Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Hosea 1-4



Here is Lawrence Boadt’s introduction to Hosea….

We know as little about Hosea as we do about Amos. He was born and raised and preached in the northern kingdom all his life, unlike Amos, and so he is unique among the prophets whose words have come down to us since he alone represents the thinking of a purely northern prophet. The opening label in Hosea 1:1 tells us that he workded from about 745 down to at least the fall of the north in 722 B.C. and perhaps longer. This makes him a younger contemporary of Amos, and they do share a common passion for the commandments of the covenant. From the personal details in chapters 1-3, it seems that he experienced a very painful marriage in which his wife proved unfaithful on more than one occasion. If the story reflects his real-life situation, then it may help us to understand the special emphasis that this prophet gives to the tender bond of love between God and Israel and how seriously sin affects the covenant relationship. But Hosea, like all the prophets, uses a colorful language that shares images and words with the psalms and treaty curses and the law courts, and it is just possible, though unlikely, that he used a parable of married love to get across the revelation he had received from Yahweh without ever having been through the great trial himself.

The book is divided into three sections:

(A)          Chapters 1-3 describe in different ways the broken marriage between God and his people and serve as a kind of preface to the rest of the book.
(B)          Chapters 4-13 gather the actual oracles delivered by Hosea throughout his ministry.
(C)          Chapter 14 stands as a closing vision of hope after judgment.

When considered as a whole, Hosea preaches the same message of judgment that Amos uttered, listing the violations of justice and the oppression of the poor, pointing to the broken commandments and calling for a return to covenant fidelity and obedience to God. But there are many differences as well. Hosea brings out the compassion of Yahweh and his sorrow at having to punish Israel for its sins much more than does Amos. He really hopes that Israel will return to the Sinai covenant, and he uses many images taken from the desert wanderings to recall people’s memory to Yahweh. He also borrows freely from the language of the law case and the courtroom to demand that Israel live up to is legal duty in the covenant.

All of this is summarized beautifully in the opening oracle of the collection that comprises chapters 4-13….

Not only does the prophet recite most of the ten commandments here, but he also singles out three special covenant qualities that cannot be found anywhere: fidelity, loving compassion and the knowledge of God. Of these, the most important for Hosea is knowing God. This does not refer to book learning or memorizing the laws and the history of the exodus, but to personal relationship. We really understand those who are close to us—I know my friend well, or my wife, my husband, my child, my parent. This realization leads Hosea to utter very strong words against the kings, nobles, preists and other prophets who are in special positions and should know God and God’s will more deeply than most. It also leads him to some of the strongest oracles in the Bible against an empty and vain church-going in which a person continues to sin and do evil while never missing a Sabbath or a feast day.

Can you imagine being Hosea and having God command you to take a prostitute as your spouse? How would you have reacted? Would you have thought God was out of his mind? Would you have wondered if it was really God talking to you? Would you have obeyed? If so, why?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Daniel 9-12



Lawrence Boadt provides so much helpful perspective on Daniel that I want to be sure to share it all with you. Here is the rest of what he has to say before we move on to our next book of the Bible….

The clear purpose of these visions is to predict in a veiled fashion the end of the kingdom of Antiochus Epiphanes and his persecution. This makes it highly probable that the author of chapters 7-12 was living through this terrible time and wrote these visions to give strength to Jews suffering for their faith with the promise that God would end both the persecutor and his persecution shortly. The author actually predicts the death of Antiochus in a great battle with Egypt (Dn 11:40-45). But since this was not the way the king actually died—he perished defending his empire in the east—we can suggest that at least this part of the book was completed by 164, the year before he died.

Today the consensus of scholars understands the whole book to be put together by an author and editor who first collected traditional stories in chapters 1-6 about the boy-hero Daniel showing his courage during the persecutions of exile and then added to them the visions of chapters 7-12 that predicted the coming end of Antiochus Epiphanes and his persecution. This kind of writing is called a vaticinium ex eventu, a “prediction after the fact,” in which an author creates a character of long ago and puts into his mouth as predictions all the important events that have already happened right up to the author’s own time and place. The language is often coded with symbolic animals and colors and dates to protect its message from the persecuting authorities. And its focus is not predicting the future, but giving some meaning to present happenings by explaining the  past events that led up to this terrible situation, and showing that all along God has permitted everything that takes place and is planning to act soon again to rescue his people.

To achieve such an important purpose, the authors mixed historical facts with older religious traditions and even pagan myths. Daniel is already known to the prophet Ezekiel during the exile (Ez 14) as an ancient figure of great holiness and wisdom, and not as a young captive of the Babylonians the way the stories portray him. Still earlier, a wise king, Daniel, forms part of The Tale of Aqhat in the Ugaritic literature of the thireteenth century B. C. (see ANET 149-155). Another religious theme accuses pagan kings of being arrogant and proud, rebelling against God. This echoes the oracles against nations found in the major prophets which often employ images of cosmic destruction or the motif of Yahweh as a divine warrior who comes to destroy Israel’s enemies.

Although the book of Daniel is not intended to be primarily an historical record, it does reflect the general course of events in the post-exilic period from the time of Nebuchadnezzar down to the Maccabees, a period of nearly four hundred years. Its whole purpose is to interpret that history without being wedded to the details. The authors were intensely interested in what was happening and what God would do about it. They were convinced that God really does act at every moment even when it may seem that he has abandoned his people. They also tried to answer why Israel suffered, and why God allowed people to be martyred for following his law. These were pressing problems at the time of the Maccabees, and the authors used all the skill at their command to create an answer, combining wisdom, prophecy and the new form of apocalyptic. They needed to convince a despairing people of the mercy of God and so they even left the court tales of chapters 1-6 in Aramaic, the language of the Babylonian court, for the sake of realism. Aside from a few chapters in Ezra, Daniel is the only Old Testament book with Aramaic in it.

The Lasting Significance of Daniel

The Book of Daniel is one of the latest books of the Old Testament and has played an important place in later interpretation of the Bible especially in Christian circles. Some of its more notable aspects can be listed:

(1)  It has many connections to the wisdom tradition. Not only was the chief character based on a legendary wise man of old, but he acts with superb prudence and insight in every situation. Daniel’s ability to interpret dreams and see through deceit expresses the Jewish concern for the wise practice of their religion over against the evil and stupid conduct of pagan nations who persecute them. These concerns also explain why the model stories of Susanna, Bel and the dragon were added to the Hebrew original.
(2)  Daniel and his friends frequently pray and fast, they show complete integrity and courage before the threat of death, and they study the law to learn right behavior. They are the ideal examples of good piety for the post-exilic period.
(3)  The book contains the first explicit teaching about a divine promise that the just person will rise after death to a life of happiness with God (Dn 12:2). This teaching is echoed in the later book of 2 Maccabees and becomes a regular part of the faith of the Pharisee party in Judah at the time of Jesus.
(4)  The book also projects a coming kingdom of God that will be brought about by a heavenly yet human figure, the Son of Man (chapter 7). It is not quite the same as the older idea of a messiah, an anointed king like the kings of old, which was to be found in Isaiah 7-11, Ezekiel 33-48 and Zechariah. But this Son of Man is clearly a messianic figure of salvation who will rule over Israel. Jesus himself used this term to describe his mission, and the early Church understood it to mean that Jesus was the eschatological Savior whose victory and the fulfillment of his mission would be known only after his own death and resurrection.
(5)  Finally, Daniel reveals a new type of literary thought for Israel—especially in the four visions of chapters 7-12. Since prophets had ceased centuries earlier, apocalyptic continues the work of prophecy in a new form. It accents God as master of all events with a care and plan for the world that he reveals through special agents, such as angels, or through special visions or dreams. Unlike prophecy, however, the language is usually symbolic and often obscure, and it does not expect political changes or reform to come from human conversion but from a direct intervention in power from God on behalf of the good and upright.

The verses that stood out to me most from these chapters were these:

At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved. (Daniel 9:23)

Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous! (Daniel 10:19)

How would you feel if an angel came and spoke these words to you? We need to remember always that God has expressed his love to us and for us, personally and individually, in his Son, Jesus Christ. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) Thus, it would not hurt for us to spend some time today, and every day, imagining God speaking these words from Daniel to us. We are his beloved children.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Daniel 5-8



Here is more of Lawrence Boadt’s commentary on Daniel….

The first part of the book is a collection of tales that originated during the Persian era from 529 to 333. They reflect many Persian court customs and interests, such as astrology and dream interpretation. But they are written from a very Jewish point of view using a legendary hero who was taken captive in the exile as a young boy and brought up in the court of the Babylonian king. This Daniel carefully observes all the jewish dietary laws and yet stays healthier than his comrades (chapter 1); he interprets reams that no one else can understand (chapters 2 and 4); he predicts the fall of Babylon (chapter 5), and is thrown into a lions’ den for refusing to worship idols and yet is saved by God (chapter 6). These are all charming stories that make the point that God guards and blesses those who are faithful to him in following the law and in observing prayer. Because the stories are set in the moment of Israel’s greatest persecution and disaster, they provide an example of how God delivers all who are faithful in their hour of greatest need.

The second part in chapters 7-12 with its four visions is also set during the Babylonian and early Persian years. Daniel is shown all the events of the centuries to come right down to the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his persecution of the Jews. Chapter 7 opens with a vision of the four beasts representing Babylon, the Medes, Persia and Greece with ten horns (kings) and one little horn (Antiochus) in its midst. God gives judgment for its total destruction in a “time, two times and a half time” (= three and a half years). Chapter 8 pictures the victory of Alexander the Great over the Persians in the image of a he-goat and ram battling. Chapter 9 describes how the angel Gabriel explains to Daniel the meaning of Jeremiah’s seventy years of exile. And chapters 10-11 contain still another vision of the last times under the images of the four kingdoms. The book ends in the Hebrew at chapter 12 with final instructions from the angel Michael on keeping the message secret until those days shall arrive, and on how to know when that time has arrived.

I recently preached on the story of Daniel in the lions’ den. You can listen to that message here: http://pk.b5z.net/i/u/6046487/m/daniel_6.mp3.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Daniel 1-4



Lawrence Boadt provides this introduction to the book of Daniel….

In English translations of the Bible, Daniel is always found as the fourth of the major prophets, standing immediately after Ezekiel and before the twelve minor prophets. This follows the Greek traditions of the Septuagint and it is easy to tell why they thought it should be among the more important prophets. The book is filled with dreams and visions that reveal coming events. But, in contrast, the Hebrew Bible always places Daniel among the last of the writings, and does not consider it to be prophecy at all. Indeed, it can be readily understood as edifying examples of trust in God not much different from the stories of Esther, Judith and Tobit. Some scholars consider it to be prophecy, others to be wesdom, and others to be a whole new kind of literature called apocalyptic, because it speaks about the overthrow of the whole world order.

But before deciding what kind of literature the Book of Daniel is, we must look at what it contains. It can be divided into two parts in the Hebrew, and three in the Greek (and modern Catholic) Bible:

Part 1 (chapters 1-6): six romantic stories, sometimes called “court tales,” intended to edify and teach proper religious attitudes. They tell about a young hero who lived under great danger at the courts of the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.), and of the king of the Persians (about 539 to 485 B.C.).

Part 2 (chapters 7-12): four visions in which Daniel learns about coming occurrences either in a dream or through an angel. These all contain an explanation of past and future events that will culminate in the destruction of Israel’s enemies and their wicked allies in a battle conducted from heaven itself.

Part 3(chapters 13-14): these chapters contain three further stories about the hero Daniel but are found only in the Septuagint. The first shows Daniel’s wisdom as he uncovers the lies of two elders against Susanna. The second and third tell of how Daniel refuses to worship a great statue of Baal and a dragon. He is thrown in the lions’ den, but God delivers him from certain death, and the lions rip apart his accusers instead.

The entire book claims to take place in the sixth century B.C. and to report a series of visions that come to the boy Daniel, who is remarkable for his great wisdom and his ability to receive divine revelation about the future. Few scholars today, however, believe that this book originated in any way during the days of the Babylonian exile. And the ones who do usually have a very difficult time explaining the references to historical people and places which seem to be grossly wrong. Darius the Mede is called the son of Xerxes in 5:31 and 9:11, but both are wrong: Darius was no a Mede but a Persian and the father of Xerxes. Belshazzar is called the king of Babylon in chapter 7 and the son of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 5. He was neither: he was only crown prince under his father Nabonidus. In chapter 6 Cyrus succeeds Darius as king of the Persians. This, too, has history backward, since Cyrus was the founder of the Persian dynasty. The author seems to be quite confused about his facts and either lived long afterward or else intended the giant bloopers to warn the audience that what follows is not intended as a history but a story of faith—similar to the approach of the Book of Judith. (Reading the Old Testament, 506-508)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ezekiel 45-48



Throughout the book of Ezekiel, there has been the repeated phrase, “Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Of course, it is one thing to know about God, but it is another thing to know God in a personal way. I believe it is the latter that Ezekiel is most interested in. For knowing the Lord in a personal way means that the Lord is present with us. The whole elaborate plan for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and the renewed offering of sacrifice there has one goal, one end in mind, that the glory of the Lord should fill the Temple. It is significant that the book of Ezekiel ends on this note: “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord is There.” That is what we all most need and want in our heart of hearts, whether we realize it or not. The thing we long for underneath all our superficial longings, is that we should know the Lord, that he should be present with us, that we might have a relationship of love with the Lord our God.

And what will be the result of such a relationship, such presence of the Lord our God with us and in us? Ezekiel gives us a picture of the result in chapter 47. Rivers of living water flow from the Temple where the Lord is present. It is important to note that this has never been the case in actuality. There was never a river flowing from the second Temple, nor is there a river flowing in that location to this day. The idea of such a river of great depth would flow in that place would have been beyond reckoning to the Jews who knew Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s day, just as it would be an amazing thought to the Jews of this present day who live in Jerusalem. After all, that city is one of the driest cities one could hope to visit on the planet.

I think the picture that Ezekiel gives us is of a spiritual reality, not a physical one. The same vision is repeated in the book of Revelation where there is a river of living water flowing in the holy city, the New Jerusalem, which is the bride of Christ. This river of living water that Ezekiel talks about and that John talks about in Revelation is to flow from us when the Lord is present in us.

Jesus also said something similar one day when he was standing in the second Temple,

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

If we want to know God, if we are spiritually thirsty (and we all are), then all we have to do is come to Jesus and drink. All we have to do is ask Jesus to quench our thirst, and he will do it. How will Jesus do this? He will accomplish this by sending the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Once the Holy Spirit is in our hearts then rivers of living water will flow from us. In other words, once we have the Holy Spirit, we can be of spiritual benefit to others wherever we are, wherever we go. Then we shall give to others life instead of death, just as the Lord has given to us life instead of death.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ezekiel 41-44




From the web site, Prophet as Artist (http://www.prophetasartist.com)

Here is Lawrence Boadt’s commentary on Ezekiel 40-48….

These [chapters] are written in a prose style that may be from a disciple of Ezekiel but certainly follow the master’s thought. Once the people have returned to the covenant, made possible by God’s power alone and not by their own good will, then he shall give the land its order—a new temple at the center of a renewed nation in which everyone has his or her place. At the center of this vision, parallel to the new heart in the first part of the plan, are life-giving waters that flow from the temple to touch every living thing in the land (Ez 47:1-12). The source of hope and prosperity will be God alone truly worshiped. [Does any of this remind you of the book of Revelation?]

Ezekiel’s importance should not be underestimated. Many modern writers give the impression that he was more interested in legal questions than in the true spirit of the covenant. But this is not true. He shared many of the ideals of Jeremiah and was profoundly influenced by oracles and sermons that came from Jeremiah; but Ezekiel, unlike Jeremiah, was in exile and lived on to speak to a people who had no chance to escape the punishment. He had to face the task of picking up the pieces. His answer was to show that Israel’s entire history had been a failure to heed the everyday living out of the covenant. Israel’s political history had shown how often the chosen people had fallen into injustice and idolatry while claiming devotion to kingly rule and possession of the land. A new way had to be found now that these had been lost, a better way to that the violations and failures would not happen again.

Ezekiel found a key for understanding the new covenant to be written on the hearts of the people in its interior-ness. No longer was religion to be a matter of what the community did externally, but was to be really from the heart. Ezekiel stressed the roles of the Sabbath as a day of rest, reflective meditation on the covenant, personal uprightness, purity, and holiness. The temple and the land would have a place only when people acknowledged that “the Lord is God.” They first must take on the spirit of the covenant, and for that prayer and study would be more important than bloodlines. God would no longer accept people because they were born Israelites; now they must decide for God in order to live (see chapter 18).

Ezekiel’s new vision was priestly insofar as it stressed the union of the moral demands of the covenant with personal devotion to the daily practices of worship in the temple. His program had an important effect on the Priestly school’s arrangement of the Pentateuch which placed the law on Mount Sinai at its center point. In more than one way, Ezekiel was the last of the great prophets and the first of the new priestly visionaries that would create modern Judaism as we know it today.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ezekiel 37-40



One of the most famous of all of Ezekiel’s visions is that of the valley of dry bones in chapter 37. The Lord asks the prophet, “Mortal, can these bones live?” And Ezekiel responds, “O Lord God, you know.”

That is a good answer. Only God knows if something that is dead can be brought back to life. Only the Lord can bring that something, or someone, back to the land of the living.

Then the Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones and say, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” This shows us that the word of God is an essential ingredient to the giving of spiritual life. But there is another essential ingredient as well.

“Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” The words for breath and wind in this chapter are the same as the word for spirit. Furthermore, we are told that the dry bones that are brought back to life are the whole house of Israel, God’s people. This is a picture of spiritual resurrection and restoration. It is another way of saying that the Jews will be brought back to their homeland of Palestine. But the key thing is that they will be brought back alive.

The important thing for us today is that we can be brought to life in the same way. We too, apart from Jesus, are a valley of dry bones. There are people that are walking around on the earth who may be alive physically but are spiritually dead. They are simply dry bones walking around. There are whole churches like this too. And the Lord can bring individuals and churches that are simply a mass of dry bones back to life. The way it happens is through the word of God and the Holy Spirit of God being applied to the life of those spiritually dead individuals or spiritually dead churches. I have seen it happen in both cases, and in both instances, as Ezekiel experienced, it is a miracle to behold.

If we want this spiritual resurrection to happen to us, then we must seek more of God’s word and more of his Spirit. These two combined are the secret to spiritual resurrection and spiritual growth.

C. S. Lewis never wrote very much about the Holy Spirit, but one point from Lewis I have found very helpful. He says that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian is more important than the feeling of the Holy Spirit. His actual presence is what begets Christ in us. Lewis writes that the presence of God is not the same as the sense of the presence of God. Our supposed sense of his presence may be due to imagination whereas his actual presence may be attended with no “sensible consolation.” Lewis draws an analogy to sex. He points out that the act of conceiving a child ought to be, and usually is, attended by pleasure. But the pleasure itself doesn’t produce the child. We may experience sexual pleasure without producing a child, or we may produce children without pleasure. He argues that the spiritual marriage  of God and the soul works in the same way. The sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit is an added gift for which we should give thanks when it comes. In another place he urges that we should accept the sensations of the Holy Spirit with thankfulness, like birthday cards from God, but we should remember that these sensations are only greetings, not the real gift. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The sensations are merely the response of our nervous system. We ought not to depend upon the sensations. The Holy Spirit may be most operative when we feel him the least. Sensations, to use another image, are merely the push to start us off on our first bicycle. We will have much pedaling to do later on. Such pedaling will be good for our spiritual leg muscles. We should enjoy the push while it lasts but enjoy it as a treat, not as something usual. (See my book, Mere Theology, the chapter on The Holy Spirit, page 93.)