Prophets (Notes of 2013)
A Historical Consideration on the Prophets
1. The HEBREW BIBLE has three big parts. There is the section on the “Law” or the Torah, the section on “Prophets” or Nabi’im and the section on “Writings” or Ketouvim. We know the section on the Torah. We call this the Pentateuch—or the five first books in the Bible we use. In the HEBREW BIBLE the Nabi’im section is composed of two parts. There is the part on “the first prophets” and the part on “the last prophets”. For us, with the Bible we use, we call “the first prophets” as the historical books. This includes Joshua, Judges, Samuel-Kings and Chronicles. (The HEBREW BIBLE will later become, more or less, what we now know as “the Old Testament”).
2. The section on “the first prophets” recall the history of Israel from the entry to Canaan to the exile in Babylon. In the Jewish tradition these are called “prophetic”. Why? Some would say that ancient prophets wrote the books. Well, this is open to debates. Another reason why these books are “prophetic” is because they are historical records of certain individuals, like Elijah, Elisha and Nathan who intervened in the historical lives of Israelites. But these individuals did not have themselves fond in many pages. The historical books mentioned them—but not too much. There must be a more appropriate reason for calling the historical books “prophetic”. Let us see why.
3. History is itself a “teacher”. History itself is “prophetic”. It shows the coming and going of the people—coming from God and going away from God and returning to God. The historical books show the reason for faithfulness and unfaithfulness to God. History shows the consequences of being faithful or unfaithful to God. So in a sense history is itself like a message of a prophet.
4. Now, our course this semester involves the section of “the last prophets”. These are the prophetic books as we read them in the Bible we use. So what is this section of “the last prophets”?
5. In the Bible we use, we notice that the books here are the book “written by prophets”. So the books a like texts authored by the prophets. The books carry the names of their authors knows as prophets. So we see Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc. Bible experts say that the books supposedly authored by prophets were not really authored by them. Maybe it is more accurate to say that they were authored by the disciples of the prophets. Of course we cannot conclude that the prophets never wrote texts. It is just more probable that disciples did the writing.
6. The section of books of “the last prophets” are still classified into major sections. There is the section on “the great prophets” (covering Isaiah, Jeremaiah and Ezekiel) and there is a section on “the minor prophets”.
7. Some of the “minor prophets” are well known—like Hosea, Amos and Micah. Some may not be so well known—like Nahum and Habakkuk.
From the years 1000 to 721: The United Kingdom, the Split and the Fall of Samaria
1. Let us look a bit—just a little bit—on the history of ancient Israel from the point of view of the Bible. First we begin with the united kingdom from1000 to 931. Read 2 Samuel 5/1-3.
2. By the year 1000 BC, David unified all the tribes of Israel. All were unified with Hebron and later Jerusalem as center. This was the period of “unity”. Then came Solomon, son of David. Solomon died in 931 BC. A split happened. The kingdom was split to two. There was the Kingdom in the North and Kingdom in the South. The North was called “Israel” and South was “Judah”.
3. The Northern Kingdom formed ten tribes—occupying regions from Samaria to Galilee. (Some parts of the Bible will name the region as “Ephraim” or even “Jacob”.) The capital of the north was in Samaria. The south had two tribes. It was called Judah. The capital was Jerusalem. Here we see the stories in Samuel and Kings.
4. Read 1Kg 11/30-35.
5. Rehoboam, son of Solomon, was rejected by the northern people. This led to the separate formation of the Kingdom of Israel. The first King of the North was Jeroboam I. (Why “I”? Well, there will be a Jeroboam II.)
6. The northern Kingdom was rich economically. But it was always threatened by the empire of Assyria. Assyria invaded the north and destroyed Samaria. The people especially in the region of Samaria were deported—thrown away. People from other Assyrian occupied lands replaced the original inhabitants. This was the end of the Northern kingdom. This is sometime in 721 B.C. The King of the north—the last King—was Hoseah (see 2 Kg 17/6).
7. During this period of the Northern Kingdom, two prophets emerged: Hosea and Amos. The would be very influential during the reign of Jeroboam II (784-744). Both prophets would be engaged in the north.
8. Micah would also be, more or less, in this period and his prophecies were often focused on Judah and Jerusalem.
Now, from 721 to 333: the fall of Judah to the Exile and Return
1. After the fall of the northern Kingdom, the south became rich and powerful. But Judah also had to face pressures from its neighboring regions. It had to consider its position in front of the Assyrians—who were weakening—the Egyptians and the Babylonians. In the year 587 the Babylonians would attack Judah and Jerusalem. The Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, invaded Judah and Jerusalem and deported the people there to Babylon. The Temple was destroyed. (See 2 Kg 25/8-9)
2. This was the time of Isaiah and Jeremiah, for the great prophets. Then the “minor prophets” were Micah, Sophonia, Habakkuk, and Nahum. These were present at around the time before and during the exile to Babylon. Now we come to the years 587-538.
3. This was the time of the exile in Babylon. It was a hard time. The Hebrews left their homeland, they were far from the Temple. They had to deepen their faith outside their traditional land.
4. The prophet Ezekiel would emerge. He would prophesize while in Babylonian captivity. This would also be the time for Isiah-II. (The book of Isaiah is authored by three—coming from the period before, during and after the exile. Isaiah I was in the 7th century (see Is 1-39), Isaiah II was during the xile period (see Is 40-55), and Isaiah III would be during the period of return to Palestine (see Is 56-66). Both authors of Isaiah II and III use the name Isiaiah too because of their close theologies with Isaiah I).
5. Next we look at the years 538-333. This was the return to Judah and Jerusalem. The Babylonian empire was going down. The Persians were on the rise. The Persians would dominate…allowing then the return of the Hebrews to their land. This would be the time before the domination of the Greeks led by Alexander the Great in 333.
6. Cyrus was the Persian King who let the Hebrews go home in 538. Not only did he allow the Hebrews to go home, he even helped finance the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple. This period is sometimes known as the “2nd Temple period”. (See 2 Ch 36/22-23)
7. The return to the land was never easy for the Hebrews. When they got home, they saw their land occupied by many other people, mostly non-Hebrews. It seemed chaotic. Then too there was so much poverty. Everything was to re-build again.
8. Now we see the other prophets emerge: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Obadiah and Joel. What about Jonas? We cannot say he was strictly historical. This was the time of Isaiah-III.
Who is this prophet Amos?
1. Amos is a prophet during the early years of the Northern Kingdom’s existence. It is a time of prosperity. The big empire at that time, Syria, is weakening. The emerging empire, Assyria, is not yet very threatening too much. In fact, the Northern Kingdom of Israel is known to have political influence over neighboring nations. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, is however in conflict with the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
2. This is the time of Amos, a time of wealth and plenty. It is a time of pride for the North (see 6/13-14). Rich people can have two residences—one for summer and another for winter. Their homes are adorned with fanciful things like ivory and gorgeous pillows (see 3/12). They have vineyards and they anoint themselves with nice smelling oils (see 5/11; 6/4-6). Women, fat like cows, drink lots of wine (see 4/1).
3. But there is no justice in the land… “They do not know how to do what is right—oracle of the LORD, storing up in their strongholds violence and destruction” (3/10). Even judges are corrupt, “oppressing the just, accepting bribes, turning away the needy at the gate” (5/12).
4. The Lord God—who is Creator (see 4/13 5/8-9) calls Amos to minister to the North. He is called to tell the people to “seek the Lord and live” (5/6). Yes, God is angry with the other nations who are so violent and without pity to the weak. There is torture and slaughtering in those lands. But the Lord God turns his anger more to his chosen people. They reject everything that has been established—the Law and the Covenant. People seem to observe the practices but in the end they simply cheat each other. ““When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may open the grain-bins? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating!” (8/5). In other words, worship of the Lord God is external. It is not within…because right after worship, the scales are again cheated. So God hates even the feasts and worship of the people (see 5/21).
5. Amos denounces these injustices. Yes, he gets into trouble, as the priest of Bethel will tell him to leave.
6. The God of Amos is a God of justice. Well, justice is stipulated in the Covenant. God had liberated the people from Egypt and had put a binding Covenant. But the people are not faithful to this. Amos conveys to the people the anger of the Lord God. He tells the people how God is so frustrated, they do not return to God (see 4/6-13).
7. Yet God has an open heart. God promises to encounter the people one day. “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (4/12). “Prepare” means to face, to meet, to encounter. God will take the initiative to meet the people, so the people should prepare. God has made an appointment! He will not leave the people in the dark. He will continue to communicate. The book of Amos ends with a very hopeful tone. The prophet is so intimate with God…and with the people.
1. We know already about the time of Amos. The United Kingdom just split, and we have Israel of the north and Judah of the South. The Kingdom of the North, Israel, is prosperous. It is highly agrarian and it is involved with business with many other nations.
2. So during the time of Amos it is a time of economic wealth. Internationally Israel has some political influence. Syria-Damascus is weakening, Assyria is not yet a big threat.
3. But there is injustice in the land. There is the gap rich-poor. There is cheating in business. The homes of the rich are pomp. The poor are miserable. There is slavery and there is idolatry.
4. Let’s look at slavery. The debtor has a strong power over the person in debt. If, for example, a person in debt dies and has not yet paid the debt, the debtor can also take the children as slaves to repay the debt (see 2Kg. 4/1). So when there is the impossibility to pay debt, one ends up as a slave to the debtor. Slavery as payment for debt is a practice. It is a practice in the region of the Near East.
5. Why is it so difficult to pay debts? Well, one major reason is that interests are so high. The Law wants to correct this. See Ex 22/24; Lv 25/35-37; Dt 23/20-21. The Law must protect the weak who falls into debt and cannot pay. In case the person in debt must serve the debtor, the debtor must care for this person and consider this person as an equal (see Lv 25/35). Never profit from the misery of the poor. Debt must be seen fraternally , it is done between brothers (see Dt 23/2-21). But this never happens in the time of Amos.
6. What about idolatry? We can associate this with purity versus impurity. In the Old Testament, and surely in the time of Amos, purity and impurity are linked with worship in which sanctuary or temple. The community worship will show.
7. People of that time have a strong sense of religiosity. Certain human realities, like sexuality and vital forces, are not within human control. So something religious must be there. Something of the divine must be there. There is a religious sense of the world. And this means that the world can be composed of the sacred and the profane. This explains why there are practices like contact with the dead or the practice of sex. Blood is life, it is sacred. Having touched blood or sexual fluids, one comes into contact with something belonging to the sacred.
8. Worship to the Lord God must not be infected with worship of other divinities. It is an impurity to worship other gods. Idolatry makes the people unable to adore the Lord God—the liberator from Egypt. So even animal sacrifices have to be certain—the animal must be “pure” also.
9. So we can see the reason for frustration not just in terms of worship but also in terms of sexual practices.
10. Jeroboam I in known to have made centers of cult worship. Since the north has separated from the south, Jeroboam I decides to avoid relying on Jerusalem. So he starts centers of worship, notably in Bethel and in Dan. There is also Gilgal, near the river Jordan. We read about Amos getting furious, “Come to Bethel and sin, to Gilgal and sin all the more! Each morning bring your sacrifices, every third day your tithes” (4/4). “But do not seek Bethel; Do not come to Gilgal” (5/5). So there is this problem of idolatry.
11. Together with worship of other gods, there is also “sacred prostitution”. (This will be strong in the book of Hosea). This type of prostitution represents fertility—it is a ritual to assure agrarian fertility. (See Dt23/18; 1Kg14/24). Men and women can be prostitutes. This prostitution is against the faith. It becomes a general symbol of infidelity—Israel prostitutes herself to other gods.
Situating the text in the whole book
12. Let us consult the New American Bible. We see that it structures the whole book of Amos. (See your NAB). So Amos 2/6-16 is in the first part.
13. By 3/1-5-17 there is the major theme of calling Israel to hear the Word of God. By 5/18-6/14 Israel is given warnings—warnings to the corrupt, the cheaters, the idle rich, etc. In 7/1-9/10 we read about visions to Amos and the visions are marked by punishments. Still, the whole book ends with a positive note in 9/11-15. Israel will be restored.
14. The text we are studying is in the first section—the first two chapters of the book. The section deals with accusations against the nations. Israel seems to be no different from the other nations. Yet, most of the accusations leveled against the neighboring nations are about their external alliances. Israel, and Judah, of course, have an internal issue with the Lord God. There is an alliance, a Covenant, with God and this covenant is violated.
The text itself: 2/6-16
15. If we read closely we can see that this text has distinguishing parts. Vv.6-8 are about accusations against Israel. Vv.9-12 are about what God has done and yet is neglected and violated. Vv.13-16 are threats; the Lord God will put pressure on Israel.
16. In v.6 we see that the Lord God is “fed up”…as expressed in “three crimes of Israel, and now four”. In the tradition of the Hebrews, the commandments must be kept (Dt 7/11). The person who keeps this true is a “just” person. This person keeps the Covenant and the Lord will protect the just. The Lord will also keep the Covenant. God has said this to the Fathers of the Hebrews. God will protect the just, including the family and property of the just. But now we see that the just falls into debt. We also see the mention of the poor falling into debt. Debt leads to slavery. The inability to pay makes one lose property and self to the debtor. (See also what the New American Bible refers to from time to time, like here it refers to Am 8:6 and Sir 46:19. Looking into these can help deepen reflections.) Inside Israel is slavery—and remember that the Hebrews were once upon a time slaves in Egypt. Look at how the poor, is valued—as “a pair of sandals”.
17. In v.7 we read about trampling the head of the weak—the destitute. (See 8/4). Already one is a destitute and still put to the ground to be trampled on. It is the “fun” of the strong to see the weak humiliated. The poor making requests is sent away forcibly. Then we read about the father and the son. They sleep with the same girl. This is a crime of misuse of power, as proposed by the NAB. The rich disadvantage poor young women. This is an insult to the honor of the Lord God.
18. In v.8 we read about cloaks and garments of the poor. The poor uses the cloak as pledge. In other words, if the poor needs help and money, the cloak is pledged as guarantee for payment later on. According to the fraternal law of Moses, it is not fraternal to keep the cloak overnight. The cloak must be returned to the owner during the night. (See Ex 2 2/25-26 ; Dt 24/10-13.). Now here in Amos not only is the cloak refused overnight it is even used for idolatry. Then also in the cult places confiscated wine is consumed. Wine is associated with many things…like with love: “I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends; drink! Drink deeply, lovers!” (Song of Sg 5/1). It can symbolize life (see Pr. 32/6). It is also associated with the blessings of God (see Gn 27/28); symbolizing the Covenant between God and people. During sacrifices, wine is offered to the Lord God on the altar (see Ex 29/40). To have wine is therefore to have something of great value. To give up this property—and have is confiscated—is a sad thing to happen. Now those who take the confiscated wine do not recognize the value. They even use it for idolatry cult practices.
19. Notice then the accusations that Israel—or the elites of Israel—will have to face. The poor and the just and the weak are crushed miserably. Together with this is the idolatry against the Lord God. Both—injustice and idolatry—are central in the accusation. They are clear proofs of violation of the Covenant with God.
20. Next the Lord God will recall the good things done to the people before. This is Old Testament history. God liberated the people from slavery, made Covenant with them and settled them in the Promised Land, giving them the Law to live fraternally. But what is happening now? The people practice slavery and immorality and idolatry. There is a contrast with what God has done.
21. In v.9 we read about the Amorites, a very strong people. The NAB suggests some other passages to look at. The Amorites have been occupying Palestine before the arrival of the Hebrews. (Check your NAB and see the references proposed there). Sometimes the word Amorite is used to identify all the people living in Palestine before. At one point when the Hebrews, under Moses, tried to enter Palestine, they were blocked by Amorites. Well, the story tells us that the Hebrews overthrew the Amorites (see Nm.21/21-31).
22. In v.10 we see a recall of the liberation from Egypt. Now, both vv.9-10 show that “it is I” the Lord who took the initiative to prepare the place for the Hebrew people. Now that they are installed, they are even given the presence of “Nazirites” and prophets. During the time of Amos—and even before—there are people called “Nazirites”. A “nazirite” is a person “separated” from others. In other words, this person is full-time for the Lord God. (Does this not remind you of some types of people you know?) This person follows rules like no drinking of alcohol (see Am 2/11). This person never cuts his hair (remember Samson?), does not go near the dead. (See Jg 13/5; 1 Sam 1/11; Nb 6/5).
23. To be “Nazirite” one takes a kind of “vow” to God and to worship. If the vow is temporary, then at the end the “Nazirite” can cut his hair. Now because this “Nazirite” is dedicated to God, he can function in some form of speaking on behalf of God. So there is something prophetic in the role. The term “prophets” refer here to a tradition in ancient times. Already there were individuals and groups doing prophecy (and 1Sam-2Kg are filled with references).
24. Israel has been having the presence of people who consecrate their lives to God. Their presence can remind the nation of the Covenant and life of morality. And v.11 ends with the question: “is this not so?” In other words, you, Israel, you know this. Yet what do we see in v.12? The “Nazirites” are made to break their vows and prophets are told to shut up. (Check out the references proposed by the NAB).There is a systematic practice of putting an obstacle to listening to God. Sacred functions are obstructed. It is the vanity of the people. (Does this not remind us of not listening to Gen.2/16-17?... or the refusal to take a “Sabbath” distance, as proposed by Gen.1?)
25. So the Lord God is “fed up”. What will he do? The cart or wagon will be burdened with weight. The Lord God will be like this weight that will press down on the cart (v.13). Israel has become foolish…and the Lord will weigh on her. “Like the wheel of a cart is the mind of a fool, and his thoughts like a turning axle” (Sir.33/5). When pressure is exerted, the natural reaction will be to get out of that pressure. We see in v.14-16 strategies that will not work. The swift one will not be swift—cannot flee fast. The strong will not be strong. The warrior cannot even defend himself. There is no escape for the fast one. The horseman cannot be saved. Even the most stouthearted of warriors “shall flee naked on that day—oracle of the LORD”.
26. Israel under the pressure of the Lord God will try to make use of all possibly powerful elements; but she shall remain powerless. Even the most courageous will throw away his weapons. Yes, there is the possibility of fleeing—but it is a fleeing in nakedness. In the Bible nakedness is not strictly sexual. It is associated more with poverty, limit, weakness, shame. In Hosea we read: “Now I will lay bare her shame in full view of her lovers….” (Hos.2/11). In Isaiah we read that “the king of Assyria lead away captives from Egypt, and exiles from Ethiopia, young and old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the shame of Egypt” (Is 20/4).
27. So the penalty of Israel is…to be humbled under the weight of the Lord.
Prophet: with a sense of God’s Project and Communicates it
1. The English word “prophet” is from the Greek word “prophetes” meaning “advocate”. The Hebrews would put it as nabî', pronounced as “navî”.
2. The Greek word “prophetes” is what the translators used when they translated the Hebrew Bible. Remember the LXX? The original Hebrew nabî' is said to be associated with the verb “to call” or “to name”. It can also have the meaning of "fruit of the lips" (www.jewfaq.org/prophet.htm). The emphasis is the role as a speaker. Does it mean “to call” in the active sense—like to make an announcement? Or does it mean “to call” in the passive sense—that is “to be called”?
3. We tend to think of a prophet as someone who predicts the future. This has become a popular and habitual interpretation. We can trace this thinking from early Christianity. The early Church interpreted history as a salvation history and the early Christians put Jesus in the summit. They saw that history had a unity and a continuity with the project of God. They saw that from the time of Abraham to the time of Jesus God was fulfilling his project. The early Christians then expressed this unity of history in the terms of “as announced by the prophets” or “as written in the Scriptures”. Note then that history was interpreted starting with Jesus and then retrospecting back to the past. So it looked like the prophets knew ahead of time that Jesus was coming. Now we inherit the thinking that the prophet was someone who could see ahead of time. We do not notice the retrospection involved.
4. But let us look closely at how the Old Testament viewed a prophet. A prophet was someone who responded to a vocation. Sure there were signs of ecstasy and all that. But the important point is that a prophet has a vocation—a calling to tell people what God wanted to say. So the prophet was a kind of “spokesperson” for God.
A sense of God’s Project
5. Let us go to Amos. In Amos we notice that the prophet is someone who has a strong sense of God’s project of liberation. He says: “Indeed, the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Am 3/7). He is convinced that God has “brought you up from the land of Egypt, and who led you through the desert for forty years (Am 2/10). The Lord brought up the people “from the land of Egypt” (Am3/1).
6. If God has a project of liberation the prophet has a keen sense of the obstacles to the project. The prophet is not a dreamer. He is in touch with the realities of his society. He is someone in his times. Again if we look at Amos, we see him criticizing the prosperity of the Northern Kingdom. It is a prosperity marked by injustice. What is the point of praising and worshiping God if the nation is not liberated from the hold of injustice? So we read in Amos: “I hate, I despise your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemnities. … let justice surge like waters, and righteousness like an unfailing stream (Am. 5/21.24).
The need to communicate
7. The prophet senses a call—a revelation given to him by the Lord God. The prophet feels that God is speaking through him. Therefore the prophet feels called to communicate this to the people. “The LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’” (Am.7/15). “The LORD roars from Zion, and raises his voice from Jerusalem (Am 1/2). “The lion has roared, who would not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken, who would not prophesy? (Am 3/8).
8. He has to deliver the message. Of course he will face opposition and persecution. We can see this in the struggle of Amos with Amaziah (see Am 7/10-17).
9. The message of the prophet is often presented as “oracle”. An oracle is a message pronounced in the name of God. We see the expression: “And so the Lord speaks” or “Oracle of the Lord”. Yes, the oracles sound very serious and severe but the aim is to make the people return to the Lord God. So basically an oracle is designed as a message of salvation—message of liberation. “Yes, days are coming—oracle of the LORD—When the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps and the vintager, the sower of the seed; The mountains shall drip with the juice of grapes, and all the hills shall run with it. I will restore my people Israel…. the LORD, your God, has spoken.” (Am. 9/13-15).
10. So the prophet has a sense of God’s project and has the impulse to communicate this. The prophet may look back to the past—at the time when God liberated the people from slavery. The prophet also looks forward to the future and open up the sense of hope. For the prophet the Lord God does not give up renewing the relationship with the people. Yes, the prophet is very hard on denouncing the obstacles to God’s project. He denounces the situations that put God’s plan in peril. The prophet struggles but does not fall to pessimism. His aim is to awaken, to make people stand up, and to remind them that they have a relationship—a Covenant—with God whose desire is the authentic happiness of the people.
11. One point we can say is this. Nabî' can imply the active sense of “to call” or “to proclaim”. This is because the nabî' has that vocation to communicate God’s oracles to the people. Now nabî' can also be “to be called”. If to communicate is the goal of the prophet, it is because he has been called by God to do so. The words of the prophet are “fruits from the lips”. They are words in the name of God and words of the prophet too.
12. Of course we looked exclusively at Amos. But the same pattern is found in all prophets. Hopefully we see this in the different prophetic texts that we will read. Try looking into these: Isaiah 6/1-13; 61/1-9; Jeremiah 1,4-19; and of course Amos 3,3-8.
The prophet as witness
1. The importance of prophecy is not just in the message of the prophet but more importantly in the role of a prophet as a witness. A prophet makes God heard. What the prophet makes audible is the inner life of God. The prophet reveals God’s inner life. The prophet was important not only in what he said but in who he was.
2. Being prophetic is not just in the ability “to see the future”. A prophet lives a prophetic life. The word spoken to the prophet “becomes” the prophet. The inner life with God is seen in the prophet.
3. When we read the prophetic books, we notice how a prophet was consumed with God. Sensing the call of God, the prophet turned “separated” from society. Of course some prophets lived in the midst of society. But prophets seemed different from those around them.
4. They were known as prophets because they were known as those whom separated themselves from the ways of the world (see 1 Peter 2/9). This separation was prophetic in itself. Prophets lived out the life that they preached. This was possible by separation from the ways of society and separation “unto” God. Separation “unto” God meant to be with God. It meant “to be like God”—to resemble the ways of God.
5. Separation did not mean elitism. It simply meant that the prophet had to take a distance from the idolatry and sins of society. If the prophet had the ministry to tell people the inner life of God, the prophet had to refuse playing the same game of society. If the people had to hear from the prophets, the prophets had to come clean and clear with their message. To deliver a message, the prophet had to be separated.
6. The prophet had to live a coherent and unified life—not a life of mixed directions of darkness and light, death and life. It had to be light all the way. It had to be life all the way. The hold of darkness played in society is given up. This is what it means to be “separated”. In Jeremiah we read: “If you bring forth the precious without the vile, you shall be my mouthpiece. Then it shall be they who turn to you, and you shall not turn to them; And I will make you toward this people a solid wall of brass. Though they fight against you, they shall not prevail” (Jer.15/19-20).
7. The prophets were not exactly appreciated by society. People wanted to say that their relationship with God was ok, so the prophet was just disturbing them.
8. With the hate, however, came respect. Remember the story of Ahab and Elijah. Ahab hated Elijah…and feared him too (see 1Kg 18/17). Ahab knew that Elijah had prayed. He understood that Elijah was a prophet. Obadiah, another figure in the story of Elijah, was afraid to tell Ahab that he had found Elijah, because the Spirit of God might have carried Elijah away before he could return with the king (see 1 Kg 18/12).
9. Elisha was another prophet who sent someone to anoint Jehu as King over Israel (see 2Kg 9/1-13). In the story of Jehu we read that he asked his soldiers “why did this mad fellow come to you?” The prophet was a “mad fellow”.
10. Most people like to hear only what they want to hear (see Jer 5/31). So some say that they hear from the Lord. But the Lord God has never spoken to them, they are prophesying illusions (see Jer 23/25-40; Is 30/10). Some are telling a lie. They speak regardless of the reality and consequence of what they say (see Jer 27/10). They are not separated. They are not mad. They want to be “in” with the crowd and are more interested on telling people what people want to hear. True prophets are the ones who are “title-less”, concerned that God be heard among the people. As the prophet Jeremiah said: ‘But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,” then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it. Jer 20/9
11. A prophet lives a prophetic life. The prophet’s message and life are integral. A prophet’s life is consumed by God.
12. A prophet will speak words in correspondence with the truth of God’s Word. God has his plans which is the message of the prophet. To be a prophet is to live out the word that one speaks. It is to testify and exemplify a reflection of the message. The person of the prophet is the main ministry of the prophet. This is not a title but a relationship with God. The message of God for the people becomes the features of the prophet’s life. The message is their “identity-card”, so to speak.
Acknowledging Yohanan Goldmann
Who is Hosea?
1. We are still with the Northern Kingdom. Hosea calls it often as “Ephraim”. If during the time of Amos the Northern Kingdom was in the height of prosperity, here is the time of Hosea we see it declining and eventually falling. Hosea starts his ministry in the reign of Jeroboam II. Now Assyrian is an empire to reckon with. The Syrian empire is weak. Many nations now start to fall under its control.
2. The king of Assyria at this time is Tiglath-Pileser III. He has been pressuring Israel, Judah and even Egypt. Meanwhile, in Israel, we see Jeroboam II still in some kind of success. He has checked the powers of Syrian-Damascus and he has continued to make Israel prosperous. But since his death, things go chaotic. Zechariah replaces him but is immediately killed by Shallum. Shallum is immediately killed by Menahem. Menahem stays in power for some time (6 years, probably). He is not a very pleasant king (see 2Kg.15/16). Assyrian pressures him…and he falls for it. He puts Israel as vassal of Assyria. This means giving tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III, with the consequence of draining the economy.
3. Menahem dies and is replaced by Pekahiah. Pekahiah is immediately killed by Pekah who becomes king. Pekah links up with Syria-Damascus and tries to make the Southern Kingdom of Judah join in a fight against Assyria. Judah refuses. So Israel with Syria-Damascus goes into war with Judah—this will be known as the Syro-Emphraimite war. Well, Pekah is murdered by Hoshea (note the spelling…this is not the prophet). Pekah aligns with Assyria (which helped him kill Pekahiah). But Hoshea secretly aligns with Egypt. The king of Assyria at this time is Sargon II. This king hears about the betrayal, so he attacks Israel, wipes out Samaria and deports the people away. He replaces them with other people coming from other areas of the Assyrian empire.
4. As we can see in this very quick view of time-line, Israel is marked by big intrigues, revolts,…murder and betrayal. Hosea is very displeased during this time. He thinks that Israel is a harlot of the nations. It is a political harlotry (see 5/3 6/10 9/1). For Hosea there is no legitimate king. A king is someone chosen by the Lord God. This is not evident in Israel. Kings in Israel have not been from the authority of the Lord God. “They made kings, but not by my authority” (8/4).
5. During this time corruption has become widespread. It is not just a practice among people on the top. It has become popular. Even rulers are shaken by the corruption of everyone. “They are all heated like ovens, and consume their rulers” (7/7).
6. Israel has been exposing herself to all political forces from the outside, notably Assyria and Egypt. Some would be pro-Egyptian while others would be pro-Assyrian. This would weaken Israel. “Israel is swallowed up; now they are among the nations, like a useless vessel” (8/8). To rely on any of the big empires is really to lose security.
7. So where must Israel put her confidence? For Hosea, trust in the Lord God. But Israel has forgotten God. “Israel has forgotten his maker and has built palaces” (8/14). Instead of the Lord God, Baal-Astarte become central. Yes, there is place for the Lord God. But God is now one among other divinities. The idea of “the Lord God alone” is dropped. People prefer a variety of gods. This is so unacceptable to Hosea (see 13/4-8). His mission is to tell the people how frustrated God is and they are to return to the Lord God. But why?
8. God is love. God is not insensitive to the lives of the people. God cares for the people…and now they are lost and confused. In Hosea we see a more tender God (see 1/6-8; 2/3; 3/1 ff; 6/21.25; 11/8-9; 11/1, etc.)
9. Hosea is so in love with God—the bonding is emotional. The relationship he sees between God and people is like a marriage. Idolatry is adultery. It is a betrayal of the marriage. Hosea sympathizes with God and with people. Even in his personal life he re-enacts this drama between God and nation.
10. Hosea marries Gomer. It is a passionate love. But Gomer is unfaithful—she runs after other lovers. Hosea has to give her up legally but the Lord God tells him to take her back. “Again the LORD said to me: go, love a woman who is loved by her spouse but commits adultery” (3/1). In the personal life of Hosea we see the whole God-Israel relationship re-enacted.
11. What is the main theme of Hosea’s complaint? We can say that he is so frustrated with the absence of “knowing God”. This word “know” has some basic meanings in the Bible.
12. In the Bible, “to know” is characterized by to sense, to perceive, to feel, to notice, to recognize. It can also mean “to have an experience of….” To know someone implies intimacy—as close as sexual intimacy. “The man knew his wife Eve” (Gen.4/1). This means he had intercourse with his wife Eve.
13. In another level, “to know God” is to recognize the authority of God. It is to obey God’s will. This is because God “knows” his people—God has engaged himself personally with the people. In Egypt the people were crying and God “knew” their misery (see Ex.2/24-25). The knowledge of God was marked by concern and sympathy.
14. Knowledge then has a meaning that is beyond intellectual grasping. It is also emotional that calls for union, intimacy, attachment, dedication. God has been dedicated to his people. The people are invited to do the same. There is this invitation to have “mutual feelings for each other”. In Hosea we read: “For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (6/6). Notice here the idea of “knowledge”. It is an inner disposition rather than an external gesturing.
15. So in Hosea there is a call for solidarity between God and people. The people have lost sense of it. This loss is of their own undoing. Read the complaint of God: “My people are ruined for lack of knowledge!” (4/6).
16. Come back to the Lord. Hosea is very emotional about this. If we are to look at what God does, we also should add what God feels.
The Kingdom is prosperous but …
Let us work on Hosea 2/4-25
1. In this time we see Hosea do his ministry. “The word of the LORD that came to Hosea son of Beeri, … in the days of Jeroboam, son of Joash, king of Israel” (Hos.1/1). Jeroboam II is king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. So we have here a few years after the ministry of Amos. The Kingdom of the North, Israel, is wealthy and quite powerful. The north is known to be very agrarian—rich in agriculture. It is also engaged in trade with Phoenicia (which is, in modern maps, Lebanon).
2. But the wealth of Israel accentuates the gap rich-poor. The presence of foreign religious cults, notably Baalism, is also very strongly practiced. It seems that Hosea has access to information about how the monarchy is running—and it is running very bad. So even if the nation looks ok, deep inside its monarchy is something rotten. (see Hos7)
3. Then Jeroboam II dies. Instability starts taking place. The son of Jeroboam II is Zachariah who will, however be assassinated just two months on the throne. The murderer becomes king only to be murdered too. So it is a story of one murder after another. The last king will have a similar name to the prophet: Hoseah.
4. Contributing to the instability is the threat of Assyria. Inside the monarchy are factions—some in favor of linking with Assyria others in favor of linking with Egypt. At this time the Assyrians are already attacking the nations of the Near East. Israel—the Northern Kingdom—is pays tribute to the Assyrian king. This is to avoid invasion. But Assyria applies pressure regularly. The pro-Egyptian faction seems to be stronger inside Israel. They make an alliance with Syria-Damascus to counter the Assyrians. They even try to make the Southern Kingdom participate in this resistance. But the Southern Kingdom refuses, so a war is made against the south. This was to be known as the “Syrio-Ephraimite” war.
5. So Hosea is in this particular time. People are unfaithful to the Lord God—as seen through their sacred prostitution—and injustice reigns. For Hosea this infidelity is the root of the problem.
6. Let us look at Baalism. Baal could mean “master” or “owner” of properties (see Jg19/22). This is similar to the Hispanic “seṅor” or the English “my Lord”. Baal can also refer to husband (see Gen 20/3). In Hosea there is a strong use of Baal to refer to the Canaanite god of rain and thunder. This is an agricultural god necessary for the growth and harvest of agricultural products. When the Hebrews entered Canaan, they got into contact with Baalism and they too were marked by devotion to Baal. They felt this devotion necessary for their agricultural life.
7. Baal can also be seen in the plural to refer to occult forces and divinities (see Jg 2/11).
8. Many parts of the region are named after Baal: Baal-Peor, Baal-Tsephon, Baal-Hastor, Baal-Hamon, Baal-Hermon, Baal-Zeboob, Bamoth-Baal, etc. The fact that the places have the name Baal in them show the importance given to venerating that god. So in Hosea we see this veneration highly denounced.
9. The story of Israel ends in tragedy. Israel is invaded and Samaria, the capital, falls. It is the end of the Kingdom of Israel. It is custom at that time to make a conquered nation a province. The local population is then thrown away—dispersed—and replaced by people of Assyria. Later these will be called Samaritans.
10. We see the end of the monarchy in the north. The Bible would say that it is the kings who put the nation in such a tragedy. So we read at the end of the book of Hosea the question: “Where now is your king, that he may rescue you?” (13/10). For the prophet Hosea the future of the nation is not in the hands of the monarchy. The monarchy has not been faithful to the Lord God—so it is disqualified.
The whole book of Hosea first
11. The New American Bible has already given an outline of the book. We can refer to that. The NAB structures the book in two major parts: Part I is on the Prophet’s Marriage and Its Symbolism (1/2–3/5). Part II is on Israel’s Guilt, Punishment, and Restoration (4/1–14/9). We can try delineating more the outline. So first there is the section on Hosea’s marriage (1-3). Next comes the condemnation of Hosea’s contemporaries. Then a section on Sin and finally the Epilogue.
12. Now, Hosea 2/4-25 is in the section of 1-3. It is in the section about the symbolism of marriage. There is the description of the infidelity of a wife—symbolizing the infidelity of Israel to the Lord God. But then this infidelity is resolved with reconciliation.
Now we can go to Hos 2/4-25
13. Just before this we read about the marriage and family of Hosea, in chapter 1. There (v.2) God tells Hosea to take a harlot for a wife. Harlotry is symbolic of infidelity. Infidelity is real and actual. Already even in the time of the march in the desert from Egypt the Hebrews have been showing infidelity. But in the desert there was no Baalism yet. The people were not infected with the religion. Only in Canaan do they get infected. So this marriage represents the situation of Israel in Canaan at that time. Then there are three children: Jezreel, “not-to-be-pitied”, “not-my-people”. So we see here a whole symbolic representation of marriage and the fruits of that marriage. Then in chapter 3 we read about the contrast. This time we read about a reconciliation. Love wins. The unfaithful is back in the arms of the Lord. Therefore Chapter two is “sandwiched” between the two sections. So if in Chapter 1 Hosea gets married to Gomer—a “harlot”—we see the link with Chapter 2 which is between God and Israel, a harlot.
14. The New American Bible entitles 2/4-25 as “Israel’s punishment and restoration”. We can see two sections: vv.4-17—which is the “punishment” part—and vv.18-25—which is the “restoration” part.
15. The “punishment” part looks related to law and the administration of justice. God protests. Remember that in Chapter 1 we are presented with the wife and the children. Now we see verses 4-7 as marked by accusation. In verse 4 the same scenario continues with the same symbol of husband-wife and children. This time it is the Lord God who is husband and father while he speaks directly to the children. Your mother…she is not my wife, therefore I am not the
husband…therefore, I am not your father. God protests and in this protest he is so furious he rejects relationships. How can I be related with an unfaithful wife? Later, in v.6 even the children will be accused. The mother is the faithless nation, serving Baal. The children are each and every one—the individual members of that nation.
16. In verse 4 we see the accusation of harlotry and adultery. The harlot-adulteress wears signs of infidelity. The face and the breasts may be carrying external signs of Baalism. So, the accusation is given. She is a harlot and an adulteress and we can see it in her face and on her breasts. Let her remove that.
17. Now we see in verse 5 the idea of stripping her naked. Nakedness can mean shame. It can also mean defenseless…open to the elements. On the day of birth are we not so powerless?
18. Then we see in verse 6 the accusation extended to the children. The children are also children of prostitution. They are harlots too. Verse 7 makes the accusation clear that the mother is in harlotry. Note that the “lovers” (Baalism) are identified as providers. The mother goes after lovers who provide for her. But is this true—do they really provide?
19. With the accusation that the wife is in harlotry, a punishment—a “penalty”—must be given. So we see the word therefore. Because of her harlotry, she must be penalized. Check out the penalty. In verse 9 the penalty is given: hedge…thorn…wall…no clear path. The penalty is an obstacle to getting into contact with Baalism. There will be a barrier to getting into contact with the “lovers”. The punishment has a result…The wife will return to the true lover. The true relationship with God will be restored. It is interesting to note the type of punishment given—it is not to harm but to restore.
20. The wife who goes into harlotry thinks that her “lovers” provide for her. But this is not true. In fact, it is the Lord God who is the true provider. So verse 10 tells us that “she did not know”. What she believed in was that the lovers provided. But now the Lord God will make it clear that it is the Lord himself who provides. To be married to the Lord is to be married to the provider. And now a new accusation is thrown at the wife. The things that the Lord God has provided are used for Baalism.
21. With this accusation, the Lord God presents another punishment—another penalty. So we see again the word “therefore” in verse 11. What do we see is the punishment? The Lord God will take back. What will the Lord God withdraw? He will withdraw his provision of grain and wine—survival and a good pleasant life. The Lord God will also pull out the clothing that covers the wife. Consequently the wife will be shamed in front of her “lovers”…in front of Baalism. Furthermore, the “lovers” will prove powerless—they cannot do anything to stop the Lord God, as we see in verse 12.
22. What exactly is the consequence of this withdrawing of the Lord God? It will prove who is the real provider. Baalism will prove itself unable to be true provider. It cannot even give back the clothes to the woman…nor the grain and the wine. The shame of the wife will open her eyes to who is the true provider—the real husband and lover.
23. Baalism has really permeated the life of the people of Israel—even festivals and Sabbaths are marked by Baalism. This will have to stop. The Lord God will be a “kill-joy”, as we can see in verse 13. Remember that Baalism is a fertility religion. It presupposes that Baal will make sure there is harvest—like fruits. The will also have to stop—and the Lord God will put it all “to waste”, as we see in verse 14.
24. The Lord God is so furious he will punish her (verse 15). How? He will bring her to the desert. He will lead her to the wilderness. It is the place where Baalism will be absent. It will be a place to re-establish contact with the Lord God. There the Lord God will “speak to her heart” (verse 16). In another passage Hosea will declare that each time the Lord God calls Israel, Israel runs away (see 11/2). Israel goes to Baalism. So it is best to lead her to a place where there is no Baalism (the desert is not a place for fertility cult; it is not agrarian) and to a place where she will be directly with God—alone with the Lord God. The desert can also be a symbol of discipline—to focus on God.
25. After a “desert experience” the way to green and agrarian will be available again. In verse 17 we read about Achor—a path to greenery. It is a region opening up to fertile land (see Jos.15/7). It is a “door of hope”. There is also liberation—as from Egypt. People consistently fall into some type of slavery—be it Egyptian or Baalism. Baalism can be a form of enslaving too.
26. So what do we see? Yes, we read passages of accusation and punishment—but they all lead to restoration.
27. There is such a thing as forgiveness too. The Lord—the “husband”—is the giver. But he is forgotten, neglected. The people turn to Baal—they are the “wife” engaged in prostitution. But the Lord God does not give up. He will find a way to regain true love. So now we turn to verses 18-25 which deal with restoration and reconciliation.
28. In verse 18 we notice the phrase “on that day”. This will be repeat again. But what could it signify here, in this verse? There is a future to look forward to. One is not stuck. Restoration is assured. “On that day” my being husband will be renewed. I will not be “baal”. (As we saw, in Canaan “my husband” can also be called as “my baal”. So Baalism has really penetrated the Hebrew culture. This time, such will not be applied to the Lord God.
29. Now anything that has to do with Baalism will stop and will be deleted (verse 19). On that day when God is again husband, a covenant will be established. It is a curious covenant because it seems to repeat creation again. There is a sense of “re-creation”, as we read in verse 20. It is a covenant together with the creatures (see Genesis 1). This is a strong Old Testament themes—both covenant and creation are associated. It is interesting to note also that the re-creation is peaceful—violence will be deleted. (Let us take a historical note. Remember that the time of Hosea is marked by internal violence in the monarchy…together with the external violence coming from Assyria).
30. Now there is a kind of “the second time around”—love is wonderful the second time around. So verse 21 mentions “betrothal”. It is marriage, yes, and now defined with justice, judgment, loyalty and compassion! In verse 22 there is the mention of knowing the Lord. “To know” has a strong place in Old Testament thinking. It implies intimacy and respect for each other. (The Genesis story of the “fall” is one story where “knowing” is abused. So “to know” is to be clear with where we stand). “To know” is to be faithful with the Law too.
31. Again we see the phrase “on that day”. There is a relationship—responsive relationship—between heaven and earth. Baalism has defined this relationship is a way that is far from the way the Lord God has made it. Now there is restoration on the level of nature too. Baalism has distorted it. It has reduced nature to a cycle of fertility. Now there is authentic nature. The response earth-heaven gives fruits. Notice the flow (verses 23-24): from heaven to earth to grain-wine-oil. The root of all is the Lord God and no longer Baal.
32. The restoration of nature is extended to Jezreel—which is also a symbol of Israel, as we see in verse 24. Jezreel is, in Hosea, associated with the monarchy under Jehu (see 1/4)—a king who could have done well but fell, nevertheless, to idolatry too. But now, with the restoration, it’s all ok. The land will again be sowed—by the Lord God himself—and restore the child “not pitied” to “pitied”. The people will no longer be “not-my-people”. They will be my people and God will be the God of the people—“my God” (verse 25). So it is really a total restoration—social, cosmic and spiritual—all under the initiative of the Lord God himself.
33. See if you can make a description of the “general flow” of all 2/4-25.
Who is this Isaiah (I)?
1. During the reign of Uzziah, Judah (the Southern Kingdom) was very prosperous. But the King’s became so proud that he entered the Jerusalem Temple in a place reserved only for priests. There he burnt incense. He became a leper. His son Jotham took over after his death. Prosperity continued but now the Assyrian threat was getting stronger.
2. During this time the Northern Kingdom of Israel was still standing. Jeroboam II just died and dark times were looming. During this time also the Assyrians, under their king Tiglath-Pileser, were pressuring Syria and Babylon. This can explain why the Syrians went to link up with the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Both Syria and Israel were pressuring Judah to join forces against Assyria.
3. In Judah, Jotham died and the new king was Ahaz. In the nations occupied by Assyria, rebellion was going on—so Assyrian had to exert a lot of might against them, crushing them one by one. So we see the moves of Israel-Syria.
4. Pekah, King of Israel, made a coalition with Rezin, king of Syria. They asked Ahaz to join and fight against Assyria. But Ahaz refused. So both Israel and Syria turned against Judah (in the hope of putting a King in their favor.) Would it mean eliminating Ahaz? There is a theological problem here. Kill Ahaz and the line of David will end. The death of Ahaz will mean the end of the Davidic dynasty. But remember God’s plan to let the David line continue.
5. Now, Israel and Syria starts attacking Judah from the North. In the southern end of Judah are Edom and Philistia, they too rise against Judah. Judah is now caught between two hostile groups (see 2Kg.10/5). Ahaz panics and seeks for help. Where does help come from? Well, Ahaz turns to Assyria.
6. Now comes Isaiah in the picture. He tells Ahaz not to worry, the Israel-Syria coalition will not stand long. The coalition will fail. Ahaz does not believe in what Isaiah says. So he sends a message to Assyria—to Tiglath-Pileser, in particular to ask for help (see 2Kg.16/7).
7. Isaiah again tells Ahaz that Assyrian has no real army. Rely on the Lord God who is the real army of Ahaz. Rely on God…not on chariots and horses. Ahaz refuses to believe. He maintains his link with Assyria. Assyrian, concerned with the situation of Ahaz, starts its move against those opposed to Judah.
8. So now we see the coming end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Assyria attacks. Samaria, the capital of Israel, holds strong. But many parts of Israel fall. Then the king Pekah is murdered by Hoshea, a pro-Assyrian. Hoshea gives heavy tribute to Assyria. Assyrian destroys Syria-Damascus.
9. Ahaz is so thrilled by Assyrian victory. He accepts Assyrian influences to penetrate his culture. In fact, after meeting the Assyrian king, he remodels the Jerusalem Temple based on an Assyrian altar. He does it for the sake of the Assyrian king (2Kg.16/18). Now starts a modified form of religious practice in Jerusalem.
10. Isaiah insists that there is no world power that is strong enough. Rely simply on the Lord God. But Ahaz is so mesmerized by the Assyrians. Isaiah sees this as a covenant with death (see Is.28/15). Now a gap widens between the prophet and the king.
11. Then the Assyrian king dies. It serves as a signal to the other nations. For Israel, this means refusing to give tribute to Assyria. Sargon II, the new King, attacks Samaria and the war lasts for three years. Finally Samaria falls, the whole of the northern kingdom falls. It is the end of that kingdom.
12. During this time, Ahaz dies and he is succeeded by King Hezekiah. Hezekiah is quite different—opposed to his father Ahaz (see 2Kg.18/5). He re-organizes the Temple, re-models it and has it cleaned again to remove non-YHWH elements. Even priests are re-organized (see 2Chron.29/3-36).
13. Hezekiah agrees not to resist Assyria. He refuses to join any attempt to fight the Assyrians—it would be a disaster. But the people of Judah show impatience. They are fed up with the Assyrian presence. They are fed up with giving tribute to Assyria. Any solution?
14. Now comes into the picture…Egypt. It is a rich country, and Assyrian keeps an interest in it. Yet Egypt is weak. It is marked by a lot of internal troubles. One day Ethiopian forces led by Shabako invades Egypt. It takes over Egypt. Egypt then is made strong. Egypt is unified. In fact, it even has the guts to encourage nations to resist Assyria. Egypt becomes a favorite among many nations because of its anti-Assyrian stand. Can Egypt help Judah?
15. Isaiah insists that only God and God alone is the true helper. God has not forgotten Judah and will, one day, free them from Assyria. To express this message, Isaiah starts wearing slave clothes—which is to symbolize the weakness of Egypt. Hezekiah listens to Isaiah and refuses to join anti-Assyrian moves.
16. Sargon II of Assyria dies. The new Assyrian king is Sennacherib. He is perceived to be weak. Hezekiah then refuses to pay him tribute (2Kg.18/7). Hezekiah tries to be independent of Assyria. Babylon, at this time, is rebelling against Assyria. Hezekiah links up with Babylon. At one point Hezekiah falls ill and the Babylonian king, Melodach-Baladan, sends his gifts. So a friendship is established between the two kings. Isaiah denounces the friendship.
17. Isaiah warns Hezekiah that one day Babylon will be a problem. Babylon will take Judah and all its wealth. (Isa39/5-7). Hezekiah now begins to waver. Many nations start resisting Assyria—they get organized. Hezekiah is asked to lead the organization of anti-Assyrian resistance. Hezekiah includes Egypt in the organization. So an insurrection is raised. But Isaiah is distressed. People rely on horses and chariots and military forces—not on God (Isa.22/8; 29/15-16). For Isaiah this coalition of nations together with Egypt will not stand—it will fall and end in disaster (Isa.30/12 and following).
18. Why lack confidence in the Lord God? To accept coalition with other empires is to risk incorporating their religions. It will also mean getting involved with the military expeditions of those nations. It is a tough position to be caught between Egypt and the Mesopotamian empires. If a nation is victorious, its gods will be accepted. So the risk of being linked with an empire leads to accepting its gods too.
19. Stay with the Lord God, says Isaiah (30/15). Do not rely on horses and chariots. Maybe empires look successful—but it is not for long. Assyria, for example, will not stand long (see Isa.14/24-26; 31/8-9; 30/30-31).
20. Stay with God and God alone. But the people of Judah do not listen.
21. And Assyrian puts pressure in the region—and starts crushing resistances. Even the Babylonians are defeated. Finally, the Assyrian King, Sennacherib, turns to Judah. He occupies parts of Judah—cities fall under him. It is Jerusalem that remains standing. Sennacherib camps nearby Jerusalem, waiting for Jerusalem and Hezekiah to surrender.
22. Hezekiah panics. He accepts Assyrian rule and he pays heavy tribute to Sennacherib (see 2Kg.18/14-18). But Sennacherib wants Jerusalem. Isaiah tells Hezekiah not to give up Jerusalem. God is powerful—more powerful than Assyria.
23. Sennacherib mobilizes towards Jerusalem. He sends one of his military officials, Rabshakeh, to go in front of Jerusalem and make an announcement. The announcement has the following messages: a. there is no protection that Egypt can give; b. the God of the Hebrews is angry because the Hebrews have closed different cults and have made Jerusalem central; c. the gods of the other nations cannot protect them against Assyria, so the God of the Hebrews is also powerless; d. in fact the God of the Hebrews have ordered Sennacherib to destroy Jerusalem (see 2Kg.18/17; Isa36/4 and following).
24. Of course this should draw fear in Jerusalem. So Isaiah himself makes his statement—a speech to encourage Jerusalem (see Isa.37/22-29). Isaiah affirms that Assyria will fall. The central message is that the Lord God will turn Assyria away and back to where they came from.
25. Suddenly, many Assyrian soldiers fall ill. The attack to Jerusalem is discontinued. Sennacherib leads his army back to Assyria. Imagine the celebration inside Jerusalem. (Later Sennacherib will be killed by one of his sons…see 2Kg.19/36-37).
26. Certain points are interesting in appreciating Isaiah. For him—like for other prophets—idolatry and injustice come together. They mark the internal problems of the nation. This internal confusion makes external relationships also confused. The Hebrews are so confused with what to do with the other nations because within society is a confusion of injustice and idolatry. People do not like to listen and to change. This makes God fed up (see Isa.1/11-15).
27. God is weary—he acts historically. So the emotion of God becomes action. He uses historical forces to express his will. So he is not just using Nature, he is also using history. (See 5/26; 7/18; 9/10; etc.). He can use Assyria, for example, as his instrument to teach the people of Judah: “Assyria is the rod of my anger, the staff of my indignation” (10/5). Assyrian is the “weapon of my anger” (13/5).
28. Yes, God can be frustrated and angry…but this is not permanent (14/1). He suspends his mercy—and so he can return to being merciful. Anger is not permanent (10/25; 26/20; 30/18; etc.).
29. Isaiah is in a tough position. He is between God and people. So he pleads for the poor and the meek. He condemns injustice, yes, and he thinks that it is the moral corruption of the people that destroys the covenant with the Lord God (3/14-15). But Isaiah sees himself as part of society. If society is impure, he too is affected by that impurity. “I am a man of impurity dwelling among a people of unclean lips” (6/5). Yet Isaiah is also in solidarity with God. He too gets fed up, just like God. He even has the guts to say, “Do not forgive them” (2/9). To the people he is one with God. To God he is one with the people. It is not easy, especially when people tell him to “take it easy”. But such is the life of a prophet.
Let us look at Isaiah 7
v1 Ahaz became the king of Judah. He was the son of King Jotham. Jotham was the son of King Uzziah. When Ahaz was king, Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the king of Israel, both attacked Jerusalem. But they did not win the fight. Pekah was the son of Remaliah.
v2 People that were in the government told this to Ahaz who was from the family of David. They said, ‘Syria and Ephraim have agreed to attack you.’ Ahaz and his people were afraid. Their hearts moved, as trees in the forest move in the wind.
v3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, ‘Go out and meet Ahaz. You and She'ar-jash'ub, your son, will meet him at the end of the water stream on the highway to the Fuller's Field,.’
v4 The LORD said, ‘Say to Ahaz, “Be careful. And be very quiet. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid because Rezin and the people from Syria and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, are angry. They are trying to ‘start a fire’, but their ‘fire’ will soon finish.
v5 Do not be afraid because the king of Syria and the son of Remaliah have made bad plans against you. They have said,
v6 ‘We must attack Judah. We will frighten the people. We will destroy their country and it will become ours. We will make the son of Ta'be-el king there.’
v7 The LORD, who is Lord, says this. ‘It will not happen, it will never happen!
v8 It will not happen. The capital city of Syria is Damascus. Now the king of Damascus is Rezin. And 65 years from now Ephraim will not be a country! There will be no people of Ephraim there.
v9 And the capital city of Ephraim is Samaria. And the king of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you do not believe this, you will not be secured.’ ” ’
v10 And the LORD spoke again to Isaiah. ‘Say this to Ahaz.’
v11 He said, ‘Ask the LORD your God for a message. Ask for it deep in the earth or high in the sky.’
v12 But Ahaz said, ‘I will never ask for a message or ask the LORD to do something.’
v13 And he Isaiah said, ‘Now listen, Ahaz. You belong to the family of David! It is not enough for you to make people tired, you make my God tired also?
v14 So the Lord himself will give you a message. Look, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman'u-el.
v15 One day he will know the difference between right things and wrong things. Then he will be old enough to eat honey and curd.
v16 But even before the child knows the difference between right things and wrong things, Assyria will destroy Ephraim and Syria. The two kings that you are afraid of will be in other countries themselves.
v17 The LORD will bring the king of Assyria to you and to your people. He will come to the house of your father. It will be a special time. There have been no days like it since Ephraim became separate from Judah.’
1. We have already seen the context of Isaiah-I. The first verse of the book of Isaiah tells us that the activity of this prophet extends from Azariah (Uzziah) to Hezekiah. If we date this, it will mean more or less from 742 to 687 (BC). In the year Ahaziah died, Isaiah receives his call in a vision (see 6/1-6).
2. Isaiah-I lives in very troubled times. At the time that Ahaz is king of Judah, both the northern kingdom of Israel and the nation of Syria-Damascus form an alliance in view of resisting Assyria. The two nations want Ahaz to join them in their anti-Assyrian campaigns. But Ahaz does not agree. So the two nations attacked Judah. It is what we know as the Syria-Ephraimite war. This war provokes Isaiah to pronounce an oracle about Immanuel (see Isa7/9). Isaiah counsels Ahaz to stay neutral. Do not to take sides.
3. Assyria is very strong—it is the leading empire of the time. It can destroy the coalition between Israel and Syria-Damascus. Ahaz does not listen to Isaiah. Instead, he links with Assyria. Assyria proves itself the stronger one and moves to destroy the coalition between Israel and Syria-Damascus. Later—and this we know—the whole Northern Kingdom of Israel falls to Assyrian hands. Isaiah has seen it coming (see 28/1-6).
The place of the text within Isaiah-I:
4. We say that the text we study (7/1-17) is part of the whole Isaiah-I book. Let us limit ourselves to this. In 1/1-31 gives a kind of “core essence” of the whole book. There are oracles here, complaints and accusations. Then in 2/1-5/30 again we have oracles against Judah and Jerusalem. In 6/1-8/18 we see a kind of “memoires” of Isaiah, beginning with his vocation ministry and the face-to-face with the King Ahaz. Isaiah then continues his oracles and accusations (9/7-12/6) which extends to oracles against other nations (13/1-23/18). Isaiah then gives a picture of the whole of history—a kind of “apocalyptic” view (24/1-27/13). The remaining sections (28/1-39/8) are focused on Hezekiah, with a section inserted on oracles against Edom (34/1-35/10).
The text 7/1-17 in the section of “memoires” of Isaiah:
5. We see the text situated in the section dealing with the “memoires” of Isaiah. The period is the crisis of the Syro-Ephraimite war. Remember that Israel, the Northern Kingdom, under the reign of King Pekah, forms an alliance with Syria-Damascus which is led by King Rezin.
6. In 6/1-13 we read about the call of Isaiah. After this we see his encounter with the king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, King Ahaz (7/1-9). In this encounter Isaiah presents the “sign of Immanuel” (7/10-17). Then we read sections dealing with the oracles of “on that day”. It is “on that day” when God will definitely intervene. Isaiah will insist that the coalition between King Pekah and King Rezin will not stand; to ask help from Assyria is not necessary. Isaiah compares the silent strength of the Lord God with Assyria (8/5-8). No nation has the power compared to the power of God. If Assyria is trusted, then it will mean losing trust in the Lord God (8/9-10).
7. The text we will study, 7/1-17, is sandwiched between the call of Isaiah and the presentation of the power of the Lord God. Isaiah is told to be minister to the Kingdom and tell the Kingdom about the presence of God in its midst (Immanuel, “God with us”). Trust in God, he has the strength more powerful than any nation. The tragedy of the human person—such as King Ahaz—is this failure to trust the Lord God. The Lord God can be effective in history but there is a human failure to see that.
Let us try a verse-by-verse study:
8. 7/1-17We cannot go into complete investigations of so many details verse-by-verse. Let us try looking a salient points.
9. Verses 1-2 give us the setting. This is a time when the Northern Kingdom was still standing and it was in coalition with Syria. The coalition wanted to get rid of Ahaz.
10. Notice that the start of the chapter is not just about Ahaz…there is mention of Uzzi’ah, grandfather of Ahaz. So the reader is given the idea of what came before…at the time of the death of Uzzi’ah. There is a sense of time indicated here. Jotham, the father of Ahaz, reigned for around 16 years. So 16 years separated Ahaz from his grandfather.
11. Look at verse 2: What happens to the heart of Ahaz? Why would it shake? Why would the heart of the king be like trees shaking? Sure, there is fear. There is anxiety. The fear and anxiety, however, indicate a sense of “protection” of the King. The King wants to conserve his power and control—now it is threatened. Like the trees…“For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high; against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan” [2/13]. And when the king’s heart shakes like trees, so too the people. Both king and people share a same “attitude”. The king’s heart is so important in the setting of the people: “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left; so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Dt.17/20). This is the challenge given to the king. But it is not realized here in the verse.
12. But what about the “house of David”? Let us look at a verse regarding this. The prophet Nathan went to king David to tell him something from God. God said to David, through Nathan, “I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house” (2Sam.7/11). A “house” is promised to David. David would even rest—take siesta—in front of his enemies. Well, Ahaz could not take siesta. He is so agitated. This tells us how Ahaz is so different from David. If Ahaz…who belongs to the house of David, cannot rest in front of his enemies, it means he has lost confidence in the Lord God. He relies on his own self and his own strength.
13. Let us look at verse 3. "Go forth to meet Ahaz”. So there is an encounter made between the prophet and Ahaz. Where will they meet? The verse says “at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller's Field”. Where is this exactly? Is this important?
14. To answer this we need to go to book of Kings. There is a story there about Hezekiah who was to encounter enemies. Let us read the verse there: “And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab'saris, and the Rab'shakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezeki'ah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Fuller's Field” (2Kg18/17). So “the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller's Field”, in the book of Kings, is referred to as the place where Hezekiah would meet his enemies. But this is applied here to Ahaz. It is possible that the reader is given the chance to compare Ahaz and Hezekiah.
15. Isaiah is to tell Ahaz to “take it easy”. The enemies will not stand. The enemies will fall. But the heart of Ahaz is a proud heart—shaking like the trees. Notice what Isaiah concludes, in verse 9: “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established.” This statement of the prophet has been echoed to David before: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever (2Sam7/16)”. The Lord God promised to King David that his throne will be established for all time. But now with Ahaz, from the line of David, is wavering. He is challenged. Believe? If yes, then establishment is sure. If not, then “you shall not be established.”
16. The Lord God said to David: “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (2Sam7/13-14). What a wonderful acclamation! But the heart of Ahaz is not a heart of a son of the Lord God. It is agitated, proud, it has no confidence in God.
17. Review verses 1-9 of Isaiah 7, we notice a lot of “son of”. Now notice verse 11. First of all, we notice how the Lord God never gives up on Ahaz. Not only does he assure the king of victory…if he believes…but he even allows the king to ask for a sign! God is so “open-minded” here just to show his own fidelity to the house of David.
18. What sign does God give? We know it: Imman'u-el. Who is this Imman'u-el? We have many interpretations. The usual interpretation is that Imman'u-el is Hezekiah. But there is a problem.
19. Hezekiah “was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem” (2Kg18/2). However, "Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem” (2Kg16/2). Hezekiah is said to be 25 years old when he was made king. Ahaz was king for 16 years. Consequently, Hezekiah was 9 years old when his father became king. (25-16=9) So his birth has come way before the reign of Ahaz. The Imman'u-el could not be Hezekiah.
20. Imman'u-el means “God with us”. This has always been an Old testament theme. In David’s story, we notice God emphasizing this a lot: “I have been with you wherever you went”. “Imman'u-el”, God-with-us, seems enigmatic, mysterious. What is one of his main characteristics? Isaiah 7/15 tells us: “he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good”.
21. If there is one person who refused evil and chose good, it was Adam before the “fall”. So Imman'u-el is from Adam who now obeys—choosing good over evil.
22. Let us take a look at the name Imman'u-el. It consists of two Hebrew words: “El”, meaning “God” and “Immānū” which means “with us”. Why “us” in the 1st personal pronoun, plural? Check it out: the prophet tells the king: "Ask a sign of the LORD your God” (7/11). Ahaz answers, quite aridly: "I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test." (7/12). In 7/11, it is the LORD your God. In 7/12, Ahaz does not say “my God”. So Isaiah then accuses: “you weary my God” (7/13). So Isaiah shows his own personal link with the Lord whom he considers his God. Ahaz does not keep the same position. So when the name Imman’u-el is mentioned, it is a way of saying that “El” is “with us”. He is “our God”…and do not forget it. But who is “us” if Ahaz refuses to be part of it?
23. We are forgetting something. Go back to verse 3. Isaiah is not alone. Who is he with? He is with his son: She’ar-jash’ub. She’ar-jash’ub means "a remnant shall return". The name of the son of Isaiah means a remnant of Israel will return to the Lord God. Already we find this in Isaiah 10/21 where we read: “A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God”. (… “She'ar”: the remnant; “Jash'ub: he shall return).
24. While Isaiah speaks to Ahab, he is not alone. She'ar-jash'ub is with him. This points to what has been said before the chapter 7. Chapter 6 is about the “call” of Isaiah. When Isaiah was called, the Lord God spoke about the hardness of the heart of people. The prophet asks, for how long? The Lord answers that all will be waste until a tree stump remains. The stump shall remain “standing when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump” (6/13). There is a “remnant” that will stay faithful.
25. Ahaz symbolizes an “impasse”…a “no exit”. The announcing about Imman’u-el could be more than just about the usual interpretation: Hezekiah. The announced Imman’u-el allows the reader to see “someone”, perhaps “a group” who, like the prophet—and like Hezekiah—will adopt the attitude of accepting the Lord “our God”.
Acknowledging Yohanan Goldmann and Adrian Schenker O.P.
The Book of Isaiah
THE FIRST PART (chap. 1-39)
1. This part refers to the persons involved with the events of the years 740 to 700 BC. Isaiah (1) becomes the “messenger” or “spokesperson” of the Lord God in Jerusalem. This was the time of the decline of Egypt, the more-or-less rise of Babylon and the height of Assyrian threat to Judah.
2. What was happening around this time? In 734 Ahaz is King of Judah and Jerusalem. The Syrian-Ephraim (Northern Kingdom of Israel) link up against Judah to force Judah to battle against Assyria. This is known as the Syrian-Ephraimite war. In 722-721 the Northern Kingdom of Israel is destroyed by the Assyrians. The population is deported and replaced. Then in 701, Hezekiah is King. Assyrian attacks Judah.
3. During all this time Isaiah is the strong champion of God. His message is always the unexpected—the “counter-current”. He says that the Assyrian threat is an intervention of God against the unfaithful people of Judah. The prophet protests against the political behaviour of the Kingdom leading to injustice and violations of rights. He accuses Jerusalem of making use of religious practices to exploit the poor. But when the threat of Assyria comes the message of the prophet tells the people not to panic.
4. Always the prophet insists: believe in God, have confidence in God. The prophet insists on staying faithful to the justice among the people. Faith in the Lord God and justice are associated. Faith in the Lord God is expressed in justice in all social domains.
5. This first part has some themes:
· 1; 2-12; 28-33: messages regarding Judah and Israel;
- 13-23: messages about foreign nations like Babylon, Philistia, Moab, etc.;
- 24-27; 34-35: Theme on the final breakdown;
- 36-39: Messages about the reign of Hezekiah.
THE SECOND PART (chap. 40-55):
(Sometimes called the “Book of Consolation”)
1. This is now in the time of Isaiah 2. The situation is different. Now it is the Babylonians who are threatening. Assyria is down and finished. In 587 BC the Babylonians takes Judah and Jerusalem. The people are deported on exile.
2. This is the moment of intense questioning among the Jews. Could it be that the Lord God is weak and that the gods of the Babylonians are stronger? Why is it that the gods of Babylon have won over Judah? The people of Judah and Jerusalem have done their best to lead a more faithful life with the Lord God…now why is this tragedy happening? It is a time of deep crisis.
3. The Jews are far from their country; far from the city of Jerusalem; far from the place of worship—the Temple. In fact the Temple is destroyed. This is a time of discouragement among the Jews. They feel abandoned by God.
4. Now the prophet gives his message. This time God will use the Persian king to save his people. A new liberation will take place—a new Exodus. The people will return to their land. Have no discouragement, God is the Creator of the World—God can realize his plan. The gods of Babylon are illusions.
5. The second part can be divided as follows:
· The Lord’s Glory in Israel’s Liberation (40:1–48:22)
· Expiation of Sin, Spiritual Liberation of Israel (49:1–55:13)
6. Four poems form important themes of this second part of the book. These are known are the poems of the “Suffering Servant”: 42.1-4; 49.1-6; 50.4-9; 52.13-53.12.
THE THIRD PART (chap. 56-66)
7. Now we come to Isaiah 3. This is the time after the Babylonian exile. Now the people of Judah return to their land in 538 BC. Cyrus, king of Persian signs a decree allowing them to return home. This king even helps finance the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple.
8. Well, the return is not exactly very thrilling. In fact, life is so miserable in Judah—it is marked by intense poverty. Cities lay in ruins—so is Jerusalem. Those who remained behind and did not follow the exile “corner” the country. They boss around. So is social injustice repeating itself? Is poverty going to be the mark of the people? Will idolatry be an option again?
9. Now comes the prophet—Isaiah 3. He comes to announce the good news and will take care of the despairing people. This section is composed of the Chapters 56-66, all about this concern for the people.
The Prophet Habakkuk: Workshop
1. A bit of history: explore the library/ the web/ your New American Bible/ Dictionary Concordance of the New American Bible…etc.
· This is a time of crisis. It was in the time of end of 7th century BC and the start of the 6th century BC.
· Which empire was dominating? What army in particular was threatening?
· Habakkuk was a contemporary of another prophet…who was this other prophet? If you can answer this your historical perspective can get clearer.
· What can you say about the person Habakkuk himself? Any idea about his origin? (Well, there is no accurate historical data about him…so do not worry). One thing is evident in the book, the prophet calls himself….what (1/1 and 3/1)?
· Challenge—see if you can guess this one right: Habakkuk is from what tribe? If you can find this out, it will tell you a lot about the prophet. A clue is from 3/19: “For the leader; with stringed instruments”. The tribe is a special tribe with a special function in the nation!
2. Now present the whole book—the structure and general flow.
See Chapter 1:
· This chapter has two exchanges between Habakkuk and God…In each exchange Habakkuk says something and then God replies.
· Take note of the dialogue between the prophet and the Lord God. Note how Habakkuk dares God! He has the guts! He is showing doubts about God! Can you show this?
· What is the complaint of the prophet and what might be the response of God?
See Chapter 2:
· Now the prophet is worried. He will see what God will do.
· Now God show “woes”. There are five “woes”: what are they?
· God will do something too with the threat to Judah. What is it that God will do?
See Chapter 3:
· There is a beautiful poem here. The prophet is expressing his feelings and his ideas about the future. Show this.
3. Let us study Chapter 3/16-19.
· See if you can say something about “Shigyonot”.
· Situate 3/17-19 first in the light of the whole book and then
· …in the light of chapter 3.
ü To help you: check 3/1
ü Then 3/2
ü Then 3/3-15…One part is about “creation” and the other part is about “chaos”…Can you see them?
· Go verse by verse: 16-19.
ü Note that 16-19 have two parts.
ü Try to research on the symbols: fig tree/vine/flocks/deer.
ü Challenge: can you see the link between 3/2 and 3/16?
ü Challenge: can you see the panic of the prophet? What is he panicky about?
ü How will his panic be resolved?
· Why might the whole book end with these verses—16 to 19? What do you think? Be creative in your reply.
4. You will be assessed by the effort and research you put in…and how you show your way of working with the verses. You may be right or wrong with some data…No problem, we are not experts here! But show how well you grapple with the text!
5. HAVE FUN AND DEPTH!
A Workshop on Micah
1. Let us do a bit of history.
· We are in the 8th century BC. Also we are in Judah, the southern kingdom. Who might have been the Kings during this time?
· Which empire was dominating? What was the political situation of Judah at this time? See if you can mention the King of the threatening empire.
· From where is Micah? (Is it rural or urban?...This is important because he will be critical of Jerusalem, an urban place.) He is a contemporary of other prophets namely ____? This is important so you can situate better the historical moment of Micah.
· Look at Micah 1/7. What does it tell you of the historical situation regarding religion? Look at Micah 2/1-2. This also indicates the social situation. Look at Micah 5/10-15. Who was he criticizing? Look at Micah 3/11. Here we see clearly the people involved in the criticism of the prophet.
· So what exactly is the historical condition—both internally and externally?
2. Let us look at the general flow of the whole book—the composition. See if you can, in simple terms, show the general flow of the whole book. The New American Bible proposes the following:
Oracles of Punishment (1:2–3:12):
· There Is the judgement against the people. What is wrong with the people?
· But then there is hope regarding the “remnant” and a promise of restoration.
· There is a condemnation of the social leaders. What is wrong with the leaders?
Oracles of Salvation (4:1–5:14)
· All the nations will come to the Lord’s house. How is God central to the world?
· Then again a “remnant” is mentioned. What type of remnant?
· Consolation is set aside and destruction is mentioned. Yet, peace is assured—peace in deliverance from the threatening empire.
Announcement of Judgment (6:1–7:6)
· Again there is accusation against the people.
· Jerusalem will be punished.
· The prophet reveals his own attitude
Confidence in God’s Future (7:7–20)
· This last section seems liturgical. Can you show it?
· There is prayer to the Lord God and the promise of hope.
3. Let us try a verse by verse study. Shall we try 6/6-8.
ü How is it situated in the whole book?
· Let us try each verse:
ü Verse 6:
Ø Look at Isaiah 33/5 and 57/15. These might help. We have an idea about who God is in this verse 6.
Ø A question is asked. What is the question about?
ü Verse 7:
Ø The question continues. What exactly is the situation?
Ø See if you can say something about the different images—like ram and oil.
Ø Notice there is the mention of sin. What will be done about sin—what is the question about it?
Ø What do you think about the “fruit”?
ü Do you think both questions in verses 6-7 are sincere? The questions seem to presuppose a “bias” about God and, consequently, an idea of how the human person must be in front of God. Can you say anything about this? What is the problem with the way the human approaches God? Is it seen in the verses 6-7?
ü Verse 8: How does God correct this bias?
Ø Notice that it is not exactly God who is giving the reply. It does not say, “The Lord God say that you should….”. No. It is phrased differently. From where is the answer to the questions of 6-7 coming from? Notice well the starting point of verse 8. Look at Dt 10/12 and 26/16. Do these references help?
Ø A challenge question: Why is it important that it is not God who is giving the direct answer?
Ø There are only two things important—and everything else is secondary. What are the two things? How are the two things realized?
Ø What exactly must be the acceptable way of relating with the Lord God? There is a sense of “obedience” here—can you say why “obedience” is implied here?
Ø The day is coming when the people of Judah will be exiled to Babylon. There will be no more Temple—and Temple practices. So the words of Micah here in verse 8 can be guide to those who have no more Temple to go to. Can you show this?
4. Can you make a statement about the general meaning of verses 6-8? What might it be emphasizing? Notice that the section 6-8 is sandwiched between 1-5 and 9-16. Can this sandwiching help you deepen your idea of the general message of 6-8?
5. Appropriate the verses to your life—maybe as religious people. Verses 6-8 show that there is a problem regarding who is God and how to relate with God. Yet, many of us promote this problem We can be gentle, nice, sweet, charming, smiling, and faithful in our practices of faith. But how deep do we get? What is the section 6-8 saying to us today?
A workshop on MALACHI
A bit of history
1. Is Malachi the author? There are discussions about this. Some experts think there is such a man as MALACHI…others think differently. Discuss this. (Check out 3/1 and 2/7)
2. What period of history are we in, here? The exact date is not sure, but all bible experts agree that this was the time of a dominant empire. What is that dominant empire? What is happening to the people of Judah? If you look at the theme of “Temple” (see in the text) and if you look at 1/8 you will get an idea of the historical moment.
3. You might want to show who are the prophets co-existing at this time.
4. What are the internal (inside society) conditions at this time? (Check out the way the Law—Torah—is followed. (Try to comment on 1/2 and 2/17. These verses seem to summarize the whole problem inside Judah.) We see the response of the people to God: religious sacrifices go low, divorce is common, injustice happens. There is a common attitude of the whole society: see 2/17; 3/14–15).
5. The verses you will work on will touch on the priests. So discuss about the tribe of Levi and priests in general (priests and their role during this time of Malachi).
6. Challenge: why is there this “lax” attitude assumed by society at this point in history? There must be something in the historical moment that “stimulates” the attitude.
The flow of the whole book:
7. The New American Bible proposes the following:
i. Israel Preferred to Edom (1/2–5)
ii. Offense in Sacrifice and Priestly Duty (1/6–2/9)
iii. Marriage and Divorce (2/10–16)
iv. Purification and Just Judgment (2/17)
v. The Messenger of the Covenant (3/1–5)
vi. Gifts for God, Blessings for the People (3/6–12)
vii. The Need To Serve God (3/13–21)
viii. Epilogue: Moses and Elijah (3/22–24)
8. Notice that i.-vii. are oracles or woes. It is like God arguing with the people.
· 1/2-5: the love of God for Israel is questioned. The people should remember that they are favoured by God.
· 1/6-2/9: the priests have not been doing their duty well. They have become mediocre. (Your verse-by-verse work will come from here).
· 2/10-16: attack against divorce…in favour of foreign wives; attack against divorce of foreign wives to take Jewish wives. So this section says that being Jew is not a reason to violate marriage.
· 2/17: There is the admission that God is tired—“fed up”.
· 3/1-5: Now judgment is coming…a messenger will come. People continue to cheat (like in tithes), so judgement will come.
· 3/6–12: There is hope. God will give blessings. There is still the opportunity to change—keep God’s Law and get God’s blessings.
· 3/13–21: Malachi says that the Lord God will punish the wicked and will reward the faithful. So be faithful and serve God.
9. The epilogue mentions the idea of “eschatology”. Remember the teachings of Moses. The Day of the Lord will come and Elijah will return. Why “eschatology”?
10. Let us go verse by verse: 2/7-9.
· To go into this, introduce the place of the verses in the whole book. Note where is the book it is situated. It is in a section regarding____?
· Verses 7-9 end that section. You might need to show the description about the role of priests and the tribe of Levi. The priests during the time of Malachi are not anymore the same as the Levites.
· Verse 7: The priest has a very important role. What is this role? Why is it important? Check out possible symbols…from the body of the priest. Notice it is very incarnated—very much linked with the body of the priest.
· Verse 8: What are priests doing? What influence have they given to the people? They are no longer “authentic” in their roles, because____....
· Verse 9: Therefore…what will happen? What do you think about this penalty? (In the last section of this verse there is a different translation…maybe closer to the original: “…lifting up faces in the law”…. Challenge: see if you can comment on this. The priests are “lifting faces”…. Do not worry in being creative.)
· What is the general flow and major theme of the verses 7-9?
11. Appropriate the verses in your life. How do you think the verses apply to you—maybe as religious. Could it be that the critique against priests apply?
The general flow of the story:
1. At the start of the book, the Lord God asks Jonah to minister to Nineveh. When and how…we are not sure. God simply wants to “punish” the people of Nineveh. But Jonah runs away. On a boat, Jonah is faced with a big storm. The team in the boat sees Jonah as the main problem why there is a storm. So Jonah accepts to be thrown into the sea.
2. Now, the Lord God sends a big fish to swallow Jonah. In that creature Jonah stays for three days and three nights. Inside he prays. The Lord God orders the creature and the creature vomits out Jonah. Soon the prophet finds himself on dry land.
3. Now Jonah is asked, again, to minister to Nineveh. Jonah accepts. He makes his announcement to the people there. And the people convert! Everyone, big, small, and even the non-humans, go fasting and wear sack clothes. God is impressed by the action, God changes his mind. He takes back his decision to punish the people. Nineveh escapes destruction. This is the same situation of Jonah—he too escaped from death in the sea.
4. Jonah gets angry. He is frustrated. He would have preferred the punishment of the people. Does he have the right to get angry?
5. Jonah goes out of the city and sits. God lets a plant push over his head to give him shadow. Jonah is pleased. But the next day a worm eats up the plant. Then God sends a wind that strikes at Jonah. Jonah weakens and he wants to die.
6. The Lord God explains to Jonah: do you have the right to complain? The book ends with God as having the last word.
The main sections of the book:
Part One: 1/1-2/11
1. We are led to see what God says about the “bad people”. It may be a strange history—maybe because God is here strange. God orders Jonah to a mission—Jonah goes immediately—but to run away! But God has a way of catching the one who runs away from mission! The storm is provoked by God. It is the return to chaos. There is panic. Jonah is fast asleep. Jonah runs away from his mission and is even quick to stay asleep!
2. The sleeping man becomes the awakened man—standing in front of a “tribunal”. This time Jonah declares his faith. What does he say? “I am a Hebrew,” he replied; “I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (1/9).
3. This is a declaration of the Hebrew people fleeing away from the hands of Egypt—in the time of Exodus. Yesterday and today are summed up in this statement of Jonah. Also yesterday and today the affirmation holds: God is creator who dominates the sea and dry land.
4. Furthermore, Jonah is ready to die for his companions. His faith infects him and the sailors with him. Before the sailors pray to divinities…and now they pray to the Lord God: “Then they cried to the LORD: “Please, O LORD, do not let us perish for taking this man’s life; do not charge us with shedding innocent blood, for you, LORD, have accomplished what you desired.” (1/14).
5. God hears. The storm calms. A big fish swallows Jonah. The previously sleeping man stands and then gets swallowed—he now becomes a man of faith. He enters “the womb of Sheol” (2,3). There he prays a psalm. Time is suspended. Jonah moves from death to life: “But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD, my God” (2/7). Now the fish opens its mouth.
Part Two: 3/1-10
6. Notice that again God speaks: “The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time” (3/1). We expect what will happen next: Jonah will obey. His message will say what the future of the people of Nineveh will be. Just imagine the “power” of the prophet’s ministry.
7. Jonah goes and speaks. He does not seem to spend so much time “at work”. The story seems to go fast here. “Jonah began his journey through the city, and when he had gone only a single day’s walk announcing, ‘Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown,’ the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth” (3/4-5). The people “turned from their evil way” (3/10).
8. The reader may be surprised! We might expect a hard hearted people who will be punished. Remember this is Nineveh of Assyria! Furthermore, we, readers, would expect a successful ministry of the prophet. But here Jonah seems to have “lost”. His powerful message is met by repentance and even by a political decision of the king of Nineveh (see 3/5-9).
9. Note verse 3/9 in which we read the King saying: “Who knows? God may again repent and turn from his blazing wrath, so that we will not perish” (3/9). Yes, who knows? Maybe God knows! The story tells us that God decides against his decision to destroy the city.
Part Three: 4/1-11
10. Suddenly the tempo of the story goes fast. Jonah is frustrated. Now we are told about the reason why Jonah fled from his mission in the beginning. He knew God was “a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, repenting of punishment” (4/2). (This is taken from Ex.34/6. The idea is that God is, finally, a kind God whose kindness is towards all—Hebrew and others).
11. Jonah sees the true God—and he is unhappy. He is frustrated. Why? Well, each of us can reflect on this and give a personal reply.
12. Now Jonah wants to die. But first he takes a distance from the city. Why? The text tells us why: “to see what would happen to the city” (4/5). So he waits, hoping for the confirmation of his expectation that the city will be destroyed.
13. Look at the situation. Jonah has a hut. Yet a big plant grows—a plant “sent” by God. It is a gourd plant. Jonah is pleased. Does he now recognize again that God is creator and “manipulates” vegetation, the wind and the sun? Each one can try reflecting on this—does Jonah recognize God as creator here?
14. The story goes cruel. A worm eats up the plant. Jonah, again, wants to die. But the reason is now different. Earlier he is focused on the city—waiting for something to happen. Now his focus is on the lost plant and the heat tapping on him. A displacement happens. The trouble shifts from a question of faith to a question of body pain. This is a more “concrete” experience, right? It is a different drama—a different pain.
15. When Jonah was frustrated with the result to Nineveh, he got angry. God asked him: “But the LORD asked, “Are you right to be angry?” (4/4). Now with this physical pain, again God asks: “Do you have a right to be angry over the gourd plant?” (4/9). Jonah replies: Yes. He thinks he has the right to get angry.
16. God explains his side—and notice the gentle way of replying. The plant disappears, Jonah suffers. Nineveh, if it disappears…who will suffer? Let us read the text—the final words of the book which belong to God and not to Jonah: “Then the LORD said, “You are concerned* over the gourd plant which cost you no effort and which you did not grow; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. And should I not be concerned over the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot know their right hand from their left, not to mention all the animals?” (4/10-11).
17. The last words reach the ears of Jonah—and our ears too. There is now the silence of Jonah. This may be “part four” of the story.
THE WORKSHOP TO BE DONE BY YOU
Working on Jonah is a challenge. But you can handle it, right? The book of Jonah tells us about the adventures—or misadventures—of a prophet who tries to avoid obeying God. One thing is sure, the book expresses certain essential truths.
One is that God loves not just the people of Israel but also other people of other nations.
God is quick to renounce his threats when people listen to his signals and change their ways. The prophet has no right to get angry at God when Go God forgives. 3. God is master of the universe—he is Creator.
The book shows a lot of tenderness—and humour. When temptations and doubts come to the life of a person, there is still the possibility of humour. The prophet is not abandoned and left alone in disorder and loneliness. God does not even want the prophet to be far from God himself. God is always ready to show his permanent inclusive love.
1. This is considered—by the Hebrew Bible—as prophetic. But it can be “wisdom” too, not prophetic. Why?
2. The historical setting is during the Assyrian period. (Nineveh is the capital of Assyria). But is this historically accurate?
3. Research on when the book may have been written. If you can say something about this date of writing you can also see to whom the book was written. Situate the time of writing and the possible social context of the Hebrews at that time. Why might the text have been written at that time to those people? (Challenge). In other words, discuss the possible motivation of the author in writing the text.
4. Let us try a verse by verse work. Work on 2/1-11.
· The Lord God sends a great fish. Why “fish”? One possible explanation (R. Eisler): At the start of the Jewish Sabbath the meal is with fish. The sense is “eschatological”. The fish is the food at the end of time! God will serve the just with food for the end of time. Does it help understand—a bit better—the verse? (You might want to explore further the symbol...if you want).
· Why three days and three nights? Consult Genesis 1/1-13.
· What will the great fish do? Is it sent to punish Jonah?
· What do you think this means—praying in the belly of the fish? Be creative in your reflection.
· Note then what the fish has done to Jonah. Note the result of what the fish has done. The fish “saved” him yet….where is he?
· Challenge: (a case of structure)—be creative in your answer.
ü Notice that verse 3 and verse 7 look like a going to the “underworld”. There in verse 4 and verse 6 there is a submersion in the waters. So verse 5 is “sandwiched” between verses 3-4 and 6-7. What is your view of this?
· What do you think is the meaning of “flood”? (See if the Creation story can help…or if the Noah’s Ark story can help).
· In verse 5 we read “seaweed”. It is the only place in the Bible where we see this. Other translations—like the interlinear—use the word “billows” or “great waves”. Can you make an interpretation about this? Feel free to say anything.
· What do you understand by “Temple”? Why mention it here? Remember Jonah is in the belly of the fish. So how does the Temple fit into the picture? (Hint: remember when the text was written! At what time of history was it written? What was happening to the Temple?)
· In verse 8: Now Jonah admits he is “faint”. In that condition he remembers something! That memory leads him to do something. Notice again the mention of the Temple. The prayer goes to the Temple! What is your view of this?
· In verse 10: There is fidelity and sacrifice.
· So verse 9 seems to be sandwiched between 8 and 10. What do you think?
· So the prayer of Jonah ends and the fish vomits him out. Why vomit at this time? What do you think in terms of time—it takes time for Jonah praying before the fish vomits Jonah out. There is praying then there is vomiting. What is your interpretation?
Try presenting a general flow of the whole section vv.1-11. Is this how we sometime pray?
The Violence of God?
Let us try looking at this very tough question without pretending to have fully answered it
1. Before we continue, let us pause for a while and think of a major question: the question of God’s violence. Note that in Jeremiah, God makes use of Babylon to correct the people of Judah. In fact God calls the Babylonian King as “my servant” (25/8). This can be disturbing.
2. We tend to see God as angry and violent in the Old Testament…but not in the New Testament. So we are uneasy with this…and we wonder who exactly is God. What exactly is his “personality”? It is not easy to talk about the violence of God especially when we are living according to the tradition given by the New Testament.
3. How then do we recognize violence in the Bible…especially in the Old Testament?
4. The books in the Bible are not “pious” books, or “books of piety” where all is nice and rosy. In fact the Bible is a very realistic book. It talks of the history of a people constantly threatened and crushed by the asurrounding nations.
5. This people—the Hebrews—underwent many difficulties. They have been influenced by different beliefs too—Baalism and the other religions of the region. The people have also been a people marked by immense injustice among themselves. We read often that they were accused of being “hard headed” with a stiff neck. It was so difficult to call them to conversion. And so we see the appeal to violence—if “nice” talk does not work, then why not violence?
6. Indeed, God revealed. But his revelation was done in history and through human lives. God’s revelation took place in the concrete lives of people and recorded by human authors. The human authors were part of ancient Near East. Those authors shared a world view—an idea of the world. Like all humans facing mysteries around, the human authors tried to understand their mysterious experiences with reliance on what they saw as divine will. So wars, famines, destructions, illness were perceived as instruments of divine will. Do not forget, the authors were not modern authors.
7. What is in the human heart is found also in the Bible. The cry for justice and the complaint of injustice are in the Bible. So too we read of hatred and revenge. These are all human realities. So the different texts make use of literature—literary genres. The human authors tried to understand their experiences and they needed answers to their questions. They had to communicate too with readers.
8. Let us not remove the link between authors and their historical moments. Just think of those who lived in the time of the Assyrian-Babylonian dominations! We see texts about the revenge of God…the frustration of God.
9. The Bible does not give us a “quick answer” to questions about God. It is an invitation to walk with God. It is an invitation to encounter God. We see a God who reveals as a God of encounter—a God we meet.
10. Yes, the Bible is not so simple at it seems. It is filled with complex stories and is even a result of many layers of writing. We are invited to be initiated into the “language”—the intuition—of the Bible.
11. Now, do you need to discuss more of this topic on “divine violence”?
1. After having received his call, Jeremiah goes to make the message of the Lord God known to the people, including symbolic gestures: the loincloth (chapt.13), the visit to the potter (chap. 18), the broken flask (chap. 19), etc. In Chapters 26-45 we read about the life of the prophet. In Chapters 46-51, we see an ensemble of messages regarding the different nations around Judah. In Chapter 52 we read about the taking Of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. But it is not all despair thanks to the hope in Jehoiachin.
2. The text that we studied in Chapter 20 is in the first section. It is part of the conclusion to that section. Notice that Jeremiah complained—and cursed his birth. Note that in the book, starting with Chapter 26 the life of Jeremiah will be mentioned. We can put the verses we studied in a total context of the whole book.
3. Jeremiah was young when he was called to Jerusalem by the Lord God (Jr 1/4-9). He saw the rise and fall of King Josiah. He stayed during the most troubled moments of Judah’s history.
4. The Assyrian power was going down and the Babylonians were on the rise. King Josiah took the opportunity to consolidate his nation but he was killed by the Egyptians. One King followed another; notably we mention Jehoiachim, Jehoiachin and Zedechias. In the end we see the fall of Judah into the hands of Bbylon—and there was the big exile. At the end of that history we read about Gedaliah who would reign over Judah not as King but as governor.
5. Now we ask: why did Jeremiah make such a morbid complaint against the Lord God? His complaint went as far as question his whole existence—including a blame to his mother. Remember that the people of Judah have been unfaithful to God. Injustice and idolatry were two pillars of human corruption. Jeremiah saw that Babylon was going to destroy Judah. To avoid the disaster he kept on repeating the message: return to the Lord and stop looking for help from nations like Egypt. “Turn back, each of you, from your evil way and from your evil deeds; then you shall remain in the land which the LORD gave you and your ancestors, from of old and forever” (25/5). Submit yourselves to Babylon—that empire will not be permanent, God will remove it one day.
6. Suddenly Jeremiah was accused of treason. He was accused of conniving with the Babylonians. Jeremiah so loved his people but he was mocked and insulted and shamed.
7. So he passed through a trial in life. He was torn between the message of destruction and his love for his people. Just imagine how he would feel when he was saying this to the people: “Since you would not listen to my words, I am about to send for and fetch all the tribes from the north—oracle of the LORD—and I will send for Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, my servant; I will bring them against this land, its inhabitants, and all these neighbouring nations. I will doom them, making them an object of horror, of hissing, of everlasting reproach” (25/8-9).Babylon will destroy the land of Judah and will enslave the people for seventy years. Just imagine giving the message to the people. So we read in many parts of Jeremiah his complaint: see 11/18-12/6; 15/10-21; 17/14-18; 18/18-23; 20/7-18).
8. Yet, even with the death and destruction he was proclaiming that he saw hope. He saw a kind of re-living with a new covenant with God (chap. 31). He knew that God, in the end, will be victorious (chap. 32). After the seven years under the Babylonian hold the people will be free again. As for Babylon itself, “When the seventy years have elapsed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation and the land of the Chaldeans for their guilt—oracle of the LORD. Their land I will turn into everlasting waste” (25/12).Jeremiah, even if he was a complaining prophet—and as one of you said, he may have been suffering with a “bi-polar” illness—Jeremiah was also a prophet of hope. He saw a future marked by a New Covenant not written on stone but in heart (see Jr 23/1-8 and especially 31/31-34).
9. So why complain? We are not so sure. But take note. Complaining involves voicing our dissatisfactions. There is a goal in voicing out a complaint, it is the attaining of a resolution. Now, when we voice out trivial or inconsequential dissatisfaction (a dissatisfaction not really worthy of special attention), we are not complaining. We are whining. Jeremiah was not whining…he was complaining. It was not prohibited by the Lord God. Just like in the book of Job we read about a big complaint—also in the line of cursing existence! But, as we see, Job also wanted a resolution. In the end of that book, the Lord God commended Job for having complained! Jeremiah’s complaint saw its resolution in his notion of the New Covenant.
10. For the Christian, Jeremiah is compared to Jesus: “When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi* he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matt 16/13-14). Jesus himself, during his Passion declared the New Covenant announced by Jeremiah (see Lk 22/20; 1 Cor 11/25).
1. The prophet Ezekiel tells us how he was consecrated as a prophet. In a prophetic vision he saw a Divine revelation: “In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens opened, and I saw divine visions” (1/1).
2. Ezekiel talks about a Heavenly Chariot. He says that he saw the heavens open. It was then that The Lord God made him a prophet. God had told him to minister to the people—it was his mission to do courageously. This was in the fifth year of the exile in Babylon.
3. Ezekiel was from Jerusalem. He belonged to a priestly family. During the reign of King Jehoiachin the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem. The king and the king’s family was taken to Babylon. Many were also taken to Babylon. This can be called the first exile, sometime in 597BC. Ezekiel was among those exiled.
4. The new king of Judah was Zedekiah, put to the throne by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah was loyal to Babylon… or seemed loyal to Babylon.
5. Ezekiel, being from the priestly family, was encouraging the faith of the exiled Jews. But even among the exiles idolatry was practiced. Even some of the religious practices of the Babylonians influenced the exiled Jews. One major reason for this was that the exiled Jews were disappointed with the Lord God. They felt that The Lord God had abandoned them to the Babylonians. So they did not see the need to continue keeping the Torah and staying faithful to the Lord God.
6. Ezekiel had to convince his fellow exiles. He had to show to them that their condition was not permanent. It would be fatal if they gave up their faith. If they and the Jews left behind in Judah gave up the faith, then all will collapse. Nobody took Ezekiel seriously. The exiled laughed at him.
7. Then came the news to Ezekiel. In Judah the Babylonians started to attack Jerusalem—in fact, Jerusalem fell. Ezekiel had a vision—he was told by the Lord God to tell the news to the exiled Jews. The sad news made the Jews in Babylon realize that Ezekiel was, indeed, saying the right thing. He was a prophet of The Lord God.
8. Slowly many of the Jews from Judah poured in to Babylon. This was the “big” Exile period.
a. Now Ezekiel became the gentle preacher; he encouraged the Jews. He was a priest and so he gave such a big importance to the Temple. But he was not stuck with the Temple, now that he and many others were on exile. He believed that the Lord God would be present even in the land of exile—in Babylon. The Lord God has been a “little sanctuary for them in the lands to which they have gone” (11/16).
9. He was furious against the neighbours of Judah—the nations around Judah mocked the Jews who fell in Babylonian hands. Ezekiel then told his fellow Jews that they will eventually be free. They would be like dry bones coming alive again. The people will be revived again.
10. In fact Ezekiel believed that both Judah and Ephraim of the North will be reconciled one day. There will be a total restoration of all North and South. The Holy Temple will be rebuilt.
11. Ezekiel taught that personal revival was necessary for national revival. Each individual was responsible for self and for nation. Keep faithful to the Lord God. The Lord God is a loving God who is ready to forgive sins. In this sense Ezekiel broke off with the collectively traditional. Responsibility is not just collective but also individual.
12. He insisted on personal renewal. He also announced that the people of God will “resurrect” from oppression and will return to the land. (See 11/14-20; 36/1-38).
13. Ezekiel was quite a leader. Under him synagogues were built. The study of the Torah was revived. His death made the Jews mourn him.
14. Then the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, died. His son was Evil Merodach. Merodach released Jehoiachin from prison. Jehoiachin remembered the prophet Ezekiel and had a tomb built for him.
15. Let us look at the Book of Ezekiel.
· The Book of Ezekiel has four major parts. The first part is composed of his threats to the Jewish people before the big exile (chap. 1-24).
· The second part is the judgement of God over the foreign powers that cheated and oppressed the Jews (chap. 25-32).
· The third part is composed of words spoken after the big fall of Jerusalem in 587BC. The words were that of consolation for the people (chap. 33-39).
· The fourth part describes the Temple—the Temple of the future—of which Ezekiel had a vision (chap. 40-48).
Let us work on Chapter 36, 23-28
1. Ezekiel writes in Babylon. A few years from the first exile he dreams of a strange Temple. During all this time in exile he experiences visions. He then is informed about the big fall of Jerusalem in 587. “On the fifth day of the tenth month, in the twelfth year of our exile, the survivor came to me from Jerusalem and said, ‘The city is taken!’ (E z 33/21). The prophet is forced to speak—to react in such a situation. (He has been quiet since the death of his wife (see Ez 24/27). Previously Ezekiel has been rather tough and strong in words. If we look at the first two parts we notice that Ezekiel has been threatening both the Jews and the surrounding nations. But now he softens up. He starts talking of a “new heart” (Ez 36/16-38). So we are in the third part of the book in which Ezekiel gives consolation to the people of the exile.
2. The words of the prophet start with
· a recall of the past and a recall of the faults of the people (v. 17-20).
3. In vv.17-20 we see that the past is recalled. There has been “defilement”. The people have been “dirty”. This defilement is symbolized by menstrual defilement. There is the defilement of violence and there is the defilement of idolatry (v.18). This is the usual “pair of issues” typical of prophets: injustice and idolatry always pair together. The promised land has become dirty, impure, sterile, full of vanity. The historical context of the place has become so negative. Every aspect of social life is criticized.
4. Yet the defilement of the people is not just in the land. While on exile the people continue the same defilement. They defile even the name of the Lord God: “they served to profane my holy Name” (v.20). The people have been so hard headed and it is the Lord God who is wounded. The Lord God is wounded by the criticism of the other nations: “These are the people of the Lord, yet they had to leave their land” (v. 20).
Verse by verse of 23-28
5. Now we go to vv.23-28. This is sandwiched between the section on defilement and the return of the people to their land, vv.29-38. This return will be marked by
· economic wealth (v. 29-32),
· political renewal (v. 33-36), and
· religious renewal (v. 37-38).
6. Note the sandwich: Part One: defilementàPart Two: vv.22-28 (renewal)àPart three: concrete promises of the renewal.
7. Let us go back a little bit to the time before the big exile while Jerusalem was still standing. Ezekiel received a message of hope for the exiles of the first deportation. The Lord God promised a return to the land together with the end of idolatry and violence. So the Lord God gave to the exiles “another heart” and “a new spirit”. We read, “And I will give them another heart and a new spirit I will put within them. From their bodies I will remove the hearts of stone, and give them hearts of flesh” (Ez 11/19).
8. But now the exile is worse—this is now the big exile. The joke of the nations about the Jews and their God has increased. Meanwhile, the Jews continue their bad attitude. Could this not be the moment of remembering the promise of the Lord God?
9. Now the Lord God easily repeats that he is acting not for the people. No! He acts for the sake of his Name (v.22). What is so special about his Name? Among the people of the Palestine region there is a relationship between the thing and its name. (See Gn 35/18). Recall Ex 3/14 where God tells his “name”. In the Psalms the name is so crucial (see, for example, Ps 5/12 ; 7/18 ; 8/2 ; 9/3.11 ; 13/6). In the Jewish tradition people would not pronounce the name of God. Rather they would say “the name” (ha-shem). This is the Jewish way of designating God.
10. When a person names someone else, there is a sense of over-powering. When a King wins in a war against another nation, that King will rename the conquered king (see 2Kg24/17). To name someone else is to assume an authority over that person.
11. Of course we cannot always suppose power. In other instances, to name is to give a sign of recognition. In Gn 2/19-20 Adam names the animals. So he is showing recognition of his own intelligence and recognition of the features of each animal. I, who knows, also knows what others are. This is a gesture of domination (see Gn 1/28); and we instead called it “mastery” in our previous semesters.
12. (However, there are specific places where we can wonder if it is always about domination and mastery. When Adam changed the name of the woman to “Eve” (see Gen. 2/20), it is because she has become the “mother of the living”. So the verse is not exactly about the domination—or mastery—over Eve.)
13. Now, let us go to the Exodus story. We recall Moses, for example, and his encounter of the “burning bush”. There he asked for the name of God. But God never gave a name. Why?
14. God is an evasive God. He does not give his name so that we cannot exert power or mastery over him. He is not exactly refusing to give his name. His revelation is simply the fact that his name cannot be pronounced nor can it really be comprehensible by humans. So God gives a description of himself: “I am-I am” (Ex.3/14). Accept that God is beyond the labelling we can give him. We do want to know God—but our knowledge strikes a limit. The limit is an indication that from now on it is not us who will say who is God but that God will reveal. From now on the initiative of revelation is from God.
15. God’s name is a revelation from him. (In Isaiah the Lord God does not exactly give a name, “Immanuel”. He calls it a “sign”, not a name.)
16. We are placed in front of the “beyond”. The name of God tells us that God is beyond us and we have our limits. Recall Genesis 2/16-17, therefore. Here we have a new approach to that passage. “You may…but”. At this point “you may know God but….” But what? Adventure with God. Do not possess God. Be partner with God, not owner of God.
17. The name of God is not to be a concept that will enclose God. Rather it is an opening up to encountering God. Adventure with God. God keeps a dynamism of relationship—it is an adventurous relationship of encountering and re-encountering constantly. It is a relationship that does not terminate. It is a relationship characterized by vocation: keep the desire to be with God without abandoning him. “I am-I am” indicates not a name but the promise of a never abandoning presence. It is God who tells us how he relates with us and how we can relate with him.
18. So when we think of name, we just do not think of a label. We think of a relationship (a Covenant relationship) between the Lord God and his people.
19. So we can say that the “name” of God is linked with the chosen people. The name of God is a holy name—it is a glorious name. The holiness of God is from God himself. In this way the people are participating in glorifying God. Is it possible that the holiness and glory of God be manifest? If a nation keeps the name of God, then that nation presupposes that it is glorifying God.
20. In the Old Testament, there is one major way of glorifying God. This is by obedience to the Law. This is obedience to the precept of justice and fraternity inside society—inside the Holy Land. Obedience to the precepts of justice and fraternity gives glory to God. The chosen people prove the holiness of God by living in justice and peace in the land.
21. The people have consistently been called to live in justice and to centralize their lives in confidence in God. Live according to the justice of God, and this will give glory to God. So we can understand why God is worried about his name. If his holy name is profaned, it means license to injustice, violence, cheating, etc. So we understand why God would say: “it is for the sake of my name”. As verse 23 will show, God will prove his holiness through the people. It is the people who will make that proof!
22. And so there will be a re-assembly of the people together with their return to the holy land. They will be taken out of their exile and they will return.
23. This return is accompanied by a big clean-up of defilement produced by idolatry and violence.
· Compare Ez 11/17-18 with 36/24-25
24. It will be a kind of medical “surgery” (from stony hearts to natural hearts)becomes a kind of re-creation…a Genesis again! There will be a “new spirit”—and the Lord God will put his spirit on the people.
· Compare Ez 11/19 with 36/26-27
25. Let us check the different symbols used.
· Let us look at some major symbolisms related to water:
àWater is germinating and giving fruits. It is medicinal.
àIn all human societies there is always a link made between rain and vegetation—the agricultural world. Water falls from the sky and makes the earth rich. The Word of God is “from above”—it purifies and makes rich the earth. (In Jewish tradition—see Midrash Rabbah, we are told that water is conserved in earthen jars and not in metal jars. So there is emphasis on earth linked with water).
àWater is medicinal. It prolongs life. It saves one from illness.
àWater is purifying. We know this, and we need not cite passages. Water is used for washing and removing dirt
àWater is liberating. Here we can think of Moses (and Noah). Moses crosses the waters. The people are liberated. They are immerged in a passage of waters to re-emerge as a free nation. The Egyptians are sucked in the water. The do not re-emerge. Noah builds a boat and crosses the big flood until, in the end, there is liberation of all creatures from defilements.
àSalvation of God is symbolized by water. The Lord God makes water flow—even in dry land. The land is made wet and can become agricultural. The thirsty can drink. The exiled—in desert—now is revived. Water revives dry land (see Isaiah 41/19; 45/18). In other words, there is salvation because now in the land there is justice—like plants and flowers can grow (see ls 49/9; 55/13).
àBut inversely water is “flooding”. Flood, as we know, purifies and regenerates. A flood washes away and opens up to a new world. There is a “cycle” and a renewal. The essential—original—is not corrupt, in principle. (Chaos symbolised by wild waters is not removed, remember?) The course of history corrupts. But water—as flood—cleans all up. We are made to recall the original purity of God’s creation. A flood symbolizes the opportunity to be clean again in a radical way! It symbolizes the chance to “start all over again”.
àGod can also dry up land—remove water.
àWater is also like a mirror! But it is a curious mirror. Why? It refuses to capture all forms. Look at your face on the surface of water, your face is there but never as the same face in a glass mirror. Put water in a vase, the water will take the form of the vase. Pour the water out, the water will divide…evaporate. So water is something representing the “un-masterable”. We cannot master it…it escapes us. History is like mastering water—we try to see our reflections and know ourselves. We try to capture water itself and put it in our containers. But we experience always its escape from us!
àHere is a deep thought. Water also symbolises “everything”. It is the matrix of all possibilities. It is before anything else—before any form. It is “formless”. We regress to water—we return to formlessness. We return to the “pre-form” (before form). So there is a sense of renewal—a re-forming that is possible after the re-immersion. So water symbolises the continual possibility of re-form: eternal life. There is no “end” to form. Water as shapeless, formless yet taking form during each containment, is also water of life. So we can appreciate how water can symbolize “word of God”.
· Look now at verse 25. The Lord God will sprinkle water to clean the nation from its idols. Impurities and defilements will be removed. If we follow some of the symbolic approaches to water, we can think of a renewal: a return to being clean again.
àNow, remember that the ancient Jews never had “modern medical science”. Their view of biology was different from the modern view. Sure, they knew that “heart” was an organ of the body. It is the seat of affection and sentiments. It experiences love, desire, joy, sadness, irritation, fear, discouragement, etc. So when the ancient Jews spoke about heart, they referred to what is intimate in us—our “inside feelings”.
àThe heart, however, is more than about feelings and sentiment. The heart is considered an instrument for discernment. This is why the heart is also associated with intelligence, imagination, memory.
àNote that we see both the affective and the “thinking” aspects of heart. (Curious for us modern people that the Jews did not consider the role of the “brain” for the feelings and thoughts.) These two therefore give us an idea of a whole life-direction: a morality. The heart symbolizes our moral life. What do we feel and think is good. [Curious too, for us modern people, that both heart and kidneys are linked to thinking and discerning. God looks into our hearts and kidneys to know what we are discerning (see Ps 7/10)].
àIn the language of the Old Testament, instead of saying “thinking” one says “speak with the heart”. (Again, we modern people say that we use the brain, not the heart, for thinking.) The heart is the seat of our conative and cognitive functions. So, again, we understand why the heart is associated with moral decision. We decide with the heart. With the heart we give direction to all we do.
àSpirit is not soul. Soul is not quite biblical. Sometimes we say “soul”. Ok. In the Bible it is nephese—throat! Why? Note that the Biblical world is quite situated in the desert. Thirst is an experience that is not rare. To remove thirst and to be quenched, we think of the throat. We drink. So when we say “my soul thirsts for you”, it literally means “my throat thirsts for you”. It is my whole self that thirsts for you. So “soul” is more of “throat” that designates a movement or activity. The soul is the active part of us that turns to our desires.
àSo what about “spirit” then? The Bible uses the word “rouah”. It literally means “breath”. It can also mean “wind”. Around us is wind—and breath. We have the wind blowing. We have people around us—including ourselves—with wind: breath. In the Bible “spirit” is what gives us life. We breath—and if do not breath we have no life. So in Genesis God gives life by breathing into Adam. So spirit is about breath and the maintenance of life. The breath is the first manifestation of God’s support for us.
àIf we use the word “spirit”, using Old Testament ideas, we speak of the intimacy we have with ourselves. It is our interior space. We speak of what is the most secret part of ourselves—it is so secrete that we alone are in touch with it. It is so linked with heart, then. What is our life within? What is our breath within?
àThe word ruah designates respiration. So it is a principle of life. Emotions have an influence on our breathing. We know this. When we are angry our breathing deepens but with irregularity. When we are at peace our breath softens. So in a way spirit is also an expression of what is happening inside of us. It is an expression of our conscience. When we put our “spirit in God’s hand” we say that we put our whole selves in God’s hands. We put in God each breath we make—each respiration. We breathe in God’s hands. Our possibility to live is in God’s hands. Our selves and our whole lives—this is “spirit”.
àBe careful, we are here in Semitic-Hebrew thinking. Greek thinking—which has influenced us—is different. Spirit, in Greek thought, is something opposed to matter. This is not what is in the Old Testament sense.
· Look now at verse 26. What will God do in renewing his people. He will do major changes in the heart in spirit. In verse 25 cleansing is done. Now that the people are clean, a new heart and a new spirit will be given.
· In the psalms we read a lot about “seeking God”. (See, for example, Ps 34/5-7). Seeking God is due to the experience of the absence of God.
· Seeking God is, at the same time, a human search for signs. People need signs to say that they see and understand what God wills. The thoughts of God are not the thoughts of the human (see Is 55/8). So the human discerns. What does God want?
· The human is faced with anguish. Is God happy that I suffer? So we read Ezekiel saying that God will give a new heart and a new spirit. God is taking the initiative to give us a new path—a new way to live. God give the people “new tools”—hearts and spirit—to live in justice and in the presence of God.
· So the people are no longer to live simply according to their dreams and projects. To live according to our dreams and projects alone—exclusive of God—is to turn our hearts to stone. We become cold and hard and lifeless. As we see in the case of the Jews, social life turns violent. Stone evokes so9lidity, hardness, heaviness.
· For among the Hebrews, the stone is a very common material. It is used for construction. It is a strong material—hard. So stone is not changing. It is fixed. When heart is stone, it becomes hard and fixed and incapable of conversion. Stone must be made into flesh—it is a hard surgery to do! It means that the heart is ready for conversion, openness, obedience. It is ready for adventure again. (Just think. At some points in our lives, our habits turn to stone. We harden. We do not want to evolve and open up. We are in what psychologists call as “comfort zones”. So life—and the lives of others around us—are affected. We start living in a fixed place where we stop adventuring with each other and we stop adventuring with God. Obedience is made deaf.) God takes the initiative to give us the chance to live again—new heart—to take a new path in life. Then we understand the silence—or absence—of God. It is not really that God has become silent, it is simply that we have turned our hearts to stone…lifeless and deaf. Now, with a new heart, we are renewed.
· Note than in verse 27 there is the chance to live according to the Law again—to live according to the precepts of God. It is life according to the way God wants it to be lived. Recall in our previous semesters that the Law presupposes liberation and covenant. God is a liberator and so he instituted the Law so that the people will not return to slavery. The Law has the sense of freedom and not slavery. With a new heart, the people return to the precepts that make them free. So new heart is not a return to tabula rasa—empty table. No. Instead there is a proper way of living to renew—a proper way of living to return to. It is living according to the precepts of justice, peace and covenant.
· The promise of returning to the land is given. Let us view this in terms of creation. To make us God took from earth and then breathed into us. So we have our kidneys, bones, hearts, blood, etc….and life. The human and the earth—the land—are intimately bound together. We are from land, from soil, from earth. We need to be clear about this origin. The earth existed long before us. Our common origin is from this earth.
· God took from this earthly material and put breath into it. So we are not just material substances. We have the breath—from God. We inhabit a life with God’s breath. We have our hearts, kidneys and respiration living with God. This is our origin.
· God and earth came before us. God collaborated with earth for making us exist and live. History has made our hearts turn to stone. Now God is returning us to our original state of living with him.
· But then let us go to the specific case of the exiled people. They are living in exile—in a land that is foreign to them. Now they are to return home. The return home renewed—with new hearts. Again, there is no tabula rasa return. The Covenant is renewed. Once again the people will live according to the stipulations of the Covenant. We return to what was expressed before at the time when God was to free the people from the hands of slavery: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God; and you will know that I, the LORD, am your God who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex.6/7). This theme is strongly repeated in Ezekiel (see Ez. 14/11; 37/23; 37/27).
· The consequence of God’s own initiative is to make life concretely safe, secured and abundant again. This is what we see after verse 28. It is God’s initiative to clean up his people so that they can live according to the glory—holiness—of God.
· Many themes of Old Testament Theology are touched here. Take note of them.
· There is one challenging question you might want to ponder on—for a long time….. In verse 21 we read that God “relented”. He has made the people thrown into exile and thrown into foreign land. But in that foreign land the people profaned the name of God. So God “relented”… The act of putting them in a foreign land only made them continue their idolatry and injustice. What do you think? What could be going on in God’s mind? Why did God relent?
Is the Lord God Self-centered?
Let us make our own reflections on the problem of God’s “self-centeredness”. Is God
a “narcissist” worried more about his own name than about his people?
“Therefore say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD: Not for your sake do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you desecrated among the nations to which you came” (Ez.36/22).
1. In the texts we are working on in Ezekiel we get an impression that the Lord God is worried about his name. The people have not been faithful to the Covenant—they have made the land dirty with injustice and idolatry. Now the people are on exile and the other nations are laughing at them. They are mocked by the other nations. So, the Lord God is suddenly surprised to see that his name is made dirty too. So we read: “Thus says the Lord GOD: Not for your sake do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name” (Ez.36/22).The holy name of the Lord God has been made dirty among the nations to which the people are thrown on exile.
2. The Lord God wants an exclusive relationship with his people. But the people, in their violence and injustice, have been showing fidelity to other gods. God wants to protect his reputation—his “name”. He is a jealous God.
3. We see the theme of jealousy in Exodus. “You shall not bow down to any other god, for the LORD—“Jealous” his name—is a jealous God” (Ex.34/14). This verse is situated within a section dealing with laws in Exodus (34/11-26). The section on laws is within a bigger section dealing with renewal of the Covenant (Ex.34/10-28). This is a Dt text.
4. Why is the Lord God YHWH a “jealous” God? The central theme here is actually the Name of the Lord God. Biblically the Name of the Lord God is, at the same time, the identity of God. So it is the character of God to be Jealous—since, as Exodus asserts, he is Jealous—his name is “Jealous”.
5. Not only is God named “Jealous”…he is jealous. He is jealous God. But remember that Name is also presence—and God is a presence to meet…a presence to encounter rather than to label and control. Remember God’s declaration about his name in Ex 34/14. The presence of God is a jealous presence!
6. Jealous God is associated with refusing other gods. We can think not only of other gods—like Baal—but also of representations made about the Lord God himself—like the golden calf of Aaron in Ex.32. That act of Aaron violated the Covenant with the Lord God. The golden calf was constructed “in honour of the Lord God” (Ex.32/5). The idolatry there was that Aaron assumed that he could label God and thereby have a dominion over God. So what exactly happened was that God was put in the same status as any other gods—idolatry, therefore. It was a perversion of God! Just like other gods, the Lord God could be dominated and controlled and mastered by the human.
7. God as presence is constantly un-predictable. (This is what we have been saying about relating with someone we are very intimate with. No matter how well we know that person, he/she still reveals un-predictability…mystery…depth…He/she cannot be put in a box.) The golden calf was an attempt to make God predictable and controllable. This was “the big sin of Israel” (see Ex 32/21.30-31).
8. God is jealous because God cannot tolerate rivalry with other gods and rivalry with human domination. To say God is jealous is to admit that the relationship with God is not of mastery and domination but of adventure—Covenant adventure. It is an adventure with the presence of God. God is jealous because this presence is rejected…the people prefer other presences of other gods.
9. Note that the place of the name “Jealous God” is in the context of renewing the Covenant. Therefore it is in the context of forgiveness and mercy (see Ex.34,5-7). The jealousy of God, therefore, is in the context of renewing relationship with the people.
10. But why does God say that his concern is not for the sake of the people? Let us reflect on this. Ok, so for the Lord God his name is holy and cannot be made dirty. The people should have an exclusive relationship with God. God alone is enough.
11. During that time—the ancient time—the people believed tat each place had its own god. If the Hebrews had their own God, so too the other people. Micah witnesses to this: “Though all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, We will walk in the name of the LORD, our God, forever and eve” (Mi 4,5). So the reforms in Judah and the cry of the prophets always emphasized that God is the only God.
12. At the time of the exile the Hebrews were traumatized. The trauma, however, forced a new way of thinking. The question about the existence of God was an important theme. “Would it be necessary to turn to the other gods—the gods of the Babylonians, for example—if we will be in their land?” So God himself would be put on trial. Might he be abandoned?
13. But God had said that his name was “I am, I am”. In other words he was to be a presence to the people—a constant presence. This would mean that even in Babylon God is present. The people are not to accept others gods—not Baal, not Marduk, not Ishtar, not any other god.
14. Note carefully that the Lord God can be present elsewhere. Therefore he is universal. If the mentality of that time was that each locality had its own God, the mentality introduced by the prophet is that God is not boxed in by any locality. Therefore, God is not just the God of Israel but the God of all nations.
15. If the other nations can mock the Hebrews, it will justify the practice of local gods. It will justify that YHWH can be god but only in Judah…not elsewhere. In Babylon there is another god. The Lord God YHWH is therefore inutile. He is not efficient and effective in other places. He is a local god—not universal.
16. When God is worried about his own name and not so much about the sake of his own people, it is because he is now worried about all peoples. And what about the people of Israel. One verse can make us accept this line of thinking. “Then the nations shall know that I am the LORD—oracle of the Lord GOD—when through you I show my holiness before their very eyes” (Ez.36/23). Notice that the other nations are in God’s concern. The people of Israel have the special task of showing the holiness of God to the other nations. The other nations—their eyes—will see the holiness of God through the people of God. Unfortunately, in the place of exile, the people of God are unable to live up to their vocation. It would be wonderful if, in the land of exile, they could show the Holiness of God. If only they could show that the name—the presence—of God is Holy. But no, even in their exile they continue to be unjust and unfaithful to God. So now it is time for God to renew his people!
17. God opens the doors to the other nations. He renews the people so that they can go on mission—which is their vocation. It is time that the people realize that even if they have been chosen by God, the heart of God is not anymore for them alone.
18. We might want to take steps farther up to the New Testament where we read Jesus showing his disciples how to pray. “Our Father…Holy be Your name”. May your name be Holy, Father, and that through us that holiness is made evident. Jesus can make us understand the issue in Ezekiel.
A Reflection on Religious Life as Prophetic
1. Religious life is one form of life…among many other forms of life in the Church. But because you are all in religious life, it will be well to focus on that life. What is explicit in Church documents is that the way of life of the whole community is prophetic. Because of this, it is the task of the community to challenge each individual member to be prophetic. Each individual member is asked to live according to the prophetic charism of the institution. Each member is called to support and deepen the charism.
2. Each member has received the call to live out his/her vocation in line with the charism of the institution. The individual member has gifts—gift of intelligence, gift of spirit, gift of the hands, etc. The individual member is asked to share that gift within the ministry of the institution.
3. Notice then that religious congregations train and form their members in deepening and developing their gifts. Religious congregations form their members to be sufficiently matured to carry out the ministry of the institution even outside the frame of institutional-ism. Note that we say “ism”. Why?
4. The suffix “ism” indicates a “totalitarian” domination. If something becomes an “ism” it tends to be the “everything”. If in science one goes to “scientism”, that person tends to say that everything is scientific….there is no room for religion or art. If in society one promotes “collectivism”, that person tends to say that everything is collective…there is no room for the individual. If in psychology one promotes “behaviourism”, that person tends to say that all that we do is a result of external stimuli causing us to behave…we have no free will.
5. The same can be applied to “institutional-ism”. If one says that the congregation is institutional and nothing more, this becomes an “ism”…it becomes “institutionalism”. It closes the door to individual seeking and creativity. It closes the door to new initiatives and discernment. Each member is obliged to drop personal discernment and to live strictly according to the group. But an institution is in the service of a charism. So it guides members to live out the charism. Institutionalism reverses this order. In institutionalism the charism is put in the service of the institution. This is not healthy.
6. The whole institution—with all its structures—discerns on where God calls it to exercise its charism. So the focus on the institution is really on the call of God for the charism. The goal is to make the charism bloom!
7. Note that being “institutional” is important and cannot be removed. But “institutionalism” is not healthy. Why do we say this? We would emphasize the prophetic character of religious life. Each member is called to exercise the ministry of an institution in a prophetic (and not in an “institutionalistic”) way. There is the healthy way of giving room for initiatives, discernment, creativity and risk making—if only to go to serve further the Kingdom using the charism.
8. (This is also one reason why religious communities hold “chapters”. Chapters are designed to help the institution discern on where it is now and where it is called to go. A “chapter” is a prophetic moment of a religious institute!)
9. You live your religious life in the community as individuals. So it is both a community life and an individual-personal life. Look at the prophets. They belonged to the social world—to the world of the people of God. They lived as members of their community. Yet, they had a personal calling. Their call was to deepen the community and re-new the Covenant with God.
10. Note that none of the prophets started with a personal calling. No one said, “I call myself to speak for God”. Not one prophet. The call to be “spokesperson” came from God. A prophet may have felt surprised, afraid, or even “unable”. But that prophet received the call.
11. Remember the history of your congregations. How did each start? Someone may have felt a call to participate in the plan of God. Something crucial was happening in society—and God wanted a response. So you have founders/foundresses who felt this call to participate in God’s plan. They started the communities that will be responsive to that call. The founder/foundress had a call, he/she used his/her personal gifts to respond and he/she founded a community having the same gift for that call.
12. What about the members who come after? The future member saw in the institution the charism in which his/her personal gifts may be exercised. The future members replied to the call of God to join the founder/foundress and the community founded. Note always that the original call was from God. The future member received the same call. His/her call was compatible to the call of the founder/foundress and the community.
13. Religious life, therefore, is a charismatic life. It is called by God—“live out the charism in the world”. Be prophetic in the world. The religious, expressing personal and community charism, has a message to give in society—in the world where injustice and idolatry abound.
14. The goal of the religious is not to promote an institution. Rather the goal is to live out the call—live the Gospel in the world. It is the call given to the institution and to the members. The service may be needed for a long time—maybe centuries! Or it may be needed only for a short time—as some religious institutions have experienced. In vocations promotions you promote the call—the sharing of the charism that will be facilitated by the institution.
15. Note then that the religious is called to proclaim—to “speak out”—in the world. It is prophetic. Speak out the core message of Jesus: the Kingdom of God. Speak it out in the form appropriate to your call. One is called to teach. Another is called to a health ministry. Another is called to a direct involvement in justice and peace. Etc. Each according to the charism. Each community—and each member—is “called for” an exercise of a charism.
16. In the course of history—be it a short historical moment or a long historical span—the exercise of the charism takes on different “shapes”. Note then that in education, for example, there was a time when and institution engaged in formal university education. But then it started to move into informal education. A congregation may have engaged in hospital service. But later it explored alternative medicine service. A congregation may have started with homes for lodging abandoned women. Later it entered into empowerment of women. There are many cases of such changes—all coming from discernment of members of the institutions.
17. Notice that in history a religious community was founded to answer a concrete situation. But the institution did not get stuck with just one form of response. As social-cultural situations evolved and changed, the institution discerned how it can respond to the other concrete situations. An institution was creative and innovative. It had to be prophetic. The institution has to adapt and re-adapt to the different contexts of society.
18. Now, when we talk of changes we talk also of “conserving” how things stand. In any given historical moment there will always be the tendency to conserve an existing way of doing things. Social scientists call this “the conservative impulse”. In principle, a prophet tends to “disturb” a conservative impulse if the impulse begins to stagnate life and growth. In our socio-cultural class we saw “social control” versus “deviance”. It may happen that the control stuns initiative and growth—for very often the control is operated by the dominant/elite forces of society. These are forces that marginalise the small and little ones—the poor and the neglected.
19. For the prophet, vigilance is given to areas where the will of God is rejected. A social group begins to conserve a system that is no longer healthy and respectful. The prophet is called to stimulate growth and denounce the possible injustice. The prophet is called to stimulate a future that will re-instate justice and human dignity. Stimulate a future that is according to the values of the Kingdom.
20. The prophet announces the Kingdom. The prophet announces the good news. If in a certain moment of time society refuses to live according to what is “good news”, the prophet is called to speak on behalf of God. The prophet is called to stimulate a future of justice and values. So, in principle then, something new will have to be introduced by the prophet. By “new” we mean the giving up of relationships that destroy and taking in relationships that give life.
21. Jesus taught us how to pray the Our Father. In the prayer we see that the holiness of the Father is manifested in the lives of people. In the prayer we see that the Kingdom comes in the readiness of “earth”—in the readiness of people—to welcome it. The prophet gives the message to society: choose life with God and welcome his Kingdom.
22. The religious is a prophet. Through the service of his/her personal and community charism, the message of God is spoken in society.
23. You have chosen to live according to the vows that have features proper to your institutions. Your lives are, in principle, re-made in a different way. Some commentaries would say that a religious is “counter cultural”. While the world today like consumerism, you chose the poverty of Christ expressed in a particular way characterized by your congregation. While the world today chooses promiscuity, you choose the celibate-chastity of Christ expressed in a particular way characterized by your congregation. While the world today emphasizes individualism, you decide to obey like Christ expressed in a particular way characterized by your congregation. Your lives are meant to constantly help reconstruct the lives of people around you in terms of real freedom and happiness. When people are in touch with you they sense a kind of freedom and happiness…They see that you “speak” on behalf of God. They sense the prophet in each of you.
24. There is just one final point that needs clarification. A prophet looks like “going alone”. Amos seemed he was all alone. Jeremiah seemed to be all alone. Ezekiel seemed alone. But they always saw themselves as part of the people they served. They never isolated themselves from their societies. In this sense they were never alone.
25. Jesus himself constituted around him a community. This is one clear model—that a prophet still lives in a community. The way of living in a community helps the individual prophet-religious to share his/her charism. The way of living in a community helps the individual prophet-religious to live out the vocation he/she was called to. The prophet is a spokesperson of God, yes. The prophet’s message is given in concrete situations, yes. But the prophet never speaks outside a community. In this way, the whole community—the whole institution—is prophetic.
26. Look at the very first sentences of Vita Consecrata of Pope John Paul II: “The Consecrated Life, deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit. By the profession of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one — are made constantly "visible" in the midst of the world and the eyes of the faithful are directed towards the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realization in heaven” (Vita Consecrata 1).
Analysis of Texts at the time they were written
1. We have been studying the prophets in line with their historical moments. We said that Hosea and Amos did their ministry during the time of the Northern Kingdom and the Assyrian domination. Jeremiah, we said, what doing ministry during the time towards the big exile to Babylon. Malachi, we said, did his ministry after the exile. But what about Jonah? The book of Jonah is about the town of Nineveh—suggesting the Assyrian domination. The book has its setting during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC) of the Northern Kingdom. But it was very likely that it was written after the Babylonian exile when the people of Judah returned to their land sometime between the late 5th to early 4th century BC. So even if it was about Nineveh it was written centuries after the time of Assyrian domination.
2. Now we need to see that Biblical texts were not simply about historical moments…they were also results of historical moments!
3. The very original manuscripts of the books of the Bible are no longer existing. So Bible experts rely on the texts and the analysis of texts. Experts ask about the historical conditions during which the texts were written. So there are approaches to this like literary criticism, comparison of different non-Biblical texts with Biblical texts, archaeology, etc. One big work is to date the texts—when exactly were they written? Knowing the date of writing helps explain the content of what is written.
4. The Bible was not written by one hand—this is obvious. Each book may have been written by many hands during different moments of time. Many have been written influenced by traditions of different societies and histories. Some Biblical passages look like very influenced by Babylonian literature—as you may have studied in Genesis in your introduction to the Old Testament. The Dead Sea scrolls have proven a lot about the Bible. They give us an idea of the difference between Bible and Ancient Society. They give us an idea of what was happening during the re-construction of the Jerusalem Temple. Archaeology also tell us about the ancient times and how they are compared to Bible texts.
5. Biblical texts have been assembled and put together. So, for example, the book of Deuteronomy is said to have many “coating” taken from the time when the Northern Kingdom was still standing, the time of Josiah, the time of the Big Exile to Babylon and the time of return from the Exile.
6. A book may have been an assembly and was further re-worked and re-written according to the needs of the moment. Take the example of the gospel texts. They have been assembled but many re-writings over time.
7. So when we look at a book of the Bible, let us not forget that the book may be touching on a historical moment…but it was also written during a historical moment. It will be too much for us to go into the study of dating Biblical texts—but in case you are interested, check out the dates of when the prophets were written.
Certain challenges that we face today in our CONTEMPORARY world
1. First of all, we see a strange tension between “the need to be good” and “the need not to be told how to be good”. We like to be good but we do not like too much rules and regulations and norms weighing on us.
2. We know that in our countries there are cases of corruption. There are cases of cheating—like workers are cheated, information is not fully disclosed, people do not pay in full their dues, intimate relationship fall in cheating, etc. So we want these corrected. We cry against corruption, for example. We want fidelity in love, as another example. So we say that our society needs some form of “goodness”. We want people to be good—stop corruption, stop cheating, stop injustice, etc.
3. Yet, when we hear about norms and rules to follow in trying to be good, we notice an allergy towards these. Take the example of information. We cry for transparency in information. Yet we know that it is part of business and the market to have control over information. There is the right to withhold information because “telling all” is not good for business. We cry for honesty, yet we recognize the necessity of “secret information”. On one hand we want full transparency yet on the other hand we recognize the need for “copyright”. It is not easy…
4. Take another example. In the realm of sexual relationships, we say that we want fidelity. We want lovers to be faithful to each other. Yet, on the other hand, we see the demand to be free with one’s own sexual life—to be “expressive”. We hear it said, for example, that we want to study sexuality and understand its moral implications. Yet, we hear that it is ok to explore sexuality—“play around a bit”—in order to understand sexuality. It is a tension between serious fidelity and expressive playing around. It is not easy…
1. Our social lives have turned more and more into complex forms. We have so many images and ideas in front of us. We have so many options. In a way we feel that we are made to make decisions on our own. We are made to “individualize”. Quite some time ago we would rely on what others—parents, teachers, mentors, etc.—would tell us. We expect from them to tell us what we should do and what life-style we will lead. But today, we are told to individualize—to choose for oneself. The main authority in choosing is myself and not anymore my teacher or mentor.
2. So we face a risky future. We face an uncertain future. We do not see strong places of “refuge”. Our mentors are, themselves, admitting that they are not the best models. Do we not hear about the “wounded healer” today? Our counsellors help us but they say that we need to decide on our own. There is no obligation to be like our mentors—they too are “wounded”.
3. So we look around us and we have so many attractive choices. One can be married or stay single, love and settle down with someone—be that person of the opposite or the same sex. One can take vows and yet “stay open to alternative alliances”. It is not easy…
Faith has turned private
1. What we find today is a growing secularism. Secularism is sometimes interpreted as the absence of religion. This is not accurate. It is better to say that secularism is a way of living that sees no need for the authority of a religion. So there is no need to rely on a priest or a brother or a nun or a pastor. There is no need to have a religion, even. It is ok to have a religion—if you want. And it is also ok to have no religion or to change religions. This is basic in secularism. Religion and religious authorities are ok, but there is no obligation to follow them.
2. The consequence here is that religion is now a private affair. Before, a Catholic had to be part of a Catholic world—with the family prayer, Sunday Mass, procession and Church visits during Holy Week, etc. But now, it’s “cool”…no need to be immersed in these practices. The Mass in the Malls is one evidence—the central place of the parish is giving way to the central place of the Malls during Sunday. So the Church is accommodating this now.
3. There is a deeper consequence here. Life becomes “pulverised”. Religion and work, for example, do not have to mix. If religion has its requirements—like moral codes—those requirements do not have to apply in work. There are many pockets of engagements in society and religion does not have to penetrate them all. Religion is in one space and work or leisure is in another space.
4. Basically Christian faith is a Church and Social faith. But with secularism, it is a private faith. There is no need to be involved with the whole Church to believe in God. It is not easy…
I am tired
1. Today we are tired…or we tend to be tired. Why? Previously we could rely on codes of behaviour and codes of conduct. People could still follow the mould of the family and society. A son of a carpenter becomes a carpenter too. We have that expression, “like father like son”…or “like mother like daughter”. One can always simply follow the “recipes” present in society.
2. Today, we notice that we have to self-construct. We do not feel the obligation to obey rules and norms and we do not feel the obligation to be like elders and mentors. We are obliged to be responsible for our own self-development. This is not easy…and it can be tiring.
The future is uncertain
1. Previously we would feel that the different institutions and groups surrounding us could offer a bright future. There might be a family business. There might be a political party. There might be a Church project. We had a future to look forward to and we would connect with the different sectors of society to assured us of a future. There was a common “future”.
2. Today we seem disenchanted. Our political lives, for example, are disturbed. We may have been so fascinated by a political party only to discover how discouraging it is. It turns out to be contrary to our expectations. We might have been so enamoured by the Church…only to discover that within her there are so many reasons to discourage us. We may have been so assured by the financial system…only to discover that it is failing in stocks or in investments. We may have been so excited about a new computer…only to discover that two years later it is outmoded. We might have been activists before working for justice…only to discover that the very system we wanted is also cheating people. We may have been so attracted to a community where we thought there was love and fraternity…only to discover later that the community has many insecurities and false motivations. We may have expected so much from friendship…only to be deceived later on. We may have been impressed by a moral teacher…only to discover that the teacher is also scrap.
3. In our concrete experiences the things we rely on and feel secured with escape our holds. The things we expect to give us a solid future show signs of uncertainly and in-authenticity. Yes, we might say that they show impertinence with regards to our sense of life-plans. But where do we turn to? Where do we find security and stability? It is not easy….
1. Well, the challenges are in front of us.
2. Where are the prophets? Where are the nice lessons in theology and Scriptures? We are not asked to drop these. We are asked to accept the challenge. We are not asked to despair. We are asked to look for the light and share it with those who despair.
3. How do we share the power of the Resurrection? During the time of Jesus Palestine was hoping for something new—some kind of liberation. So we understand what Philip said to his brother Nathaniel. We read: “Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth” (Jn 1/45).
4. In the account of Luke we read about Jesus starting his mission by making a statement in the Synagogue during a Sabbath day in Nazareth (see Lk4/16-21). The Spirit of the Lord was on him for him to announce the Good News. Remember how Jesus ended his annunciation? “He said to them, ‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing’ (4/21). It was a prophetic move. In him was the accomplishment.
5. Jesus was the expected prophet—and more than a prophet! He has become the reference—his words and his gestures and his whole life. All that—his whole Person—became the pole in which we all revolve around.
6. In Lk 22/63-65 we read: “The men who held Jesus in custody were ridiculing and beating him. They blindfolded him and questioned him, saying, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ And they reviled him in saying many other things against him”. Can we not suppose that given our contemporary times we will have to recognize that the prophecy we expect will not come from our strength and power. We cannot be like the men who struck Jesus and asked him to guess. We may need some more confidence from Jesus himself. This same man struck on the face and the head is our prophet—and more than a prophet!
7. Good luck!
What is your prophecy?
In the New Testament we read: “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God” (2 Pt 1/20-21). The prophet is rooted in revelation. God speaks through the prophet to touch people—to touché their hearts and minds. Why? Because people have strayed from God and from their own “fraternity”. God wants to touch them by asking the prophet to give a critique of how people stray. At the same time, God wants to present a future. This is a future where people are led back to God—a return to God and to “fraternity”.
Prophets, then, give a picture of history. They identify where God has been liberating and how God has been faithful. Then prophets try to awaken people’s hearts and minds, inviting people to go beyond their actual ways of living and reconsider their “eschatology”. This may be a very technical term but it can be simplified to mean “the total life-plan”. What is it that people really want with their whole lives? What is their life-plan? Is the life-plan to have a life of injustice and idolatry? Or is it a life-plan of justice and fidelity to God? That sense of “life-plan” can be the eschatology—in simpler terms. Prophets invite people to review their “eschatology”—is God in that future? Is justice in that future?
In the Old Testament prophecies evolved. First there was prophecy uniquely for the people of Israel. But then slowly horizons opened to prophecies for all the nations. We saw this in Ezekiel, for example and even in Jonah. For the Church following Christ prophecy involves all humanity.
In Matthew 25/31-46 we have an idea of the “final judgement”. This was a very prophetic stand.
What about you? What is your prophecy? What is your
1. Critique of society?
2. Proposed eschatology?