Monday, January 15, 2018

The waiting game

The God of the Bible is slow to anger and allows His prophet to affect a postponement of the intended punishment. It is important to note though that Yhwh does not explicitly forgive Israel’s guilt for which Amos has seemingly prayed. In other words, Israel is granted a period of grace. Yhwh cannot bring Himself to execute the well-deserved punishment yet.—Standing in the Breach, page 493

The silence is deafening

I've been a bit busy the last month or so. We bought a house in December and moved—to Red Wing. I also have started working for Penn State Press after they bought Eisenbrauns and the learning curve has taken a good bit of my time. In addition, I took on two editing projects that are taking a huge chunk out of the remainder of my time.

Given all that, there isn't a lot of time for reading and writing! Please bear with me for a bit. Things should calm down after January (famous last words!).

Friday, January 05, 2018

Amos or Joel? Which do you choose? And why it matters

In both the book of Joel and Amos, prophet and priest meet each other in the face of Yhwh’s imminent judgment. Interestingly, when we juxtapose the two accounts, the encounters between prophet and priest look very different. In the book of Joel, we get a sense of collaboration. Joel not only summons the priests to lead the national repentance ritual at the temple but also calls the priests to intercede for the people. It looks as though the priests followed the prophetic instructions and placed themselves between the altar of burnt offering and the porch to bring their prayers before God on behalf of the people (cf. Joel 1:13–14, 2:15–17). In the book of Amos, the prophet also meets a priest at the national sanctuary. In stark contrast to the book of Joel, there is a conflict between the prophet and the priest. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, seeks to ban Amos from preaching a day of divine reckoning (cf. Amos 7:12–17). Interestingly, in the book of Joel the repentance ceremony and the priestly intercession mark the shift from judgment to divine mercy and restoration (Joel 2:17–18), whereas in the book of Amos the shift from divine mercy to divine judgment is marked by the priest’s prohibition on prophesy. We shall see that, by silencing the prophet, the priest also brought an end to Amos’s intercessory prayer and Yhwh’s patience. Thus, one could say that God’s patience ends where the state, represented by the priest, tries to decide when and where God may speak through the prophet.—Standing in the Breach, page 487

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Serving the people? Or serving the Lord?

Amos directs his judgment messages often against a self-indulgent individualism of the upper class of his time. Thereby, Amos and other prophets basically do what Moses did. That is, they seek to enable Israel in their time and context to live faithfully as Yhwh’s covenant people. There are points of contact not only in a common “community ethics” but also with regard to their intercessory ministries.

Let me start by drawing attention to the conflict between Amos and Amaziah. In this confrontation one can discern an ongoing biblical tension between the prophet and the institutionalized cult, a tension that is already foreshadowed in Moses and Aaron and their handling of the golden calf incident. Aaron, Barth observes, is not a charismatic figure like Moses, but the archetype of the institutionalized priesthood. Although Aaron is, as the “administrator” of the tent of meeting indispensable, he seems not to have an independent relationship to God, as do Moses and Amos (Exod 7:1–2, Amos 7:15). Aaron and Amaziah are men of the “established church.” They listen to the people’s voice. Moses and Amos, in contrast, are prophets. It is to them that God speaks directly, and thus they can intercede authoritatively with God on behalf of the sinful people and pass on the Lord’s word to Israel (Num 12:6–8, Amos 3:7). This contrast and tension comes also to expression in Jeremiah’s temple sermon ( Jeremiah 7) and reaches a dramatic climax in Jesus’ conflict with the temple establishment (cf. Matt 26:57–68).—Standing in the Breach, page 483

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Hard-hitting Amos

Amos’s messages are possibly among the darkest of all the prophets. Message after message underlines Israel’s sinfulness and Yhwh’s judgment. But what exactly is the matter? After all, the Israelites of Amos’s time are showing a great religious zeal. They go on pilgrimages to their sanctuaries in Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba. There, they bring freewill and thanksgiving offerings and tithes, and they participate in vibrant festivals (Amos 4:4–5, 5:21–24). The prosperity and peace that Israel enjoyed at that time was probably taken as evidence of divine favor and validated, in a sense, their life styles as the chosen people of God. Amos, however, exposes their hollow behavior by pointing to their self-serving ignorance and attacks primarily three major areas of sin: social injustice, corruption (Amos 2:6–8), and idolatry (Amos 5:26).—Standing in the Breach, page 480

<idle musing>
Sound familiar? What would Amos think of our culture? I suspect what he said to Israel would sound tame in comparison...
</idle musing>

Friday, December 29, 2017

The divine council and intercession

[O]ur earlier finding [was] that intercessory prayer goes not only hand in hand with the prophetic office, but also happens often in the Bible when the prophet is invited into the divine presence. Amos articulates it in the well-known verse:
Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)
We shall see that it is often precisely when Yhwh reveals His will and purposes (in the divine council) that He engages His prophets in a dialogue (“Amos, what do you see?” Amos 7:8) and invites them to participate in the making of the divine plans. It is in the context of five visions that we find Amos interceding for Israel (Amos 7:2, 5). Although initially the prophet succeeds in averting disaster, it becomes increasingly clear to him that Israel has sinned to a point beyond the reach of prophetic intercession. Nothing seems left to do, but to describe the consequences of what he has seen and to proclaim a message of judgment.—Standing in the Breach, page 480

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Into the New Testament

[W]hen the Word became flesh and lived among the people, the Son reflects the glorious name of the Father. Jesus too is full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14–16). Behind the Greek terms χάρις and ἀλήθεια are the divine attributes of “steadfast love” (ֶחֶסד [ḥesed]) and “faithfulness” (ֱאֶמת [ʾemet]) from Exod 34:6 (cf. Exod 33:18–19). In other words, John claims that Jesus embodies Yhwh’s name. Thus, when people like the blind beggar or Stephen call on Jesus’ name (Luke 18:38, Acts 7:59), they stand in a sense in the long biblical tradition of calling on the gracious and merciful name of the Lord in order to the healed and forgiven.—Standing in the Breach, pages 473–74

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Still hoping

In the Old Testament, the outpouring of the Spirit of God is limited (with few exceptions) to the leaders and particularly to the prophets. It is through these Spirit-anointed leaders that Yhwh often speaks, directs, and intervenes on behalf of the people (e.g., Deut 34:9; Judg 3:10, 6:34; 1 Sam 16:13; Neh 9:30; Isa 42:1; Ezek 2:2). Joel, however, anticipates a time when all Israel would share in the Spirit of prophecy and know the Lord personally (Joel 2:28–32; cf. Jer 31:34). Philip notes that “for Joel, prophecy, visions and dreams appear to be characteristic of an intimacy with YHWH, made possible by the outpouring of the Spirit.”[Finny Philip, The Origins of Pauline Pneumatology (WUNT 2/194; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005) 67]The prophet seems to envisage a corporate gift of prophecy that will enable every member of the community one day to stand “among YHWH’s council and (hear) his word at first hand (Jer 23:18).” [Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (NICOT; London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1978) 99] In other words, Joel’s vision anticipates a prophetic community that will hear from and speak directly to God. Already Moses yearned for the day when all the house of Israel will be gifted with the enabling presence of God’s Spirit (cf. Num 11:25–29). Joel anticipates the fulfillment of Moses’ hope. Each will know God in an unmediated way through the Spirit (Joel 2:28–29).—Standing in the Breach, page 471

<idle musing>
Unfortunately, it seems we are still hoping for it. Perhaps because our culture is so antisupernatural and the church as a whole has absorbed that same mentality.

Lord, send you Spirit upon us that Joel's vision might become reality!
</idle musing>