idea of Jesus’ sinlessness was not yet an issue, and, by the time the Gospels were written, the Baptism-tradition was so well-fixed that the writers were no longer free to comment on the matter. Only at Matt 3:14-15 is there any indication of an apologetic concern, expressed more in terms of Jesus’ apparent submission to John, than on his need for repentance.

Whatever the specific reasons or circumstances for Jesus being baptized, at the historical level, the Gospels quite clearly demonstrate that the scene is not about cleansing and purification, but of consecration and empowerment. The best parallel from Old Testament tradition is that of prophetic inspiration—that is, the Spirit of God coming upon the chosen/gifted spokesperson (ayb!n`) who will serve as God’s representative. The idea of Jesus as a Davidic (royal) Messiah is largely foreign to the first half of the Synoptic narrative (the Galilean ministry period); only with the journey to Jerusalem, and the events leading to his Passion, does the Davidic association come more clearly into view. Two aspects of Jesus’ ministry are most directly relevant to the ayb!n` (prophet) role:

    • Preaching and teaching—i.e. Spirit-inspired utterance, and
    • Healing miracles, demonstrating his power and authority over spirits of disease, etc.

Of the Old Testament Prophets, the working of miracles is associated most commonly with Elijah (and his successor Elisha), and also, to a lesser extent, with Moses. Inspired preaching is common to many of the prophets, though the specific idea of teaching, with its connection to the Torah, would be most closely related to Moses. Thus Jesus could well be viewed as an Anointed (Messianic) prophet patterned after both Moses and Elijah (cf. the Transfiguration scene). However, direct allusions in the Gospels are slight, and it is only in the Gospel of Luke that we find a clearer portrait of the kind of Anointed figure Jesus understood himself to be. This will be discussed in the next daily note.

May 13: Joel 2:28-29

Joel 2:28-29 [3:1-2]

In the previous note, I mentioned a theme found at a number of points in the Prophetic writings—a ‘democratization’ of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership, whereby the Spirit of God comes upon the land and its people as a whole, rather than on select individuals. This idea seems to have developed among the later Prophets, likely as a reaction (at least in part) to the trauma of the Exile. The collapse of the Israelite/Judean kingdoms, and the loss of the monarchy, left a void for the principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Two separate, distinct concepts took root during the exile, in response to this void. On the one hand, the hope for a future ruler from the line of David, who would restore the fortunes of Israel, became an important component of Messianic thought; the roots of this tradition can be found in the exilic Prophetic writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. At the same time, an entirely different line of thought took shape—that of the anointed/inspired Community. Both of these lines of tradition coalesced in the Qumran Community, and, somewhat similarly, among the early Christians as well.

I discussed an example of this ‘new’ manifestation of the Spirit in the Deutero-Isaian passage of Isa 44:1-5 (v. 3), in the previous note; other relevant passages in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah will be considered in the upcoming notes. In some respects, however, these Prophetic texts are simply drawing upon much earlier aspects of Israelite historical tradition. For example, the Moses tradition(s) in Numbers 11:10-30 were examined in a prior note in this series. By all accounts, these have to be at least as old as the historical traditions in Judges and Samuel, with their striking record of the ancient principle of charismatic (spirit-inspired) leadership at work. In the Numbers passage, the inspired status of Moses—as the spokesperson (ayb!n`) and intermediary between YHWH and the people—is broadened out to include 70 chosen/appointed elders (vv. 16-17ff). The wording to describe this process is most significant:

(YHWH speaking) “And I will lay aside (something) from (the) spirit [j^Wr] that is upon you, and I will set (it) upon them…”

When this occurs in the narrative (vv. 25ff), the 70 elders begin to “act as a ayb!n`” , just like Moses—i.e., they become active, inspired (prophetic) leaders, who communicate the word and will of God to the people. When Moses’ young attendant Joshua becomes alarmed at this, the great leader utters an extraordinary statement that broadens the prophetic/inspired gift even further:

“Who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) <ya!yb!n+, (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [j^Wr] upon them!” (v. 29)

Ideally, all the people would function as inspired leaders/spokespersons, gifted to know and understand the word and will of YHWH directly from Him. This doubtless relates to the broader tradition of Israel as a holy, chosen people, a nation made up entirely of anointed/inspired priests and kings, etc (Exod 19:6). The ideal could not be maintained initially, as reflected by the people’s response to hearing and experiencing the voice of God at Sinai (20:18-21). Moses came to be designated as the spokesperson (ayb!n`), and, similarly, certain individuals (and only they) were selected to function as priests.

Turning now to the oracle in Joel 2:18-32 [Hebrew 2:18-3:5], we find the famous declaration in vv. 28-29 [3:1-2], of how the ideal condition will finally be realized, in the future:

“And it will be, following this, (that)
I will pour out my spirit [j^Wr] upon all flesh,
and your sons and daughters will act as ayb!n`,
and your older (one)s will dream dreams,
and your choice (young one)s will see visions;
and even upon the servants and upon the (serv)ing maids,
will I pour out my spirit in those days.”

The verb rendered “act as ayb!n`” , is the denominative ab*n`, occurring here in the passive (Niphal) stem. As I discussed in prior notes, this verb featured prominently in the early (prophetic) traditions in Numbers and Samuel (cf. above), but afterward largely disappeared from the Prophetic writings, only to reappear, and be used quite frequently, in the later Prophets (Jeremiah [40 times], Ezekiel [37 times], Zechariah). This is perhaps an indication of a comparable date for the oracles in Joel (6th century).

Joel 2:28-32, of course, came to play an important role in early Christian thought, as is indicated, famously, in the Pentecost speech of Peter in Acts (2:16-21). As such, the oracle also has a special place of importance in this pre-Pentecost series of notes on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. I will be looking at the passage in more detail in the next daily note.

May 11: Isaiah 42:1; 61:1

Isaiah 42:1; 61:1

In the previous note, we saw how the earlier traditions regarding charismatic (i.e., spirit-inspired) leadership and kingship were developed within the oracles and writings of the Prophets (in the 8th-6th centuries B.C.). The verses discussed (Isa 11:2; 28:6) were from the first half of the book of Isaiah (chaps. 1-39), which, on the whole, is firmly rooted in the oracles and historical traditions of the prophet Isaiah from the late 8th century (c. 740-701). The situation is rather different with regard to the second half of the book—the so-called Deutero- (chaps. 40-55) and Trito-Isaiah (chaps. 56-66). Most critical commentators would hold that the oracles and poems in these chapters, while inspired by the Isaian themes and traditions, were written considerably later, during the Exile and post-Exilic period. Certainly, the main setting and subject matter involves the restoration of Israel and the return of the Judean people from Exile (cf. the reference to Cyrus in 44:28; 45:1, among many other details). While some would defend a traditional-conservative view of Isaian authorship, the message of hope in these passages is more intelligible, and makes more sense for the people of the time, if the exile had already occurred.

In any case, we are looking here at two key passages which draw upon the association of the spirit (j^Wr) of God with prophetic inspiration. In previous notes, we examined early traditions where the divine spirit comes upon (or “rushes” to) a person, resulting in an ecstatic prophetic experience. Such a person is shown to be gifted as a prophet or spokesperson (ayb!n`) for YHWH, and the speech/action that comes out of the encompassing charismatic/ecstatic experience is a sign that the person is “acting like a ayb!n`” (the denominative verb ab*n` in the reflexive or passive stem). The main passages for this line of tradition are Numbers 11:17-29; 1 Samuel 10:5-13; 18:10 (19:9); 19:20-24.

Isaiah 42:1

The poem in Isa 42:1-9 is generally regarded as the first of the “Servant Songs” in (Deutero-)Isaiah, though the theme had been introduced already in 41:8-9. The couplets in the opening verse establish the focus of the poem:

“See! my servant—I hold firmly (up)on him,
my chosen (one), (in whom) my soul delights!
I have given my spirit [j^Wr] upon him,
(and) he shall bring forth judgment/justice for (the) nations.”

The precise identity and nature of this “servant” (db#u#) have been much debated by commentators throughout the years. In 41:8-9, the “servant” is identified as the people of Israel/Jacob (the “seed of Abraham”) as a whole; however, here, and in subsequent passages, a distinct individual seems to be in view. Perhaps the best explanation is that it is a ayb!n` (prophet/spokesperson), patterned after Moses. The term is used specifically (and in a special sense) of Moses in Num 12:7-8; Deut 34:5; Josh 1:1-2, 7, etc (cf. also Num 11:11; Deut 3:24). Moses was also the first (and supreme) ayb!n` of the early Israelite period (Num 11:17ff; Deut 18:15-18ff); on his role as spokesperson and intermediary between God and the people, cf. especially the tradition in Exod 20:18-21. Just as Moses led the people out of bondage in Egypt, so a servant/prophet like Moses will lead the people in their return from the Exile.

What is clear is that, like Moses, this “servant” will be specially chosen by God to lead, and that the spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH will be placed upon him. The spirit-inspired aspect of Moses’ leadership is surprisingly absent from the Pentateuch narratives, but there is at least one important passage where it is emphasized prominently—Numbers 11:10-30, discussed in an earlier note. The ideas expressed in that early tradition seem to relate in some way to the Prophetic theme of the Spirit being given to all the people (v. 29)—to the land and its people as a whole; this will be discussed further in the upcoming notes.

With regard to the poem in Isa 42:1-9, the initial theme in verse 1 is developed through the two main sections (or strophes) in different ways:

    • Vv. 1-4—here the focus is on the servant functioning as leader for the people (Israel), establishing justice—i.e., rendering right judgment (fP*v=m!), and setting that pattern throughout the whole society. This justice is based fundamentally upon the Instruction (Torah) of God (v. 4b).
    • Vv. 5-7—the Instruction given to Israel is aimed at the wider world—the surrounding nations—as well. This cosmic aspect is introduced with an allusion to the Creation in v. 5, including the important motif of the spirit/breath of God that gives life to all people (cf. the prior notes on Gen 1:2 and 2:7; Job 33:4). The “servant” will apparently play a role in extending God’s covenant with Israel out to the surrounding nations.

Isaiah 61:1

The opening of the oracle in Isaiah 61 is similar in some ways to that of 42:1-9; however, here there is a decidedly stronger emphasis on the idea of Israel’s return and restoration. The opening lines in verse 1 also speak of the spirit of God being given to a chosen ‘servant’:

“(The) spirit [j^Wr] of my Lord YHWH (is) upon me
in that He has anointed me to bring (good) news to (the) oppressed;
He sent me to provide wrapping for the (one)s broken of heart,
to call out release for (the one)s led away (into bondage)
and an opening up for (the one)s bound (in prison)”

Here we find again the theme of justice—especially for the poor and oppressed in society. Only now the role of the spirit-inspired figure is narrowed to that of giving a prophetic announcement. It is proper to refer to this individual as an “anointed herald”, similar in many respects to the “voice” ordered to call out a message of salvation and justice in the initial Deutero-Isaian oracles (chap. 40).

The kingship motif of anointing is present here (cf. the discussion in the previous note), only it has been applied specifically to a prophetic context. Scriptural evidence for the anointing of prophets is quite limited, but it seems to have been a perfectly valid line of symbolism. That there were Messianic (i.e. Anointed) Prophet figure-types in subsequent Jewish tradition is clear enough (cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Indeed, the Anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff is the Messianic figure-type that best fits Jesus during the time of his active ministry, and is the one with which Jesus specifically identified himself, according to the Gospel accounts. The authenticity of this self-identification would seem to be confirmed, on objective grounds, by its multiple attestation in at least two separate Gospel traditions (Matt 11:2-6 / Lk 7:20-23 [Q], and Luke 4:17-21ff). There is evidence for a similar Messianic interpretation of the passage at Qumran (cf. my article on 4Q521).

May 6: 1 Kings 18:12ff; 22:10-28

1 Kings 18:12ff; 22:10-28

The main occurrences of the word j^Wr in the book of Kings (1-2 Kings) are found in the Elijah narratives, and the usage of the word here is quite illuminating. It is related to the idea, discussed already in several prior notes, of prophetic inspiration—of the spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH coming upon (or “rushing” to) a person, manifesting itself in a kind of dramatic (and ecstatic) prophetic experience. If Moses was the principal figure for the earliest mode of prophecy in Israel, Elijah serves much the same role in a later line of tradition during the Kingdom period. The main difference in the Elijah narratives, however, is that there is now a strong sense of conflict between the true prophet (Elijah, Micaiah) and the older tradition of spirit-enthused prophetic ecstasy.

1 Kings 18:12ff

The narrative in chapter 18 has, at its heart, the contest between Elijah and the prophets (<ya!yb!n+) of Ba’al and Asherah. This, of course, reflects the marked tendency of religious syncretism in Israel, whereby Canaanite religious traditions and practices where blended together with those devoted exclusively to El-Yahweh, to the point that Yahwism could become displaced in importance within the culture. Such tendencies had been present for centuries, practically from the first Israelite settlement of Canaan, but increased dramatically under the influence of certain royal houses and their administrations. This began with Solomon, but reached its pinnacle, it would seem, with the Northern court of Ahab and Jezebel, the principal setting of the Elijah narratives.

Almost in passing, within this narrative, there is an interesting notice at verse 12, involving the encounter between Elijah and the royal messenger Obadiah. Elijah instructs him to return to Ahab and announce “See! Elijah (is here)!” (v. 8). Obadiah is frightened at how Ahab may react to this. The king had been searching for Elijah, without success; and, if he is now told “Elijah is here”, and then comes and does not find the prophet, then the messenger giving this report will suffer for it. The rather superstitious and fearful mindset of Obadiah is reflected in the concern he expresses in verse 12:

“And it will be (that), (as) I go (away) from you, and (then the) spirit [j^Wr] of YHWH carries you upon [i.e. to] (a place) which I do not know, and I come to make (this known) before Ah’ab, and he does not find you, then he will slay me…”

Here the fundamental meaning of j^Wr as “breath” or “wind” (i.e. something blowing) is clear. The idea is that, as a divinely-inspired prophet, around whom supernatural events and phenomena can occur, Elijah might suddenly (and/or miraculously) be taken away to another place by the “wind” of God. Indeed, this very thing was essentially described in the famous departure (or ‘ascension’) of Elijah in 2 Kings 2:11-12, though depicted more colorfully through the image of a ‘fiery chariot’ carried up by a powerful storm-wind (hr*u*s=). In this scene, the idea of the j^Wr of God is expressed through the imagery of Storm-theophany (i.e. God manifest in the storm), frequently applied to YHWH in the Old Testament. Such an identification is made in verse 16, when Elisha (now possessing the prophetic spirit that had been on Elijah) encounters the “sons of the prophets” (essentially a group of prophets-in-training) at Jericho. One of these young prophets, interested in searching for Elijah, suggests that the “spirit/wind [j^Wr] of YHWH” may have carried him off to another location (cp. Acts 8:39), echoing the earlier language of Obadiah.

Even though Elijah—and, after him, Elisha—clearly possesses the prophetic spirit (j^Wr) from YHWH (2:9, 15), these narratives tend to avoid the older manner of expression, in their referring to the spirit of YHWH coming/rushing upon the prophet. Instead, where this idea occurs in Kings, the preferred expression is “the hand of YHWH”. Like the spirit rushing upon the Judges (on this, cf. the earlier note), etc, the “hand” of YHWH brings special inspiration (3:15) or supernatural ability to the person. So it was for Elijah, in the episode following the contest with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18—the “hand” of God gives him special ability to run (v. 46), further proof of his status a true inspired prophet (in contrast to the false prophets of Baal).

1 Kings 22:10-28

A similar sort of prophetic contest/conflict is narrated in chapter 22. The situation is comparable, though instead of 450 / 400 prophets of Baal / Asherah, we now have 400 prophets of YHWH who belong to Ahab (i.e. attached to the royal court), vv. 6ff. We might be inclined to read this in light of the chap. 18 narrative, which recorded that the prophets of Baal/Asherah were put to death (v. 40); however, given the syncretistic tendencies at the royal court, there is no reason why the king might not employ prophets of YHWH in addition to those of Baal. Perhaps implicit in the chap. 22 narrative is the idea that there is little difference between these court-prophets—whether of Baal or YHWH—as they function the same way, and are generally branded by the author (and the underlying prophetic tradition) as false prophets.

On the surface, these 400 men function very much in the manner of prophets and diviners throughout the ancient Near East—including those in Israel. It was common practice for kings to consult such (apparently gifted) men, especially when they were about to make an important decision, such as going to war. It was important to ascertain the will of God (or the gods) in this regard—i.e., what the result would be, and whether one ought to take a particular action. There had been a longstanding tradition of priestly divination in Israel, especially involving the “urim and thummim”, stones used to obtain a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to questions. The prophets of Ahab in chapter 22 apparently utilize similar kinds of instrumental means for divination, in addition to oracular responses obtained during moments of prophetic ecstasy.

In verse 10, we read how the kings of Israel and Judah (Ahab and Jehoshaphat), together consult the group of prophets on the question of whether to engage in battle with the kingdom of Aram-Damascus at Ramoth-gilead. They meet at the threshing-floor (/r#G)) outside the city, the open area best suited for public gatherings. Here the prophets (<ya!yb!n+) are all “acting like a ayb!n`” . This denominative verb (ab*n`), in the reflexive hithpael stem, was discussed in the earlier notes (on Num 11:13-30 and 1 Sam 10:5-11; 18:10; 19:20-21ff). It seems to connote specifically an ecstatic manner of prophetic experience, brought about by the presence and activity of the divine spirit, and marked by unusual behavior. In the earlier lines of tradition (in Numbers and Samuel), this was an entirely valid expression of the prophetic gift, however strange and disturbing it may seem to us today.

In the book of Kings, by contrast—and especially here in the Elijah narratives—such ecstatic modes of prophecy are very much devalued, due in large part, I am sure, to the continued reliance upon them, in a superficial manner, among all these many prophets attached to the royal court (of Ahab, etc). Since such court-officials were expected to give the response that the king wanted to hear, all of the supposedly spirit-inspired phenomena had become largely a matter of show, lacking the substance of true prophecy. It is no coincidence that the verb ab*n` occurs in the books of Kings only in the narratives of chapter 18 (v. 29) and 22 (vv. 8, 10, 12, 18), referring essentially to the false prophets (of Baal and YHWH). While the true prophet of YHWH in chapter 18 was Elijah, here it is Micaiah, unique among the prophets because he typically does not tell the king what he wishes to hear (v. 8).

There is an important parallel involving the vision Micaiah narrates as part of his prophetic response to the king (vv. 19-23):

    • a heavenly being from YHWH’s court volunteers to be sent as a lying/deceitful spirit [j^Wr] from YHWH (vv. 21-23), to deceive Ahab and cause him to go out to battle (where he will be killed)
    • the 400 prophets who tell Ahab it is God’s will for him to go to battle, and that he will be victorious, similarly act as a ‘lying spirit’, speaking falsely (as prophets) on YHWH’s behalf (v. 24)

Zedekiah represents these 400 prophets, and confronts Micaiah regarding his contrary response, striking him as an insult, along with the following words:

“Where (did) this (happen), (that the) spirit [j^Wr] of YHWH crossed over from me to speak to you?” (v. 24)

The implication is, that if Zedekiah had spoken under inspiration by the spirit of God, and Micaiah gave a contrary response, then Micaiah could not possibly have been inspired by God as Zedekiah was—i.e., Micaiah is a false prophet. The narrative, of course, shows the situation to be exactly the opposite—Micaiah’s prophecy is true, while that of Zedekiah (and the other 400) is false, their apparent ecstatic manifestations of the spirit notwithstanding. The emphasis is on the substance and result of the prophecy, not the various phenomena that accompany it (vv. 25, 28)—a point fully in accord with the Deuteronomic principle for the testing/confirmation of true prophecy (Deut 18:21-22). The prophets of the 8th/7th centuries, whose oracles and activity received written form, attest a similar caution regarding prophecy apparently uttered under ecstatic inspiration from the divine spirit (Hos 9:7; Mic 2:11; cf. also Jer 5:13), and likewise tend to avoid use of the verb ab*n` (cf. above), though the verb does reappear with some frequency in the later prophets of the 6th/5th century (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah).

April 30: Numbers 24:2; 1 Samuel 10:6ff

Numbers 24:2; 1 Samuel 10:6ff

In the previous note of this series on Old Testament passages involving the Spirit [j^Wr] of God, I discussed the fundamental association of the Spirit with prophecy. In particular, it is the special gifting by the spirit/breath [j^Wr] of YHWH that enables a person to fill the role of ayb!n`—a spokesperson who speaks and acts on God’s behalf, communicating His word and will to the people. From the standpoint of Old Testament tradition, prophecy in Israel begins with Moses; he was the ultimate ayb!n`, though, as we saw in Numbers 11:10-30, this role was not limited to him even at the time.

Various forms of prophecy had, of course, long been practiced in the ancient Near East. I previously mentioned the evidence from the city-state of Mari, where at least two different kinds of prophets are attested—one (the ¹pilum) apparently functioning in an official capacity (at the royal court, etc), while the other (the mu——ûm) operating at a more popular level, was marked especially by ecstatic experience (cf. below).

Numbers 24:2

As it happens, the Old Testament Scriptures refer to at least one such non-Israelite prophet, the famous (and rather enigmatic) figure of Balaam (Bil±¹m, <u*l=B!). He is featured in the narratives of Numbers 22-24, including four distinct oracles attributed to him; his role in the Baal-Peor incident (chap. 25), itself a complex tradition as recorded in the text, is more problematic (cf. Num 31:8, 16). It is the latter association, especially, that colored Balaam as a negative, evil figure-type in later Jewish and Christian tradition.

The historicity of Balaam, and the general authenticity of the Pentateuch traditions (in Num 22-24), would seem to be confirmed by the extra-biblical evidence of the Deir ±All¹ inscription from Jordan (c. 800 B.C.). For a translation of this inscription, along with photographs, see the treatment online at livius.org.

The entirety of the matrix of traditions in chaps. 22-24—but especially the oracles in 23-24—make clear that Balaam was a prophet, primarily in the sense of being a seer (ha#r)), a visionary clairvoyant, one who could discern the course of future events. Despite the lampooning episode of 22:22-35, and his subsequent negative caricature, there is no evidence in the text that he is in any way a false prophet, or that his visions do not genuinely come from God (El-Yahweh). Indeed, in the narrative he repeatedly receives communication from God (22:9ff, 20, etc). This is an extraordinary datum, and serves as an objective confirmation of the authenticity of the oracle-traditions.

As previously mentioned, Balaam would best be characterized as a seer (ha#r), from the root har), and the text several times mentions his eyes being “opened” (by God); indeed, this is stated at the beginning of the third and fourth oracles (24:3-4, 15-16), indicating that such revelatory experience was a regular occurrence for Balaam. Moreover, in accordance with the ancient understanding that all such prophetic experience was the result of divine inspiration (from the spirit of God), this is stated of the non-Israelite Balaam as well:

“And Bil’am lifted his eyes, and he saw [vb ha*r*] Yisrael residing (according) to its staffs [i.e. by tribe], and (the) spirit [j^Wr] of (the) Mightiest [<yh!ýa$] came upon him” (24:2)

It is possible that this detail was emphasized as a way of legitimizing the oracles of a non-Israelite (Canaanite) prophet, affirming (for an Israelite audience) that they are genuine and true prophecies. Much more likely, however, this simply reflects the basic understanding of how prophecy worked in the ancient Near East. Any distinct prophetic experience was the result of a divine presence (spirit) working in or upon the person—its source was the spirit/breath [j^Wr] of a deity, whether El-Yahweh or another.

1 Samuel 10:6ff

In the previous note, we saw the distinctive use of the denominative verb ab*n`, which essentially means to “act or function as a ayb!n`” . This verb occurs either in the passive Niphal stem or the reflexive Hithpael stem—both of which imply the idea of a person being under the influence or control of a prophetic “spirit”. Outside of Num 11:25-27 (discussed in the previous note), the verb ab*n` (in both passive and reflexive stems) occurs a number of times in Samuel-Kings, where it unquestionably reflects old/authentic historical tradition. The very oddity and unorthodox character of some of the details in these narratives would tend to confirm, on objective grounds, the authenticity of the traditions.

A particular early reference occurs in 1 Samuel 10:1-13, where the young Saul is directed by Samuel that, on his journey, he will encounter a group of <ya!yb!n+ in front of the hill-site city of Gibeah, or Gibeath-Elohim (“hill of God”), vv. 5-6. Both the name, and the presence of these prophets, suggests that it was a sacred site (or “high place”); at the moment, it also was marked by a Philistine garrison. The prophets Saul will encounter will be coming as a procession from the city, playing musical instruments as they “act as ayb!n`” . As most commentators recognize, this involves a specific mode of ecstatic prophetic experience, of a kind frequently aided (or induced) through music. That it is a dramatic and aggressive (even violent) sort of experience is indicated by the wording in verse 6, stating that the spirit [j^Wr] of YHWH would rush (vb jl^x*) upon Saul and overtake him, so that he would “act as a ayb!n` ” with all the others. So dramatic would this experience be that it is said Saul would be “turned over” (i.e. changed/transformed) into “another man”.

This prediction by Samuel is fulfilled in verse 10, and the state of prophetic ecstasy indeed results in such unusual behavior that everyone who knows Saul has to take note and wonder at it: “What (is) this (that) has come to be [i.e. happened] to the son of Qîš?” (v. 11). A similar kind of evil spirit comes upon Saul in a later narrative (18:10ff), resulting in the same sort of unusual manic/ecstatic behavior, only in a more destructively violent manner. The same verb ab*n` is used here, even though it has nothing to do with “prophecy” in the typical sense. This is most informative, as it demonstrates rather clearly that, in the context of prophecy, the emphasis is squarely on the divine presence/spirit that influences and overcomes the person. In 18:10, though it is an “evil” spirit, it still comes from God, utilizing the common expression “spirit of the Mightiest” (<yh!ýa$ j^Wr). While this certainly created (and still creates) theological problems for subsequent readers, it is fully in accord with the ancient way of thinking (cp. the episode in 1 Kings 22:19-23).

We should point out that the prophetic ecstasy that came over Saul in 10:10 was repeated in a separate tradition (19:20-24). There, at another sacred “high place” site (Ramah), there is a group of ecstatic prophets (<ya!yb!n+), only this time Samuel himself is present with them. The frenzied character of this experience, marked by unusual or aberrant behavior, is indicated especially by the detail of Saul tearing off his clothes, and laying naked in that place all day and night (v. 24). Again, this will no doubt seem troubling to our modern sensibilities, in terms of our conceptions regarding the nature of prophecy, etc, but it very much reflects aspects of traditional prophetic experience worldwide, both in ancient and later times.

The verb ab*n` (in the passive/reflexive) also occurs in 1 Kings 18:29 and 22:8-12 (note the group of prophets, v. 10), 18 par. Interestingly, while the verb is frequent in the later Prophetic writings (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah) it is quite rare in the earlier books (only Amos [6 times] and Joel [once]). This suggests that the earlier usage—indicated by the underlying historical traditions in Exodus–Kings—was abandoned for a time, only to be picked up again in the Exilic/Post-exilic period.

In the next note, we will touch further on the idea of the violent effects of the Spirit’s influence, as recorded in the Old Testament.

April 29: Numbers 11:10-30

Numbers 11:10-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplemental Note 1 on Revelation: Authorship and Date of the Book

Authorship and Date of the Book of Revelation

I dealt with the question of authorship briefly in the earlier note on 1:9—i.e. the identity of the seer Yohanan (John) in the book. However, it is worth discussing the matter a bit more comprehensively, now that we have come to the end of the notes themselves. In most commentaries, this subject is part of an introduction, prior to the exegesis; I opted for the reverse approach, to deal with such matters only after the text has been thoroughly discussed. This allows the reader to consider the text objectively, without presuppositions or pre-judgments regarding authorship. The question of date—when the book was written—is more pertinent to a critical study, and to providing a sound, basic interpretation for a number of the visions; however, even here I felt it best to avoid discussion of theories on the book’s date as much as possible.

Critical commentators today are not as inclined (as past generations) to view the book as pseudonymous, despite the fact that much Apocalyptic literature is pseudepigraphic in nature (cf. my earlier article on these terms, and also note the discussion in Part 2 of my study “The Antichrist Tradition”). The book is generally lacking in the kinds of details and references one might expect if the author were presenting himself as a famous (apostolic) figure. Some Christians chose the third option above, identifying the author with a second-generation Elder/Presbyter named John (cf. Eusebius, Church History III.39.4-6; VII.24.7ff). However, the main lines of Christian tradition identified the author as John the Apostle, an identification which appears to have been reasonably well-established by the end of the 2nd century (cf. Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 81.4; Irenaeus Against Heresies III.11.1, 16.5ff; V.30.3; Clement On the Rich Man §42, etc).

However, there is no evidence in the book itself that this John is an apostle, or even an elder; however, it is clear that he is a prophet (profh/th$, “foreteller”). The book throughout demonstrates a keen interest in the role of genuine prophecy (profhtei/a), characterizing itself as such (cf. 1:3; 10:7, 11; 11:3-18; 16:6; 18:20, 24; 19:10; 22:6-10, 18-19). Moreover, it shows an understanding of the dynamic of prophecy in early Christianity—especially the way that the Spirit of God interacts with the gifted spirit of the prophet. Also noteworthy is the opposition to false prophecy, being inspired as it is by the forces of evil (i.e. an evil/deceptive spirit)—cf. 2:14, 20ff; 16:13; 19:20; 20:10. In early Christianity, “prophecy” (profhtei/a) entailed much more than predicting the future; the term referred primarily to the idea of serving as a spokesperson for God, by which the word and will of God was communicated to others. As such, the role of the Christian prophet was closer to the meaning of the corresponding Hebrew word ayb!n`. Thus the “John” of Revelation can be identified as a Christian minister, a gifted prophet; whether he was also an apostle (and/or John the Apostle) remains quite uncertain.

We know little else about him from the book itself, except that, at the time of receiving his visions, this John was residing on the island of Patmos, about 40 miles off the southwestern coast of Asia Minor (almost directly west of Miletus). He says that he came to be there “through the account of God and the witness of Yeshua” (1:9). This could mean that he was on the island as part of his ministry/missionary activity; however, most commentators understand it as a reference to banishment, i.e. as a punitive action against him, (relegatio ad insulum, “relegation to an island”), possibly even a permanent exile (“deportation”, deportatio ad insulum); for more on this, cf. Koester, pp. 242-3. Patmos was scarcely a desolate locale, contrary to popular portraits of John receiving his visions in Christian art, etc; it had a thriving culture and society, including festivals, athletic events, and so forth. There was also a strong religious life on the island, including major pagan cult centers, though the prevalence of the imperial cult, so strong elsewhere in Asia Minor at the time, is less certain. The tradition regarding John the Apostle’s exile on Patmos is attested by the end of the 2nd century (Tertullian Against Marcion 3.14.3, 24.4; Prescription Against Heretics 36); Irenaeus presumably accepted it (Against Heresies 5.30.3, cf. above), though he does not mention that specific detail.

The Problem of Dating the Book

The book of Revelation has been variously dated by scholars and commentators, sometimes based on established tradition (i.e. regarding John the Apostle, cf. above), though more commonly (in recent years) on the basis of internal (historical-critical) evidence in the book itself. For those interested in establishing a specific date, or time-frame, the two main options, favored by commentators, are: (1) early, in the 60s A.D., or (2) at the end of the first-century A.D., c. 95. A third (3) minority view would set the book in the early second-century A.D. (sometime between c. 115 and 135). The language and vocabulary offer little help in establishing a precise date, and similarly with regard to other literary and rhetorical factors. Scholars thus have tended to turn to details which relate to the historical and cultural background of the book (i.e. historical criticism).

1. Foremost of these details is the description of the heads of the Sea-creature (i.e. ‘beast’ from the Sea), especially the interpretation in 17:7-18 (vv. 9-11). This is one of the only instances where the book itself offers an explanation of the visionary symbolism, so it must be taken most seriously as a guide for interpretation. The seven heads are explained as seven kings, which most commentators—correctly, it would seem—understand as a sequence of first-century Roman emperors. Five of these emperors have already died (“five [have] fallen”) at the time the book was written, while the sixth is the current reigning emperor (“one is“, i.e. is currently alive). This has encouraged commentators to attempt to identify the six heads with a sequence of six emperors, which would more or less establish a date for the book; for example:

    • beginning with Julius Caesar, the sixth emperor would be Nero (r. 54-68)
    • beginning with Augustus, the sixth emperor would be Galba (r. 68-9)
      • or, skipping over the short reigns of the four emperors in 68-9, the sixth would be Vespasian (r. 69-79)
    • beginning with Gaius (Caligula), and skipping over the four of 68-9, the sixth would be Domitian (r. 81-96)
    • beginning with Nero, the sixth (strictly) would be Titus (r. 79-81); counting more loosely, it might also be Domitian.

It is, however, highly questionable whether the symbolism of the heads can be interpreted (reliably) with such historical precision. After all, the motif of seven heads derives from ancient tradition, and relates to the seven-vision cycles throughout the book, as does the 5 + 2 motif. It seems likely that it was meant to apply only generally to the historical circumstances of the Empire. If any of the above schema are accurate, I would say that the second and fourth are most plausible—i.e. (a) from Augustus to Galba, or (b) from Gaius (Caligula) to Domitian. Caligula was the first emperor to begin his reign after the death/resurrection of Jesus, and would have been the first to fit clearly into the eschatological “wicked tyrant” pattern (cf. my three-part article “The Antichrist Tradition”).

2. Along these same lines, many commentators find a number of references or allusions to the Emperor Nero (r. 54-68) in the book; this could be cited as evidence for the setting of the book itself (i.e. during Nero’s reign), or as an indication that Nero was one of the (five) emperors who had died previously. The latter seems much more likely, especially if the common interpretation regarding the head with the death-blow (“strike of death”) in 13:3 (cf. the earlier note) is correct—that it is, in part at least, an allusion to Nero (and the Nero legend). The wording in 17:11 may represent a similar allusion. One plausible line of interpretation would be that: (a) Nero was one of the emperors who had died, but (b) he would ‘return’ in the form of the last (eighth) emperor, a demonic ‘Antichrist’ figure patterned after him. For Christians in the second half of the first century A.D., Nero would have been the persecuting emperor, and the more intense persecution to come during the time of distress could legitimately be regarded as a revival of Nero’s actions.

It has also been popular to interpret the famous ‘mark of the beast’ in 13:18 as a veiled reference to Nero. I will not discuss that cryptic verse any further here (consult my earlier note). Even if correct, it could be understood either as a reference to Nero as the current emperor, or to the previously-mentioned idea that the wicked ruler of the end would be patterned after Nero.

3. Two other historical points are important for a dating of the book—(1) the extent of the persecution of Christians in Asia Minor, and (2) the influence of the imperial cult in the region. The persecution of believers during Nero’s reign, while notorious enough, was relatively brief, and more or less limited to the city of Rome. Evidence for persecution during the reigns of the subsequent emperors (such as Vespasian or Domitian) is uncertain or sketchy at best, and has been very much exaggerated, it would seem, by Christian writers in the case of Domitian (cf. Koester, pp. 76-8). We have a little more evidence for the arrest/interrogation of believers, in the provinces (e.g., Asia Minor), during the early-second century (cf. especially Pliny the Younger Epistles 10.97.2, cited in the note on 13:15); however, there were no widespread state-sponsored attacks on Christians until later in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

This generally accords with the portrait we have of the situation in Asia Minor at the time the book of Revelation was written. Persecution was sporadic, with believers being held for interrogation a much more common occurrence than their being put to death. Executions were apparently infrequent enough that special mention could be made of Antipas’ death in Pergamum (2:13). While the visions of Revelation foresee a time (very soon) when persecution would be much more intense and widespread, this had not yet been fulfilled. A setting in the late first or early second century would seem to fit this evidence.

Much the same is true of the prevalence of the imperial cult, which would become the focus of the 2nd-century persecutions. The unwillingness of believers to participate in the various aspects of the imperial cult—including worship/veneration of the emperor and his images—would put them at odds with the surrounding society, and, increasingly, with the provincial and imperial authorities. There can be little doubt that the Roman imperial cult informs much of the depiction of the Sea-creature’s wicked regime in chapters 13ff (esp. the detail in 13:11-18); however, again, the book envisions a dramatic increase (and intensification) of the current situation. The imperial iconography and religious associations, while well-established in Asia Minor by the end of the first century, would only become more pronounced in the second, during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian.

Consider the example of Pergamum, an important center of Roman administration in the province. Already in the late 1st century B.C., a provincial temple to Augustus and Roma (goddess of the city Rome) had been constructed, including dedicatory altars (remains of which have survived). First century coins depict many images and scenes of the rich religious culture (festivals, games, etc) associated with the cult. Later, during the reign of Trajan, a new temple (to Zeus and the emperor) was founded in 114 A.D., further dedicated in 129, in the time of Hadrian, who was similarly identified with Zeus Olympus at the temple in Athens (dedicated 132).

4. One argument for an early date (i.e. pre-70 A.D.) is the lack of any clear reference to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple; indeed, the symbolism of the Temple precincts in 11:1-2 has been taken as an indication that the Temple was still standing. If correct, it would seem to require the book be dated to the reign of Nero (54-68) or Galba (68-9). However, attempts to date the New Testament Writings based on references to the Temple are questionable at best. Long before the Temple had been destroyed, early Christians had spiritualized its significance, treating it as a symbol and figure of the person of Christ, the presence of the Spirit, the union of believers, and so forth. Moreover, lack of reference to the Temple’s destruction could just as easily indicate a significant time after 70 A.D., when the reality and physical existence of the Temple building had long ceased to be important. With the exception of Paul’s mention of the Temple in 2 Thess 2:4, references elsewhere in the New Testament tend to be ambiguous, in terms of the question of date, and whether or not the Temple building still stood at the time of writing. Consider, for example, the complex way the matter is handled in the letter to the Hebrews; there is no indication of the Temple’s destruction, and yet, the writing tends to be dated to latter part of the first century by most commentators, based on numerous other factors.

Overall, the evidence points to a general time frame of the last quarter of the first century A.D. (c. 75-100) for the composition of Revelation. Traditionally, a date for the book has been set at the end of Domitian’s reign (c. 95 A.D.), a tradition attested at least as early as Irenaeus in his Against Heresies (5.30.3), and followed by Eusebius (Church History 3.18.3, 20.8-9; 5.8.6) and Jerome (Lives of Illustrious Men 9), as well as others (cf. Koester, p. 74). A majority of commentators today would tend to concur with this, and a date for composition c. 90-95 A.D. is probably not far from the mark.

References marked “Koester” are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1.png

February 16: Revelation 22:6, 10-11

Revelation 22:6-21

Verses 6-21 form the conclusion to the book of Revelation, and, as might be expected, they run parallel in many respects with the introduction (1:1-3ff). Many of the same words, phrases, and motifs occur here. Verses 6-17 have a parallelistic structure that may be outlined as follows:

    • Angelic declaration (“And he said to me…”), involving the words of the prophecy (the book) as a whole—vv. 6 / 10-11
    • Announcement of the exalted Jesus (“See! I come quickly…”)—vv. 7a / 12-13
    • Beatitude declaring happiness/blessings for those who remain faithful—vv. 7b / 14-15
    • Closing personal statement, by the seer (John) and the exalted Jesus, respectively (“I, Yohanan…”, “I, Yeshua…”)—vv. 8-9 / 16f

It makes sense to discuss each component, as it occurs in each part, together.

Revelation 22:6, 10-11

Each part begins with a declaration by the heavenly Messenger who is speaking with the seer (John), cf. 21:9, 15; 22:1. Let us compare the two statements:

“And he said to me: ‘These accounts [i.e. words] (are) trustworthy and true; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the foretellers [i.e. prophets], se(n)t forth His Messenger to show to His slaves the (thing)s that are necessary to come to be in (all) haste [e)n ta/xei]’.” (v. 6)

“And he says to me: ‘You shall not seal (up) the accounts [i.e. words] of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this paper-roll [i.e. scroll], for the moment is near [e)ggu/$]’.” (v. 10)

Clearly the statements are similar, involving a common set of verbal and thematic elements: (1) the opening phrase, (2) reference to the “accounts” (lo/goi, i.e. the words) in the book, (3) that it is prophecy (foretelling what is to come), and (4) the things described in the book are imminent.

22:6—Verse 6 is quite close to the introductory statement in 1:1 (words in italics):

“An uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed which God gave to him, to show to His slaves the (thing)s that are necessary to come to be in (all) haste…”

To this is added a specific reference to the words of the prophecy as being “trust(worthy) and true” (pistoi\ kai\ a)lhqinoi/), which repeats the wording in 21:5; elsewhere, the same dual expression is used of God and Christ himself (3:14; 19:11; cf. also 6:10; 15:3), indicating here the divine source and character of the prophecy.

There is also an emphasis on the spirit (pneu=ma) of the prophecy. From the standpoint of early Christian religious psychology and anthropology, the spiritual dimension of prophecy was rather complex, with certain conceptions that are generally foreign to us today. The word pneu=ma (“[life-]breath, spirit”) is used in three distinct, but interrelated ways, in regard to prophecy:

    • The deity as a spirit-being—this applies not only to the Spirit of God (and Christ), i.e. the Holy Spirit, but to the opposite: evil/unclean or deceptive “spirits” (spirit-beings)
    • The “spirit” (inner-most breath and source of life) within the human being; it represents the point, or level, at which people relate to the Spirit of God (and other spirit-beings); this is especially true for those gifted as prophets
    • The prophetic gift or ability is also referred to as a “spirit” (pneu=ma); early Christians saw it as a specific gift from the Spirit of God—this is a uniquely Christian development of the conception in the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world, etc, whereby such giftedness was due to the indwelling presence of a personal deity (or semi-divine being), i.e. a genius, in the original sense of the word.

This spiritual aspect of prophecy is described several ways in the book of Revelation:

    • On certain occasions, the seer (John) is said to be “in the spirit” (e)n pneu/mati) when he receives his visions (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10); since he is in contact with the Spirit of God at these moments, he is certainly “in the Spirit“, but he is also engaged “in the spirit (of prophecy)”
    • In 19:10 there is the statement that “the witness of Yeshua is the spirit of prophecy” (or “…of the prophecy”); the primary meaning here is that the exalted Jesus, through the Spirit, is the source of the message (cf. 1:1, above, and my earlier note on 19:10)
    • This message is also communicated (by God and Christ) through heavenly Messengers (i.e. Angels), themselves spirit-beings who are specifically called “spirits” (pneu/mata) in 1:4; 4:5; 5:6; by contrast, false prophecy is inspired by evil/unclean spirits (16:13-14, cf. also 13:15; 18:2).

22:10-11—If verse 6 resembles 1:1, the statement in verse 10 is correspondingly similar to 1:3, as it specifically emphasizes the need for believers to read (i.e. hear read aloud) the words of the prophecy, along with the declaration that “the moment (is) near” (o( kairo\$ e)ggu/$). Here the reading of the book is expressed negatively: “You shall not seal (up) the accounts [i.e. words] of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this scroll”. The verb sfragi/zw (“seal”), along with the related noun sfragi/$, is used repeatedly in the book of revelation, mainly as an idiom for a message that is meant to be kept hidden until it is revealed at some future time (5:1-2ff; 6:1ff; 7:2; 8:1; 10:4). Generally, in the visionary narrative, seals are being opened—that is, the message is finally being revealed (and fulfilled) in the end-time, which is also the present time (and/or the near future) for readers of the book. This is also the reason here for the injunction not to seal the prophecy—the events described do not refer to things that will take place at some time in the distant future, but are about to be fulfilled now.

On the use of the adverb e)ggu/$ (“near”), and the expression e)n ta/xei (“in [all] haste”), as clear indications of the imminent eschatology of early Christians, cf. my earlier study on the subject. It is probably this sense of imminence that informs the proverbial declaration in verse 11:

“(For) the (one) being without justice [i.e. unjust], he must yet be without justice; and the (one who is) dirty, he must yet be dirty; and the (one who is) just, he must yet do justice [i.e. act justly]; and the (one who is) holy, he must yet be holy.”

The pairs of opposites are precise: just(ice) vs. without justice, holy [i.e. clean/pure] vs. dirty. The book of Revelation has a strong sense throughout of the wicked as belonging to evil, while the righteous (true believers) belong to God and the Lamb. Little hope is held out for the repentance and conversion of the wicked. The end-time was seen as a period of ever-increasing wickedness, a time of testing that will reveal a person’s true character and identity—i.e. whether he/she belongs to God, or to the forces of evil. As the end draws nearer, this dynamic will only intensify further, to the point that, even in the face of God’s Judgment, the wicked will scarcely repent (9:20-21; 16:9, 11). Believers will genuinely repent of their sins (2:5, 16, 21-22), but not the wicked. There is also in the book of Revelation an emphasis on what we would call predestination, which corresponds to the aforementioned sense of person’s essential religious identity (which cannot be changed). The form and language in verse 11, with its poetic parallelism, is similar to that earlier in 14:9-10; it also resembles certain proverbial statements in the Old Testament (e.g., Ezek 3:27; Dan 12:10).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png