Monday, December 11, 2017

To everything there is a season...

How do we evaluate these two broad lines of interpretations of God’s prohibition on intercessory prayer? Let us first note that until now the biblical witness has made it evident that God expects His prophets to intercede on behalf of the sinful people. In God’s providence, He invites prophetic intercession and builds it into the decision-making process. Sometimes this invitation to pray comes by provoking the prophet to refrain from prayer (cf. Exod 32:7–14, Deut 9:14). If, however, the divine-human covenant relationship is undermined by ongoing ethical misconduct and idolatry, then God’s gracious responsiveness is no longer guaranteed. Thus, we have seen both in our treatment of Moses’ and Jeremiah’s prayers that effectiveness of intercessory prayer goes hand in hand with the responsiveness of the party that is being prayed for (cf. Deut 10:12–20, Jer 18:1–12). In spite of numerous prophetic summons to turn back to God, Israel in Jeremiah’s day would not turn back to Yhwh. In other words, there is a clear sense that the divine prohibition is strongly related to an unresponsive generation. Just like Moses, Jeremiah is initially not deterred by the divine prohibition to intercede for the people. The prophet continues to pray for the postponement of the divine judgment until he comes to realize that Israel is beyond help on the path to punishment (“Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people” Jer 15:1). It is at this point that Jeremiah’s intercessory prayers turn into ongoing laments and change to prayers for judgment. In doing so, the prophet continues to mirror Yhwh’s will and pathos in his prayers.—Standing in the Breach, page 436

Friday, December 08, 2017

Hope for the wicked

The second line of interpretation acknowledges that prophetic intercession is highly effective in God’s outworking of His plans. Precisely because of its power on swaying the divine mind, Yhwh has to prohibit His prophet to intercede in order to execute His judgment. By implication, this sort of reading would suggest that even when the people’s sins are as great and many as in Jeremiah’s days, the prophetic intercessor could hope to pacify the justified wrath of God and persuade Yhwh to show leniency and to withhold punishment from the sinful party.— Standing in the Breach, page 433

<idle musing>
That's assuming, of course, that there are people willing to intercede!
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The power of prayer

Although we have seen again and again that there is indeed a fundamental link between the sins of the party that is being prayed for and the effectiveness of intercessory prayer, in our treatment of the texts the question arose as to why Yhwh needed to prohibit Jeremiah persistently and urgently from praying for this people. If it were simply a matter of the people’s sin outweighing the power of prayer, there would be no need for an urgent ongoing ban on intercession. The prophet’s prayers would simply prove ineffective, suffocated by the people’s sin. Therefore, it seems that the underlying logic of the prohibition is not just about the extent of Israel’s sin but also because prophetic intercession has an effect on Yhwh’s judgment.—Standing in the Breach, page 435

&tl;idle musing>
This paragraph is worth the price of the book! It gives me hope as I pray—hope that no matter how far-gone a situation might be, that God still might intervene if I continue to pray. Nothing and no one is beyond redemption—as scripture says, "God is not willing that any should perish." If we persevere in seeking God's face in prayer and interceding on behalf of others, against all odds, God might intervene.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

So what is wrath?

While I do not want to belittle the importance of this fundamental tension within God and the divine pathos or pain resulting from it, my concern is to see divine wrath in its proper biblical relation to the divine attributes of grace, mercy, covenant loyalty, and forbearance. According to Yhwh’s self-revelation, the seriousness of divine wrath should never be neglected in any portrayal of God, but it must be seen in its proportion to His attributes of love (“thousand to four,” cf. Exod 34:6–7).346 The inexhaustible depth of divine love also comes to expression in divine statements such as “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you”( וְאַהֲבַ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ אֲהַבְתִּ֔יךְ עַל־כֵּ֖ן מְשַׁכְתִּ֥יךְ חָֽסֶד׃, Jer 31:3). Moreover, it is important to highlight as Heschel does that divine anger is not an attribute of God. Rather it is “a mood, a state of mind.”—Standing in the Breach, page 433

<idle musing>
Take away point here, which needs to be in flashing bold letters: "divine anger is not an attribute of God. Rather it is 'a mood, a state of mind.'”
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Hope through the ashes

The book of Jeremiah is heavy on suffering and on warnings of a forthcoming judgment. However, when one looks at the message of the book as a whole, it is evident that the fundamental aim of the book of Jeremiah is to establish a theology of hope. To be sure, it is a hope that arises from the ashes of pain, judgment, and death. Thus, in a real sense the theological movement of the book anticipates the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.—Standing in the Breach, page 429

<idle musing>
That was also the theme of a book I recently read: Habakkuk in the Two Horizons Commentary. He argues that Habakkuk came to the position of embracing the coming judgment because he saw God's restoration on the other side of it. Good book, by the way.
</idle musing>

Monday, December 04, 2017

A shift in viewpoint

God’s holy anger is directed to and absorbed in Jesus. So one could say that just as the blood of the godless had been the joy and victory of the righteous psalmist under the old covenant (Ps 58:10 [MT 11]), so the Christ, who bled and died for sinners, is subjected to God’s wrath, and is salvation for those under the new covenant. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, salvation takes on an eternal dimension. The people of God are no longer “saved” through the destruction of their enemies.

This radical shift in understanding salvation undoubtedly has important ramifications for the Church’s understanding of the imprecatory prayers. God’s justice is no longer primarily displayed in the punishment of the wicked, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.— Standing in the Breach, page 416

Thursday, November 30, 2017

To what end suffering?

Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross was not a one-off quotation from a psalm of lament. Both Jeremiah and Jesus were remembered as servants of God who “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death” (Heb 5:7; cf. Jer 17:14). When under persecution, however, we notice a first major difference. Jeremiah’s laments frequently move toward prayers against the enemies, while Jesus put his teaching on “love your enemies” into practice by interceding for them. Moreover, at no point in Jeremiah’s ministry, as far as I can tell, does it occur to the prophet that his mediatory suffering before God serves any deeper purpose. In the case of Jesus, however, there is good reason to believe that he understood his suffering as being vicarious. Jesus says that he came to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Between the death of Jesus and the suffering of Jeremiah stands the poem of the suffering servant. We have seen that Isaiah 53 in particular gives expression to something unprecedented in the Old Testament: the enabling of healing and new life through the substitutionary suffering of another. It is widely agreed that Jesus understood his forthcoming death in the light of the suffering servant (cf. Isa 53:10–12).—Standing in the Breach, pages 414–15