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>

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

By his sustaining grace

Although human repentance is an essential aspect in the process of reconciliation, the book of Joel makes it clear that the process is initiated by God. The prophet underlines though that human repentance does not guarantee divine forgiveness. Yhwh cannot be coerced into a favorable response (Joel 2:14; cf. Amos 5:15, Jonah 3:9). Achtemeier notes:

Repentance is not a meritorious work that compels God to accept us. When we have done all that is required of us, we are still unworthy servants (see Luke 17:10), and the truly repentant know that they have no goodness of their own to claim, but depend solely on the mercy of God. As the saying goes, the true saint is one who knows that he or she is a sinner.[Achtemeier, “Joel,” 319–20]
The reality is that the covenant relationship, at anytime in the history of the people of God, has been preserved by God. From the beginning, Israel, Judaism, and Christianity have been forgiven and are restored communities (cf. Gen 8:21, Exod 34:9, Luke 15:11–24). There was a covenant and a new covenant, but only because it has been graciously initiated and maintained from God’s side.—Standing in the Breach pages 470–71

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Aramaic irony

The Edict of Darius declares concerning any who may hinder the reconstruction: “that a beam (ʾāʿ) will be ripped out of his house and, once reerected, he will be hanged on it.” This curse acquires its full rhetorical significance only if one reads it in connection with the reference to building lumber in the preceding section ([Ezr.]6:4). Thus, it appears as an ironic antithesis to Ezr. 6:4: Just as Cyrus and Darius finance the reconstruction of the “house of God” (6:3) by also supplying, among other things, the wood for its construction, so must any who oppose this project provide the wood for his gallows from his own house, which will ultimately destroy it. Thus, wood here becomes a sign both for blessing and for the fates of the various groups depending on the extent to which they agree with God’s plan.—Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, XVI, forthcoming (this is the Aramaic volume).

Friday, December 15, 2017

What manner of man?

What is of great interest to us is that the priests in the book of Joel act under instruction of the prophet. Even the priests do not know how to pray. Joel has to teach them how to intercede under these challenging circumstances. In the Old Testament, it is usually only the prophet who has access to “the council of the Lord” and so is familiar with the divine will (cf. Amos 3:7). Authoritative and effective intercessory prayer require an intimate knowledge of the divine will (cf. Exod 32:7–14). Once again, we notice that the persuasive power of prophetic prayer is based on the simple fact that it engages with God’s nature and revealed purposes (Joel 2:13–14, Exod 34:6–7.—Standing in the Breach, page 469

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

All of God

Joel reminds us that any sacrifice that hopes to be effective has to be accompanied by repentance and a turning back to God. Even then, forgiveness depends ultimately on the grace of God (“who knows whether,” Joel 2:12–14). In other words, although we read in the Old Testament about elaborate cleansing rituals that the priests have to undergo in order to perform their mediatory role before a holy God (cf. Exod 19:22, Lev 1–8), the atoning efficacy depends on several important factors, such as the sacrifice, the ritual, the attitude of the sinner, and above all, God’s gracious willingness to respond favorably to the plea for mercy and forgiveness.—Standing in the Breach, pages 456–57

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