Tag Archives: Isaiah

The Line of Kings in Matthew compared with the Hebrew Scriptures

Giovanni Francesco Barberi (il Guercino), King David (1651)

United Kingdom of Israel

David (1010-970 BCE)

Replaced Saul,

Narrative of David runs from 1 Samuel 16-1 Kings 1 in the 1 &2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 1 Chronicles 11-22 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. David is attributed as the author of much of the book of Psalms and is mentioned frequently throughout the scriptures as a model of what a king should be and as a figure from which the hope for the people will come.

 

  1. Solomon (970-922 BCE)

Narrative of Solomon is told in 1 Kings 3-11 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 1 Chronicles 11-22 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Solomon is the attributed author of some of the Psalms, the book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs (although he is probably not the author of these varied works as judged by the language). Builds the first temple, initially favored by God but there is an underlying critique of Solomon’s reign in the scriptures and he eventually turns away from the way of the Lord.

Kingdom of Judah

  1. Rehoboam (922-915)

Narrative of Rehoboam is told in 1 Kings 12, 14:21-31 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 9-12 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. He is viewed as an unwise and unfaithful king whose arrogance causes a split in the nation of Israel.

 

  1. Abijah (Abijam) (915-913)

Narrative of Abijah (Abijam)is told in 1 Kings 15: 1-8 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 13 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Kings and Chronicles have a very different view of Abijah, Kings narrates that he continued in the sins of his father (Rehoboam) while Chronicles narrates him as a heroic figure that defies the king of Israel.

 

  1. Asa (Asaph in Matthew) (913-873)

Narrative of Asa is told in 15: 9-24 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 13-16 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. His 41-year reign is viewed positively in both chronicles and he is viewed as a person who does what is right in the sight of the LORD. His only other mention is as the creator of the cistern into which the prophet Jeremiah will be thrown into (long after Asa’s death)

 

  1. Jehoshapat (873-849)

Narrative of Jehoshapat is told in 1 Kings 22: 41-50 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 17-20 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. His 25 years reign is also viewed positively in both narratives.

 

  1. Jehoram (Joram in Matthew) (849-843)

Narrative of Jehoram is told in 2 Kings 8: 16-24 the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 21 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Viewed as a king who betrayed the reforms of his father and grandfather and returned the people to worshipping other gods. Elijah the prophet enters the narrative during the reign of Jehoram.

 

Ahaziah (843-842) neglected in Matthew’s genealogy

Narrative of Ahaziah is told in 2 Kings 8: 23-29, 9:27 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 22 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. His one-year reign is viewed negatively in both narratives and he is killed by Jehu son of Nimshi. With only reigning one year it is perhaps an understandable negation from Matthew’s line, but the genealogy would go through Ahaziah.

 

Athaliah (842-837) neglected in Matthew’s genealogy

Mother of Ahaziah, seizes the throne after her son’s murder. Narrative of Athaliah is told in 2 Kings 11 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 22:10-23:21 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Joash is preserved in the line of kings after she orders the death of royal family of Judah.  Since Athaliah was a queen rather than a king this wouldn’t normally appear in a genealogy. However, Matthew did include several women previously who would normally be overlooked.

 

Joash (837-800) neglected in Matthew’s genealogy

Narrative of Joash is told in 2 Kings 11:4-12, 17-21 and 12: 1-21 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 24 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Joash is kept alive and mentored by the priest Jehoiada and for most of his life did what was right in God’s sight. He is famous for repairing the temple but Chronicles states that late in his life, after Jehoiada dies and under the influence of the nobles of Judah, he returns to the ways of the unrighteous kings. This is perhaps the most unusual negation.

 

Amaziah (800-783) neglected in Matthew’s genealogy

Narrative of Amaziah is told in 2 Kings 14: 1-22 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 25 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Amaziah is listed in 2 Kings as one who did what was right in the site of the LORD but the major event in both narratives is his failed battle with Israel where the wall of Jerusalem is breached and the gold and silver from the temple and the king’s house are stolen. Another unusual negation.

 

  1. Uzziah (Azariah in 2 Kings) (783-742)

Narrative of Uzziah/Azariah is told in 2 Kings 15: 1-7 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 26 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Uzziah did what was right in the site of the LORD with some qualifications in both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. In 2 Chronicles he is afflicted with leprosy after attempting to offer a sacrifice himself instead of through the priests.  Uzziah’s reign is also at the beginning of Isaiah’s time as a prophet (or first Isaiah, Isaiah 1 and 6 mention Uzziah) as well as the time of Amos and Hosea. Also, the prophet Zechariah mentions an earthquake in the time of king Uzziah (Zechariah 14:6)

 

  1. Jothan (742-735)

Narrative of Jothan is told in 2 Kings 15: 32-38 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 27 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Jothan is listed as a king who did right in the eyes of the LORD but who did not eliminate the practices of the people that were displeasing to God in the view of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. His reign is described as prosperous and peaceful. The ministries of Micah and Hosea occur in part during the reign of Jothan.

  1. Ahaz (735-727 or 715)

Narrative of Ahaz is told in 2 Kings 16 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 28 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Ahaz is a king who did not do what was right in the site of the lord in the narratives and is oppressed by Israel, the Edomites and the Philistines. Ahaz appeals to Assyria for help and attempts to bribe Assyria with items from his house and the officials in tribute, but Assyria rebuffs their call for aid. Isaiah 7 is during the reign of King Ahaz and Isaiah 14:28 begins an oracle in the year of Ahaz’ death.

 

  1. Hezekiah (727 or 715 to 687)

Narrative of Hezekiah is told in 2 Kings 18-20 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 29-32 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Hezekiah is a righteous king and reigns during an important transition in the region. The Assyrian empire conquers Israel and marches on Judah, but their conquest is stopped, and Judah survives. King Hezekiah is attributed with ensuring that Proverbs 25-29 are preserved. Isaiah records the Assyrian invasion by King Sennacherib of Assyria and the dialogue between God, Isaiah, and Hezekiah as well as a later illness of Hezekiah and Hezekiah’s interaction with envoys from Babylon in Isaiah 36-39. The prophets Hosea and Micah also conclude their ministries during Hezekiah’s reign.

 

  1. Manasseh (687-642)

Narrative of Manasseh is told in 2 Kings 21: 1-18 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 33: 1-20 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Manasseh is listed as one of the kings who did evil by adopting the practices of the surrounding nations and worshipping other gods. Jeremiah 15:4 lists the evils of Manasseh as the reason for the judgment against Judah.

 

  1. Amos (Amon) (642-640)

Narrative of Manasseh is told in 2 Kings 21: 19-26 in the 1 &2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 33: 21-25 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. He also did what was evil in God’s sight and was killed by the servants in his house or the people of the land depending on whether you read Chronicles or Kings.

 

  1. Josiah (640-609)

Narrative of Josiah is told in 2 Kings 22:1-23:30 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 34-35 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Josiah is remembered as the great reformer king who reintroduced the law to Judah. He dies in a battle against Pharaoh Neco, which seems to have been an unnecessary battle. Josiah’s reign is a time of great hope in Judah and there are even hopes of a new Israel, this is after the northern kingdom is conquered by Assyria, which practices the law and worships at the temple in Jerusalem. The optimism of the reforms of King Josiah are the context for the beginning of Jeremiah’s long ministry. Jeremiah soon sees the reforms are not changing the people and begins to warn that judgment is coming.

 

Jehoahaz (609) neglected in Matthew’s genealogy

Jehoahaz’ three-month reign is told in 2 Kings 23: 31-35 and 2 Chronicles 36: 1-4. He is enthroned by the people but deposed by Egypt and Egypt replaces him with his brother Eliakim who changes his name to Jehoiachim. Judah is now caught between the rising empire of Babylon in the north and Egypt in the south. Jehoahaz would not be in the genealogy of Jesus as Matthew traces it.

 

Jehoiachim (Eliakim) (609-598)

Jehoiachim’s reign is told briefly in 2 Kings 23: 36-24:7 and 2 Chronicles 36: 5-8.  In the eleven years he reigned Judah is caught between Babylon and Egypt. Jehoiachim serves Babylon for a time but then rebelled and was taken in chains to Babylon. Many of the proclamations of the prophet Jeremiah occur during the reign of Jehoiachim. The removal of Jehoiachim also sets the context for the beginning of the book of Daniel, where Daniel is among the young nobles brought to Babylon.

 

  1. Jehoiachin (598-597)

The son of Jehoiachim who is only eight or eighteen during his brief reign. His reign is told in 2 Kings 24: 8-18 and 2 Chronicles 36: 9-10. At the end of the reign is the deportation to Babylon of the officials, warriors, artisans, smiths and anyone who might exercise leadership among the people and a weak administration under his uncle Mattaniah, renamed Zedekiah. Jeremiah refers to Jehoiachin as Coniah.

 

Zedekiah (597-586)

Zedekiah is placed in his position by Babylon to attempt to retain peace among the remnant of Judah. His reign and the fall of Judah is told in 2 Kings 24: 18-30 (includes the governorship of Gedaliah) and 2 Chronicles 36: 11-21. More of Jeremiah’s proclamations come during the time of Zedekiah, in the final gasps of Judah and Jerusalem before Babylon’s final invasion and exile, than at any other time. Jerusalem is destroyed in 586 and more of the population is brought into exile in Babylon. There is a final rebellion during the governorship of Gedaliah) but the remnant of Judah that survives goes into exile in Babylon. The book of Jeremiah narrates the collapse of Judah in Jeremiah 34-44 and 52.

Jeremiah 23-A Righteous Branch and Unrighteous Prophets

Jeremiah 23: 1-7: The Righteous Branch

rootofjessebranch

1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.
5 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
7 Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” 8 but “As the LORD lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” Then they shall live in their own land.

Anyone who reads Jeremiah has to make educated guesses about the context that Jeremiah is writing to, especially when the time period is not made explicit. I see this as an extension of what comes before at the end of chapter 22 which is addressing the beginning of the exile (the first exile where the leadership is taken into exile but the people are left primarily in the land) in the time of Jechoniah and so this passage comes very late in the story of Jeremiah. The chapter verse delineations in scripture come much later and probably reflect an effort to highlight the messianic hope of this passage rather than see it buried at the end of a long chapter of judgment against the king, yet this passage probably belongs as an extension of chapter 22. Rabbi Lau has a different perspective, that it comes much earlier in the time of Josiah and contrasts between Josiah and the local leaders of his time (Lau, 2013, p. 28ff.) but this is an area where I think both Walter Brueggemann and Patrick Miller, who I have been reading as I have gone through Jeremiah, are correct. (Brueggemann, 1998, p. 205) (Elizabeth Actemeir, et. al., 1994, p. VI:744)

The themes of these verses are full of echoes throughout the prophets and in the gospels as well. The verses about the shepherds and the ways they have not been faithful is echoed in Ezekiel 34:
2 Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them– to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.
7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
10 Thus says the Lord GOD, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them. 11 For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out Ezekiel 34: 2-11
And is echoed in John chapter 10 where Jesus talks about being the good shepherd in contrast to the previous shepherd, or in Mark 6: 34 where the people are discussed as sheep without a shepherd. Here in Jeremiah at the end of verse four the promise is for a new and faithful shepherd who will come. After a long passage of judgment now comes the hope of the coming days.
Again the passage about the righteous branch has echoes in other places as well, for example in Isaiah 11:
A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1
And the hope is that out of the defunct lineage of David which seems to be coming to an end that the God of Israel will maintain the commitment to the line of David and from that line will raise up a righteous branch who will live out of the vision of the Lord’s peace. And the renewal that the Lord will bring will make even the paradigmatic event of the Jewish people’s story, the Exodus, take second place to the new renewal that the Lord will do when the people are returned from exile. This is a story of hope for at least two sets of people: for the Jewish people it was a hope of renewal and return with a righteous and faithful king where God would gather from all the lands of the diaspora God’s people once again, and for Christians is also is an image of hope for from the story of Jesus we cannot help but hear that story in the hope of the righteous branch that arises out of the line of David. One passage can bring hope in two different ways, and hearing the hope of one another should also help us to see our dependence upon the Hebrew Scriptures to understand the life and ministry and hope of Jesus and his followers.

Jeremiah 23: 9-40: The Failure of the Prophets

The Breaking of Jeremiah's Yoke by Hananiah, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Amiens, France

The Breaking of Jeremiah’s Yoke by Hananiah, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Amiens, France

9 Concerning the prophets:
My heart is crushed within me, all my bones shake;
I have become like a drunkard, like one overcome by wine,
because of the LORD and because of his holy words.
10 For the land is full of adulterers; because of the curse the land mourns,
and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up.
Their course has been evil, and their might is not right.
11 Both prophet and priest are ungodly;
even in my house I have found their wickedness, says the LORD.
12 Therefore their way shall be to them like slippery paths in the darkness,
into which they shall be driven and fall;
for I will bring disaster upon them in the year of their punishment, says the LORD.
13 In the prophets of Samaria I saw a disgusting thing:
they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray.
14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a more shocking thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from wickedness;
all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.
15 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets:
“I am going to make them eat wormwood, and give them poisoned water to drink;
for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has spread throughout the land.”
16 Thus says the LORD of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you; they are deluding you. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. 17 They keep saying to those who despise the word of the LORD, “It shall be well with you”; and to all who stubbornly follow their own stubborn hearts, they say, “No calamity shall come upon you.”
18 For who has stood in the council of the LORD so as to see and to hear his word?
Who has given heed to his word so as to proclaim it?
19 Look, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest;
it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
20 The anger of the LORD will not turn back
until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his mind.
In the latter days you will understand it clearly.
21 I did not send the prophets, yet they ran;
I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.
22 But if they had stood in my council,
then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
and from the evil of their doings.
23 Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? 24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” 26 How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back– those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? 27 They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. 29 Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? 30 See, therefore, I am against the prophets, says the LORD, who steal my words from one another. 31 See, I am against the prophets, says the LORD, who use their own tongues and say, “Says the LORD.” 32 See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the LORD, and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all, says the LORD.
33 When this people, or a prophet, or a priest asks you, “What is the burden of the LORD?” you shall say to them, “You are the burden, and I will cast you off, says the LORD.” 34 And as for the prophet, priest, or the people who say, “The burden of the LORD,” I will punish them and their households. 35 Thus shall you say to one another, among yourselves, “What has the LORD answered?” or “What has the LORD spoken?” 36 But “the burden of the LORD” you shall mention no more, for the burden is everyone’s own word, and so you pervert the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God. 37 Thus you shall ask the prophet, “What has the LORD answered you?” or “What has the LORD spoken?” 38 But if you say, “the burden of the LORD,” thus says the LORD: Because you have said these words, “the burden of the LORD,” when I sent to you, saying, You shall not say, “the burden of the LORD,” 39 therefore, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your ancestors. 40 And I will bring upon you everlasting disgrace and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.

First the critique goes towards the ruling elite, the shepherds, the king but now it turn on the religious authorities and in particular the other prophets. There are several points in the book of Jeremiah where we hear about other prophets who are proclaiming a different message than Jeremiah is called to proclaim and the people hear different religious authorities proclaiming a very different message, or more likely they hear Jeremiah as a voice that is so different from the message others are saying that he goes unheard. In giving the people a false message they have prevented the people from having a realistic hope of turning. The narratives from the political and religious elites are going in the opposite direction of the proclamation given to Jeremiah. They proclaim an unconditional peace which serves the people rather than the covenantal shalom which calls the people to live in justice.
Perhaps these other prophets feel compelled to live into their roles, prophets are supposed to have a message from the Lord, dreams to dreams and visions to tell and so in the absence of these visions they have kept up the appearance, or perhaps the prophets have been coopted into the royal and priestly power systems to be additional mouthpieces for these authorities. Whatever the case they have failed in their calling, according to Jeremiah they are producing only lies and false visions and they are leading the people astray. They have become worse than the prophets of northern Israel which led Israel to worship Baal, for they perhaps are constructing a misleading image of the Lord. God’s judgment is on the prophets who have misled the people. Their condemnation will be harsher, everlasting disgrace and perpetual shame, and unlike the promise of a righteous branch that will arise out of the stump of Jesse, there is no promise for the prophets-they are also to be cast out of the city.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

Imagining Advent- A poem

Altar Paraments created for Easter Lutheran Church in Eagen Minnesota by Linda Witte Henke

Altar Paraments created for Easter Lutheran Church in Eagen Minnesota by Linda Witte Henke

In a world come of age that no longer dreams
When the spiritual is banished to some distant past
And feelings and dreamings of the romatics are exorcised
In the cold harsh world of facts and data and pundits
Can we imagine the advent of mystery
The coming of the divine into the space of the secular
Will the dreams of the prophets be met by the cynicism of this age
Like in their own day, ignored by those who had surrendered hope
To the foolishness of the past, to the dreams of old men
The prophecy of daughters long gone and the visions of young men

Or might there be in the midst of the foolishness of those dreams
A way out of the rabbit’s hole where we find ourselves trapped in our own wonderlands
Trapped into a world that egocentrically revolves around the walls I build to protect me from thee
What would a world look like where nations no longer train for war
Where spears of separation are beaten into pruning hooks of production
Where swords of every age are reforged into the implements for feeding the nations
Where the shields and walls that divide become the fuel that fires the halls of fellowship
In this crazy kingdom where wolves and lambs lie down, and lions and calves and fatlings
Where children can play with poisonous snakes and we enter into the childish imagination
Of the Lord who is born in the home of the animals, laid in the straw of the ox

Of deserts that become productive and blind that see and deaf that hear,
Where springs of water break forth in the midst of the thirsty ground
And the highway that leads home is no longer a fools dream
No longer just the narrow way that only the wise can discern
To a place where hospitality and healing reign and tears are wiped away
Where children are born to us that might bring the mighty down from their thrones
And uplift the humble of heart and fill the hungry with good things
A crazy dream where the last are first and the first are last
Where the poor, hungry, weeping, hated, cursed and defamed are blessed
Where the ignored child of an unwed mother is Lord
And a crucified slave is the king

These dreams don’t come easy in a world come of age
Where we are all too aware of the ways these dreams were manipulated and mobilized
To prop up the powerful rather than to lift up the lowly
To build walls to divide rather than to create a world where there is no longer
Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female
And yet for all the deconstructionism of the day
The dreams persist, the imagination dares to imagine the heavens opened
The angelic messengers pointing to the sacred in the midst of the profane
That the portals between heaven and earth may indeed be opened
In this unusual advent coming in the smallest and the least
Where a little child might lead them.

Neil White, 2013

The Place of Authority: A Brief History Part 3b: The Exile, Reconstructing Identity-Narrative, Practice and Hope

James Tissot, The Flight of the Prisoners

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage that they bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfares of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29. 4-7 NRSV

Even when the world as you know it ends, life still goes on, and we have to make sense of the conflict, the struggle and our place within it.  The communal memory becomes important, the stories parents have told their children, the history of families. In the midst of competing narratives what is the story that one can identify with? With the loss of the Davidic monarchy, the temple, the land of their ancestors the people did something amazing, they recast their identity.  They dug deep into their narrative, they began bringing together their stories, and in fact much of the Old Testament is brought together at this point. Stories of creation and exodus begin to be the patterns in which the present is made sensible and the community begins to come up with answers to the hardest question, “why did this happen?” They don’t come up with just one answer, they come up with many. They bring together their stories and the Torah (typically translated into English as law, but it is a term that is much more than what we understand as law in our context) begins to be center of their life.  Practice and story come together to bind together this community in exile.

This does not mean that everyone agrees, there is not a central authorizing authority for the narrative at this point, it is constructed mainly by the remnant of the elite (everyone else would have been illiterate at this point) from both the priestly and prophetic side. Some of the central ideas to emerge include:

Justice: a sense of living in harmony (shalom) with God’s desire for the way things are to be structured in society. This includes a strong sense of economic justice, compassion for the widows, orphan, immigrant, and the dispossessed. It is from this vision that many prophets operate out of, and this is a central image for the prophetic hope. The new Jerusalem, the new Israel is to be a place of justice where the nations around can look and say “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Isaiah 3b, NRSV) and within God’s plan the nations will stream to Jerusalem.

Purity/Holiness: For us there is often a tension between Purity/Holiness and Justice, but it was not necessarily seen that way by the Jewish people.  Especially for priests there are practices that are to be done to prevent the contamination of unholiness from infecting them as a people and making them repulsive to the holiness of God. It also becomes a powerful way of distinguishing between themselves as a Hebrew people and the nations around them who are the Gentiles, the unclean ones.  This tends to be more of a priestly focus and there are conflicts between which will dominate going forward, but at the root both justice and holiness are practices which distinguish them from the hostile surrounding culture.

With these two distinctive directions emerges a new strand of a hope for a new beginning, a new temple, a New Jerusalem, a new anointed (and Davidic) king, a messiah.  Wrapped up within the memory of the stories of creation and the exodus of the people from Egypt hope springs forth of a return home and a new beginning:

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make away in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people who I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. Isaiah 43.18-21

2nd Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55, which reflects the time of preparation for the return home, while Isaiah 1-39 deals with the time before the exile) in particular is full of this vibrant hope, along with other voices.  Empires rise and empires fall, and a generation later Babylon falls to Persia (modern day Iran) and Cyrus (who Isaiah interestingly calls Messiah/Christ-same word in Hebrew/Greek) makes possible the beginning of a return home.  Their stories and practices have maintained their identity and given them hope of a new beginning. With the return to Jerusalem, the land, and the possibility of reconstructing the temple comes yet another transition.  It is to that transition that we turn next.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com