Epiphany Season

Epiphany season is like Advent, often forgotten and overlooked, especially since it is sandwiched between Christmas and Lent.

This year it might be good to look at the Epiphany season, because it is the longest that it will ever be. The number of Sundays after Epiphany varies each year depending on the date of Easter. Some years there are only four or five Sundays, but in 2011, there are nine Sundays after Epiphany (Jan 9, 16, 23, 30, Feb 6, 13, 20, 27, Mar 6).

Epiphany (“showing forth”) season reveals who Jesus is, starting with the visit of the magi (Jan. 6) and culminating in the Transfirguation. That revelation of Jesus continues even today through the witness of the Church.

I think it significant that Isaiah, the primary Old Testament reading during Advent (Series A), is also the primary Old Testament reading during this season. Particularly on Jan. 16, the reading is Isaiah 49:1-7, of which 49:6 is critical in the book of Acts.

Isaiah 49:6
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
                to raise up the tribes of Jacob
                and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
         I will make you as a light for the nations,
                that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

The last two lines are used by Luke to see the fulfillment and extension of that prophecy in Luke and Acts: Luke 2:32, Acts 13:47. See David Pao (Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, Baker, 2002) for further details on this.

Just some thoughts at the beginning of this great season.

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Advent A OT (Series A)

Advent 3 OT (Series A)
Isaiah 35: The judgment on the nations in Isaiah 34 gives way to a vision of God’s restoring work in Isaiah 35. The imagery covers many aspects of change. The changed landscape (“wilderness and desert blossom abundantly”). Encouragement to those who are ready to give up (“Strengthen the weak”). Reversing the effects of sin (“eyes of blind opened… the lame shall leap”). The result is that Yahweh brings the people back to Zion, and they sing with everlasting joy.

For those in Judah who were experiencing and would experience the pain of separation from God because of their sin, these prophecies held out hope in “impossible situations.” How do we view something like this? To many of us in the U.S., who live in relative physical luxury, these promises of God’s restorative work do not excite much hope or passion for the future or God’s work. Yet when we strip away our masks and see ourselves and our lives as they really are, then we see that the future we planned is but a pale shadow of what God desires for our future.

God’s restoring work involves the totality of creation because everything was ruined in Adam’s sin (relationships with God, within ourselves, with others, and with creation). In Jesus, we see the fulfillment “in principle” (Voelz) of all these prophecies (see the Gospel reading). Thus, these promises are real and valid when seen in fulfillment in Jesus Christ. We will join in the everlasting singing going to Zion, God’s dwelling place in heaven.

Stripping away the non-essential

This past week in ministry has demonstrated how fragile life can be. A good friend faces monumental changes in ministry due to physical problems. The physical devastation is matched by the hidden, yet just as serious emotional and mental struggles. Platitudes fail to provide an adequate response for us as Christians. At times like this, we are drawn back to the Scriptures, not with the latest technique or fad informing our search, but a broken body, a broken heart, a broken spirit. We have questions that we may not think appropriate to even raise… no, not the usual “why?” but “God, where are you??!!!” and stronger ones.

Last Sunday’s OT reading was Lamentations 3:22-33. How much more fitting can this be?! In the midst of Jeremiah’s lament, he comes to the center of the chapter and the book with some great words:

3:20 Surely my soul remembers

And is bowed down within me.

3:21 This I recall to my mind,

Therefore I have hope.

3:22 The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,

For His compassions never fail.

3:23 They are new every morning;

Great is Your faithfulness. (NAS95)

To grasp how much this represents a statement of faith, we have to go to the beginning of the chapter and realize that Jeremiah’s ultimate “enemy” is God himself!

3:2 He has driven me and made me walk

In darkness and not in light.

3:3 Surely against me He has turned His hand

Repeatedly all the day.

3:8 Even when I cry out and call for help,

He shuts out my prayer.

Thus, Jeremiah’s struggles with the king, the false prophets, the soldiers who were ordered to imprison him several times, pale in comparison to his struggle with God. Even his prayers seem blocked from God (3:8). No wonder his soul is bowed down within him (3:20)!

God hears Jeremiah’s pleas. His Son, Jesus who faced this same experience. He is abandoned by his friends, ridiculed and beaten by his enemies, and hung on a cross. There he cries out: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” In that very act, God is not far away At all. When this truly righteous person is abandoned, there God is solving the dilemma of all people who feel abandoned.

Sometimes our enemies might be people, other times ourselves, and sometimes the effects of sin in this world in the form of diseases. When we experience such, we are not into comparing with others. We cringe when someone states, “At least it isn’t _____.” (fill in the blank as you see fit). At this point the one enduring the anguish does not care. He or she needs to know that God cares, even if for a time it seems that God is silent, hidden, and that he has forgotten the person.

My next posts will be reviews of two books dealing with this very topic, one from a pastoral perspective and one from a person who suffered personally. Two years ago I wrote a book review of Pastoral Care under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering by Pastor Richard C. Eyer. This past Friday I received a book from Tyndale for reviewing, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie.

When we strip away the non-essential, we gain a perspective about God, about life, about ourselves that doesn’t match the world, but begins to move us closer to God’s  perspective. It is not an easy journey, it is filled with pitfalls, and it will leave us struggling with failure, sadness, anger. But Jesus knows exactly that path and he walked it for us and now with us.

Woe is me! … Send me!

Isaiah 6:1-8. Have you noticed the dramatic turn-around in this call of Isaiah? It is also a dramatic call for us.

We are surrounded by “reality TV,” which looks nothing like real life. News and entertainment often are indistinguishable. We have a “god” of our own imagination. Isaiah’s words slap us in the face, waking us up from our own created world, to the real world. The real world is filled with sin and its effects. But Isaiah opens our eyes to the real God too. We may reduce God to our buddy, who is confusing at times, even a laptop god who acts as a comfort blanket. Or we push him away then wonder why he is indifferent to us. So, our ultimate question is: “Who is this God?”

God appears in his holiness (majesty). The angels sing the refrain of praise, far beyond anything we can imagine. Isaiah is being called by this holy God to speak to an unholy people. Isaiah’s reaction (like the people in Exodus 19) is to take stock of the people (sinful) and himself (sinful). “Woe is me!” strips away any pretense that Isaiah is “better” than his hearers. Before this holy God, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

God obviously was aware of Isaiah’s sinful state, but God also knows that the solution rests with him (God) not with any human effort. God approaches Isaiah through the angel who touches Isaiah’s lips with the burning coal and then proclaims: “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” As a cleansed person, now Isaiah is transformed from the woe-filled sinner to the forgiven sinner, a prophet ready for God’s work. Only that will sustain him as he faces a nation of people who refuse to listen to him.

How critical it is for us to be reminded of this truth about the forgiving God who restores the sinner! Each Sunday in worship as we confess our sins, we join Isaiah saying “Woe is me!” But even better, God’s words come to us “I forgive you your sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. Those life-giving words bring us back from the sinful reality of this world to the restored reality of life with God. So simple, so profound! Send me, Lord!

“All people” in Joel 2:28

Interesting discussion in Bible class this morning about the end times (more specifically, “in the last days”). I directed the class to Acts 2:16ff for the New Testament perspective on that phrase, relating to Joel’s prophecy.

But I went back this afternoon and was studying the Joel passage checking to see how the NET translated the passage. What struck me was the translation of 2:28 “After all of this
I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people” rather than the more traditional “on all people”. The footnote reflects a Calvinist thought, so now I am looking at other translations to see how they handle it.

The “Day” and time

How easily time slips by! In the two months since my last post time and energy demands have increased greatly. There seems to be a break in the demands, so I hope to get back to the series on technical terms in original language texts and correspondingly in translations. However, given the time demands, I may shorten the studies considerably.

I remember as a young child that a day was a long time, and a year? That was beyond imagination for how long that was. Now, a day disappears before I can turn around, or so it seems. In reality, as a six year old, a year was 1/6 of my life. But now, a year is… well, about 1/60 of my life.

In light of the eschatological focus of the “Day of the Lord” (previous post) I have begun to observe the truth of how “soon” Jesus’ return will be. This has personal application as well. According to the Psalmist our time on earth is “fleeting”. Thus, I come face-to-face with my legacy as a person of God. How will I spend my “time”? Will it be meeting deadlines that others impose? Will it be ordered by my God? Will I have time to do all I want… or better, need to do?

So, I am taking time to sort out time and my use of, or waste, of time. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but that shouldn’t be surprising since I am still a sinner. At the same time, I am beginning to see God’s use of my time, and what happens when I dedicate my time, all of my time, to him. It is okay to say “no” to demands on my time, if the time really belongs to the Lord.

So, I am having the “time of my life”, as I wait for the “day of my life” in Jesus.

Technical Terms – 2 (Day of the LORD – DOL)

Several studies have examined the DOL, each with their own particular contribution. In his seminal work, Ladislav Cerny observed that the DOL study must eventually encompass both the origin and content of the DOL [Ladislav Cerny, The Day of Yahweh and Some Relevant Problems (Prague: Nakladem Filosoficke Fakulty University Karlovy, 1948), vii.]. Since 1948 the major focus of scholarly endeavors has been on the origin of the DOL. While Mowinckel dominated the scene with his contention that the DOL grew out of the cultic festival celebration, Gerhard von Rad broke new ground with his claim that the DOL emerged from the holy war tradition [Gerhard von Rad, “The Origin of the Concept of the Day of Yahweh,” Journal of Semitic Studies 4 (April 1959), 97–108]. A. Joseph Everson summarized the main proposals for the origin of the concept in his article in 1974. In addition to these, he noted F. Charles Fensham’s theory that the covenant tradition (treaty-curses) formed the basis of the DOL. Meir Weiss advocated the theophany motif. Despite the value of these studies, they fell short, as evidenced by Everson’s critique. “All of these origin studies of the tradition are confronted, however, by the problematic fact that specific locution of the Day of Yahweh are found only in the writings of the classical prophets and in the book of Lamentations [A. Joseph Everson, “The Days of Yahweh,” Journal of Biblical Literature 93 (September 1974), 330].

Conscious of Everson’s critique, most scholars since then have concentrated their studies on the prophetic writings, most often limiting themselves to those passages that specifically contain the exact phrase, DOL (16 total). Those passages are: Isaiah 13:6; 13:9; Ezekiel 13:5; Joel 1:15; 2:1; 2:11; 3:4; 4:14; Amos 5:18 (2 x); 5:20; Obadiah 15; Zephaniah 1:7; 1:14 (2x); and Malachi 3:23 [Chapter and verse citations are according to the Hebrew text, BHS]. Yet as Cerny, Everson, and Yair Hoffmann concede that there are many other phrases which are very close in form and must be included [Yair Hoffmann, “The Day of the Lord as a Concept and Term in the Prophetic Literature,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 93 (1981), 37–9].

Appropriately, then, expressions such as “the day of Yahweh’s wrath,” “the day of Midian,” and “the day of battle” fit within this study. The most frequent phrase, “in that day” (בַיּוֹמ ההוּא), which occurs ~200 times in the prophets alone, expands the field of study dramatically. I disagree with those who follow P. A. Munch, [The Expression Bajjom Hahu: Is It a Terminus Technicus? (Oslo, 1936)] who claimed that it was essentially a connective. The plural of the phrase, “in those/these days.” also falls within the scope of such an investigation. Even terms such as “time” (עֵת) and “year” (שָׁנָה) apply toward the development of the DOL concept. Everson, followed by Hoffmann and others, claims that “it is methodologically more difficult and dangerous to include such references in the basic field of evidence” [Everson, 331. Hoffmann, 39]. While I agree that it is more difficult to expand the field, I contend that it is methodologically dangerous to not include these other references.

Thus, if the DOL is both a technical term and a broad concept, a prophet may develop his understanding of the concept by using related expressions, especially “in that day.” Another prophet may express the concept, describing events associated with the DOL without specifically mentioning the DOL (i.e. Micah). In both cases the prophets would be concerned with the DOL. This approach seems more consonant with the DOL origin and would more accurately reflect the prophetic understanding of the DOL. Critical for further study (another major paper) is the study of DOL must take into account the given time period. For instance, Hosea and Micah, normally forgotten in DOL studies, offer additional textual territory for study and development. The combined study of these eighth century prophets should then be the basis on which to study later prophets, particularly Zephaniah and Joel.

Translations of Yom Yahweh in the Later Prophets

Isaiah 13:6
Isaiah 13:9
Ezekiel 13:5
Joel 1:15
Joel 2:1
Joel 2:11
Joel 3:4 (2:31 Eng)
Joel 4:14 (3:14 Eng)
Amos 5:18
Amos 5:18
Amos 5:20
Obadiah 15
Zephaniah 1:7
Zephaniah 1:14
Zephaniah 1:14
Malachi 3:23 (4:5 Eng)

The following translations consistently used “day of the LORD” as the translation for Yom Yahweh in all 16 passages:

NKJV, NAS95, ESV, NRSV, HCSB, TNK, NIV, TNIV, GW, so also REB and NLT2 except these omit any translation at Zeph. 1:14 [2nd])

Interestingly, HCSB used “day of the LORD” in Isa. 13:6, 9, and Ezek. 13:5, and in all other occurrences used the capital letter D to highlight it: “Day of the LORD”. This suggests that the translators wanted to insure that the readers understood the phrase as a technical term (of some type).

NET varied its translation of Yom Yahweh, by using the possessive form “the LORD’s day” occasionally (Isa. 13:6, 9, Amos 5:18 [2nd], Amos 5:20; Zeph. 1:14 [both].

CEV showed the greatest variation, and no seeming consistency. Thus, “day of the LORD” is used only at Joel 2:1, Joel 4:14, and Zeph. 1:14 [2nd]. Otherwise, it translated the phrase as:

“day” – Isa. 13:6, Joel 2:11, Joel 3:4, Amos 5:18 [1st], 5:20, Obad 15, Zeph. 1:14 [2nd], and Mal. 3:23
“time” – Isa. 13:9, Amos 5:18 [2nd], and Zeph. 1:7
“soon” – Joel 1:15
untranslated – Isa. 13:9

Conclusion:

Such a survey suggests that Yom Yahweh had indeed become a technical term in the prophetic literature in the original languages. The evidence above also shows that English translations consider it a technical term by not varying its formula “day of the LORD”, except for CEV.