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Keeping My Head Above the Waves

I began Dr Lester’s Old Testament class with excitement and a little apprehension…especially with the foreign technological expectations spelled out in the syllabus. I remember my teenage and college kids’ response as I asked them what my twitter handle should be – they were creative and slightly inappropriate…but I embraced this new way of expressing my learnings. During the first couple of weeks, I experienced anxious excitement, and dug in – I looked forward to being stretched and challenged academically. However, this semester brought a very different and tragic outcome, changing my life forever.

My husband of 26 years passed away suddenly during week four of this semester. He was 56 and we had just experienced a wonderful weekend in the mountains together, with some of our closest friends. A sudden heart attack took him just an hour or two after we had said good night to each other, and after he told me he hoped I knew how much he loved me. The heroic actions of our friends (both medical professionals) and the paramedics of the tiny mountain town of McCall, Idaho couldn’t restart my husband’s heart. I lost my best friend and the man I was to share an empty nest with this fall. My kids lost a loving and amazing Dad, Boise State lost a professor who impacted many, many lives and our community lost a coach, servant and friend. With such a public loss, my family and I have experienced not just our own grieving, but also the deep sadness of many whose lives Scott touched. Friends who have walked along side us and carried us through these past months have helped us move through each moment – and as I look back on even those very blurry first few weeks, I know God was present comforting and gently pulling me forward.

Psalms had been one of our first units this semester, and after Scott died, I found peace, anger, loneliness and hope as I read them each morning. I found connection with ancient writers seeking to make sense of the events of their lives, too. I know that, in time, I will revisit many of the readings and lectures of this course. The unpredictable rhythm of grief, and my hunger for normalcy and learning and hope has called me to be patient with content from our studies that I long to understand more deeply. I have been drawn into so many of my classmates’ blogs and comments, and that has helped me connect with a community whose faces I may never know. Being part of this class has allowed me to continue pressing on, breathing, looking forward.

The end of this Spring Semester marks the half-way point for me, as I pursue Deacon’s study with the goal of becoming ordained in the United Methodist Church. My summer plans had included traveling to Chicago for one of my on-campus course requirements, but I have postponed those plans for now and will pick up my online coursework again this Fall. I would like to thank Dr Lester and the Garrett faculty and staff who have been praying for me and encouraging me.

Blessing to all of you in Spring Intro to Old Testament. Thank you for leading and expressing your new understandings. I have leaned into your words, questions and observations all semester.

Jenny

(Addition/engagement with the text)

I found Bandstra’s description of the Shema interesting and see the connection of Moses and a last ditch effort to remind God’s people who they are before Joshua assumes leadership. If they are to survive, they must remember that God is their one true God.  “…the command to love Yhwh is central to the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is not a theological or philosophical treatise but an encouragement to Israel to remain in covenant relationship with the God who brought them out of Egypt and preserved them through the wilderness.” (Bandstra, chapter 5)

“Hear o Israel: The Lord our God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4-5)

Shema means: Hear, or Listen and obey – Moses doesn’t want this important information to go in one ear and out the other. I like what author John Ortberg said about this passage, Moses didn’t say, “O Israel, think for yourselves. Go with your gut. Maximize your bliss. You are the autonomous center of the universe.”

This creed reminded them that loving God is as necessary for life as the air they breathe. These words were to shape their lives and actions, and would impact their future. This went beyond practicing laws – these were the very tenants of their faith and had to be personally taken to heart. The Deuteronomist was punctuating for the Israelites that there was only one God for them. Period.

 

Family History

(Q.1, “National Character)

One of the main themes running through the national history of the Israelites, is their concern for descendants and heirs to their blessing. Yhwh’s covenant to Abraham, that his offspring will number the stars (Gen 15:6) required that Abraham and Sarah actually have children. With seemingly no pregnancy possible, Abraham took matters into his own hands and had a son through servant Hagar. This theme punctuates the deep concern for extinction of Abraham’s family line, but also importance of an heir through Abraham, as promised by Yhwh. “Perhaps the fixation on such matters reflects the monarchic setting of the Yahwist narrative and its consuming interest in heirs and succession with the royal house of David.” (Bandstra) Throughout Abraham’s life, his activity and living demonstrated “righteous” acts or “God-approved” acts (Bandstra) and describes the character of this key figure as one who stands in relationship with, and dependence on God. The history and righteous character of the Israelites is further illustrated with Abraham’s near compliance with Yhwh’s request to sacrifice Isaac. This event symbolizes for the Israelites that Yhwh will test, but will also ultimately provide.

Throughout the key ancestral stories, the Israelites are keenly aware of their shortcomings and character flaws. From Abrahams lapses of judgment and parenting of a child with Hagar, Jacob’s trickery of Esau’s birthright, Josephs’ superiority complex and many other examples of less than exemplary role models, the Israelites did not attempt to hide the humanness of their fore fathers.

I’m a descendant of Swedish immigrants on my Mother’s side. A significant story told by my grandmother was my great grandfather’s journey to America. He had witnessed the deadly beating of his brother at the iron mill where he was employed, and so he booked passage to the United States where he could pursue a more promising future. However, after arriving in New York, he was faced with discrimination (“dumb Swede”) and was assaulted and robbed. My Grandmother told of how he kept his money in his shoes and refused to take his shoes off even to sleep. His feet became so swollen it was nearly impossible to walk. But he made his way to Illinois where he started a new life and family. This ancestral/family story has always represented perseverance to my family and me. That even in the face of terrible trial and hardship, there is hope and a better future.

As I’ve been reading the Old Testament stories with new eyes, I’ve become aware of how important the telling of those stories was in sustaining the identity of the Israelites. These stories represented God’s faithfulness to God’s people in the way of promise of relationship with God, promise of descendants and promise of homeland. The stories of key individuals demonstrate human choices and mistakes, but ultimately a desire to walk in righteousness, which was then blessed by God. The same can be said about the story of my Swedish ancestor and the impact it’s had on my life and my family. Circumstances will forever impact one’s journey, but carrying the history of perseverance guides one’s attitude and actions.

And Wisdom Cheered God On…

This week’s Intro to Old Testament assignment:

“Read the following passages and make a list of the things that they say happened at the time when God created the universe. When you are done, go back over the list and mark which items seem to agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories, and which ones differ. Then see if you can construct an alternate story of the creation from the events that do not appear in the Genesis creation stories.”

Isa 51:9
Description of God’s activities during the creation of the universe: God destroys the dragon “Rahab”
Elements that agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories: None

Job 9:4-14
Description of God’s activities during the creation of the universe: God shakes the earth and controls the sun, the stars, the sea and the helpers of dragon “Rahab.”
Elements that agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories: Controlling the sun, stars and sea.

Job 26:7-14
Description of God’s activities during the creation of the universe: He hangs the earth – no mention of creating it, and there is reference again to controlling the waters and the skies. The sky trembles, and the thunder demonstrates his power.
Elements that agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories: God’s power is demonstrated and God controls the water and sky.

Job 38:1-11
Description of God’s activities during the creation of the universe: God lays the foundations of the earth, and demonstrates Gods power and sovereignty over man
Elements that agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories: God has power over man.

Psalms 8:1-9
Description of God’s activities during the creation of the universe: God is over all, on earth and above in the Heavens. God made man to have power over the things God made.
Elements that agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories: God gave man dominion above all living things.

Psalms 74:12-17
Description of God’s activities during the creation of the universe: God divides the sea, killing the dragons and Leviathan. God owns the day and the nights, and established the stars and the sun. God made the seasons, and organized all of creation
Elements that agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories: God establishes the sea, day and night and organizes creation as he goes.

Psalms 89:8-10
Description of God’s activities during the creation of the universe: God rules the sea and kills Rahab the dragon
Elements that agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories: None.

Psalms 104:1-9
Description of God’s activities during the creation of the universe: God is majestic and controls all of creation. God organizes creation so that it is sustainable
Elements that agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories: Majestic and all powerful God organizes all that God creates.

Psalms 136:1-9
Description of God’s activities during the creation of the universe: God spread the earth on the waters, and made the sun to rule over the day, and the moon and stars to rule over the night.
Elements that agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories: The designation of moon and stars ruling over their respective times of the day.

Proverbs 8:22-31
Description of God’s activities during the creation of the universe: God created Wisdom before the water, mountains, earth and fields. Wisdom was there from the very beginning – even before God established the heavens. Wisdom witnessed God assigning limits to God’s creation, and basically cheered God on as creation happened.
Elements that agree with the Genesis 1-2 creation stories: None.

The 3rd Creation Story…by Jenny
In the beginning, was God and Wisdom. Wisdom was God’s very first creation. Wisdom was with God from the very beginning. They both looked upon the heavens and earth saw that the mighty dragon, Rahab and his helpers were evil and destructive. God shook the earth and heavens and killed both Rahab and those who were seeking to do evil with him – and thus, God destroyed all that was bad, so that God could create all that is good. And Wisdom cheered God on. On the first day after the slaying of Rahab, God controlled the waters and set the sun to rule the day, and the moon to rule the night. And Wisdom cheered God on. God organized the seasons and all of the boundaries of the water and earth, so that God’s creation would be sustained. And Wisdom cheered God on. God created man so that man could help and assure that all of God’s creation would be cared for. And God saw all that he had made, and Wisdom said, “This is very good.”

Like Father, Like Son…

(This week’s assignment:  Write the Bible: Additional words to the story found in 2 Samuel 13:1-33. Biblical text in blue, my writing in black)

King David reveled in the spoils and gold acquired through the capture of Rabbah. It seemed to take the sting away from losing the child he and Bathsheba had together. The win seemed to, once again, affirm David’s powerful authority. He could be heard saying in the halls of his vast temple, “If I desire something, I shall have it.”

David’s collection of wives continued to grow, as wife Maachah, a Geshurite princess, gave birth to a beautiful daughter Tamar, and a son Absalom. Wife Ahinoam bore David a son, named Amnon.

2 Samuel 13:1-33Common English Bible (CEB)  13 Some time later, David’s son Amnon fell in love with Tamar the beautiful sister of Absalom, who was also David’s sonThe young royal princess lived in a world where her powerful father and brothers have a responsibility to watch over her and protect her. Although Tamar is privileged, she is also powerless. Amnon was so upset over his half sister that he made himself sick. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible in Amnon’s view to do anything to her. 

Amnon was aware of the legal traditions of Israel “If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her [send her away] as long as he lives” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

But Amnon had a friend named Jonadab, Shimeah’s son, David’s brother, who was a very clever man.  “Prince,” Jonadab said to him, “why are you so down, morning after morning? Tell me about it.”  So Amnon told him, “I’m in love with Tamar, the sister of my brother Absalom.”

“Prince, if you desire something, you shall have it.”

“Lie down on your bed and pretend to be sick,” Jonadab said to him. “When your father comes to see you, tell him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and give me some food to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I can watch and eat from her own hand.’”

So Amnon lay down and pretended to be sick. The king came to see him, and Amnon told the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of heart-shaped cakes in front of me so I can eat from her hand.” David’s concern for the comfort of his son, compelled him fulfill his request.

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Please go to your brother Amnon’s house and prepare some food for him.”

So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house where he was lying down. She was obedient, trusting, and kind. Her father, King David, had instructed her to help her ailing half-brother. She dutifully attended to him, unaware that he has schemed and lied in order to get her alone.

She took dough, kneaded it, made heart-shaped cakes in front of him, and then cooked them. She took the pan and served Amnon, but he refused to eat.

“Everyone leave me,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom so I can eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the heart-shaped cakes she had made and brought them to her brother Amnon in the bedroom. 11 When she served him the food, he grabbed her and said, “Come have sex with me, my sister.”

12 But she said to him, “No, my brother! Don’t rape me. Such a thing shouldn’t be done in Israel. Don’t do this horrible thing. 13 Think about me—where could I hide my shame? And you—you would become like some fool in Israel! Please, just talk to the king! He won’t keep me from marrying you.” In special situations, blood relatives were permitted to marry. This arrangement would keep Tamar from the shame of losing her virginity without being betrothed.

14 But Amnon refused to listen to her. He was stronger than she was, and so he raped her.

15 But then Amnon felt intense hatred for her. In fact, his hatred for her was greater than the love he had felt for her. So Amnon told her, “Get out of here!”

16 “No, my brother!”[a] she said. “Sending me away would be worse than the wrong you’ve already done.” Her disgrace would be greater than before, because society would expect Amnon to keep his obligation and marry her.

But Amnon wouldn’t listen to her. 17 He summoned his young servant and said, “Get this woman out of my presence and lock the door after her.” (18 She was wearing a long-sleeved robe because that was what the virgin princesses wore as garments.)[b] So Amnon’s servant put her out and locked the door after her.

19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long-sleeved robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and walked away, crying as she went.

20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has your brother Amnon been with you? Keep quiet about it for now, sister; he’s your brother. Don’t let it bother you.” So Tamar, a broken woman, lived in her brother Absalom’s house. Tamar became another victim in the abuse of power in David’s house.

21 When King David heard about all this he got very angry, but he refused to punish his son Amnon because he loved him as his oldest child. If his son desired something, he shall have it.

 22 Absalom never spoke to Amnon, good word or bad, because he hated him for raping his sister Tamar.

Absalom kills Amnon

23 Two years later, Absalom was shearing sheep at Baal-hazor near Ephraim, and he invited all the king’s sons. 24 Absalom approached the king and said, “Your servant is shearing sheep. Would the king and his advisors please join me?”

25 But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son. We shouldn’t all go, or we would be a burden on you.” Although Absalom urged him, the king wasn’t willing to go, although he gave Absalom a blessing.

26 Then Absalom said, “If you won’t come, then let my brother Amnon go with us.”

“Why should he go with you?” they asked him. 27 But Absalom urged him until he sent Amnon and all the other princes. Then Absalom made a banquet fit for a king.[d]

28 Absalom commanded his servants, “Be on the lookout! When Amnon is happy with wine and I tell you to strike Amnon down, then kill him! Don’t be afraid, because I myself am giving you the order. Be brave and strong men.” 29 So Absalom’s servants did to Amnon just what he had commanded. Then all the princes got up, jumped onto their mules, and fled.

30 While they were on the way, the report came to David: “Absalom has killed all of the princes! Not one remains.” 31 The king got up, tore his garments, and lay on the ground. All his servants stood near him, their garments torn as well. 32 But Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah, said, “My master shouldn’t think that all the young princes have been killed—only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s plan ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. 33 So don’t let this bother you, my master; don’t think that all the princes are dead, because only Amnon is dead,” and so the unraveling and disintegration of David’s family continued. Power imbalances demonstrated through fulfilled desires and rape of Bathsheba, became a family trait passed down to David’s sons and became the weakness that permeated the family lineage.

(Addition/Engagement with text)
Hillary Lipka’s article, “David and Bathsheba: Affair or Rape?” compares the two most common arguments concerning Bathsheba’s participation in the adulterous affair with King David. Was Bathsheba cunning and lured David…or did David abuse his power and force Bathsheba into his bed? While we don’t have much detail of the story found in 2 Sam. 11:27, we do know that David’s actions were displeasing to God, and he was condemned by the prophet Nathan. David would have had power over everyone and every situation – and so it was Bathsheba (who was definitely not on equal playing field with David) who was the victim of the desires of a King who would not be denied. This, unfortunately, became family trait passed down to David’s sons.

 

Kingless Israelites: Sinking to a Whole New Level

This passage begins and ends with the words, “In those days there was no king,” and after the horrific tale of rape, murder and justification of more rape and more murder…additional words were added to the end of the scripture, and “all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” Interesting bookends, for a story that was included in the Hebrew bible for a specific purpose.

The whole story is very disturbing. I was casually reading through Judges 19 until I got to verse 22. Prior to that verse, the story included two main characters: A Levite, from the hill country of Ephraim, and his concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.  We don’t know why or what the situation was, but the concubine became angry with her husband the Levite and went to her father’s house for a number of months until her husband followed her to reclaim her. The Levite is shown generous hospitality by his father-in-law, even to the point of being asked to stay much longer than he has desired. But the Levite declined and he and his concubine headed out late into the night. It becomes time to stop their journey for the night, but the Levite is unwilling to stay in a city of foreigners, and so they find shelter in the Benjaminite city of Gibeah. This is where the story turns very, very dark. In verse 22, we find some of the townspeople wanted to rape the Levite, but the master of the house instead offers his daughter and the Levite’s concubine! The crowd isn’t going for it – but then, the Levite “seized” (NRSV) his concubine and sent her out…to be raped and abused all night. In the morning, after a good night’s sleep, the Levite found her on the threshold of the door unresponsive. He threw her on the back of his donkey and headed back home. Back in Ephraim he chopped her body up in 12 pieces and told his version of the violence that took place in the Benjaminite town. This became the catalyst for a deadly spiral of violence (and more rape) to avenge the concubine’s death.

The historical context of Judges is set during a transitional period when Israel has celebrated their conquest into Canaan, but now must survive new threats and dangers. “The pressures of the age forced the diverse groups who identified with the deity name Yhwh to come together in a union that transcended tribal interests.” (Bandstra) External threats called them to bond together as one nation under their common faith in Yhwh. The central message of this story is to point out how far Israel had gone astray – shockingly astray. Even though the Judges had pointed out the evils of worshipping false gods, this concluding story sent the message loud and clear: Israel had sunk to a new level and the only thing that will save it, is a king.

To read this story with modern eyes, stirs up violent images of women treated as objects and less than human. One can easily get stuck on the blatant, ugly abuse at the hands of those who should be committed to love and protect. But my perspective, as a wife, daughter and mother of daughters is far removed from the cultural context for which this was written. In the ancient context, women were perceived as second class citizens, and the far more shocking situation was that the Levite was almost raped by men. This act of control over another man was more hideous to the Israelites than the concubine’s rape.

The bottom line is, the author of this story left no room for interpretation – the message and agenda was clear: Israel had sunk to a new and very depraved level, and would face extinction if a kingship were not established.

Deuteronomistic History: Sin, Punishment, Repentance and Deliverance

“History is a sequential and systematic reconstruction of the past.” (“Historiography” Claude Mariottini)  In the case of Deuteronomic History, this reconstruction had specific agenda with a message to the people. The message was simple and deliberate, and the fate of Israel depended on its people understanding where they’ve come from…so that their future is secure. YHWH’s covenant with the people of Israel meant they were to be faithful to YHWH and faithful to the Torah. To worship other gods and violate the tenets of Mosaic law, meant not only a withdraw of divine protection, but a destructive and deadly wrath by the same God who brought prosperity and safety.

The following passages from the Hebrew Bible illustrate this pattern:

Deuteronomy 28:1-68
The listeners are reminded to obey God’s commandments, and as a result, he will set them high above the other nations. They will also receive blessing of children, livestock and food. They will be known as God’s people, the “top of the heap” and not the tail. But if not, their cities, fields and wombs will be cursed. Panic, frustration, disaster and pestilence will cling to them and you’ll be driven off their land.   To break the covenant with YHWH meant YHWH would cause them to be defeated before their enemies, and… their finance’s will cheat on them! Additional humility will befall them as their property, sons and daughters are taken from them. “The Lord will bring a nation from far away, from the end of the earth to swoop down on you like and eagle a nation whose language you do not understand,” (v 49) scattering them to serve other gods. This despair and destruction will actually cause them to eat their own children.

Joshua 23:1-16
These passages call into remembrance the faithfulness of YHWH when the people were faithful and observed Moses’ laws. They were rewarded by possessing the enemy’s land. But the warning that came from the success of conquering foreign land was clear: Don’t turn your back on YHWH and worship foreign gods, and definitely don’t intermarry with the enemy’s survivors. They’re going to want to…but it’s a trap…stay the course and continue to take over their land. And again, the pattern repeats, don’t become unfaithful to the covenant, or YHWH will destroy you.

1 Samuel 12:1-25
In this selection of scriptures, the historiographer recounts how the worst nightmares of the people came true: because the people forgot YHWH, they were sold into the hand of the enemy. They had not heeded the warnings and had brought YHWH’s wrath upon themselves. However, in this account, the author tells of the turn and repentance experienced by the people. This brought about the forgiveness and rescue of YHWH and the restoration of promise and future to generations.

2 Kings 17:5-18
As forewarned in previous accounts of Deuteronomistic stories and repercussions the unfaithful will experience, this scripture describes the horror of the Assyrian invasion, and the capture of the Israelites. The explanation of these events points to the sins of the people. They refused to listen to the warnings of the prophets, and began to worship false gods, and do things “in secret” that were against God’s covenant with them.

2 Chronicles 36:11-21
The final repercussions brought the downfall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah had warned the people that their unfaithful behavior would bring down the house of YHWH and burn the palaces to the ground. And just as the prophet had foretold, the people were taken into captivity.

Deuteronomistic narrative allowed the people to understand what happened to them, why it happened and how they could go about keeping it from happening again. “In Deuteronomy’s covenant theology they found an interpretive principle that explained their recent experience as the inevitable result of their failure to live up to the terms of their relationship with Yahweh.” (Stanley, p. 258) This behavior modification and enforced moral code, provided YHWH’s people with an explanation of how and why they should remain faithful, what would happen if they didn’t and, ultimately, that YHWH would renew a relationship with them, when they repent from their disobedience and realign with YHWH’s covenant. And so, the Deuteronomistic History is, “essentially a call to repentance. It urges the exiles to turn from their disregard of God and change their fundamental disposition.” (Bandstra on the Prophets)

Are these claims intelligible in light of the way we understand the world today? The messages and stories recorded for the ancient Israelites allowed them to make sense of events that happened in their lives, and understand YHWH’s interaction with them. Our faith has now developed to see God not as a vindictive and vengeful being, but One who will be present in healing and hope after humans have brought destruction upon themselves.

Isaiah’s Suffering Servant

Dear S,

This week in my Intro to Old Testament course, I was given the assignment to write a letter to tell you a bit about “Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.” I’ve always been drawn to the beautiful poetry of Second Isaiah (Is 40-55) and intrigued with the Christian interpretation of these ancient Hebrew writings. And now, as life has been turned upside down over the past few weeks, I’m searching for comfort and hope in the experience of YHWH’s Suffering Servant.

Second Isaiah was most likely not written by the prophet Isaiah, but by a representative of the “school of Isaiah,” during the exilic period. (Stanley, p. 461) This assumption can be made because the words spoken by this prophet supports the notion that the Israelites are already living in exile in Babylonia. The people of YHWH had been warned by earlier prophets that because of their disobedience, God’s judgment would bring the destruction of life as they knew it. The deportation of Israelites and cruel oppression experienced at the hand of the Babylonians, were the fulfillment of God’s wrath and punishment to a people who had been defiant.

Exile was a confusing and hopeless time for God’s people, even though earlier prophets had forewarned them that they were headed in this direction. YHWH, who had protected them in the past and who had not abandoned them before, seemed distant – literally. Could YHWH even hear their cries and laments?

In exile, Second Isaiah brings a message of hope and “debt paid to YHWH.” In fact, he assures them that YHWH hasn’t forgotten them and, although YHWH was very angry with them, they would soon be blessed and would return to their homeland. “24 Who gave up Jacob to the spoiler, and Israel to the robbers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned, in whose ways they would not walk, and whose law they would not obey? 25 So he poured upon him the heat of his anger and the fury of war; it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand; it burned him, but he did not take it to heart.” (Isaiah 43:24-25) This reminder of the punishment they brought on themselves, was followed by God’s enduring promise, “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 44:1-3). The people of Judah in Babylon had paid their debt, and in Second Isaiah’s opinion, “over paid.” (Lester, Responses to Exile Part B on YouTube) The prophet (Second Isaiah) delivered this message to YHWH’s people as one who was specifically called by YHWH. (Bandstra) This authority must have given the people confidence and hope for a new direction.

But resolution and freedom does not come quickly to the Israelites. In fact, they continued to experience oppression and suffering during the exile. They searched for understanding in suffering of a community of people that considered themselves to have paid their debt to YHWH in full. It is in this identity of “Suffering Servant,” that God’s people find a deeper and redemptive meaning to their experience.

The “Servant Poems,” found within the writings of Second Isaiah, lend explanation and purpose for the continued suffering. It is through the suffering of YHWH’s people that the world will learn about the nature of YHWH and YHWH’s redemptive nature. The Israelites will be finally vindicated after their suffering and exile, and will bear witness to those who oppressed them as well as other nations who do not yet worship YHWH. (Singer)

The figure of the Suffering Servant has often been confusing to me. In the Christian tradition, the Suffering Servant connects Jesus’ role with the prophet’s words from Isaiah, lending truth and purpose to the crucifixion. But I now understand this text as it brought hope and purpose to a people who had been brutally and systematically oppressed. At a time when it appeared all hope was lost, a voice calling out reminded the Israelites that God would bring them through their suffering. And through their suffering and redemption, nations would be changed.

I don’t believe for a minute, that the loss and disorientation I’ve felt these past weeks is the result of disobedience or angering God. I do believe that God shows us a way through our suffering, and into comfort and reorientation. And maybe if we allow the truth of our trust in a loving, healing God, others, who do not know the nature of God, will be changed.

With much, much love, and until I see you again,

Jenny

 

Resources:
Stanley, Christopher, “The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach,” (Fort Press: MN, 2010)

“Who is God’s Suffering Servant? The Rabbinic Interpretation of Isaiah 53,” by Tovia Singer, https://outreachjudaism.org/gods-suffering-servant-isaiah-53/

Bandstra,  Postmonarchy Prophets: Exile and Restoration, Chapter 12