Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Daniel 3:8-29 (Fiery furance)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4, Advent Cycle.
This is a great Advent 1 text.  We all feel that our culture is pulling us away from the real meaning of Christmas toward worship of countless idols.  Those who hold fast discover the power of God to overcome even the hottest fires and cruelest leaders.

A few quick points:

1)  Aramaic.  This part of Daniel is written in Aramaic.  While similar to Hebrew, I am really skeptical about doing linguistic work in this langauge.
http://danielinthebible.com/hebrew-and-aramaic/ seems an interesting website on the distinction between Aramaic and Hebrew in the OT.

2)  "son of gods."  Some translations and art will focus on Jesus in the fire.  This is not altogether abiblical, as the text literally says, "son of the gods."  The NET Bible doesn't want to translate this as son of God because they believe it is a pagan speaking.  But how could a pagan say anything remotely close to "the son of the living God, YHWH"?  I don't think its entirely unfair to conceive of Christ, in some capacity, as the one who saves them.

3)  The story has a lyrical, nearly epic quality about it.  I am not sure what this means for preaching, but there is something otherworldly and even charming about the story.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Jeremiah 29:1;4-14

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 (Most recently Nov 2013).  A portion of it also occurs in the RCL, Year C (Proper 23).

Summary:  The Hebrew here definitely accentuates and expands the meaning of Jeremiah's words.  Maybe because it is Christ the King Sunday, I am thinking a fair amount about God's sovereign title (Lord Sabbaoth) as well as the meaning of "plans" when it comes to God.  The Hebrew reveals that God is sovereign but in some more terrifying yet amazing ways than we thought possible.

Key Words:
צבאות ("Sabbaoth"; "Armies", "Hosts"; 29.4):  The NET translates this, "God of Israel...who rules over all."  While such a title does justice to the Hebrew's designation of God as all powerful, I think taking out the clearly militaristic language at that juncture is unhelpful.  The purpose of this title here is a reminder that it is God who has sent them into exile for God is the ruler of armies.  This is a horribly uncomfortable reality for us, that somehow, through all the violence of human warfare, God reigns supreme, working not just against but even through war.  I struggle with this greatly.

הגליתי ("higlaytee"; "send into exile" in hiphel; 29:4) First point here:  Jeremiah uses the first person here in his speech for God:  God says he did this.  The second point here:  The root of this verb means to uncover.  In a strange way, to sent into exile is to be uncovered.  Removed of our previous religious moorings and culture, we discover who we are in profound ways.  Yes, we ultimately discover ourselves in relationship, but a certain learning also comes from separation.

שלום("shalom"; "peace"; 29:7)  Last week we read that Isaiah prophecies of a prince of peace (Jesus).  This week we hear that God intends to make people prosper, but it is actually the same word.  Again, peace in Hebrew is a much broader word than simply a truce!

מחשבה ("makhashaba"; "thoughts, devices, or plans"; 29:11):  I am always worried about the word plan in the Bible.  It can quickly make both humans and God into a fatalistic machine.  The word translated plan here can be mean plan, but it can also mean thought or device/plot:

NRS Psalm 92:5 How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!
NRS Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
NRS Proverbs 16:3 Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.
NRS Lamentations 3:61 You have heard their taunts, O LORD, all their plots against me.

As the TWOT indicates:  "The basic idea of the word is the employment of the mind in thinking activity. Reference is not so much to "understanding" (cf. bi^n), but to the creating of new ideas."  What further attests to this is that the LXX translates this as λογισμος, which means thought or reason.  I do not disgree that God has plans for the people.  In this case, Jeremiah has very clear prophecies about 70 years.  But the OT word for plan in many cases means something softer than "calculated plan" and more like "creative and reasoned thoughts" that have as their end peace and hope.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Isaiah 9:1-7

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, most recently Nov 2013.  It is also the Old Testament passage for Christmas in the RCL.

Summary:  The inclusion of this passage at this particular juncture, it seems, is designed to have us read Isaiah within its historical context.  (Which probably means reading Isaiah 8, yuck).  Ultimately, I think reading within the broadest narrative is the only way to intepret it.  Matthew sees this passage as prophetic about Jesus; therefore, even if Isaiah didn't have this fully in mind (a debatable point) we don't have to debate whether it ultimately referred to Jesus.  Matthew said so.  QED.  The historical context us, reminds us that God, even in the midst of his wrath, still is a God of mercy, whose proper and ultimate aims are life and joy, not death and destruction.  In terms of the Hebrew, I have focused on vs. 1 and 2 and the names given to Jesus.

Note:  I am actually preaching this week on Isaiah 6, so I apologize for the shorter blog post.

Key Words focusing on Isaiah 9:1-2:
צלמות  ("tsalmwet", "deep death like darkness")  This word shows up in Psalm 23:4.  I wonder if this is a good word to describe what we saw in the recent Typhoon in the Philippines.  The people walking in the land of shadowy death.  We know from Scripture that Christ is present in this suffering to.

פהא ("pele", "wonder")  In the English language, wonderful is a word used by grandmothers to describe the artwork of their grandchildren.  Wonder in the Bible means God is doing something, like 7 wonders of the world, or like God making barren Sarah pregnant or the 10 plagues.

יועצ (yo-atz, "counselor", technically a verbal noun) The NET couragously and creatively translates this as "strategist."  While I think the captures the military nature of the passage, but doesn't seem completely fair to the word, which means more simply advisor.   I think it also becomes highly probelmatic for us to see Jesus as our strategist rather than our advisor. A strategist figures out how we can achieve our aims; a counselor or advisor directs us.  Nothing in this section describes this baby as one who is part of our agenda and not the other way around.

אביעד ("aveeyad", "eternal father")  This is quite a title for a baby.  This is and the title of mighty God make me really wonder how Isaiah could actually not be imputing divinity to the baby.  I also wonder how we reconcile the idea of Jesus being father.

שלומ(shalom, "peace")  Peace here means something far more than truce.  It means wholeness and restored relationship.  In Hebrew, peace entails righteousness, something that Christ brings about.  This is the last name, the last word, peace, really, wholeness.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Amos 5

The narrative lectionary, year 4, includes:  Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24.  In this post I focus on Amos 5.

I find the Hebrew beautiful in this section.  Is presents three couplets of rejection, each with a different image and sense (God will not smell, look or hear the people).  Yet it leaves me curious as to how to translate the imagery of vs 24.  Are the waters of justice a raging river or simply waters?  Is the stream of righteousness a torrent, gorging flood or a cool stream to refresh all life?  Of course, its both.  While this particular passage (and the balance of the book) speak of God's alien work of judgment, it also promises God's redemption (see the last few verses of the book!)

Key words:
 דרש ("seek" (darash); Amos 5:4, 5, 6, 14)):  This word only appears once in this week's narrative lectionary snippet.  But it is a reminder that at its heart, prophets are always calling for repentance more than announcing judgment.

סבאות ("army"/"hosts" (sabboth); Amos 5:14, 15, 16, 27)  I always thought this was Lord of the Sabbath as a kid.  I had no idea this meant Yahwah of the Army.  What to do with this term?  Two interesting things about this term.  First, it is found in its full fury in Amos 3:13, where God is announcing his militaristic judgment against the nation.  Yet, 4:13 also makes it clear that this word doesn't simply mean military might, but also his providence in creation.

"For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth -- the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!" (NRSV)

In fact, the word in Greek (LXX) is not "army" or "military" but παντοκρατωρ, which means, almighty or literally "all holding."  The power of God's hand is not simply to kill but to make alive.  I think that ultimately a comparison of 4:13 and 3:13 reveals that even in this military image of God, even in this book of judgment, we find the two hands of God at work:
  The alien work - to destroy
  The proper hand - to make life
Restoring creation requires both

Sense words in vs 21-24:
ריח (Smell-21; Technically it means to open wide, as in the nostrils open wide)
-I will not smell your religious assemblies
נבת (Look-22);
-I will not look at your peace offerings
-I will not hear the music of your stringed instruments

Most translations  cover this up, but is a beautiful, crescendoing three pronged couplet of images.  (In Hebrew, rhymes are not based on sound, but on meaning; each vs 21, 22 and 23 is therefore a rhyme).

מימ ("waters" (mayim), 5:24)  The only thing modifying water is "of justice."  In short, there are waters of justice.  But what kind of waters? 
 ("wadi; torrent" (nahal); 5:24).  While TWOT indicates:  "This noun usually refers to a dry river bed or ravine which in the rainy season becomes a raging torrent, and/or the resulting torrent," there are many examples in the Bible where it simply means a stream.  Most importantly for us, Elijah (the narrative lectionary star last week), drank water from a Nahal; it nourished him.

I think within this particular context of Amos, a more violent translation makes sense, but I think one cannot deny the canonical understanding of what kind of waters God pictures of justice and righteousness.  I think finally the flood will give way to waters of life around the tree of life, the cross.

Technical note:  The verb in 23 switches to the singular second person (you instead of all of you).  The NET Bible notes this might mean that the prophet is attacking one individual.  I think a better understanding is simply that as the prophet levels the accusations, it becomes clear that ultimately, all the nation is guilty as one.