Tuesday, February 27, 2018

It's effective, but limited…

I would like to draw attention to another important dimension of the prophetic intercessory ministry that comes to expression through the metaphor of the “breached wall,” namely, the notion that the intercessor can only protect temporarily the breached covenant relationship. Just as the breach in the wall needs to be repaired to make the city a safe place in the long term, so intercessory prayer can only pacify divine anger temporarily. Persistent offense will eventually result in a divine prohibition to intercede and lead to severe punishment (e.g. Isa 58:10–12; Jer 15:1; Amos 7). In other words, in the long term the rebellious people need to return to Yhwh and recommit to the covenant stipulations to make the divine-human relationship whole again (cf. Deut 9:18–19, 25–29, 10:12–22). Understanding this dynamic confirms that the ministry of the prophet is essentially twofold: (1) “standing in the breach” in “defensive prayer” and (2) “repairing the breached wall” through calling a wayward people back to Yhwh and teaching the way of God (e.g., 1 Sam 12:23).—Standing in the Breach, pages 518–19

Monday, February 26, 2018

It doesn't come cheaply!

In obedience to his calling, the intercessor embodies a costly solidarity with the people who are often hostile to him. Thus, there is good reason to argue that at the root of biblical substitution is the act of pleading for divine favor on behalf of a guilty and antagonistic party. Related to the theme of substitutionary suffering and intercessory prayer is the key metaphor of “standing in the breach” for the sinful party.— ;Standing in the Breach, page 517

Friday, February 23, 2018

Where's the glamor in that!?

Confronting the sinful party with their sins and reminding them of their covenant obligations often results in strong criticism and personal persecution. Under circumstances such as these, the prophet is vulnerable to personal vindictive emotions. Standing in solidarity with a hostile people that rebels against both intercessors and God demands an immense sense of commitment to the sinful party. It has become evident that prophetic intercession and prophetic suffering belong together. The wilderness generation attempts to stone Moses and Aaron, and yet they intercede for the pardon of their adversaries (cf. Num 14:10–19). Jeremiah is commissioned to confront a corrupt and idolatrous generation (e.g., Jeremiah 7, 26). His judgment speeches eventually result in persecution and imprisonment (cf. Jer 11:18–23, 38:1–6). Although Jeremiah appeals to divine justice on numerous occasions, he prays for his enemies ( Jer 18:20) and even “faithfully disagrees” with God’s prohibition to intercede for them. The fact that interceding for a sinful party often brings a tremendous amount of physical and spiritual suffering comes nowhere clearer to expression than in the life, ministry, and death of the Isaianic servant.—Standing in the Breach, page 516

Monday, February 19, 2018

Grace over justice

The phenomenon of “holy mutability” is often found in the context of a prophetic intercessory prayer that seeks the reversal of God’s will to punish. In other words, the concept of נחם [nḥm] does not connote unreliability but communicates Yhwh’s willingness to show grace over justice. God allows Himself at times to be persuaded to show clemency, defer punishment, or renew the covenant relationship. Miller observes that the will of God “is always open to a transcending appeal to the divine will to mercy and compassion.” [fn. Patrick D. Miller, “Prayer and Divine Action,” in God in the Fray: A Tribute to Walter Brueggemann, ed. T. Linafelt and T. K. Beal (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 221].—Standing in the Breach, page 514

Friday, February 16, 2018

The hidden life of a prophet

The main responsibility of the prophets is commonly understood to be that of proclaiming the word of God (cf. Deut 5:23–27, 18:15–18). Acting as Yhwh’s mouthpiece, however, is only one side of the prophet’s role. The prophetic ministry is by its very nature twofold. It includes making known God’s will to the people as well as advocating for the guilty party before the divine judge.—Standing in the Breach, page 512

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Don't stop!

When is it permissible to disobey and “faithfully oppose” Yhwh’s command to refrain from prayer and to persist in knocking on heaven’s door, and when does the prophet need to desist from prayer? The issue of discernment in intercessory prayers for divine forgiveness is complex and deserves further investigation, but here what I like to highlight is that understanding and participating in God’s judgment is a process that evolves in persistent engagement with the mercy and holiness of God on the one hand and the prophet’s observation of the sinful people’s responsiveness to the situation on the other (cf. Amos 7:1–9).

Indeed, intrinsically connected to revealing the divine will is the two-fold prophetic role of being the mouth of God to the people and an advocate of the sinful party before God (cf. Ezek 13:5–7, Amos 3:7).—Standing in the Breach, page 511

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Yes! We need the hymns

There's an interview with Fleming Rutledge over at Jesus Creed that is worth reading, if only for this paragraph:
I believe that the church is worthy of the best hymn texts and the best hymn tunes, and if we don’t treasure them, we become impoverished. I have attended a great many churches over forty years that feature praise bands and praise music, and I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we are robbing the next generations of the deep memory of texts that are not only doctrinally and biblically rich, but also emotionally stirring and communally enriching. My observation is that—generally speaking—praise music trades on repetition, individualism, and theatrical emoting by solo singers. I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but I don’t think there is anything quite like the voices of choir and congregation joined together in the words of a hymn with a text that has a plot—praise and proclamation followed by destabilization and then a powerful, upbuilding resolution with a sense of struggle overcome in the triumph of God—all of it rich in biblical imagery.
<idle musing>
Amen and amen! Don't get me wrong, I like the choruses and sing along with them, but we need to keep the hymns of the church alive; they contain the real core of Christianity. We should supplement them with the choruses, not vice versa. Or, as happens far too often, substitute the choruses for the hymns.
</idle musing>

Friday, February 09, 2018

In the divine council

Though divine grace and patience are immense and will eventually overrule God’s wrath, the revelation of the divine name makes it clear that God’s nature cannot simply be summarized as gracious and loving. God is also just and holy. If necessary, God will visit His people and the nations in judgment. It is a judgment though that flows from love. This is not least evident in the fact that God in His wrath looks for intercessors to stand in the breach “and build a protective wall” around sinful Israel (cf. Ezek 22:30). Interceding for mercy is in effect engaging in a dialogue within God. It is like being invited to the divine council in order to present one’s case and to listen to the viewpoint of the heavenly judge.— ;Standing in the Breach, pages 510–11

<idle musing> I just read a book review of “Thus Speaks Ishtar of Arbela” yesterday in Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok. One of the points made is that the Neo-Assyrian and Mari prophets don't have the same access to the divine council that the Old Testament prophets do. A fascinating observation and a rare privilege that intercessors are given. This idea is developed further in the New Testament. . .
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Not despite, but because of!

Yhwh reveals Himself as a God of grace and mercy who is firmly committed to His covenant relationship with Israel. This understanding reaches a further climax in Moses’ final petition for the pardon of Israel’s sin (Exod 34:9); it is climactic because Moses makes Israel’s sinfulness the basis for his plea for divine forgiveness (“Forgive their iniquity because it is a stiffnecked people”). In other words, Moses, in an audacious yet profound way, makes Israel’s hopeless state the principal reason for his appeal to divine grace and forgiveness.—Standing in the Breach, page 510 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Wow! Did you catch that? Because of their stiffnecks, not despite their stiffnecks! That is ḥesed at its finest! Prevenient grace, the grace that goes before and awakens the sinner.
</idle musing>

Monday, February 05, 2018

With groanings too deep for words

Lohfink probes some of the theological implications of God teaching Moses, and through Moses every believer in the Mosaic tradition, how to pray in providing the divine name as a prayer foundation. It means, Lohfink suggests, that we cannot truly pray ourselves. What is more, we do not know what to pray for, if our prayer is to be a true prayer. God Himself must teach us about prayer and more so, the Lord Himself must pray in us (God Himself provides the words for prayer; cf. Exod 34:5–7; Joel 2:17). In this way we are allowed to tune into His praying in a manner that is worthy of Himself.[fn. Gerhard Lohfink, Beten schenkt Heimat (Freiburg: Herder, 2010), 25] A prayer that is in essence a reflection of God’s will in a human soul, Paul ascribes to the work of the Holy Spirit.— ;Standing in the Breach, page 509

Saturday, February 03, 2018

He takes the initiative

It is theologically important to note that God Himself appoints mediators to intercede for the party that has breached the covenant relationship. In other words, God Himself makes the arrangement to ensure that the covenant relationship will be protected and maintained (cf. 1 Sam 12:23, Jer 1:5, Ezek 22:30). Given Yhwh’s larger purposes with and through Israel (e.g., Gen 12:1–3, Isa 42:1–4), intercession is an indispensable part of God’s larger salvific purposes. In fact, we have seen that God makes the realization of His judgments often dependent on the intercessions of His chosen servants (Exod 32–34, Ps 106:23).—Standing in the Breach, page 508

Bonhoeffer's birthday

Tomorrow (Sunday) is Bonhoeffer's birthday. In anticipation, Englewood Review of Books has posted a few excerpts from his collected works.

Here's the first one, but the other ones are well-worth the reading, as well.

What is the meaning of weakness in this world? We all know that Christianity has been blamed ever since its early days for its message to the weak. Christianity is a religion of slaves, of people with inferiority complexes; it owes its success only to the masses of miserable people whose weakness and misery Christianity has glorified. It was the attitude towards the problem of weakness in the world, which made everybody to followers or enemies of Christianity. Against the new meaning which Christianity gave to the weak, against this glorification of weakness, there has always been the strong and indignant protest of an aristocratic philosophy of life which glorified strength and power and violence as the ultimate ideals of humanity. We have observed this very fight going on up to our present days. Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its apologia for the weak. – I feel that Christianity is rather doing too little in showing these points than doing too much. Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much more offence, more shock to the world, than it is doing. Christianity should take a much more definite stand for the weak than to consider the potential moral right of the strong.—Sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:9, London, 1934 in Works, Vol 13, 402-3 (emphasis added by Englewood)

Thursday, February 01, 2018

What's the response?

[E]ven in the New Testament, there appears to be a sin that is beyond prayer for forgiveness. The challenge for the intercessor is to exercise spiritual discernment like Amos, to know when and how long one is to persist in intercession for a particular person or situation. Seeing a brother or sister committing sin, should not lead automatically to a judgmental attitude but, like Amos, to prayer.—Standing in the Breach, pages 503–4

<idle musing>
Not sure how much I agree with the first part, although 1 John does seem to imply what he's saying. But, I can definitely get behind the second half: prayer should always be our first response, although I sadly confess it isn't always. When we hear of, see, or experience firsthand a person sinning, or first response should be an involuntary one similar to Amos's: "Lord, forbear, Israel is so small!"
</idle musing>