Tuesday, October 31, 2017

And you thought you had it bad!

Chapters 11–20 witness to the highly demanding role of the prophet. A series of accounts reveal Jeremiah’s tormented life of prayer in vivid detail. These chapters are also known as Jeremiah’s lamentations or confessions (cf. Jer 11:18–12:6, 15:10–21, 17:14–18, 18:18–23, 20:7–18). They witness not only to his frustration and anger against a stubborn and hostile people, but also against God who makes him carry out such a difficult task. The prophet discerns that the insistent will of God is that Jerusalem will be destroyed. This is a hard message for him to pass on, not least because his message of doom regarding the false temple ideology causes strong opposition.

In the following verses and chapters, one gets a sense that Jeremiah has powerful enemies. The people of his home town Anathoth want to silence his attacks on Judah’s two-faced religious life ( Jer 11:18–19). In other words, on the one hand, Jeremiah suffers at the hands of his people who persecute him for his unpopular prophetic warnings, and on the other hand, Jeremiah grieves over the coming misfortune of the people in faithful intercession. On top of this, the prophet wrestles with God over his calling, his role, and the divine will. Jeremiah’s exceedingly difficult ministry context finds expression in a number of stormy conversations with Yhwh.—Standing in the Breach, page 357

Monday, October 30, 2017

Food for thought

On the one hand, it looks very much as if under the current circumstances prayers will have no effect on God. Even Jeremiah’s intercession will be of no avail. On the other hand, the question remains as to why Yhwh needs to reinforce His prohibition on intercessory prayer. Is there not a sense that God needs to put a ban on Jeremiah’s prayer, precisely because prophetic intercession is highly effective?—Standing in the Breach, page 355

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Just for (Hebrew) fun

I'm working on a first-year Hebrew grammar right now and ran across this little gem in the chapter on geminates:
note the second person masculine plural form תִּסַּבּוּ the dot in the ת is a dagesh lene, the dot in the ס is the assimilated nun, the dot in the ב is the doubling of the geminate root, and the dot in the ו is the sign of the shureq.
Fun stuff!

Friday, October 27, 2017

No cheap grace here

Jeremiah acknowledges in prayer the necessity of divine discipline but he also pleads for leniency. Calvin draws attention to a general truth by pointing to the necessity of the people’s repentance as well: “the real character and nature of repentance is, to submit to God’s judgment and to suffer with a resigned mind his chastisement, provided it be paternal.” In other words, the intercessor urges Yhwh not to judge Israel in the heat of His justified wrath or nothing will be left of His people. The text makes a clear distinction between discipline in anger that would destroy the obstinate sinner and a discipline according to justice (ְbemišpāṭ) that will eventually lead to repentance and renewal. Here divine justice has the connotation of grace and mercy. Jeremiah does not plead for cheap grace. He clearly speaks of Israel’s guilt and its need for discipline, but he prays for a calm and well reflected judgment that would not endanger the future of the people of God (“. . . lest you would bring everything to nothing,” Jer 10:24; cf. Ps. 6:1).—Standing in the Breach, page 351

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Powerless? Not totally...

Jeremiah’s intercessory prayer comes at the end of a polemic juxtaposition between the gods and idols of the nations and the incomparability of God (Jer 10:1–16). The gods are portrayed as powerless and mere humanmade images. The fact that such an elaborate polemic treatment is necessary, however, suggests that the gods of the nations are everything else but powerless. Although these gods cannot save (Jer 10:5), they excercise seductive power over Israel. Jeremiah’s polemic makes it evident that the temptation to commit idolatry has been a real problem for Israel (cf. Jer 7:16–20). In fact, the prevalence of idolatry is the main factor that leads eventually to the collapse and exile of Israel (Jer 1:16, 7:16–20, 10:1–18). The point of Jeremiah’s polemic presentation is not to provide an objective description of Canaanite deities but to win Israel back to an exclusive and committed relationship with their covenant God. Yhwh is not only Israel’s covenant God; He is also the living and eternal King of all peoples (Jer 10:7, 10).—Standing in the Breach, pages 347–48

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

So where does that put us?

[P]rayer, even the intercession of a godly person, is intrinsically linked to the moral and spiritual standing of the third party that stands under immediate judgment. According to Jeremiah 7, people who “masquerade” as God’s pious people, who have the Lord “near their mouth yet far from their hearts” (Jer 12:2), seriously jeopardize the divine-human relationship (e.g. Jer 7:16, 11:11).50 Thus, one of the main lessons of this chapter is that prayer, even the intercessions of a mediator, has to be seen as part of a larger divine-human relationship. In other words, if the relationship is healthy by the standards of Torah obedience, then prayer is effective. If, however, the divine-human relationship is tainted by consistent ethical misconduct and disobedience, then God’s gracious responsiveness to prophetic intercession is not guaranteed.—Standing in the Breach, pages 345–46

<idle musing>
So, I repeat, where does that put the US as a country?
</idle musing>

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Poor Jeremiah

The Hebrew conjunction weʾattâ (“as for you”) marks a sudden shift of addressee away from the “temple audience” that is under judgment to the prophet himself (cf. Jer 7:16–20). Jeremiah is instructed with a threefold negative command not to pray for the people. The divine prohibition to intercede in v. 16 introduces the reader of the book of Jeremiah for the first time to the second intrinsic role of the prophet: that of the intercessor. Thus, the divine prohibition comes initially as a surprise because it is as much part of the prophetic office to intercede on behalf of the sinful party as it is to convey Yhwh’s word to them. In the light of the immanent disaster that is awaiting Judah (Jer 7:14–15), one would expect the prophet to advocate on behalf of the sinful people and stand in the breach to protect the people from Yhwh’s forthcoming judgment (cf. Ezek 13:5, 22:30–31). After all, seeking to pacify the righteous anger of Yhwh and to plead for mercy and patience is one of the main roles of the intercessor. However, it seems it is precisely this defining aspect of the prophetic ministry that is denied to Jeremiah.—Standing in the Breach, page 343

Monday, October 23, 2017

Intercession and sin

[I]ntercession, alongside speaking on behalf of the Lord are the primary responsibilities of the prophet. Jeremiah knew well that intercession is one of the marks of an authentic prophet and that refraining from intercession is thought to be a mark of a false prophet (cf. Jer 27:18). Samuel could even say that not to intercede for the disobedient people would be sinful for the prophet (1 Sam 12:23). In Jeremiah’s case, however, Yhwh prohibits the prophet four times from interceding on behalf of Israel (Jer 7:16, 11:14, 14:11, 15:1). Moses was also told not to pray on behalf of sinful Israel after the golden calf incident, and yet he disobeyed God and succeeded in pacifying Yhwh’s righteous wrath and achieved divine pardon and the restoration of the covenant relationship for the sinful people (Exod 32:10–13, Deut 9:14). Amos as well, in spite of God’s intended judgment, pressed ahead in his intercessory efforts (Amos 7:1–6). This raises an issue of discernment. When is it permissible to disobey Yhwh’s command to refrain from prayer and persist in knocking on heaven’s door, and when does the prophet need to desist from prayer? Is there a biblical principle that indicates how far the prophet can push Yhwh to show mercy?

Interestingly, all but one of the four references to God’s restraint on intercession appear within chaps. 11–20. These chapters contain several laments of the prophet that give expression to the suffering that was evoked through Jeremiah’s calling as a prophet. One could almost argue that the fourfold command not to intercede is matched by the fourfold lament of the prophet (Jer 11:18–12:6, 15:10–20, 18:18–23, 20:7–18). Strictly speaking, Jer 15:1 is not an explicit divine ban on intercession. Nevertheless, it is instructive to observe the interweaving of the references to God’s restraint on intercession and the prophet’s laments. It looks as though God’s prohibition to intercede violates the very core of Jeremiah’s prophetic self-understanding and thereby gives rise to great pain and confusion.—Standing in the Breach, page 338

<idle musing>
There's so much I could say here. I was recently talking to someone who told me that he was convinced that God was going to judge the US. I asked him if he thought revival was possible. He said no, that God always had to judge a nation when it went too far—and in his opinion, the US had. I asked him about the role of intercession. He downplayed it, saying there was no hope. I pushed back, but to no avail.

So, here's my challenge, to those of you who are convinced that Trump is the greatest thing and to those of you who think he's the worst thing that has ever happened to the US: Intercede! Shake the heavens for revival. Realize that all human rulers are transient and what really matters is the human heart.

I recently read a book review that concluded that by 2060 climate change will have destroyed humanity. The final sentence was something to the effect that "may the next species that rules the earth be better than we were at being stewards." Wow! I'm not that pessimistic! But, are we interceding with God for mercy? Or are we throwing up our hands in despair? Or are you convinced that the rising temperatures and strange weather are God's judgment?

Either way, Intercede!
</idle musing>

Friday, October 20, 2017


Jeremiah’s intimate prayer dialogues were not canonized merely in order to preserve the prophet’s personal prayer life. If Jeremiah’s prayers were ever (auto)biographical, they are no longer only about him. In the canonical process they have become Scripture through which the reader can hear the voice of God. Jeremiah’s prayers were canonized because these human-divine dialogues have paradigmatic character and became important means for the instruction and edification of subsequent generations.—Standing in the Breach, page 334

Thought for the day

23 The Lord’s word came to me: 24 Human one, say to her, You are an unclean land without rain on the day of reckoning. 25 The conspiracy of princes[c] in her is like a roaring lion ripping up prey. They’ve piled up wealth and precious goods and made many widows in her. 26 Her priests have done violence to my instructions and made my holy things impure. They have not clearly separated the holy from the ordinary, and they have not taught the difference between unclean and clean things. They’ve disregarded my sabbaths. So I’ve been degraded among them. 27 The officials in her are like wolves ripping up prey. They shed blood and destroy lives for unjust riches. 28 Her prophets have whitewashed everything for them, seeing false visions and making wrong predictions for them, saying, “This is what the Lord God says,” when the Lord hasn’t spoken. 29 The important people of the land have practiced extortion and have committed robbery. They’ve oppressed the poor and mistreated the immigrant. They’ve oppressed and denied justice. 30 I looked for anyone to repair the wall and stand in the gap for me on behalf of the land, so I wouldn’t have to destroy it. But I couldn’t find anyone. 31 So I’ve poured out my anger on them. With my furious fire I’ve finished them off. I’ve held them accountable. This is what the Lord God proclaims. Ezekiel 22:23–31

[c] MT has prophets.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Announcing the forthcoming destruction of temple and city and criticizing the religious leaders, one does not make oneself popular (Jer 7:1–15). By declaring that the society is unacceptable to God, Jeremiah was not accepted by Israel. The prophet soon realized that hardship (Jer 11:21, 20:2) and alienation (Jeremiah 15–16) was the inevitable cost of his prophetic ministry. Numerous references confirm that Jeremiah was a man of great suffering. Chapter 11 brings Jeremiah in close association with the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

The canonical portrayal of Jeremiah raises the question of what sustained and enabled the prophet to endure all the physical and spiritual hardship over the long years of his prophetic vocation. Jeremiah’s profound joy in the words of the Lord may have helped. The prophet ate them and they “became a joy and a delight of his heart” (Jer 15:16). In absolute obedience to God’s words, to the point of death (Jer 26:14–15), Jeremiah proclaims what God had entrusted to him. As we shall see, prayer, a close relationship with his God is another, possibly even more important, source for Jeremiah’s perseverance and inner strength.—Standing in the Breach, pages 332–33

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Jeremiah's calling

The prophet [Jeremiah] was commissioned “to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Correspondingly, we shall see that Jeremiah’s intercessory activities express both God’s grace and mercy, and also Yhwh’s wrath. As Yhwh’s prophet, who has access to the divine council, Jeremiah is intimately familiar with God’s perception and plans (cf. Jer 42:4–18). As a mark of Jeremiah’s intimacy with God’s will, the biblical text often merges the voice of God with the voice of Jeremiah. More than that, Jeremiah is so rooted in God and His ways that his prayers often reflect the pathos of the Lord. The book as a whole testifies that, no matter how severe the divine judgment will be, the ultimate divine purpose is the redemption of the people of God (cf. Jeremiah 30–33). This dual theme of grace and wrath and the dual commission of destroying and building also come to expression in the prophet’s prayers. On the one hand, his intercessions seek to build up Israel, while on the other hand, Jeremiah also prayed for the destruction of his adversaries.—Standing in the Breach, page 330

Eisenbrauns to Continue Under Penn State University Press

The news of the week:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What does it take?

Intercessory prayer in itself may not have atoning value (cf. Jer 15:1), if, however, the prayer is a reflection of God’s will and intention, it may. Thus, effective intercession is at its heart a prayer that seeks to be one with the will of God (cf. Isa 50:5, 53:10). In the case of the Isaianic servant, intercession is a complete turning to God, even to the point of self-sacrifice. To this kind of intercessory prayer God ascribes atoning power sufficient for the renewal of the covenant relationship.—Standing in the Breach, page 325

Monday, October 16, 2017

Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 in tandem

From a canonical perspective, both Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 provide important hermeneutical keys for the church to understand the suffering, death, and vindication of Jesus Christ. While both Psalm 22 and Isaiah provide categories of the righteous suffering servant/king being vindicated and the nations coming into the sphere of God’s salvation (cf. Ps 22:27–28 [MT 28–29]), only Isaiah witnesses as to how an individual can become mediator and medium for God’s salvific purposes. In this sense Isaiah 53 is prophetic, not least because Isaiah 53 and the following two chapters contain powerful hyperbolic speeches that transcend Israel’s actual experience in Babylon. Thereby, the prophet’s message assumes an eschatological character that not only points to Jesus, but also beyond to its fulfillment at the consummation of time (Isa 54:11–13).—Standing in the Breach, page 322

Bury the term!

Scot McKnight has a good posting on the use of the word Evangelical. Here's the concluding paragraph, but you really should read the whole thing.
The one thing I despise about Christianity in the USA is its aligning with a political party. Mainliners have done it; they’re Democrats. Evangelicals have followed suit; they’re Republicans. Politicization is accomplished.

Let the rest of us call ourselves Christians.

<idle musing>
I dropped the term many years ago when it became evident that the pro-war people had taken it over. If asked, I will tell people the only way I can be called "Evangelical" is if you use the term to mean the 18th century Evangelicals, who were at the forefront of not just caring about souls, but caring for their physical well-being: establishing schools, orphanages, pushing for social reform, fighting slavery, etc. Those are the heroes of the faith that I can identify with, not the current pro-American, pro-war users of the term that we find today.

So, I'm with Scot, bury the term and call ourselves Christians. And may people know us by the love we have for others. What a radical thought!
<idle musing>

Friday, October 13, 2017

What happened?

Isaiah 53 does not only testify to the prophet’s suffering, but it also provides the reason as to why God restores the covenant relationship with Israel. The righteous one, somehow vicariously takes on himself the sins of Israel (Isa 53:6), intercedes for them (Isa 53:12), and thereby makes many righteous (Isa 53:11). The main thrust of chap. 53 is that of the suffering and wounded healer that gives wholeness to the many.

When we look at the immediate literary context, we can note a clear shift of tone between chaps. 52 and 54. Before Isaiah 53, the prophet still talks of the people’s guilt. The exiles are drunken with the cup of judgment and are full of Yhwh’s wrath (Isa 51:17–20). The time of divine judgment and hopelessness, however, is coming to an end. It is time to wake up and to leave the Babylonian captivity behind (Isa 51:17, 52:1). There is an expectation that Yhwh is resolved to intervene in a dramatic act of redemption.

For thus says the Lord: You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money. . . . Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isa 52:3–10)
The fourth poem is followed by chap. 54, a chapter that replaces the relationship of God and His prophet with the relationship between God and Israel. There is a dramatic shift of images. Israel who was portrayed as a barren, adulterous women who was left by her husband, is now called to rejoice.—Standing in the Breach, page 319

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What is an intercessor?

Intercession according to Isaiah 53, is nothing less than the surrender of one’s own right to life in favor of God’s will. The servant accepts a ministry of nothing but contempt and misunderstanding, even to the point of dying the death of one branded as an evildoer. The servant’s ministry does not show any trace of self-seeking or self-exaltation. His intercession is a conscious surrender to God’s will and yet the servant does it out of his own free will. The servant identifies completely with the divine will.—Standing in the Breach, pages 316–17

<idle musing>
That's a strong definition! I'm not convinced that's the correct definition, but it definitely is a goal to strive for as an intercessor. But perhaps he is correct. Take a look at Paul; he' was willing to have himself condemned in order that Israel be saved.

Food for thought, anyway. I recall that there have been times in my own life when the burden of intercession has been so heavy that I've come almost to the point where Paul was. And in the most recent example I can think of, God answered that prayer. As I said, food for thought.

Just an
</idle musing>

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Active prayer

[V]erbal intercessory prayer and intercession in the sense of vicarious suffering and death are not exclusive categories but rather they are intrinsically connected in the ministry of the servant.

We should remember that one fundamental Old Testament concept that led to the formation of the substitutionary understanding as we find it in Isaiah 53, is prophetic intercessory prayer.—Standing in the Breach, page 316

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Delaying the inevitable

In sum, Israel’s pardon, reconciliation with their covenant God, and restoration to the land are always dependent on a fundamental “turning” back to covenant obedience and Yhwh’s compassion evoked by the intercessory prayer of the mediator. The public context of Solomon’s intercession suggests that the prayer partially aims to foster an understanding of the essential nature of repentance among the Israelites. According to classic Christian theology, Jesus’ intercessory act on the cross also demands a wholehearted response in the form of repentance of sin and trusting in the faithful love of God (cf. 1 John 1:8–2:2, Acts 2:37–38). In other words, the intercessor might be able to stand in the breach for a while, prolonging Yhwh’s just punishment from being implemented, but in the long term a breached relationship requires a wholehearted turning to God and a firm commitment to the covenant relationship by the lost wanderer.—Standing in the Breach, page 285

Monday, October 09, 2017

Intercession, yes. Repentance? Essential

As we shall learn from Jeremiah, even the greatest intercessors cannot achieve divine forgiveness, if the party being prayed for remains in their sinful ways. As there is nobody who does not sin, Solomon anticipates in his prayer a future when the people need to turn consciously from their sin in order to attain divine forgiveness (cf. 1 Kgs 8:46). In other words, only if Israel turns from their evil ways and recommits to covenant obedience will Solomon’s intercession find a favorable hearing.—Standing in the Breach, page 284

Friday, October 06, 2017

Forgiveness is only the beginning…

[I]t is important to note that Solomon’s prayer is never, as Fretheim notes:
simply for God to forgive sins, but are also for God to act in other ways to reverse the effects that their sins have had on various aspects of their lives. Salvation, therefore, is understood to comprehend more than forgiveness of sin; it includes also the amelioration of the consequence of sin that have reverberated out into the larger community, including the natural order. (vv. 35–37)
Terence E. Fretheim, First and Second Kings (WBC; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1999), 50—as quoted in Standing in the Breach, page 268

Thursday, October 05, 2017

No coercion

We've been gone for the last ten days, visiting family, hence the hiatus. We're back and so are the daily excerpts from Standing in the Breach.

A consistent theme of Solomon’s prayer, and indeed of many Old Testament intercessory prayers, is however that divine pardon cannot simply be evoked by the intercessor. Brueggemann notes that “Israel’s only way into the future is to reverse its course and reembrace Torah obedience.”

The dynamics and circumstances of Solomon’s second petition are also reminiscent of Samuel’s intercessory activity in Mizpah (cf. 1 Sam 7:3–10). There as well, in the face of a military threat, the people gathered at the sanctuary to confess their sins and to recommit themselves to covenant obedience. The covenant mediator intercedes for the repentant Israelites. Samuel’s prayers are also accompanied by burnt offerings (1 Sam 7:2–12). The logic of these passages seems to be that, unless the sinful party recommits to Torah obedience, the intercessor can only pacify God’s wrath for a certain time.—Standing in the Breach, page 267