June 11: Acts 2:1-13

Acts 2:1-13

In the previous note, I examined the Prophetic theme of the “restoration of Israel” in the book of Acts, as it is symbolized by the reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (1:15-26). Today, I will look at the theme as it appears in the Pentecost Narrative itself, specifically in relation to the coming of the Spirit as the (eschatological) realization of the Kingdom of God (cf. the prior note on vv. 6-8ff). The discussion here draws upon earlier notes and articles.

The care with which the Pentecost narrative (2:1-13) has been constructed can be illustrated by a pair of chiastic outlines, emphasizing the theme of the restoration of Israel in terms of both (a) the unity of believers, and (b) the mission to the surrounding nations:

    • The unity of the disciples (together in one place and/or for one purpose—e)pi\ to\ au)to/), verse 1.
      • The house/place of gathering is filled (e)plh/rwsen) with the Spirit, verse 2.
        • Appearance of tongues (glwssai) of fire upon each individual disciple (~120), verse 3
        • The disciples (each) begin to speak in other tongues (glwssai), verse 4
      • The disciples are all filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the Holy Spirit, verse 4
    • The unity of the crowd—devout Jews (from all nations) in Jerusalem come together in one place, verse 5ff

This second chiastic outline builds upon the first:

    • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
      • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
        • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
      • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
    • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

This emphasizes more clearly the theme of the “restoration of Israel”, according to the eschatological imagery of the later Old Testament prophets and Judaism, which involves two related themes:

    1. The return of Israelites (Jews) from exile among the nations—this return is to the Promised Land, and, in particular, to Judah and Jerusalem.
    2. The Nations (Gentiles) come to Judah and Jerusalem, bringing tribute and/or worshiping the true God there.

The first is an important and popular theme especially in the later Prophets (from the exilic/post-exilic periods), and, in particular, a number of key deutero- (and trito-)Isaian passages: Isa 43:5ff; 44:21-28; 48:12-21; 49:5ff; 51:11; 52:2, 7-12; 54:2-8; 55:12-13; 56:1-8; and throughout chapters 60-66, esp. 66:18-24. The imagery and sentiment of these passages largely concurs with that found in exilic/post-exilic prophets such as Ezekiel (esp. chapters 34, 37 and 47-48) and Zechariah 9-14. The motif of restoration/return appears frequently, of course, in subsequent Jewish writings—e.g., Tobit 14:5; 2 Maccabees 2:7; Jubilees 1:15-17ff; Testament of Benjamin 9:2, etc. I have discussed the Old Testament restoration-passages which involve the coming of God’s Spirit in recent notes.

The coming of the Spirit informs both of the aspects illustrated by the (chiastic) outlines above—the unity of believers and the early Christian mission. As indicated by Jesus’ words in 1:7-8, it is the presence and work of the Spirit, inspiring and guiding the proclamation of the Gospel, which represents the establishment of the Kingdom for God’s people in the New Age. This is the central theme of the book of Acts, woven throughout the narratives. It may also be demonstrated from the standpoint of the structure of the Pentecost narrative itself:

    1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), verse 1.
    2. Manifestation of the Spirit, verses 2-4.
    3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the crowds), verses 5-13.

Let us briefly consider each of these parts.

1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), Acts 2:1

It is helpful to break out the specific words of this short verse:

    • kai\ (“and”)
    • e)n tw=| sumplhrou=sqai (“in the being filled up” [su/n as intensive prefix, i.e. “filled completely”]—but here as a temporal clause = “when it was completely filled”)
    • th\n h(me/ran th=$ pentekosth=$ (“the Fiftieth day”)
    • h@san (“they [i.e. the Disciples] were”)
    • pa/nte$ (“all”—all of them, together)
    • o(mou= (“as one” or “at one”, i.e., together, the same; see the similar o(moqumado\n [“of one impulse”] in 1:14)
    • e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (“upon the [same] thing”—this phrase occurs repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts, though somewhat obscured by conventional translations; it is indicative of the unity of the believers)

Here is the verse in literal translation:

“And in the Fiftieth day’s being filled completely, they were all at one upon the (same) thing [or, place]”

And in a more conventional translation:

“And when the Fiftieth day had been fufilled, they were all together in the same place.”
[As C. C. Torrey and other scholars have noted, the Greek may reflect an Aramaic expression “when the Weeks had been fulfilled” (e.g., aY`u^Wbv* <l^v=m!b=W), which is more intelligible]

The “Fiftieth” day (usually transliterated as “Pentecost”), is the festival of Weeks (toub%v*) in Israelite and Jewish tradition (cf. Lev. 23:9-22; Deut. 16:9-12). Fifty days (seven weeks) are counted from the offering of the firstfruit sheaf of grain at the time of Passover. Traditionally, it was also the time associated with the Sinai theophany and giving of the Law (Ex. 19:1ff). In the Exodus narrative, the entire camp of Israel was gathered together beneath the mountain “to meet God” (Ex. 19:17). Here, the disciples, too are gathered together in the same place and will “meet God”. Elements of the Sinai theophany also have their parallel in the manifestation of the Spirit, as we shall see.

2. Manifestation of the Spirit, Acts 2:2-4

Here the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) is recorded in dramatic fashion, in the language and imagery of Theophany. Since the manifestation of God at Sinai (occurring at Pentecost, by tradition) was mentioned above, it is worth looking at elements of that theophany:

    • Thunders (lit. “voices”) and lightnings (19:16)
    • A thick cloud
    • Fire went down upon the mountain; smoke (as of a furnace) went up from it (19:18), perhaps parallel to the cloud in v. 16.
    • The mountain “trembled” (or “quaked”); in v. 16 it is said the people trembled (same verb, drj)
    • The sound (lit. “voice”) of a horn (rp*ov, shofar) (19:19, also mentioned in v. 16), which sounded long and grew louder

Consider also the theophany to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12):

    • A great and strong wind (or “breath”, “spirit” j^Wr = pneu=ma) which swept through and tore at the mountain
    • An earthquake (“quaking”, “shaking” vu^r^)
    • Fire (va@)

all of which occur as God (hwhy) is “passing over” (or “passing by” rb@u)), but God Himself is not in (b) the wind, quaking or fire. Then comes a quiet, thin voice.

Here is the manifestation of the Spirit as recorded in Acts (note the theophanic details in italics, with specific parallels in bold):

    1. “And suddenly there came to be out of the heaven a sound as of a violent wind [pnoh/] being carried (along) and it filled the whole house (in) which they were sitting” (2:2)
    2. “And there was seen [i.e. appeared] unto them tongues as if of fire divided through(out), and it sat upon each one of them” (2:3)
    3. “And they all were filled of/by (the) holy Spirit [pneu=ma] and began to speak in other tongues even as the Spirit gave (to) them to utter forth” (2:4)

Clearly, there is wordplay with “tongues (as if) of fire” [glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$] anticipating “with other tongues” [e(te/rai$ glw/ssai$] in v. 4. There is at least one other occurrence of the phrase “tongues of fire” from roughly the same period in a Qumran text (represented by fragments of 1Q29 and 4Q376: these with 4Q375 and 1Q22 may all be part of the same work). 1Q29 fragment 1 can be restored on the basis of 4Q376 (ellipses indicate gaps [lacunae] in the text):

“…the stone, like… they will provide you with light and he will go out with it with tongues of fire [va twnwvlb]; the stone which is at its left side will shine to the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after it [the cloud?] has been removed… and you shall keep and do all that he tells you. And the prophet … … who speaks apostasy … … YHWH, God of …”

Another tiny fragment reads: “… the right stone when the priest leaves … … three tongues of fire … … And after he shall go up and remove his shoes ….” (translations taken from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans 1997/2000, vol. 1 pp. 108-9). The words (possibly spoken by Moses) refer to an anointed Priest; the stones on the right and left (urim and thummim?) are associated both with light and the voice of the Priest as he addresses the assembly. It is possible the “three tongues” are also “divided out”, one over each stone, and one directly over the Priest in the middle.

There is some uncertainty whether the “other tongues” refer to an ecstatic ‘heavenly’ language or ‘earthly’ foreign languages. Other New Testament references (Acts 10:46; 19:6, and those in 1 Cor. 12-14) suggest the former, while the context here (cf. Acts 2:11) indicates the latter. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional, in order to reflect both: (a) heavenly origin, and (b) the languages of the nations. Returning to the Sinai theophany, there is an old Jewish tradition that as the Torah (each word of God) went forth it was split into the seventy languages of the nations (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 88b); that is, each nation could hear the voice of God (the “thunderings”) in its own language (cf. Exodus Rabbah V.9). A tradition along these lines seems to be at least as old as Philo of Alexandria (On the Decalogue §46), and so nearly contemporary with the book of Acts.

3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the Crowd), Acts 2:5-13

The following outline indicates the main elements of this section:

    • Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)
    • Response of the crowd (vv. 6b-11) in two aspects:
      1) Each person hears in his/her own language
      2) Nations respond in a (symbolic) united voice
    • Confusion (v. 12, see also in vv. 6-7)—”What does this wish to be?”

The mocking retort in v. 13 serves as a lead-in to Peter’s address in vv. 14-40. Let us look at each element in a little more detail:

Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)

The mention of “Jews” ( )Ioudai=oi) being in Jerusalem may seem unnecessary, but it is significant for at least two reasons: (1) to emphasize the underlying religious and cultural unity of the ‘nations’ present in the city, and (2) it draws attention to the (post-exilic) reality of the current situation. When Israel, and particularly the southern kingdom of Judah (centered at Jerusalem), was taken into exile, the people were dispersed among the nations; and it was in the “dispersion” (diaspora) that a distinctly Jewish identity developed. It is generally assumed that these Jews are sojourning in Jerusalem for the festival of Weeks (Pentecost); the verb katoike/w often implies a more permanent residence, but here may simply mean generally “to dwell”. These Jews are “from every nation under heaven”, and have come together in the city (for the festival). At the coming-to-be of “this voice” (th/ fwnh/), again Jews, symbolized as a specific crowd (plh=qo$), “come together” (sune/rxomai) in confusion (being “stirred together” [sugxe/w]). It is interesting that, just in the tradition regarding the Sinai theophany, the multitudes are hearing different languages but one voice.

Response of the Crowd (v. 6b-11)

6b and 7a reprise the confusion—they “stood out of (their minds)” and “wondered” in amazement as they heard the disciples speaking. It is unnecessary to ask just how, when, or where these people heard the disciples—and altogether beside the point. The author has crafted a marvelous dramatic scene, with events (at the historical level) certainly having been compressed together into a single moment. Similarly, it is rather unlikely that a single person or group of persons in the crowd would have said precisely what the crowd is recorded as saying here. Instead, various reactions and responses are represented by one voice. This is important thematically, and, one might say, theologically as well. Often a creative literary device conveys far more truth than a ‘sober’ record of events. Consider several of the themes inherent in the crowd’s response:

    • The reference to the disciples as “Galileans” (Galilai=oi), while serving to emphasize the wonder of the situation, also creates a subtle shift stressing ethnic (and geographic) identity. Most of the disciples, and certainly the Twelve were Galileans (“men of Galilee”, 1:11). The early Christian mission began in Galilee (cf. 1:1-2), is centered in Jerusalem (by the united community of the Disciples), and will spread from there into all nations (1:8).
    • Two key references to hearing the voices speaking “in our own language” (th=| i)di/a| dialek/tw| h(mw=n, v. 8, cf. also v. 6) and “in our tongues” (tai=$ h(mete/rai$ glw/ssai$, v. 11) bracket the list of nations in vv. 9-11a. The importance of this description should by now be apparent. It may be useful to consider the qualifying phrase accompanying each reference:
      (1) V. 8: “in our own language in which we came to be born” [e)n h! e)gennh/qhmen]
      (2) V. 11: “(hear speaking) in our tongues the great (work)s of God” [ta\ megalei=a tou= qeou=]
      The first phrase clearly indicates ethnic sense; the second echoes Old Testament language whereby news of the great and glorious deeds of God is spread into the surrounding nations (cf. Ex. 15:11ff, and many others)—geographic sense.
    • The list of nations (vv. 9-11) has been a source of some confusion, as indicated by the number of textual variants and proposed emendations. However, much of the difficulty disappears when its literary nature is recognized, rather than simply being a list rattled off by someone in the crowd. The inclusion of “Judea” has seemed strange (since Jews are speaking, and they are already in Judea!) as well as its position, leading to many suggested emendations; however, as a separate geographical list it actually makes sense—moving from East (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia) to West (Anatolian/Asian provinces, Egypt, Lybia, Cyrene and Italy) with Judea in the middle. While still a bit uneven (the final two, Cretans and Arabs, don’t fit in order as well) and not without difficulties, its significance as a list of the (known and relevant) surrounding nations is obvious.

Confusion (v. 12, cf. also vv. 6-7)

The confusion of the crowd is re-iterated, stating that they all were beside themselves (again e)ci/sthmi, lit. “stand out of [one’s mind]” v. 7) and “thoroughly at a loss” (diapore/w). Their summary response is: ti/ qe/lei tou=to ei@nai; (literally “what does this wish to be?”), often translated more conventionally as “what does this mean?”—however a more literal rendering preserves better a sense of the strange, dynamic nature of the situation in which the crowd finds itself: events almost seem to have a will of their own! The ironic, mocking retort that closes the crowd’s response (“they are filled with sweet [wine]!”), of course, serves to lead into Peter’s great Pentecost speech (vv. 14-40). The disciples are indeed “filled” (plh/qw) with the Spirit (v. 4), rather than “filled” (mesto/w, a somewhat cruder verb which can indicate “stuffed”, “intoxicated”) with ordinary wine.

In the next few daily notes, we will examine further how the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God are developed within the first half of the book of Acts.

June 10: Acts 1:15-26

Acts 1:15-26

In the previous note, we looked at Jesus’ words in Acts 1:7-8, referring to the coming of the Spirit, in light of the wider theme of the “restoration of Israel”. The author of Luke-Acts clearly portrays the coming of the Spirit and the early Christian mission to the Gentiles as the true realization of Israel’s restoration (as the people of God) at the end-time. The eschatological aspect is clear enough from vv. 6-8, with the allusions to the establishment of a Messianic Kingdom, reflecting the Messianic expectations of many Israelites and Jews at the time (including Jesus’ disciples). We can see this even more clearly by considering vv. 6-8 as part of the Ascension narrative (1:6-11), which one may break down chiastically:

    • Question regarding the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ reply, including a reiteration of the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 6-8)
      • The Ascension of Jesus (v. 9)
        —At their seeing/looking
        —      He was raised up(on)
        —      A cloud took him under
        —Away from their eyes
    • Angelic appearance and eschatological announcement about Christ’s return (vv. 10-11)

Thus there is delineated a certain period of time, however brief (or long), during which the Spirit-inspired believers will establish God’s Kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel. In this regard, the theme of the “restoration of Israel” comes more clearly into view in vv. 12-14 that follow.

    • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
      a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
      b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
    • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in one place (upper room), v. 13. If the Twelve represent Israel (see below), then here we also have an image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
    • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related, seminal motifs:
      • ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
      • pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
      • h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
      • o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. qumo/$ is often translated as “soul”, “mind” [“with one mind”], but also as “passion”, “desire”; the primal sense of the word was something like a “[violent] stirring”)
      • th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)
The Reconstitution of the Twelve

Here it is important to emphasize the key motif of the Twelve in the book of Acts. On purely objective grounds, the Twelve represent one of the earliest Christian traditions (cf. my articles in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”)—a fixed tradition and symbol, separate, it would seem, from much of the actual historical detail. This appears clearly enough from passages such as 1 Cor. 15:5 and Matthew 19:28, where “the Twelve” are mentioned, even though only eleven disciples could be involved (Judas being dead or disqualified). Also, note the variant lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-14; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:13-16 / Acts 1:13). Most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. This may seem strange to modern thinking, but the symbolism was powerful indeed to early Christians, for whom Israel and “the Church” were closely connected. It may also be worth noting the possible (even likely) symbolism in the parenthetical notice in Acts 1:15, where the number of disciples gathered together in the house is (about) 120—that is, 12 x 10. The symbolic association of these 120 disciples with a unified/restored Israel could perhaps also be inferred by the use in v. 15 of two other items which appear elsewhere at significant points in the narrative: use of the comparative particle w(sei (cf. Acts 2:3), and the expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (Acts 2:1, and elsewhere).

A particular point that is emphasized throughout the first half of the book of Acts is the role that the Twelve play in communicating the Spirit to the new believers. While the coming of the Spirit is tied to baptism (1:4-5), it is not dependent on it. Several examples are given where believers are baptized but do not immediately receive the Spirit (8:12-17; 19:2-6), as well as those who receive the Spirit even prior to baptism (10:44-48). It is specifically through the laying on of hands, by an Apostle, that the Spirit comes to fill the person. In the initial Jerusalem Community, this may have been reserved for the circle of the Twelve (8:17ff), but with the geographic expansion of the mission, by necessity, the laying on of hands was performed by others as well (such as Ananias and Paul, 9:17; 19:6). The Twelve represent the entire body of believers, a symbolism far outweighing any special sacredness attached to specific individuals.

If there were any doubt regarding the Twelve (reconstituted) functioning as a symbol for the restoration of Israel (i.e. the twelve tribes), one need only consider  the parallel thematic structure of the narrative here in the book of Acts:

    • The disciples, representing the twelve tribes of Israel—the Twelve (reconstituted, Acts 1:15-26) and the wider group of around 120 (12 x 10) disciples—are united, coming together in one place (Acts 2:1)
      • where they experience the manifestation (power and presence) of the Spirit of God (parallel to the Sinai theophany)—esp. the tongues of fire, Acts 2:2-4
    • Jews from the surrounding nations, representing the dispersed twelve tribes of Israel, also come together in one place (Acts 2:5-6), eventually speaking together with a united voice (vv. 7-11)
      • where they too experience the manifestation of the Spirit (the “voice”, v. 6), as at Sinai, with the word (of God) heard being spoken in other tongues (i.e. their own languages), Acts 2:6-7ff

At the heart of this narrative, of course, is the description of the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples as they gather together at the time of Pentecost (2:1-4ff). As a key reference to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament it hardly requires comment, though any number of critical and interpretive questions still surround the passage; for a discussion of these, cf. my earlier articles on “The Sending of the Spirit” and the 4-part series of notes on Acts 2:1-13. These verses will be discussed further in the next daily note.

 

June 9: Acts 1:6-8ff

Acts 1:6-8ff

This passage, with its reference to the coming of the Spirit, is part of the wider narrative of Acts 1-2 where the idea of the “restoration of Israel” is perhaps the most prominent theme. There are three such episodes with expound this theme:

    1. The question of the disciples regarding the Kingdom, with Jesus’ response (Acts 1:6-8)
    2. The reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (Acts 1:15-26)
    3. The Pentecost Narrative (Acts 2:1-13)

The matter has been prepared for, and foreshadowed, in the Lukan Gospel at a number of points—most notably in the way that the Gospel tradition has been adapted to give greater emphasis on the role of the Spirit (cf. the recent notes on 4:1, 14ff; 10:21-22; 11:1-13, etc). There is, of course, the direct allusion to the coming of the Spirit at the close of the Gospel (24:49), when Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they receive “power out of the height(s)” from the “e)paggeli/a of the Father”. The noun e)paggeli/a literally refers to something about which God has given a message; in such contexts it is usually understood in terms of something promised, and so translated as “promise”. Here it is clearly a reference to the coming of God’s Spirit, the same wording being used at Acts 1:4-5 and elsewhere in the the early preaching of Acts (2:33, 39; 13:32), as well as by Paul in his letters (e.g., Gal 3:14ff).

Almost certainly this “promise” relates to the eschatological and Messianic expectation, among Israelites and Jews at time, that may be summarized by the label “the restoration of Israel”. It is an idea that goes back to the Exile and post-Exilic period, to the Prophetic writings of the 6th and 5th century—the promise that the people of Israel/Judah would return to their land, and that a New Age of peace, prosperity, and righteousness would be ushered in for them. God’s Spirit would play a central role in the restoration of Israel and the establishment of this New Age; the key passages on this theme in the Prophets have been discussed extensively in prior notes. The Gospel of Luke accurately reflects these expectations, especially in the Infancy narratives, where the devout ones in Israel—i.e., Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna—are depicted in their hope and belief for the deliverance and restoration of Israel (2:25, 32, 34, 38; cf. 1:54f, 68-79).

The Anointed Ones of God, who will appear at the end-time, will usher in this restoration. In particular, it was expected of the Davidic Messiah that he would subdue/defeat the surrounding nations and establish the Kingdom of God on earth—a kingdom that was expressed socio-politically through Israel as a restored (independent and dominant) nation. Since Jesus was viewed by his disciples as the Messiah—and, indeed, the Davidic ruler figure-type—it was natural for them to expect that he would bring about this restoration for Israel. Since it was not accomplished prior to his death, with his arrival in Jerusalem (cf. the popular expectation, Mk 11:7-10 par; Lk 19:11, etc), surely the moment would occur now, after his resurrection.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6:

ku/rie, ei) e)n tw=| xronw=| tou/tw| a)pokaqista/nei$ th\n basilei/an tw=|   )Israh/l;
“Lord, (if) in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of a)pokaqisth/nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (a)po/) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own e)cousi/a

e)cousi/a (from e&cestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom common in popular religious thought (cf. above, and the earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”). Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

In other words, the establishment of the Kingdom (and the restoration of Israel), will not be realized in conventional religious and socio-political terms; rather, it will occur through: (a) the presence/power of the holy Spirit, and (b) the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world. The narratives in the book of Acts faithfully expound both of these aspects. As believers are filled and guided by the Spirit, they embark on a mission into the surrounding nations, proclaiming the Gospel. Thus we have here a uniquely Christian development of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration.

Before proceeding further, it will be worth examining this development in a bit more detail. It can scarcely be regarded as a Lukan invention, since it is rooted in the authentic Gospel and early Christian historical tradition. However, the author of Luke-Acts does give to the theme a profound creative and literary expression in the early chapters of the book of Acts. I have discussed this in prior notes and articles, including a four-part series on the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2:1-13. I will not reproduce that entirely here, but will highlight the most important and relevant aspects for our current study. In the next daily note, I will address the idea of Israel’s restoration symbolized by the reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (Acts 1:15-26).

May 20: Isaiah 63:10-14

Isaiah 63:10-14

As we come to the end of these studies on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, it is time to consider the specific expression “holy spirit”. For those who have not looked into the matter, it may be surprising to learn that this expression scarcely occurs in the Old Testament at all. Of course, the idea of God’s holiness is common enough, and the association of the spirit of God with water-imagery and cleansing (i.e., making things pure/holy) is attested in a number of passages, as we have seen. However, the actual expression “holy spirit” (lit. “spirit of holiness”, vd#q) j^Wr) is quite rare. I discussed its use in Psalm 51 (v. 11) in an earlier note; the only other occurrence is in Isaiah 63:10ff, which we will examine today.

Isaiah 63 is part of a complex set of oracles and poems, located within the broader context of chapters 56-66 (so-called “third Isaiah”, trito-Isaiah). The Deutero-Isaian themes associated with the restoration of Israel and return from exile, have been developed within a more pronounced apocalyptic and eschatological framework, much as we see in Zechariah 9-14. The restoration of Israel comes to be viewed as part of a wider canvas of end-time/future events, including the judgment of the nations (and also their conversion), and the inauguration of a New Age for God’s people (depicted in cosmic terms as a New Creation, cf. 65:17; 66:22). These themes are woven through the oracles, along with a continuation of older prophetic and historical traditions. We certainly see this in chapter 63, which features a summary of Israelite history (vv. 7-14) at its heart, similar in certain respects to what we saw in the prayer of Neh 9:6-37. The traditional juxtaposition of rebellion (i.e. breaking the covenant-bond) and restoration is expressed, in verses 10-14, in terms of the presence and work of God’s spirit (j^Wr):

“But they rebelled and provoked (the) spirit of His holiness [ovd=q* j^Wr], and (so) He turned (himself) to become an enemy to them (and) He made battle with them.” (v. 10)

The “rebellion” of the people, their violation of the covenant, is understood primarily in terms of religious unfaithfulness—that is, the syncretistic adoption/acceptance of Canaanite (polytheistic) beliefs and practices, rather than worship of YHWH alone. At the same time, this unfaithfulness was also realized in ethical and moral terms, marked by the (widespread) occurrence of wickedness and injustice within society. All of this was incompatible with the holiness of God, and necessitated a withdrawal of His protecting presence, and the bringing of punishment (in the form of military conquest) upon the people. Likewise in Psalm 51, it is sin that threatens the removal of God’s presence (His spirit) from the Psalmist. The same expression occurs there in v. 11: “spirit of your holiness” (i.e. “your holy spirit”). It is scarcely to be understood as a name or title; rather, the emphasis is on the holiness of God—as a quality, characteristic or (divine) attribute. If one were to view it as an abstract or absolute expression, then “holy spirit” would be seen as a shorthand for “spirit of the holy God”, or something similar (cp. Daniel 4:8-9, 18, etc).

The rebellion (and punishment) described in verse 10 is followed by the promise of future restoration, of a return of God’s holy spirit to dwell with His people. This is viewed as a return to the time of Moses, when the people were guided into the promised land by his divinely-inspired leadership:

“And (then) He remembered (the) days of (the) distant (past), (of) Moshe (and) His people. Where is the (One) bringing them up from (the) sea with the shepherd of His flock? Where is the (One) setting (the) spirit of His holiness in(to) his inner (parts)?” (v. 11)

The hope (and longing) is for a leader like Moses, one possessing within him the very “holy spirit” of God. This theme was central to the Deutero-Isaian oracles and poems, expressed, for example, in the ‘Servant Songs’, beginning in chapter 42 (on this, cf. the earlier note). It is proper to regard this as an early form and example of Messianic expectation—hope for the coming of a spirit-inspired anointed leader, following the type-pattern of Moses, the servant of God. The presence of God’s spirit is evidenced by the miraculous events leading to Israel’s salvation (vv. 12-13a). Ultimately, the people were brought to a place of peace and rest in the promised Land (vv. 13b-14), marked especially by the presence of God’s spirit:

“Like an animal going down in(to the) valley, (so the) spirit of YHWH made him [i.e. Israel] to rest (there). Thus did you drive along your people, to make for you(rself) a name of beauty/glory.” (v. 14)

Clearly the “spirit of His holiness” is the spirit of YHWH Himself, His very presence among His people. The future hope is that this will be realized again, with the restoration of Israel in a New Age, soon to come.

May 19: Zechariah 4:6; 12:10

Zechariah 4:6; 12:10

In these notes we have been studying the references to the Spirit (j^Wr) of God in the Old Testament, from the earliest historical traditions in the Pentateuch to the Exilic and Post-exilic periods. The most recent notes have examined, in particular, the role of the Spirit in the restoration-message of the 6th century Prophets (Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Deutero-Isaiah[?]), and how this began to be realized in the Judean Community of the early (5th century) post-exilic period. The focus in Ezra-Nehemiah is very much upon the Torah as the foundation of this new (restored) Israelite/Jewish identity, and the recognition of the spirit-inspired character of the Torah (Neh 9:20ff, discussed in the previous note) confirms the close connection between the Spirit and the Torah in passages such as Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:26-27. Preserving the covenant-bond with YHWH, demonstrated specifically by faithful observance of the Torah, is part of the “new heart” and “new spirit” given to the people, referenced in these restoration-oracles.

In a different way, the message of the earlier Prophets was continued in the post-exilic Prophetic writings of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, and this can be illustrated by the references to the spirit (j^Wr) of God in these texts. The situation surrounding the book of Zechariah is the most complex, due the composite nature of the work as it has come down to us. Most critical commentators would date chapters 9-14 considerably later than chaps. 1-8 (the visions and oracles of which are indicated as occurring 520-518 B.C.); the second half of the book would be dated after 515 B.C., and perhaps well into the 5th century (before 445?).

Zechariah 4:6 (Hag 2:4-5)

The oracle-vision in chapter 4 represents one of the earliest Messianic passages in the Old Testament—that is to say, it identifies present/future persons, according to a certain set of Prophetic traditions (regarding a coming king from the line of David, etc), as Anointed figures, in a manner that begins to approach the Jewish Messianism of the first centuries B.C./A.D. This foundational line of Messianic tradition (drawn from numerous passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, etc) was applied specifically to the ruler Zerubbabel and the priest Joshua. The Davidic lineage of Zerubbabel (whose name means something like “seed of Babylon”) is far from clear, a royal genealogy being indicated only in one late source (1 Chron 3:16-19). He is referred to as a hj*P# (i.e., governor of a city or small territory) in Haggai 1:1; 2:21, but his exact status in relation to the Persian Empire is not entirely clear. Certainly, however, he was a leader (along with the priest Joshua) of the Judean/Jerusalem Community in the early post-exilic period, being among a group of men who return to Judah, with permission from the Persian government, in order to rebuild the Temple (cf. Ezra 2:2; 3:2, 8; 4:2-3; 5:2). He is specifically paired with the priest Joshua in a dual-leadership role, in Haggai 1:12, a detail well-established enough to be preserved in later Jewish tradition (cf. Sirach 49:11-12).

In Zech 4, an oracle regarding Zerubbabel (vv. 6-10) is presented within a visionary framework—the vision of a golden lampstand flanked by two olive trees. The lampstand represents the presence of YHWH, in a symbolic/spiritual sense, while the two olive trees signify two anointed figures (v. 14)—that is, the anointed ruler Zerubbabel and priest Joshua. Not surprisingly, the message of the oracle relates to the rebuilding of the Temple, providing assurance that, the work having been begun (by Zerubbabel), it will be brought to completion (vv. 8-9). This is part a wider declaration regarding the divine presence that enables (and protects) Zerubbabel’s work, stated memorably in verse 6:

“This is the word of YHWH to Seed-of-Babel {Zerubbabel}, saying: ‘Not by strength, and not by power, but by my spirit [j^Wr], says YHWH of (the heavenly) armies’!”

It is by God’s spirit that this (the rebuilding of the Temple) will be accomplished, in spite of any difficulties or opposition that may be faced. Here we have a different side to the same basic restoration-message found in Ezra-Nehemiah (cf. the previous note). There it was the spirit-inspired Torah that was being emphasized, here it is the association of the spirit of God with the Temple—both represent fundamental aspects of the Israelite/Jewish religious identity that is being renewed and restored in the post-exilic period.

Since the Temple represents the presence of God as he dwells with His people, the association with His spirit is clear and natural enough. This aspect is brought out even more fully in Haggai 2:1-9, in which a similar message of exhortation is given to Zerubbabel (along with Joshua, and all the people) from YHWH, promising divine providence and supervision over the rebuilding:

“‘You must be strong…and do (the work), for I (am) with you’ —utterance of YHWH of (the heavenly) armies— ‘(by) the word (of the agreement) that I cut with you in your going forth from Egypt, and my spirit [j^Wr] is standing with you, (so) you must not fear!'” (vv. 4-5)

As a side note, the idea of the “(heavenly) armies” reflects an ancient image, the origins of which had long been lost by the time the book of Zechariah was composed. It essentially refers to El-Yahweh’s control over the powers of the sky/heaven, to the point that they will fight (as an organized army) on His behalf, and at His command. We see vestiges of it in the theophany-image of God (YHWH) residing in a chariot (cf. the chariot throne vision of Ezekiel 1). The vision in Zech 6:1-8 likewise preserves this symbolism, together with the specific idea that these heavenly chariots transport the spirit (j^Wr) of God (v. 8).

Zechariah 12:10

The oracles in Zechariah 12-14 continue the restoration-message of the exilic Prophets, but in a more developed form, drawing upon early apocalyptic and eschatological traditions, similar to those found in the books of Joel, Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah. In other words, the restoration of Israel is presented as part of a larger set of future/end-time events which encompass the judgment of the nations, the establishment of a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, and so forth. The second half of Zechariah (chaps. 9-14) also shows signs of the development of an incipient Messianism—i.e., the expectation for the coming of a future Davidic ruler who will oversee the judgment/defeat of the nations and a New Age for Israel.

The multi-part oracle in chapters 12-13 refers to “that day” (vv. 3ff)—i.e., the “day of YHWH” from the nation-oracle tradition of the Prophets, but now expanded to become the moment when all the nations are judged together (cf. Joel 3). The nations will gather to attack Jerusalem (cp. 14:1ff; Ezek 38-39), but YHWH will bring salvation for Judah, as He Himself protects His people and will destroy their enemies (vv. 8-9). The eschatological nature, and cosmic dimensions, of this conflict are indicated by the allusions to the Creation account in verse 1. The end is a reflection of the beginning, and the New Age will entail a kind of New Creation (cf. Isa 65:17; 66:22; Rev 21:1). Even as God, by his own Spirit/Breath, gave the spirit/breath (j^Wr) of life to humankind (cf. the earlier note on Gen 2:7; Job 33:4), so in the New Age will He “pour out” His Spirit on His people (v. 10).

This is a well-established prophetic image, as we have seen in the prior studies on Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28-29, etc, and the oracle alludes to it here, by the expression “a spirit of favor” (/j@ j^Wr)—that is, of God’s favor toward His people. The water-imagery associated with pouring is made explicit: God will provide a fountain (roqm*) of water, flowing from the ground, for the people (and rulers) of Jerusalem (13:1). The primary purpose of this water is to cleanse God’s people from sin and impurity; as a result, the “spirit of uncleanness” (ha*m=F%h^ j^Wr) will be taken away from the land (v. 2). The association of the Spirit with water and cleansing is part of a longstanding tradition, and would become an important aspect of the imagery surrounding the idea of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

These references only confirm the increasing tendency, throughout the writings of the exilic and post-exilic periods, to connect religious reform with the presence and activity of God’s spirit. One final passage in this regard, from the book of Malachi, may be cited in closing. As part of an exhortation for a return to covenant faithfulness and loyalty, the prophet introduces the traditional metaphor of fidelity in marriage (2:14). The covenant is compared to a marriage-union, where two people become united in spirit; and, as the bond here is between humankind and God, the union entails a joining with the spirit of God (v. 15, cp. 1 Cor 6:17). Since a breaking of the covenant-bond involves a failure by human beings, not by God, the restoration must occur with the human spirit. Therefore the exhortation in verse 16 calls on the people to “be on guard with your spirit” (i.e. guard your spirit). The word j^Wr is used in both instances in vv. 15-16, for the spirit of God and His people alike.

May 18: Nehemiah 9:20, 30

Nehemiah 9:20, 30

In the previous note, we examined the emphasis on the spirit (j^Wr) of God in passages of the exilic Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, dealing with the future restoration of Israel/Judah. This restoration was defined in terms of a return from exile, and a re-establishment of the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. Faithfulness to the covenant would now be ensured by the action of God Himself, giving the people a “new heart” and a “new spirit” through the presence of His own Spirit (“my spirit” [yj!Wr]). As the Torah (hr*oT, the instruction of YHWH) represented the terms of the covenant, it would be of central importance to any faithful Community of God’s people in this ideal/future time of restoration. And, indeed, we can see the ideal acted out in the Judean Community of the early post-exilic period, as recorded in the books of Ezra-Nehemiah.

Ezra and Nehemiah were important leaders of the post-exilic Community in Jerusalem, each, in his own way, working toward the restoration-ideal of the Prophets. The customary chronology dates Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem to 458 B.C., with Nehemiah arriving some 13 years later (445 B.C.). As governor of Judah, Nehemiah had greater authority, and appears to have sought to carry through the religious and cultural reforms introduced by Ezra (cf. the references to Ezra in Neh 8-10).

The hr*oT (tôrâ, Instruction, or “Law”) of God features prominently in Ezra-Nehemiah, central to the re-establishment of the Israelite/Jewish religious identity (see esp. Ezra 10:3). In Ezr 3:2; 7:6 and Neh 8:1 it is specifically called the “hr*oT of Moses” (i.e. ‘Law of Moses’), and clearly refers to a written work, since Ezra is said to be a literary expert (scribe) regarding this Torah (7:6, 21, etc); cf. also Neh 10:34, 36. Moreover, in Neh 8:1 we read of a “book of the Torah” (lit. “account of the Instruction”, hr*oT rp#s@), also occurring in vv. 3, 18, and 9:3 (cf. below). This expression is relatively rare in the Old Testament, occurring not once in the Psalms, Prophets, or Wisdom literature, etc, but only in Deuteronomy, and the historical books of Joshua, Kings, Chronicles, and Nehemiah. It is difficult to know for certain was is being referred to by the expression. Many commentators feel that it refers to some version of the book of Deuteronomy itself. However the Pentateuch contains other “law codes”, in written form—most notably those in Exodus 20:23-23:19, the “Holiness code” of Lev 17-26, as well as the other collection of laws and priestly regulations in Exod 25-31, 35-40, Numbers 1-10, and throughout the remainder of Leviticus.

In Neh 8:1ff, Ezra is asked to bring out this “account of the Torah”, so that it can be read before all the people. The words in v. 3 indicate a glimmer of fulfillment to the prophecies of restoration in Jer 31:31-34, etc: “…and the ears of all the people (were) to the account of the Instruction” (i.e., they were paying attention to it). Religious life was re-established through celebration of the festival of Sukkot (Booths/Tabernacles), and Ezra read from the Torah every day during the festival (vv. 13-18). Again, this written account of the Torah was read publicly, for several hours, on a day later in the same month, during a time of fasting and repentance (9:1-3ff). In this context, a great prayer is recorded (vv. 6-37), and through which is woven a history of Israel, from the call of Abraham to the present. The emphasis is on the repeated sins and failure of the people to live up to their covenant-bond with YHWH. As we have seen, this was very much part of the Prophetic message, related to the Exile and also the future restoration of Israel.

In this penitential survey of history, the Torah is alluded to in verse 20, in terms of the presence and activity of God’s spirit (j^Wr):

“And you gave your good spirit [j^Wr] to give them understanding [i.e. to instruct them]”

This arguably is the earliest reference to what we might call the inspiration of Scripture—that is, the spirit-inspired character of the written account of the Torah. To be sure, from the standpoint of the historical survey, it more properly refers to the inspiration of Moses as ayb!n`, or spokesperson of YHWH for the people. Just as God gave the people food to eat from heaven (the manna), so He gave them the Instruction (Torah) through Moses as a divinely-inspired intermediary (cf. the prior note on Numbers 11:10-30). Now, centuries after Moses, it is the written record of this Torah that serves to give guidance for the people.

Equally important, however, is the people’s response to that Instruction, during their history, after the settlement in their land. It is characterized ultimately as one of failure and disobedience (vv. 26-28). In verses 29-30, we can see how the role of the Prophets (<ya!yb!n+) is understood primarily in terms of exhorting Israel to restore them to faithfulness to the Torah. Just as Moses was a spirit-inspired spokesperson (ayb!n`), so too were the other chosen Prophets throughout Israel’s history:

“and you drew (out) upon them [i.e. remained patient with them] many years, and repeatedly gave (witness) among them by your spirit [j^Wr], by the hand of your <ya!yb!n+ [i.e. Prophets], and they [i.e. the people] would not give ear [i.e. listen] (to it)” (v. 30)

There are thus here allusions to the spirit-inspired character of both the Torah and the Prophets—representing the beginnings of the traditional pairing of “the Law and the Prophets”, as authoritative Scripture. The centrality of the Torah, however, is clear; the Prophets main role is to bring people back to the Torah when they have turned away from it (v. 29). It is an emphasis that is distinctly Jewish, and remains absolutely fundamental to the Jewish religious (and cultural) identity to the present day. Christians, of course, have always maintained the unique divine inspiration of the Torah as well, according to varying definitions. However, the place of the Torah in Christianity is not at all the same as it is in Judaism, and, sadly, many Christians have a poor understanding of the New Testament teaching (by Jesus, Paul, and others) in this regard. I discuss the matter at great length in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the book of Zechariah, for a different post-exilic treatment of the restoration-theme of God’s spirit at work among His people.

 

May 17: Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14

Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14

Along with the book of Isaiah, it is the book of Ezekiel that contains the most extensive references to the spirit (j^Wr) of God. The key Isaian passages were discussed in the previous notes; today we turn to the references in Ezekiel, and we may divide the context where these occur into three categories:

    • The opening Theophany-vision of chapter 1—the manifestation of God on his chariot-throne. In verses 12 and 20 it is said that “the spirit” (j^Wrh*) moved and guided the wheels of this heavenly ‘chariot’; yet there is some ambiguity as to whether this refers to the spirit of God, or to the spirit of the “living beings” at work within the wheels (vv. 20-21). The use of the definite article, without any other qualification, suggests that it is a reference to the spirit of God.
    • References to the prophetic inspiration of Ezekiel himself—expressed in various ways:
      • the spirit coming on/in(to) him, using the preposition B=, beginning with the introductory scene (2:1-2), and repeated in 3:24
      • the spirit coming/falling “upon” (lu^) him—used in 11:5, this is the more traditional idiom for prophetic inspiration
      • the spirit lifting/carrying the prophet—as by a great wind (the more fundamental meaning of the word j^Wr); this is a development of the ancient idea of the divine spirit “rushing” (like a powerful wind) to a person, with inspired sayings/oracles uttered while the prophet is overtaken by the spirit. Used repeatedly (3:12, 14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 37:1; 43:5), this idiom serves as a colorful way of describing the spirit-inspired character of visionary experience—the prophet feels like he is being transported to a new locale, part of a visionary landscape. The book of Revelation was almost certainly influenced by this wording in Ezekiel (cf. 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10)
    • Oracles/visions referring to Israel/Judah’s future restoration (return from Exile)

It is the last category that I will be discussing today, focusing on two main passages—36:26-27 and 37:14—each of which are from the great restoration oracles/visions in the latter part of the book. It must be remembered that Ezekiel’s prophecies were written/recorded in the midst of the Exile in Babylon, and the prophetic theme of Israel’s restoration is defined almost entirely in terms of a return from exile. This was also true of the Deutero-Isaian passages we have examined (cf. the prior note on 44:3 etc), while the oracles in Joel 2-3 (cf. the previous note) probably also derive from a 6th century context which, at the very least, anticipates the Babylonian conquest and exile.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

The oracle in 36:16-28 is one of several great restoration oracles (and visions) in the book; that is, as noted above, it prophesies the coming/future return of Judeans to their homeland. It follows the traditional prophetic (and Deuteronomic) pattern of attributing the conquest/exile to religious and moral failure by the people. This tradition itself is firmly rooted in the ancient Near Eastern idea of the binding agreement (covenant, cf. below), especially those patterned after the suzerain-vassal treaty format. When a vassal violates the terms of the agreement, the suzerain is no longer obligated to provide protection, leaving the vassal prey to military attack. Moreover, the binding agreement was understood as having been signed/ratified in the presence of God (or the gods)—and included built-in curse forumlas—so that divine judgment/punishment would result from any violation.

Typical of the prophetic message was a declaration that genuine, widespread repentance among the people (that is, a return to faithfulness and loyalty to YHWH) was necessary to avoid the judgment that would (otherwise) come through military conquest/exile, and was also a prerequisite for any future restoration once judgment had occurred. What is interesting in this oracle of Ezekiel, is the suggestion that true repentance/faithfulness may not even be possible for the people, in their current condition. After all, not only had they been unfaithful to God during their history in their own land (vv. 17-19), but their unfaithfulness continued even after they had been exiled into other lands (vv. 20-21ff). This is especially problematic, since YHWH’s own reputation (as God of Israel/Judah) now suffers and is disgraced among the nations. It is YHWH’s concern for His own “name” that prompts Him to act, not any sign of repentance or faithfulness among the people (vv. 22ff).

This is a striking shift in the prophetic message. God acts unilaterally to restore Israel, and their return to the land is no longer tied to any repentance on their part! However, this new model for Israel’s restoration does still require conversion of the people (back to faifthfulness); while this was impossible before, it will now be realized through a total transformation of their character and nature, performed miraculously by divine fiat. The primary idiom used to express this is that YHWH will give them “a new heart” (vd*j* bl@); interestingly, this only will occur after God has brought Israel/Judah back to the land (vv. 24-25). The transformation is described in verses 26-27:

“And I will give to you a new heart,
and a new spirit [hv*d*j& j^Wr] I will give [i.e. put] in your inner (parts);
and I will turn (aside) the heart of stone from your flesh,
and I will give to you a heart of flesh.
I will give [i.e. put] my spirit [yj!Wr] in your inner (parts),
and I will make you (so) that walk by my engraved (decrees)!”

The final line could not be more clear: God will make His people follow his decrees and precepts (i.e., written in the Torah). This motif of the “new heart” draws upon older prophetic tradition, especially key passages in the book of Deuteronomy which emphasize the need for Israel to be circumcised in their heart—that is, to be truly faithful to God in their heart, rather than in rote obedience to the requirements of the Torah (cf. 4:29; 5:29; 6:5; 8:2ff; 10:15-16; 11:16ff; 30:2, 6ff etc). The same idiom occurs frequently in the Deuteronomic books of Samuel-Kings, and, more generally, throughout the Psalms and Wisdom literature as well. It was in the message of the prophet Jeremiah, however, that this theme took on greater prominence (5:14; 9:26; 11:8 etc), in the context of the Babylonian conquest and exile. He introduces this idea of God giving a new “heart” to His people, and connects it with their future restoration (24:7; 32:37-41, and see further below). In all likelihood, Ezekiel was influenced by this use in Jeremiah

What is most important, from the standpoint of these studies, is how Ezekiel here makes a close connection between this “new heart” and a “new spirit” that God will also give—a spirit (j^Wr) that is a manifestation of God’s own. This identification is clear from the parallel in vv. 26-27:

and a new spirit I will give [i.e. put] in your inner (parts);
……..
I will give [i.e. put] my spirit in your inner (parts)

The same heart-spirit pairing is also found in two other passages (11:19 and 18:31). This is a development of the simpler idea of God “pouring out” His spirit on the land and its people (cf. the prior notes on Isa 44:3 and Joel 2:28-29); Ezekiel makes use of this idiom as well (39:29), but the idea of God putting His spirit into the innermost part (br#q#) of the people, suggests a more complete transformation of their entire nature and character. Indeed, that seems to be what the prophet is describing.

Ezekiel 37:14

The same theme of restoration is described in terms of resurrection in the famous vision of chapter 37. More properly, the image evokes that of a re-creation, a return to the original scene of creation, when God first breathed/blew life into humankind (Gen 2:7; Job 33:4, cf. the earlier note). This certainly is suggested by the wording here in verse 5:

“So says my Lord YHWH to these bones:
See! I am bringing in(to) you breath [j^Wr], and you will live!”

This does not simply refer to ordinary life-breath, however, as the climactic words of the vision make clear:

“And I will give [i.e. put] my spirit [yj!Wr] in(to) you, and you will live, and you will know that I have spoken, and have made (it so)…” (v. 14)

It is essentially the same message as in 36:26-27 (above)—once Israel has been restored to life and returns to the land, the people will be filled with God’s own Spirit, and will (finally) be able to remain entirely faithful to Him. The wordplay involving the meaning of j^Wr (“breath/spirit”), sadly lost in most translations, is vital to an understanding of the vision in chap. 37.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Mention should also be made here of the famous “new covenant” passage in Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is very much part of the same “new heart / new spirit” theme discussed above. However, it defines this more precisely in terms of observing the Torah (hr*oT, instruction) of YHWH (v. 33). From the standpoint of Israelite/Jewish tradition, the Torah records and preserves the terms of the binding agreement (tyr!B=, ‘covenant’) between YHWH and Israel. It was Israel’s inability to live up to the terms of the agreement that led to their Exile, but now, as part of the future restoration (with their return from Exile), God is going to ensure that His people will be able to fulfill the terms of the agreement (the Torah) faithfully. This effectively will be a new agreement, and a new heart is required to fulfill it:

“I will give [i.e. put] my Instruction [hr*oT] in(to) their inner (parts), and I will inscribe it upon their heart, and I will be (the) Mightiest (One) [i.e. God] for them, and they will be (the) people for me” (v. 33)

The wording is quite similar to that of Ezek 36:26-27, only instead of God putting his Spirit into the innermost part of the people, he puts his Instruction (Torah) there. Being written on their heart, it will be fulfilled automatically, requiring no written precepts (or enforcement) to bring this about. This can only happen through the Spirit of God, and that association, introduced here in the later Prophets, would eventually develop into the idea that the Torah would be fulfilled (entirely) through the presence and work of the Spirit. It was the apostle Paul who first presented and expounded this teaching; sadly, even many Christians today still do not recognize the truth of it.

The association between the Torah and the Spirit will be discussed further in the next daily note.

Saturday Series: Isaiah 8:23-9:6; 11:1-10 (continued)

Having approached the oracles in Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [9:1-7] and 11:1-10 from a general historical-critical standpoint (see last week’s study), we will here look at them from a literary-critical point of view. Working from the structure and form of the oracles, we will undertake a short exegetical survey, drawing out information, inductively, for each section and verse.

Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [9:1-7]

In terms of the form and structure of this passage, it is best understood as consisting of a prosodic introduction (v. 23 [9:1]), followed by a poem (9:1-6 [2-7]), though it is also possible to treat 8:23b-9:6 as a single poetic oracle (applying 8:23a to the previous section). The poem proper may be divided into 6 stanzas corresponding to each numbered verse (vv. 1-6 [2-7 in English translations]):

    • V. 1: Light shines for those in darkness
    • V. 2: Joy will be increased, with two-fold motif: (a) harvest, (b) army dividing spoils
    • V. 3: Three connected symbols of oppression—yoke, cross-bar, and rod/whip—will be smashed
    • V. 4: The signs and remains of warfare and conquest (shoes, blood-caked garments) will be burned
    • V. 5: Announcement of the birth of a child (son), along with symbol(s) of government and (royal) titles
    • V. 6: A promise to establish/maintain the greatness and (eternal) rule of the Davidic kingdom

It is a poetic oracle, the concluding piece of 6:1-9:6[7], a document consisting of unquestionably authentic Isaian material—oracles and historical-biographical traditions—from the period c. 740-701 B.C. (focusing especially on the Assyrian crisis of 735-732).

Isa 8:23 [9:1]

The context of the oracle is established in 8:23 [9:1], though it can be difficult to determine this with precision. Here a careful study of the text is important, but even then, scholars and commentators may be divided on the correct interpretation. Compare the translations in two leading critical commentaries (by J. J. M Roberts [Hermeneia, 2015, p. 144] and Joseph Blenkinsopp [Anchor Bible, 2000, p. 245-6]):

Roberts/Hermeneia

…Surely it will be without daybreak to the one distressed by it.

As at the former time he treated with contempt
<The Sharon and the land of Gilead,>
The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali,
So at the latter time he has honored the way of the sea,
Trans-jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who were walking in darkness
Have seen a great light…

Blenkinsopp/AB:

There is no gloom for her who is oppressed. At that time the earlier ruler treated with contempt the territory of Zebulon and Naphthali, and the later one oppressed the way of the sea, the land across the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people that walk in the dark
Have seen a great light…

These differences are based, in part, on difficulties surrounding the Hebrew. Note the following two examples:

    • Isaiah 8:23am¹±û¸ can be derived from ±ô¸ (“fly, flutter”) or ±ô¸ (“be dark”); the former would indicate a negative situation (“there will be no flying/fluttering” [that is, release/escape, or perhaps poetically as “daybreak”]), the latter a positive one (“there will be no darkness”). The referent for the feminine suffix –l¹h is unclear: it could refer to any of the feminine nouns in verse 22 (°ereƒ [“land”], µ¦š¢kâ [“darkness”], or parallel ƒ¹râ/ƒôqâ [“distress, oppression”]), or it could look forward to the “land” of 8:23b/9:1. The preposition could have the sense of “for her” or “from/by her”.
    • Isaiah 8:23b—Does h¹ri°šôn (“the head” [i.e. the first, former]) modify the prior common/feminine noun ±¢¾ (i.e. “as at the first/former time, [when] he…”), or does refer to an implied (masculine) subject (i.e. “as at the time [when] the first/former one…”); this affects the parallelism with h¹°aµ¦rôn (“the following” [i.e. the later]): is it a former/later time or former/later person? The verbs qll and kbd (in the Hiphil) mean “make light” and “make heavy” respectively; the former can either have the sense of “treat with contempt/dishonor” or “lighten, make easier”, the latter “treat with honor” or “make heavier [i.e. more difficult]”. Then, is the parallelism synonymous or antithetical? In the historical context, how do these verbs relate to the territories of Zebulon, Naphtali, the Transjordan and Galilee?

Keeping in mind the overall context of Isa 6:1-9:6, which is set rather securely in the period c. 740-732 B.C., if this context still applies to 8:23, the regions mentioned (Zebulon, Naphtali, Transjordan [Gilead], Galilee and the northern coastal plain [“way of the sea”]) represent areas which suffered under Assyrian attack 734-732 B.C., and were effectively annexed to become Assyrian provinces. The message of 9:1-6 is directed, in part, to the Northern kingdom (“the people who walk in darkness”)—there is no indication that Samaria has fallen completely yet. Of course, Assyria still threatened the Southern kingdom of Judah, and would launch a devastating attack some years later (this will become the central event of the remainder of the first half of the book [up to ch. 39]).

Isa 9:1-2 [2-3]

In the first two stanzas of the poem, God promises to deliver Israel/Judah from her enemies, bringing a renewed period of peace and prosperity. This is expressed in the prophetic perfect: “he has increased joy”, “he has smashed”, etc. The contrast of darkness and light in verse 1 brings out symbolically this distinction between the suffering experienced by the Northern kingdom, and the imminent promise of future hope. This darkness and shadow specifically alludes to the threat of death, and evokes language associated with the realm of Death and the grave (see Job 10:21-22, etc). Light (as of the sun) is a corresponding image representing (new) life and salvation. It is naturally associated with God (as a divine attribute/characteristic), but applies just as well to the king/ruler who functions under God’s authority.

The imagery in verse 2 shifts to that of the harvest. The contrast (implied) is between the pain/toil involved in planting and the joy (´imµâ) that comes with the time of reaping. This is further compared, in the last line, with the rejoicing that comes after victory in battle. A small text-critical note: by reading haggîlâ (instead of haggôy lœ°) in the first line, the wordplay and parallelism of the stanza is properly preserved:

“You have multiplied the circling (with joy),
you have made great the (feeling of) gladness—
they are glad before your face,
like the gladness at the (time of) reaping,
like those who circle (for joy) in (the) dividing of plunder.”

Isa 9:3-4 [4-5]

The allusion to battle in the final line of v. 2 becomes the main theme of the next two stanzas. The promise of hope and salvation is defined precisely in terms of the defeat of Israel’s enemies. The image in verse 3 is that of an oppressive foreign power being overthrown, leading to freedom and independence for the people. Given the apparent historical context of the oracle (see above), it suggests the possibility that the Northern territories, turned into Assyrian provinces, would regain their independence. The “day of Midian” doubtless refers to the Gideon traditions in Judges 6-8, when the Northern tribes were similarly delivered from the control of a foreign power. Verse 4 gives a vivid and graphic depiction of a military defeat.

Isa 9:5-6 [6-7]

These verses, so familiar to many Christians, are almost always read completely out of their original historical context. Again, the historical setting of Isa 6:1-9:6 would seem to be the years leading up to 732 B.C. (and prior to 722). In this light, the standard Messianic interpretation of the child in vv. 5-6 [EV 6-7] is out of the question (in terms of the primary meaning of the passage). Can we then identify the child with a particular historical figure? The grandeur of the titles in v. 5, and reference to the “throne of David” in v. 6, would require, at the very least, a king of Judah (that is, from the Davidic line). The only person from Isaiah’s own time (c. 735-700) who seems to fit is Hezekiah, son of Ahaz. The birth and/or accession of a new king could be a time of great hope and promise, but also of tremendous danger, as princes and vassals may see the moment as an opportune time for revolt (cf. Psalm 2). Following the reign of his father, Ahaz (who “did not do what was right in the eyes of YHWH”), Hezekiah is a positive figure, even under the withering judgment of the book of Kings (2 Kings 8:3ff: he finally removed the “high places”, which his ancestors failed to do). He will also become a central figure in the book of Isaiah, and focal point of the key historical moment: the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem under Sennacherib in 701 B.C.

It is also possible that Hezekiah is to be associated with the title ±Immanû-°¢l (“God-with-us”) in the prophecies of 7:10-17 and 8:5-10. Certainly the name is suggestive of the words describing Hezekiah’s reign, in 2 Kings 8:7 (“and YHWH was with him…”). For a consideration of arguments against identifying Hezekiah with the child of 9:5-6, see my earlier article on the subject. In that article, you will also find a discussion of the divine titles occurring in vv. 5-6. There are four such titles: the first two have nouns in juxtaposition, the second two are effectively construct forms. They are included under the formula: “and he/they will call [or has called] his name…”.

It has been said that the weighty titles listed in Isa 9:5 are too lofty to be applied to a human king. However, similarly lofty, theologically significant names and titles were regularly applied to rulers in the ancient Near East. The most extensive evidence comes from Egypt, and the names applied to the Pharaoh during enthronement rituals (some of which are roughly parallel to those in Isa 9:5). No similar ritual is recorded as such for kings of Israel/Judah in the Old Testament, but there are a few hints in the Psalms and elsewhere; Psalm 2 is perhaps the most striking example, a setting similar to that in the Egyptian ritual, where the Deity addresses the new ruler as His “son” (Ps 2:7).

Isaiah 11:1-10

As in 8:23-9:6, a period of salvation and peace is tied to the rise of a new king from the line of David. If 11:1-10 represents an authentic Isaiah oracle (i.e. from the mid-late 8th century B.C.), then it may well refer to the same king (Hezekiah?) announced in the earlier passage. Many commentators, however, would assign the composition of chapter 11 to a later period. In the previous study, I discussed the critical theory that the document 6:1-9:6, having been included with the wider (Isaian) context of chapters 5-10, was subsequently placed in the later literary context of chapters 2-4, 11-12. Certain thematic and stylistic considerations suggest an exilic (6th century) or even post-exilic setting, though this is hardly decisive, and there are even some critical commentators (e.g., J. J. M. Roberts, cf. above) who would accept Isaian authorship, on the whole, for the oracles in chaps. 2-4, 11-12.

Isa 11:1-10 has a very precise (literary) structure, consisting of two main parts (or strophes), bracketed by references to the new Davidic king (using the idiom “root/trunk of Jesse”).

Verse 1

“And there will go forth a branch from (the) trunk of Yishay,
and a green (shoot) will bear (forth) from his roots”

The oracle opens with a simple parallel couplet, establishing the theme: the rise of a new king (over Judah) from the line of David. The similarity of language with Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15ff, suggests that a 6th-century/exilic setting is in view. On the other hand, a Davidic emphasis is present in the 8th century Isaian material (7:2, 13, and elsewhere in chaps. 2-39 [16:5; 22:22, etc]), and the Jeremiah references may have been inspired by earlier Isaian usage. An authentic Isaian oracle (from the 8th century) would only make more likely that Hezekiah is the expected king; or, in any case, that it is one who would come after (or in place of) the disappointing Ahaz.

Verses 2-5

The bulk of the poem (vv. 2-9) describes the reign of this new king as a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity for Israel (presumably a unified Kingdom), conveyed in ideal (and idyllic) terms. The first portion focuses on the theme of the justice that would be established throughout society during his reign. The wisdom and discernment with which he governs follows the ancient principle of Spirit-inspired leadership (v. 2, cf. my recent note on this point). It is marked by fairness and impartiality, reflecting the very character of God as Judge (v. 3). Of special importance is the way that he works on behalf of the poor and weak, protecting them from oppression and violence (v. 4). Righteousness and faithfulness (to YHWH) are the overarching attributes that explain and characterize the justice of his rule (v. 5).

Verses 6-9

The ‘golden age’ of the new king’s reign is described, in the second half of the poem (vv. 6-9), in more mythological terms, drawing upon the idea of a state of peace and harmony that may once have existed (and will once again) in the natural world. These are certainly among the most beautiful and memorable lines in the entire book. The emphasis of peace and security from wild animals, while drawing upon earlier lines of tradition (Hos 2:18 [20]), may be another indicator of a 6th-century/exilic date for the poem (compare Ezek 34:25-26).

The main point of this imagery is that it will be an ideal time of peace for God’s people. This was also the theme in 2:2-5 (discussed in an earlier study), one of several literary parallels between chaps. 2-4 and 11-12. Roberts, in his commentary (pp. 180-1, cf. above), cites examples from Egypt and Assyria, where the accession of a new king is announced as a time of peace and security; however, in some ways, a closer parallel is to found in Virgil’s famous Fourth Eclogue, however far removed it may be from the ancient Near Eastern milieu.

Verse 10

The closing lines reprise the motif of the rise of a new Davidic king (from v. 1), forming an inclusio for the poem:

“And there will be in that day a root of Yishay {Jesse},
which, standing, (will be) for a n¢s of (the) people;
to him (the) nations will go in search,
and his resting(-place) will be worth(y).”

An important aspect of this king’s rule will be the way that the surrounding nations come to him. In its earlier form, this idea simply reflected the sovereign-vassal relationship that existed between the kingdom of Israel and a number of nations in the region, during the reigns of David and Solomon. This Israelite ’empire’ was brief, and collapsed shortly after Solomon’s reign, but would remain an ideal, in terms of Israel’s restoration, for centuries to come. However, during the later Prophets of the exile and post-exilic periods, this motif of the ‘gathering of the nations’ came to be expressed in a new way, as part of a developing eschatological (and Messianic) understanding of Israel’s future restoration.

This same eschatological aspect was seen in 2:2-5 (cf. the earlier study), centered around the Jerusalem Temple, and the outreach to the surrounding (Gentile) nations. As I have noted, the theme is 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 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. From the standpoint of the composition of chaps. 2-12, this would mean that the (earlier) Isaian message promising deliverance (for Jerusalem and a faithful remnant) from the Assyrian invasion could well have been applied to the setting of the Babylonian exile and the promise of a future restoration/return.

The new king will stand among his people, functioning as a n¢s for them. I left this word untranslated above; it essentially refers to something that is displayed prominently, serving as a rallying point for a group of people (such as a flag or banner). It also becomes a point around which other nations will gather as well, coming to the king (and his court) in search of truth and justice, etc. The religious emphasis of 2:2-5 (i.e. the nations joining Israel in worship of YHWH) is not as definite here, but it certainly would have been implied, in light of the language used in the rest of the oracle. There is likely a bit of wordplay in the final line, which could alternately be translated something like “and honor/worth will rest (on) him”. This honor/worth (Heb. k¹»ô¼, literally “weight”), in the context of the oracle, refers to the presence of God that is around the king, and the Spirit that comes upon him, gifting him with divinely-inspired wisdom (v. 2). Thus, in coming in search of Israel’s divinely-inspired king, they nations are effecting seeking after God.

Conclusion

Both of these remarkable oracles, however and whenever they were composed, announce the coming of a king (from the line of David) who will usher in an ideal time of peace and prosperity, bringing salvation and renewal to the people. A working critical hypothesis, based on the results of these two studies, might be outlined as follows:

    • The Isaian document of 6:1-9:6[7], composed sometime after 732 B.C., concludes with the announcement of deliverance for the Northern territories that had been conquered and annexed by Assyria. This was associated, most likely, with the birth (and/or accession) of Hezekiah, who did indeed make overtures to the North for them to join with him in a political and religious revival.
    • This hope, never realized during Hezekiah’s reign, came to be applied to the later context of the Babylonian threat in the early 6th century. As Jerusalem was saved from Assyrian invasion during Hezekiah’s reign, so the southern kingdom might be delivered under another faithful king from the line of David.
    • Ultimately, this ideal, and promise of future salvation, was reinterpreted from the standpoint of the Exile—i.e., the restoration of Israel in a post-exilic period as a golden age of justice and righteousness.

Such an outline would provide a veritable snapshot of Israel’s Messianic hope, in its early stages of development (captured within the complex literary structures of the book of Isaiah). It can be no surprise that Isa 8:23-9:6 and 11:1-10 came to viewed as Messianic prophecies subsequently in Jewish tradition, and that early Christians continued this process, applying the oracles to the person of Jesus as the Messiah. That such a Messianic interpretation is a secondary development, quite apart from the original context of the prophecy, should be clear enough. However, this does not in any way diminish or devalue the Messianic (and Christian) view. The inspiration of Scripture is wide and expansive enough to encompass all of these aspects.

May 14: Joel 2:28-29 (continued)

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

(continued from the previous day’s note)

The book of Joel has been rather difficult to date, with estimates ranging from the 8th century to the post-exilic period. This is largely due to the brevity of the book, and the general lack of clear historical indicators within the oracles. The (military) invasion by a foreign power (1:6ff), compared to a locust-attack (v. 4, cf. Judg 6:5; 7:12; Prov 30:27; Nah 3:15-16; Jer 46:23), would naturally focus the context on the campaigns and conquests of either the Assyrian or Babylonian forces. In the case of an invasion threatening Judah/Jerusalem, this would mean a time-frame corresponding to either 701 or 598/588 B.C., respectively. The apocalyptic and eschatological elements in the oracles of chapters 2 and 3 make a 6th century setting much more likely.

The work is comprised of four distinct oracles—1:2-20, 2:1-17, 2:18-32[3:5], and 3:1-21 [4:1-21]. The first two oracles focus on the coming invasion, with a call to repentance, and mourning in light of the destruction that this judgment will bring (as devastating to the people as a massive locust-attack on the crops). In the last two oracles, the focus shifts to the promise of restoration/renewal—the onset of a period of peace and prosperity—along with the ultimate judgment on the nations.

These oracles in 2:18-3:21 demonstrate a strong apocalyptic and eschatological emphasis, typical of a tendency that developed in the Prophetic writings of the exilic and post-exilic period. The trauma of the Exile (both for the northern and southern Kingdoms) led to this emphasis on a future hope—when Israel would be restored, and there would be a reversal of fortune, whereby the people of Israel would flourish in a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, while the nations (collectively) would face judgment. Joel 3 is one of the few passages in the Old Testament—and perhaps the earliest of these—where the “day of YHWH” motif, and the nation-oracle message of judgment (against individual nations), was broadened to apply to all the nations together. The “day of YHWH” now represents the moment when the nations, collectively, would be judged, in one great “valley of Judgment”. The great oracle of Ezekiel 38-39, and those in Zechariah 12 and 14, are the other key examples of this (eschatological) theme in the Old Testament.

When we turn to the oracle of 2:18-32 [Heb 2:18-3:5], it can be divided into three parts:

    • Vv. 18-20—A promise of salvation, in terms of the defeat/removal of the invading forces (from the north)
    • Vv. 21-27—A time of peace and prosperity—especially in terms of the fertility and (agricultural) fruitfulness of the land
    • Vv. 28-32 [3:1-5]—The manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people, as part of a powerful theophany that anticipates the judgment of the nations (chap. 3)

We saw the same sort of dual-aspect of Land/People in Isa 44:3 (cf. the earlier note):

    • Blessing on the landwater poured out on it, irrigating the fields and making them fertile again
    • Blessing on the people—the spirit poured out on them, stimulating the people and making them fertile (in a religious, ethical, and spiritual sense)

The second aspect—the pouring out of the spirit [j^Wr] of God—is expressed in vv. 28-29. What is especially notable, however, is the way that the idea of the spirit coming upon all the people is defined in such precise detail:

“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.”

Note the following points emphasizing a total, comprehensive inclusivity:

    • that it comes on every person is specified (“all flesh”)
    • male and female (“your sons and your daughters”)
    • old and young (“your elders…your choice ones [i.e. children]”)
    • even the male and female servants

As previously noted, this seems to fulfill the wish expressed by Moses in Numbers 11:29, as well as the ancient ideal regarding the identity of Israel as a holy nation, made up entirely of priests, prophets, and kings (Exod 19:6, etc). While this had not been realized in Israel’s history up to that point—during the periods of the migration (exodus), settlement, Judges, and the monarchy—the oracle here indicates that it will be fulfilled in the ‘golden age’ to come. Admittedly, it is not specified exactly when this will occur. The oracle utilizes a general expression “following this” (/k@-yr@j&a^), comparable to the oracular expression “in the days following, in the days after [this]” (<ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^B=, Gen 49:1 etc), which came to be used in a distinct eschatological sense (cf. also “in those days”, here in Joel 3:1 [4:1]; also Jer 31:29, 33; 33:15-16; Zech 8:23, etc). As a message of hope to the people of the time, we may assume an imminent expectation, even if the specific details of the future ideal expressed in the oracle were not always meant to be understood in a concrete, literalistic sense.

This is all the more so for the supernatural cosmic phenomena mentioned in vv. 30-31 [3:3-4]. The true significance of this imagery is that of theophany—i.e. a manifestation of God’s presence, according to the ancient manner of expression (cp. the scene in Exodus 19-20, as well as many examples of the storm-theophany applied to El-Yahweh [e.g., Psalm 18 A]). This theophany-language and imagery came to be used by the Prophets as part of the “day of YHWH” theme, in the nation- and judgment-oracles; it became more clearly defined and pronounced in the later Prophets, and from there passed on into Jewish tradition to form a staple of apocalyptic and eschatology in Judaism (and early Christianity) during the first centuries B.C./A.D.

How does the reference to the Spirit in vv. 28-29 fit into this framework? We may gain a better sense of this by considering the thematic structure of the oracle chiastically, as follows:

    • Promise of salvation for the land and its people (vv. 18-20)
      • God’s presence brings life and blessing to the land of Israel (vv. 21-26)
        • He dwells in the midst of His people (v. 27)
        • He pours His Spirit on all the people (vv. 28-29)
      • God’s presence brings judgment to the earth and its nations (vv. 30-31)
    • Promise of salvation for Jerusalem (Zion) and its people (v. 32)

The spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH essentially refers to His presence, reflecting a manner of expression well-established in Old Testament tradition, going back to the Creation narratives (and cf. the earlier note in this series on the Psalms references). Thus the “pouring out” of His Spirit is a symbolic expression related to the presence of YHWH among His people. The era of the restored Israel essentially marks a return to the initial moment of the Sinai theophany, when the people collectively stood in God’s presence, prior to the designation of Moses as the spokesperson (ayb!n`) who would stand in their place (Exod 20:18-21). Now all the people are such spokespersons or ‘prophets’ (<ya!yb!n+), no longer requiring any select individual to serve as intermediary. As I discussed in the previous note, this is part of a tendency, seen especially in the later Prophets (of the 6th/5th centuries), toward what we might call a “democratization” of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Now the entire Community is inspired, with the Spirit coming upon them even as it once did the king (at his anointing), or upon the person gifted to function as a ayb!n`.

In the next daily note, we will consider this tendency as it is expressed in the book of Ezekiel, along with a brief comparison with several key passages in the book of Jeremiah.

May 12: Isaiah 32:15; 44:3

Isaiah 32:15; 44:3

Mention was made in the prior notes of the continuation of the ancient tradition of charismatic, spirit-inspired leadership, through the image of anointing. By this symbolism, the Prophets can speak of the spirit (j^Wr) of God being “poured out” onto people. This may be contrasted with the older, and more dynamic, concept of the spirit “coming upon” or “rushing to” the leader (Prophet/King/Judge), i.e. like a powerful wind (which would be the fundamental meaning of j^Wr). The image of pouring, however, relates not only to anointing, but to the idiom of a libation-offering (cf. below), as well as to a range of water-imagery. The association of the Spirit of God with water is well-established, both in the Old Testament, and in other religious traditions worldwide.

The book of Isaiah makes use of this symbolism in a number of passages; in today’s note I single out two key references—one in the first half of the book (32:15), and the other in the so-called Deutero-Isaiah (44:3). The same idiom is present, though expressed with different vocabulary, and with a different religious/theological emphasis.

Isaiah 32:15

“For (the) high (citadel)s are forsaken,
and (the) noise of (the) city left (a) distant (echo)… [v. 14]
until (the) spirit [j^Wr] is emptied (out) upon us from a high place,
and (the) desolate (land) be(comes) as a planted field,
and (the) planted field counted as a thick growth (of trees).”

This portion of the judgment-oracle (32:9-20) reflects a frequent theme in the Isaian oracles of chaps. 1-39—that the devastation caused by the Assyrian invasions (both on the northern Kingdom and Judah) will be replaced by a time of renewal for the survivors. Given certain similarities of the message in vv. 15-18 with that of Deutero-Isaiah (cf. below), some commentators would judge those verses as a later addition, meant to balance the judgment-oracle with a future promise of hope. In any case, if one retains a late 8th-century (Isaian) context for verse 15, then it would seem to represent something of a new way of considering the role of the spirit of God. The Spirit comes upon the land (and its people) as a whole, rather than on specific chosen/gifted individuals.

There are other indications of an increasing use of such water-imagery—that is, of the spirit being poured/emptied out—in the Isaian oracles. We have, for example, in 19:3, the negative sense of a person’s own “spirit” being emptied out (vb qq^B*, similar to hr*u* in 32:15), to be replaced/changed by a “spirit of distortion” from YHWH (v. 14). This is comparable to the spirit of God departing from Saul, to be replaced by an “evil spirit” sent by YHWH (1 Sam 16:14). Similarly, in 29:10, YHWH speaks of pouring out (vb Es^n`) a “spirit of (deep) sleep” upon the people of Jerusalem, as part of the coming judgment on Judah; the people have already gone astray in spirit (j^Wr-yu@t), v. 24).

In 30:1, God’s spirit is mentioned in the context of a covenant-setting—referring to the Judean king’s attempt to form a treaty-agreement with Egypt. In these oracles, the prophet strongly opposes such alliances, characterizing them as a misguided attempt to stave off the Assyrian threat, rather than turning to YHWH in repentance and trusting in Him for deliverance. The use of the verb Es^n` (“pour out”, as in 29:10), and the related noun hk*S@m^, suggest the pouring out of drink/libation offerings as part of a covenant ceremony, i.e. to ratify the binding agreement. The oracle makes clear that YHWH’s spirit (j^Wr) is no part of this agreement, meaning that it does not correspond with His will, and is not blessed by His presence.

Isaiah 44:3

In the Deutero-Isaian poem-drama of 44:1-5, the basic motif from 32:15 is similarly expressed, though now (presumably) in the context of Israel’s return from exile. One senses a significant religious and theological development in the idea of the Spirit’s role:

“For I will pour water upon (the) thirsty (land),
and flowing (stream)s upon (the) dry (ground);
(and so) I will pour my spirit [j^Wr] upon your seed,
and my blessing upon (those) coming forth (out) of you.”

There is a clear conceptual parallel between the natural idiom of rain- and flood-water making the land fertile, and the spirit of God giving similar life-growth and blessing to the people themselves. This dual-concept of land/people is a common emphasis throughout the Deutero-Isaian oracles. It also reflects a developing theme found at several points in the Prophetic writings. One might refer to it as a “democratization” of the ancient tradition of spirit-inspired leadership. Instead of the divine spirit coming only upon the gifted leader (king/prophet), it now comes upon all the people, upon the entire land and its citizens. I will be discussing this point further, in the next daily note (on Joel 2:28-29).