July 18, 2021

Having the Right Fear

Photo by Jessica Delp on Unsplash


An Exegetical Paper on Isaiah 8:11-22




Text

11 For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” 

16 Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. 17 I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. 19 And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. 21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. 22 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.



Introduction

In this portion of Isaiah’s prophecy the prophet is spoken to by God. The message is one of encouragement to stiffen the spine, as it were, of the prophet. The prophet was not to fear what the people all around him feared, nor concern himself over the short-sighted things they were concerned over. Rather, he was to fear the eternal God, and listen to His word. 


Background

The setting of this text is the Syro-Ephraimite war of 734-732 B.C., in which the forces of Israel (Ephraim) and Syria (Aram) to the north of Judah ally against the increasing pressures of the Assyrian empire. Most of what we know about this war comes to us from the pages of Scripture, with the primary sources being 2 Kings 16, 2 Chronicles 28, and Isaiah 7. As Robert Vasholz summarizes, 


“The underlying cause was the awareness of the increasing strength of the Assyrian forces under a capable ruler, Tiglath-Pileser III. His rise and successful conquests northward and eastward proved him to be a potential menace to the independence of the small kingdoms to Assyria's west and south, particularly Syria (Aram) and Ephraim.”


However, because Judah under Jotham and then Ahaz refused to join forces with these two nations, the allied forces plundered the land of Judah. 2 Chronicles 28:5-8 informs us of an enormous amount of bloodshed and plundering which the people of Judah sufferers at the hands of Israel and Syria.


After having been a prosperous nation under Uzziah, the nation is now thrust into a state of chaos and worry, being shaken to the very core (see Isaiah 7:2). It is in this context that Ahaz seeks the help of the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III. However, rather than helping, Tiglath will himself end up afflicting the people of Judah (2 Chronicles 28:20). 


With this setting in mind, let us turn to the text in Isaiah 8:11-22. I think we can helpfully break it into four narrative movements. 


Don’t Fear What They Fear, v11-12

The LORD spoke to Isaiah with, “his strong hand upon me.” It is as if God is wanting to grab Isaiah by the shoulders or the arms and shake him: “this message is deadly serious - listen up!”


The people here seem to be gripped by conspiracy theories of some sort. Geoffrey W. Grogan argues in his commentary on Isaiah that these conspiracies were pertaining to the various political alliances Ahaz had in place. What is clear from the text is that these conspiracy theories are driving them to fear and dread. They are deeply concerned. This is how conspiracies often work, as conjectures about the unknown come to play a formative role not only in our thinking, but in our emotions as well. 


God is not impressed by this line of thinking, and offers the only suitable counter and remedy to such mental games in the following verses.


There is One You Shall Fear, v13-15

The counter which God offers to the fear of man is the fear of the Lord himself. Drawing upon the truth of texts such as Proverbs 1:9 and 9:10, God speaks to Isaiah this simple truth: the only One worthy of fear is God. Wisdom begins here, and confidence does as well. 


In verse fifteen, we encounter a familiar image of God as the sanctuary of his people. One’s mind is drawn to a text such as Psalm 46:1. However, what follows is a description of who this same Rock and Redeemer (Psalm 19:14) can be to those who fail to fear Him: a terrible and devastating foe. TO quote Old Testament scholar Geoffry W. Grogan, 


“It is impossible in English to convey the terrifying force of the seven Hebrew words that constitute v.15. All five of the verbs end with the same long vowel, and four of these open with the same letter and follow one another in unbroken sequence.”


It’s as if God pulls out not only the logical, but the rhetorical stops to emphasize to his people their solemn responsibility to fear Him and no other. But how does one find the spiritual sustenance and ability to fear God in a world full of political intrigue and instability, economic flux, and personal crises?


Head for the Book!, v16-20

In order to fear the Lord and stay faithful to him, the prophet is determined to bind up the testimony and seal the teaching among his disciples. While commentators sometimes argue that this means Isaiah has turned away from public ministry and is now focusing on his disciples, it seems to me far more likely that this use of seal or bind has in mind connotations similar to Psalm 119:11, wherein the Psalmist says he has hidden God’s word in his heart, or Deuteronomy 6 which speaks of metaphorically binding pieces of the law upon your forehead, as you also write it in your home and bind it to the minds and hearts of your children. 


This concept of binding as a tool for discipleship and keeping the people close to the Lord would be in line with verse 19 wherein the prophet contrasts consulting necromancers and mediums with inquiring of God, who is heard (v20) in and through the medium of His word. 


In verse 18, the prophet proclaims that he and his children are signs and portents for the people of what God has and will do. As noted in the Faithlife Study Bible, 


‘Isaiah refers to his sons who were given symbolic names foreshadowing the judgment, restoration, and redemption of Judah: Shear-jashub, “A remnant will return” (Isa 7:3); Immanuel, “God with us” (7:14); and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, “Spoil speeds, prey hastens” (vv. 3–4).’


One can build a narrative with these names, as the spoil speeds and prey hastens behind the oppressors who will carry off God's people. But they can be assured because a remnant will return. Best of all, they can know that one day God will be with them, and Isaiah's own name, “Yahweh is victorious” or “Yahweh is Salvation”, is fulfilled in the coming of another Immanuel, God with us. But first a warning. 


The Price of Disobedience, v20-22

Refusal to heed the word of God is an indication of deep and profound spiritual darkness, which, for the Old Testament people of God, carried with it certain consequences in this world (see Deuteronomy 28:15ff). 

The picture in these verses is of a famine with both spiritual and physical components, one in which the people fail to take any responsibility for their own actions and hearts, and instead blame both their king and their God. This has interesting parallels with the picture in Revelation 16 of people responding to the bowls of God’s wrath by not repenting, but rather cursing him.


Conclusion

This text ultimately is a warning. To follow the fears of the people will lead one down a road of spiritual destruction. To cry conspiracy or search out forbidden knowledge will lead you away from the only true source of wisdom and knowledge. Instead the people of God ought to fear him, trust him, and look to his word for their guidance. 


Finally, it should be noted for the Christian that this isn’t an abstract truth. Peter picks up this passage in 1 Peter 3:14-15 to encourage believers to face hardships with resolute hope. Not only should we not fear what others fear, but we should not fear those other people if they themselves are the cause of our hardship. Instead, we are to set Christ the Lord apart as holy. He is in a class all by Himself, and is the only one worthy of our fear.


References


Barry, John. et al. 2012. Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016).


Chisholm Jr., Robert B. 2002. Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic).


Grogan, Geoffrey W. 1986. “Isaiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House).


Jamieson, Robert, with A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. 1997. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).


Thomas, Robert L. 1998. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.).

        
            Vasholz, Robert I. 1987. “Isaiah and Ahaz: A Brief History of Crisis in Isaiah 7 and 8.” Presbyterion 13 (2): 79-84. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000980799&site=ehost-live.

July 15, 2021

A Great Commandment Text




An Exegetical Paper on Malachi 2:10-16

Text

10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts! 

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”


Introduction and Author

The book of Malachi is thought to have been written by a prophet of the same name. His name means “my messenger”, and because both prophets and priests were considered messengers of the Lord, some have suggested that this name is in fact a title. However, given the construction of 1:1, “The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.”, it seems best to consider this his proper name. In Malachi we meet someone very familiar with and unhappy about the religious state of Israel.


Background and Setting

That religious state is a mess, hence the prophet’s disgruntlement. The book features a set of six disputations in which the prophet confronts the people, hears a response, and brings the charge to a conclusion. The nature of the disputes parallel issues faced during the post-exilic time period of Ezra-Nehimiah, thus most believe the book was likely written circa the 5th century B.C.. The prophet calls out the people’s distrust of God’s love (1:2-5), their despisal of his name (1:6-2:9), their unfaithfulness (2:10-16), their denial of God’s justice (2:17-3:5), their theft from God (3:6-12), and finally their distrust of His character (3:13-4:3).


The Profaning of the Covenant, v10-12

The third of the prophet’s disputes with the people in Malachi begins in 2:10 where he charges them with being faithless to one another. The seriousness of this crime is highlighted by the implied contrast between this and what would be right. “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” The question the prophet seems to be asking is, “If we see ourselves as one people created by the one God, how could we ever treat one another in a treacherous fashion?” Yet they have, and he describes this behavior in the latter half of verse 10 as “profaning the covenant of our fathers.”


Who made this covenant with their fathers? Was it a merely human to human contract? Hadly. We see both in the land of Cannan with Abraham (see Genesis chapters 15 and 17), as well as with the nation at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 20), God is the one initiating this covenant with his people. Therefore to violate the covenant of the fathers by faithlessness toward a brother is a form of profaning the covenant God of Israel, Yahweh.  


The specific nature of the covenant unfaithfulness is spelled out in v11, where the prophet charges the people with marrying “the daughter of a foreign God”, which is to say, they were taking foreign wives. Again, this is pictured not merely as wrong on a human to human level, but as a distortion of worship as well, “Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD.” The punishment pronounced for this is found in v12, “May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob” any who are guilty of this crime. The picture here is of Yahweh Himself bringing judgement down on the faithless ones.


The Violence of Divorce, v13-16

In this section the LORD is pictured as a witness between the men of Israel and their wives, whom they have been unfaithful to via divorce. Taken together with the issue of intermarriage with foreign women in v11, some have taken this to mean that the men of Israel were leaving their first wives (of Israelite descent), and taking to themselves these foreign women.


This threatened the cohesive nature of Israel as a people devoted to the LORD. In a time when the people were returning from exile and seeking to rebuild the nation this was particularly egregious, and would make impossible (or at least very difficult) that which the LORD was seeking from these families: godly children (v15). Because of these offenses of abandoning their wives from their own people and taking to themselves foreign wives, God was refusing to acknowledge the prayers and sacrifices of his people (v13-14). He will not receive the prayers of those whom he describes as “covering their garments with violence” (v16).


Conclusion

The clear message of this passage is that God is displeased with the unfaithful dealings of Israel. In their failure to deal rightly with their wives at home, the men of Israel showed how truly distant their hearts were from God. While the traditional translation of v16, “the Lord hates divorce,” is perhaps not a justified way to bring the Hebrew into English, the divorce pictured in Malachi 2:10-16 certainly is hated by the LORD. He sees it as violence, not only against the innocent women and children involved, but against His own covenant with the people of Israel.





References


Barry, John. et al. 2012. Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016).

Cabal, Ted. et al., 2007. The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers).

Chisholm Jr., Robert B. 2002. Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic).

Jamieson, Robert, with A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. 1871. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

Robert C. Kashow, “Malachi the Prophet,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

Taylor, Justin, ed. The ESV Study Bible. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).

Thomas, Robert L. 1998. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.).


July 04, 2021

Is He A Mere Echo?


Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash


A Response to “Isaiah 53 in the Pulpit”



Introduction

In his paper Isaiah 53 in the Pulpit (Goldingay, John, and John E Goldingay. “Isaiah 53 in the Pulpit.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 35, no. 2 (Sum 2008): 147–53) John Goldingay attempts to marry homiletical form with contemporary exegesis of Isaiah 53. Behind his quest is a question posed by G.A. Brame in a 2005 article (Brame, Grace Adolphsen. “The Cross: Payment or Gift?” Perspectives in Religious Studies 32, no. 2 (Sum 2005): 67–81), asking why this was not more readily being done. If so many modern exegetes have moved on from the idea of Isaiah 53 being a prophecy of Jesus’ penal substitution for sinners, why do people in the pulpits and the pews continue to cling to such archaic interpretations? 


What I will seek to do in this brief paper is to first interact with one of Goldingay’s interpretive assumptions, and secondly, to compare his exegesis with the text itself.


When Was Isaiah Written?

The gorilla in the room as you read Goldingay’s paper is that he does not believe Isaiah the prophet, who lived in the Eighth century BC (Donald E. Hartley, “Isaiah the Prophet,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016)), was the author of Isaiah’s servant songs. This is obvious from statements such as, ‘Inside that frame is “our” testimony; the passage does not identify who “we” are, though I take them to be most immediately the Judean people who are the prophet’s community in Babylon.” (Goldingay, 148. Emphasis added.)


This is problematic, for while, as Richard Hess notes in his introduction to Isaiah, “it has become common for Isaiah scholars to posit a number of authors for the book...there are strong reasons to maintain the traditional view.” (D. A. Carson, ed., NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 1159.) The traditional view being that Isaiah himself penned the book. If this is correct, then Goldingay’s argument falls like a house of cards, being built as it is on the unnamed and imagined prophet living during the exile. 


The Text Itself

The bigger problem with Goldingay’s dealing with Isaiah 53 is that it does not fit the text itself. In his frame, after the prophet “more or less died” (Goldingay, 152.), ‘He says to God, “You know the way you accept it if someone offers a lamb in sacrifice? How would it be if I offered my life as a sacrifice for my people? I really care about them […] Would that work?”’ (Goldingay, 152.)


How does this fit with verse 10, “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (ESV)? Or moving backwards toward verse 6, “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The language in this passage is of intentionality on the side of God. The suffering servant isn’t coming to strike a deal, he is the lamb led to slaughter by YHWH. Finally, this bargaining prophet interpretation really has no way to account for 52:15, “so shall he sprinkle many nations.” 


Conclusion

In summary, I found Goldingay’s exegesis wanting. This also led to a sermon which was lacking in emotional force - the whole punch of the gospel had been removed. The good news was turned into a story about a nice guy who Jesus in turn looked to as a role model. In removing substitutionary atonement from Isaiah 53, you also remove the hope this passage contains for all who cling to Christ, the Suffering Servant of the Lord.







About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (remsenbible.com).