Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Look at The Bible Lessons for This Coming Sunday (October 5, 2008) (Part 1)

[Most weeks, I try to publish at least one post dealing with the appointed Bible lessons for the upcoming Sunday. My hope is that I can at least help the people of the parish I serve as pastor, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, to prepare for worship. Others may find these explorations helpful because we use the same Bible lessons used by most other North American Christians each Sunday. For information on the Church Year and the plan of lessons called the lectionary, see here. This week, this look at the lessons will be broken down into several installments.]

The Prayer of the Day:
Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right, and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

The Bible Lessons:
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-15
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Comments: Isaiah 5:1-7
1. Those who read Better Living regularly are familiar with the consensus theory of much modern scholarship that Isaiah was composed during three different periods of ancient Judah's history, composed by at least three different authors. (It was thought legitimate back in Biblical times for authors operating in the "school of thought" of an esteemed religious leader to write in that leader's name.) Whether all of the theories about Isaiah are correct or not, it's undisputed by scholars of all stripes that our lesson is among the earliest sections of the book to be composed.

2. Based on Isaiah 6:1, it's thought that Isaiah began his activities as a prophet during the last year of the reign of King Uzziah, meaning 743BC. Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of three subsequent kings of Judah: Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Hezekiah's reign ended in 687BC.

3. In the Bible, a prophet was not someone who necessarily predicted the long-term future, although some of the Old Testament prophets, notably Isaiah. did that. But Isaiah, particularly in the lesson for Sunday, exhibits key characteristics of the prophet's work. Prophets:
  • saw themselves as messengers who
  • addressed current situtations and
  • pressed people to deal with those situations in order to avoid future difficulties or even punishment
4. The verses of our lesson come near the end of what is seen as the first major section of Isaiah, chapters 1 through 6. They contain oracles from God with both threats and promises for rebel Judah. (Judah is referred to, basically, as Judea in the New Testament. It's the southern kingdom that resulted from the split of ancient Israel shortly after the reign of Solomon.) In these chapters and in our lesson, God addresses Judah's rejection of God and explains the dire consequences for a nation that owed its existence to God.

5. As both Lutheran scholar Ralph W. Klein and The Jerome Bible Commentary explain, the first two verses of the reading are ambiguous. In what's thought to be a song, are these the words of the singer or of God? But the identity of the speaker in v.3 is clear: God.

6. The lesson presents us with a parable in which "the Beloved," God, is said to have worked hard to create and nurture the vineyard. He did so with the expectation of a great harvest. But, instead, the vineyard "yielded wild grapes." Here, the vineyard is Israel, which because of its increasing separation from God, is living worthlessly.

In v.3, God says, choose whether you'll live for yourselves and your momentary pleasures or for me. If you live for yourselves, death will inevitably follow. If you live for me, you'll not only have Me, but life thrown into the bargain, because I'm the maker and restorer of life.

7. The "fruit" of life without God is injustice, bloodshed, and futility. Injustice, of course, is never God's will for our lives. (See here and here.) For the prophets, justice meant loyalty to God and a commitment to caring for one's neighbor, even the foreigner in one's midst. The New Testament writer James' definition of "true religion" would do well as a definition of Old Testament justice:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
8. Both Klein and the Jerome Commentary point out that the lesson ends with a pun in the original Hebrew (the Old Testament writers loved puns). The Jerome commentary says:
[In the play on words in v.7,] God looked for "judgment" (mispat) and all he found was "bloodshed" (mispah), for "justice" (s'daqa) and he found an "outcry" (s'aqa). Mispat was basically a judgment, the revealed will of God covering the totality of man's [sic] duties, to God, to man [sic], and to himself. S'daqa was the correlative of mispat and it meant whatever accorded with this divine demand. It could be applied to some particular duty or to the quality of the man who lived according to mispat. We translate it as "justice," which meant both the doing of one's duty and the state of being resulting from doing that duty.
9. When Israel goes bad, God says, it isn't for lack of care and attention from Him. Israel is responsible for its own fate.

1 comment:

smitty1e said...

Regarding your now-deleted "The Obama Campaign Had Nothing to Do with This" post that was in my reader:
Look, the children are just scaled-down versions of the media.
And this incident is just another brick in the media wall.
Sadly, I don't think that the consciousness of some is going to amount to much. Your attempt to raise a warning of any sort puts you squarely in the prophecy section of the Old Testament.