Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Restoration Assured

Daily Readings
Psalm 12 Genesis 13 Isaiah 14 Acts 12

Daily Text: Isaiah 14

Restoration Assured
This chapter will be treated as unified, though obviously there are three separate prophecies, and some very difficult textual problems in the final four verses. One of the most beautiful poems in all of literature, dark though it may be, is this one found in verses 3-23. Contextually, it is a lament form twisted in tone to become a taunt song against Babylon. The tyrant who rules her is being cast down in the most ignominious way conceivable in the ancient Near East. All of this occurs as a part of Israel’s restoration, vss. 1-2. Note that preceding the unnamed Babylonian king’s demise is the parallel demise of his gods (vs. 12) and following it is a welcome in Sheol. Here, as everywhere, the events occur in the spiritual world first. That is true also of the interpretation given in the following poem. This is not to be thought of linearly, but simultaneously. YHWH is everywhere sovereign.

Assyria, likewise, will have her yoke removed from Jacob’s shoulders, and that removal would be extended to Judah’s release from oppression from every nation on earth. Lest Philistia become too exuberant in her rejoicing over the death of Assyria’s (unnamed) king, the prophet let her know that out of Assyria, referred to here as a ‘snake’ would come a more dangerous ‘adder,’ and from the adder there would ultimately be a ‘fiery dragon.’ Note the intensification. There is to be no comfort for Philistia, this millenial neighbor of Judah, for God would see to it that Philistia would die of famine, and even her remnant would be killed by Assyria’s deadly forces. At the same time YHWH would protect Jacob, and the children of her poorest, would continue to eat and be safe. Following both Clements [470]and Kaiser [472], there follows an attempt at reconstructing a meaningful order for vss. 29-32:

29 Do not rejoice all you Philistines, that the rod that struck you is broken,
For from the root of the snake will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying
fiery serpent.
31 Wail, O gate; cry, O city; melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you!
For smoke comes out of the north, and there is no straggler in its ranks.
30b For I will make your root die of famine, and your remnant I will kill.

32 What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The LORD has founded Zion, and the needy among his people will find refuge in her.
30a The firstborn of the poor will graze, and the needy lie down in safety.”

Lucifer in Starlight
George Meredith
Based on 14:12-18

On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
Above the rolling ball in cloud part screened,
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
Now his huge bulk o’er Afric’s sands careened,
Now the black planet shadowed arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
With memory of the old revolt from awe,
He reached a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he looked, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

Collect for the Day
Chosen Leader and Lord, Conqueror of hell, I thy creature and servant, delivered from eternal death, magnify and praise thee who art infinitely merciful; free me from all evils as I call upon thee: O Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me.
[1983. A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, p. 23.]


Blogger Norm said...

NT Wright (in "The Resurrection of the Son of God") has some excellent comments regarding how the ancient world viewed resurrection and uses this chapter of Isaiah to illustrate this point, in part. It is useful to consider how the ancient Greeks and Jews viewed resurrection to understand what a complete suprise it was to the world when Jesus Christ was resurrected... this surprise was something totally new which nobody expected or would have "concocted". The folowing is from NT Wright's book:

Isaiah 14 is the liveliest biblical scene of continuing activity in Sheol. Isaiah 14 offers a splendid depiction of the king of Babylon arriving in the underworld to joint the erstwhile noble shades who are there already. In a passage worthy of Homer, he is grimly informed that things are very different down here. A casual reader of many parts of the Old Testament could be forgiven for thinking that ancient Israelite belief about life after death was not very different from that of Homer.

In antiquity, how did pagans think and speak about the dead and their future destiny?
"Bear up, and don’t give way to angry grief; Nothing will come of sorrowing for your son, nor will you raise him up before you die." (Homer, The Iliad, 24.549-51]
In so far as the ancient non-Jewish world had a Bible, its Old Testament was Homer. And in so far as Homer has anything to say about resurrection, he is quite blunt: it doesn’t happen. Not even in myth was it permitted. When Apollo tries to bring a child back from the dead, Zeus punishes both of them with a thunderbolt. Those who followed Plato or Cicero believed the soul after death did not want a body again; those who followed Homer knew they would not get one, even though they wanted to return from Hades. Resurrection was not an option for the Greeks. Although the great majority of the ancients believed in life after death, they did not believe in resurrection. Egyptian mummies were buried in pyramids with surrogate homes, containing all that one might require for a fairly full life (but would the ancients have been surprised to discover that the toys, dice and other playthings had in fact not been touched?). But his does not mean that they believed in resurrection. Egyptian dead were thought of as continuing into a still very complete life. In any case, the burial customs of ancient Egypt were not practiced in Palestine or the areas in which most early Christian evidence is found, and the Osiris cult was in something of a decline in the first half of the 1st century. When the Greek-speaking ancient world spoke of resurrection (anastasis) and its equivalents, they did not mean that the existence into which the dead passed immediately was a continuing bodily one, but that, at some point after bodily death, there would be a new embodiment, a coming back into this-worldly sort of life.

In antiquity, how did Jews think and speak about the dead and their future destiny?
If mortals die, shall they live again? (Job 14:14)
In death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise? (Ps. 6:5)
The dead do not praise YHWH, nor do any that go down into silence. (Ps. 115:17)
A casual reader of many parts of the Old Testament could be forgiven for thinking that ancient Israelite belief about life after death was not very different from that of Homer. Death itself was sad, and tinged with evil. It was not seen, in the canonical Old Testament, as a happy release, an escape of the soul from the prison house of the body. This, of course, is the corollary of the Israelite belief in the goodness and god-givenness of life in this world. At the time that Jesus of Nazareth lived, an influential part of Judaism did believe in a resurrection of all the dead with the coming of the New Age, but “resurrection” was not something anyone expected to happen to a single individual while the world went on as normal.

9:07 AM  

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