When David's time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: 2 "I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, 3 and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. 4 Then the LORD will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: 'If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.' 5 "Moreover you know also what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner son of Ner, and Amasa son of Jether, whom he murdered, retaliating in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist, and on the sandals on his feet. 6 Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. 7 Deal loyally, however, with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table; for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from your brother Absalom. 8 There is also with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a terrible curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, 'I will not put you to death with the sword.' 9 Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol." 10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.
Again we have David on his deathbed, this time providing instructions to Solomon on how to lead, including a set of instructions about who to kill and who to preserve. So basically all the Solomon's opposition (anyone supporting his older brother, Adonijah, the expected heir to the throne) is eliminated and thus his kingdom "firmly established." Ascending to and maintaining power for kings was a difficult and bloody business and David and Solomon are no exception. Say good-bye to Joab who, ever loyal to David, probably took matters into his own hands one too many times. Also, David never forgave him for killing Absalom.
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. [....] 41 "Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42 --for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm--when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.
Under Solomon God upgrades from a tent into a full-up, no-holds-barred, big deal, uptown, temple. David wanted to build it, but God via Nathan told him to wait for Solomon to do it. In this passage an excerpt of a fairly long and involved temple dedication is underway. Basically Solomon reminds God of the covenant to Israel and to David. It's probably not uncommon to want to remind God of the deal they have, yet one has to wonder how unnecessary it really is. Perhaps it's more to remind the people who hear the prayer than to remind God. It may be like saying to the nation of Israel "hey look guys, we have this deal with God, live up to it ... and by the way God chose you, this temple and David and thereby me ... so honor it."
8 Then the word of the LORD came to him [Elijah], saying, 9 "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." 10 So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." 11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." 12 But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." 13 Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth." 15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.
Solomon reigns for 40 years, as did David, but once he passes, the northern tribes secede splitting the nation back into Israel (Northern kingdom) and Judah (Southern kingdom). At this point in the story of the prophet Elijah (whose name means My God is the LORD) begins. Elijah is strongly opposed to King Ahab (Israel's king) and Jezebel, Ahab's Baal worshipping wife, because of his lack of regard for the God of Israel. Just prior to this passage, Elijah announces a drought which comes to pass as a sort of "in your face" to Baal, the god of the storm and rain. Elijah is directed to go to this widow in Zarephath where God provides them with food. This is smack in the center of Phoenician Baal worship, so it is no accident. Elijah will be in the middle of things and God is in control.
17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" 19 But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20 He cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, let this child's life come into him again." 22 The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." 24 So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."
The widow is afraid that the very presence of Elijah in her household has alerted God to her sins, and that her son's death was the result. This really isn't the case, but it provides a way to show just how much God is speaking through Elijah and that faith in God trumps even death. The son's life is restored, the widow's faith is renewed and Elijah's relationship with YHWH (the LORD, God) is clearly established. There are probably more cakes in the deal for Elijah, if I had to guess.
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." 3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
Elijah had just finished challenging Ahab and the priests of Baal to a fire building contest. Not only did the priests lose, but they were all killed. Coincidently the drought ends. Now Jezebel hears of this and swears revenge, to which Elijah flees to the Southern most part of Judah. He seems pretty shaken by the threat and figures he had done his job, discrediting Baal worship, and his usefulness to God is done. However, God provides more yummy cakes and has him go on a 40 day journey to Mt. Horeb (Northern kingdom's name for Mt. Sinai) thus back in the Northern kingdom. The 40 days and Sinai connection probably serve to connect Elijah to Moses as a great prophet of the LORD.
9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 10 He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." 11 He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 14 He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
It's clear that Elijah still isn't quite up-to-speed with God's plan at this point. On Mt. Sinai (Horeb) Elijah is still hiding out in a cave. What happens next is a theophany (appearance of God), and yet a very unexpected one. God does not appear in the wind, earthquake nor fire, but in a whisper out of the sheer silence. Elijah covers his face (per Moses) and prepares to be addressed by God in the very presence of God. It starts with the question ... "what are you doing here!?" Elijah is sticking with his story, but is God buying it?
15 Then the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him." 19 So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" 21 He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
What Elijah hears must be music to his ears. He gets to appoint two kings, one of which, Jehu, will supplant Ahab as well as name a successor in Elisha. Seven thousand Israelites have remained loyal to God (or at least not worshipped Baal) and will be the new start for the Northern kingdom. Elisha is selected to be Elijah's disciple and later his successor. Elisha asks to be allowed to say good-bye to his old life and Elijah seems to give him permission to do so. Of course the mantle Elijah really throws onto Elisha is not a fireplace mantle, but rather an outer robe or cloak that symbolizes the owner. Elijah giving it to Elisha is sort of a "what's mine is yours" moment.
Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. 2 And Ahab said to Naboth, "Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money." [...] 17 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: 18 Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 19 You shall say to him, "Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?" You shall say to him, "Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood." 20 Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" He answered, "I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, 21 I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; 22 and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin.
What's missing are the verses where Jezebel conspires to have Naboth killed so Ahab may take his vineyard. At any rate, the plot is uncovered, Elijah has a movie-like redeeming, climatic moment where he confronts Ahab to tell him it's over. He lays it all out for him and it isn't pretty. The sweetness of the victory is delayed however. Immediately after this confrontation (and passage) Ahab repents. He is allowed to live and his fate will be carried out at his death rather than right then and there. Nothing more is said of Jezebel nor Elijah in 1st Kings, but God and Elijah have made their point.
Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent." 4 Elijah said to him, "Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho. 5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be silent." 6 Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. 7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." 10 He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
This is literally where Elijah passes the mantle to Elisha, or God does anyway. Elisha is a loyal disciple and servant to Elijah and will not part from him until he has absolutely no choice. Elijah parting the Jordan with his mantle (cloak not fireplace shelf) rolled up like a staff is a direct symbolic link (again) to Moses. By Elisha asking for a double portion from Elijah, he is asking for a first-born son's share of an inheritance. Elijah doesn't grant or refuse this request, but later God grants it. Elisha comes back and parts the Jordan demonstrating that he is now officially Elijah's successor. The fifty disciples serve as a witness. Chariots, whirlwinds, horsemen, fire are all common symbols of God appearing (theophany), also evidence of the spectacular exit Elijah was granted. Perhaps one of the more elaborate retirement ceremonies in the Old Testament and inspiring at least one very well-known song (Swing Low Sweet Chariot).
8 One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. 9 She said to her husband, "Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us." 11 One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, "Call the Shunammite woman." When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 He said to him, "Say to her, Since you have taken all this trouble for us, what may be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?" She answered, "I live among my own people." 14 He said, "What then may be done for her?" Gehazi answered, "Well, she has no son, and her husband is old." 15 He said, "Call her." When he had called her, she stood at the door. 16 He said, "At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son." She replied, "No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant." 17 The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her.
Elisha performs many miracles along the lines of Elijah, and this is no exception. The only hint of why the Shunammite woman wanted a child was because her husband was old. This could be anything from needing an heir to help in managing the family business to simply the desire to have children. In this case the man and woman are wealthy, so they don't need children to see to their care in old age, but in most other cases that would be a good bet. There was no retirement system per se back in the day. God is often associated with fertility or lack there of, so the request would not be considered out of the ordinary. God, through Elisha, grants the request.
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. 3 She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel." He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." 7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me." 8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'?" 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
The LORD (YHWH) is already responsible for Naaman's military victories, although he probably isn't aware of it. As noted earlier, God is seen as being in control of all events regardless of which side wins. Elisha basically messes with Naaman's giant ego, but eventually he does as Elisha instructs, and the wise servant urges, and is cleansed of his leprosy. Reading on through verses 15-19 (grab a Bible) he also converts and believes in the LORD. The good news is two-fold, 1) Naaman is cured of his ego and leprosy and gains true faith, and 2) God is shown as healing even a non-Israelite willing to ask for help.
14 Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, King Joash of Israel went down to him, and wept before him, crying, "My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" 15 Elisha said to him, "Take a bow and arrows"; so he took a bow and arrows. 16 Then he said to the king of Israel, "Draw the bow"; and he drew it. Elisha laid his hands on the king's hands. 17 Then he said, "Open the window eastward"; and he opened it. Elisha said, "Shoot"; and he shot. Then he said, "The Lord's arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram! For you shall fight the Arameans in Aphek until you have made an end of them." 18 He continued, "Take the arrows"; and he took them. He said to the king of Israel, "Strike the ground with them"; he struck three times, and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him, and said, "You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Aram only three times." 20 So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year.
Elisha is a prophet for 60 years and is quite old now. Joash comes to visit needing a blessing for a military win over Aram. He receives one, but only partially. Apparently Elisha did not like the fact that Joash only struck the ground three times and therefore he would only win 3 victories over Aram. He needed more victories than that for total victory, but it is at least something. Elisha then dies, not in a spectacular show as Elijah's exit, but simply passes and is buried somewhere. It was a long and successful tenure for the prophet to say the least.
14 All the leading priests and the people also were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations; and they polluted the house of the LORD that he had consecrated in Jerusalem. 15 The LORD, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; 16 but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD against his people became so great that there was no remedy. 17 Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their youths with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or young woman, the aged or the feeble; he gave them all into his hand. 18 All the vessels of the house of God, large and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king and of his officials, all these he brought to Babylon. 19 They burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. 22 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: 23 "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him! Let him go up."
The reason the LORD used the king of the Chaldeans to destroy Judah was because they refused to repent, not because they had sinned. It's one thing to make mistakes and quite another to be belligerent about them once exposed. According to Chronicles, God acts through foreign kings to bring about a sort of retributive justice. After 70 years God again acts through a foreign king, King Cyrus of Persia, to restore Jerusalem and the temple. The book of Kings has the temple being ravaged, but in Chronicles it was totally destroyed. The task of rebuilding would be difficult and take many years, since Jerusalem and the temple were in ruins. This was both an opportunity and a huge challenge.
All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 4 The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. 8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
Nehemiah is the leader tasked with rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple and Ezra is his chief priest. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah may have originally been one volume and are sort of memoirs to them. Here a major wall has been restored and Ezra uses the occasion of the dedication and celebration to remind Israel of the law. It's hard to imagine what he could have done to make six hours of reading from the law interesting, but apparently it was very well-received and the party afterwards may have been worth the wait. The difficulty of restoring the city should not be underestimated, in addition to relocating back to a city that was essentially in ruins. It would take many decades to restore it.
"Do not human beings have a hard service on earth, and are not their days like the days of a laborer? 2 Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like laborers who look for their wages, 3 so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. 4 When I lie down I say, 'When shall I rise?' But the night is long, and I am full of tossing until dawn. 5 My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out again. 6 My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and come to their end without hope. 7 "Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good."
The book of Job is a magnificent work of prose and poetry basically dealing with the complex question of why bad things happen to good people. It tends to refute the prevailing conventional wisdom while at the same time never giving a direct answer to the questions it raises. If you want to be challenged and amazed, pick up a good study Bible or commentary on Job and dig into it in-depth. The few passages covered by the lectionary only scratch the surface. In this passage we see that Job is in the midst of suffering. Satan, acting as a prosecuting attorney, is basically challenging God's faith and humanity (through Job), suggesting only those that are well-off will praise God. It's noteworthy to realize that Satan is acting within God's court, not in opposition to it. Job is caught in the middle of this argument and becomes the test case (or guinea pig) to see just how far you have to push humanity before they renounce God. It's fairly clear that being the test case is not a good thing.
"Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined. 2 Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. 3 Miners put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness. 4 They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation; they are forgotten by travelers, they sway suspended, remote from people. 5 As for the earth, out of it comes bread; but underneath it is turned up as by fire. 6 Its stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold. 7 "That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon's eye has not seen it. 8 The proud wild animals have not trodden it; the lion has not passed over it. 9 "They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots. 10 They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing. 11 The sources of the rivers they probe; hidden things they bring to light. 12 "But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? 13 Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living. 14 The deep says, 'It is not in me,' and the sea says, 'It is not with me.' 15 It cannot be gotten for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price. 16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. 17 Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. 18 No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls. 19 The chrysolite of Ethiopia cannot compare with it, nor can it be valued in pure gold. 20 "Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? 21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air. 22 Abaddon and Death say, 'We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.' 23 "God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. 24 For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. 25 When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; 26 when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; 27 then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. 28 And he said to humankind, 'Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.'"
This poetic interlude is a tribute to wisdom. The central questions are emphasized in verses 12 and 20 which basically ask how to attain wisdom. It suggests that man is so smart as to being almost godlike compared to animals but, even so, is still barely able to scratch the surface of the wisdom of God. Ecclesiastes would be proud.
Then Job answered the LORD: 2 "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.' 5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
Job has just been in dialogue with God about his condition. God provides a very definitive non-answer to his question (chapter 41), leaving Job to this response above. Job is essentially saying that he now realizes God is not going to answer his questions, so he is reluctantly giving up. After this encounter however, Job is more than restored to his former good condition and in most respects he passed the test (held to his faith and did not renounce God). Of course, his original wife, family and cattle probably weren't too thrilled by the test. It's similar to an action-adventure movie; it never pays to be the best friend of the hero.
My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you, 2 making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; 3 if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; 4 if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures-- 5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; 7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, 8 guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
Proverbs is a book full of instructions and guidelines aimed at building character. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job are considered the wisdom books of the Old Testament (along with Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha). None is probably more fun and approachable than Proverbs in that it is full of advice and sayings, none of which are meant as universal commands, but rather are contextual guidelines aimed at teaching how to discern the proper things to do and how to live well. This passage basically says that wisdom can be sought and found and should be valued above all else. Not exactly booty, but a guide to a life well-lived. So while Job and Ecclesiastes sort of take the negative route emphasizing our inability to grasp the full wisdom of God, Proverbs provides a path to the things we should be able to figure out, if we are willing to work at it.
22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth-- 26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
This is a piece of the longest single description of wisdom in the Bible (verses 1-36). This part of the description discusses wisdom's role in creation. The underlying difficulty, in my opinion, is that wisdom has no role outside of human behavior (the last part of creation), except to say that was the first thing God was concerned with. Humans, since they can reason, are the only animals on the planet that would be concerned with right and wrong (hence morality). That aside, this is more to show the primacy of wisdom in the scheme of things. Anyone looking at the natural order should be able to see God clearly manifest in it. In a sense wisdom was God's best friend, like a dog always at God's side enjoying all that was taking place.
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. 2 The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all. 3 The clever see danger and hide; but the simple go on, and suffer for it. 4 The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life. 5 Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; the cautious will keep far from them. 6 Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray. 7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. 8 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. 9 Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.
Well, this is clearly a nice set of ideals, simply stated and perhaps true on a good day. Job might take issue with this at various points of his test, but may generally agree with it afterwards. Still, all-in-all it's a good set of guidelines - live right, stay way from bad people, raise your kids right, and be generous and care for the poor. In the words of Mr. Spock - live long and prosper.
Side note: the next book in the Bible is another wisdom book - Ecclesiastes. This is one of my favorite books in the Old Testament and is well worth the twelve very short chapters to read. It's not mentioned in the lectionary so it won't be addressed in this book but it ponders the meaning of life in an interesting way.
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
Looking toward the future, Isaiah sees Jerusalem as God's central governing point for all the nations and where peace has been established. Zion is used here as another name for Jerusalem emphasizing it's pivotal role for God and humanity. Verse 4, beating swords into plowshares is a well-known passage from Isaiah often used as a description of a utopian society where there is no longer any need for weapons.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"
This is Isaiah's calling story. He is unworthy to be a prophet until the seraph touched a hot coal to his mouth, purifying him for the task to come (aka being a prophet). Isaiah gives a familiar prophet response, "here am I," to the Lord's call.
10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.
This passage is unintelligible by itself which is the danger of taking passages out of context. Basically it is in the middle (reinforcement to earlier warnings) of Isaiah warning king Ahaz not to align with the Assyrians. Ahaz seems to be humble not wanting to put God to the test but what he's really saying is that he doesn't want God to give him a sign contrary to his desire to make the alliance. You could relate this to being a kid facing the choice of asking your mom for a cookie when you know the answer will be no, or not asking so that you can do what you want. Isaiah is basically saying, you're not going to ask, but God is going to give you a sign anyway and it will be a son who will be called Immanuel (God is with us). In other words, God will be with your son (or possibly Isaiah's son), but not necessarily with you. The finer things of life, like curds and honey, will come to Judah under him (and possibly not Ahaz if he doesn't listen to God). At this point Assyria is threatening Israel, and Judah and Israel are also sort of in a civil war. Over time Assyria will conquer Israel, and Judah will become a vassal state paying tribute to Assyria, but for now Isaiah wants Judah to remain independent and not ally with Assyria. Isaiah probably views it as selling out part of their own people even though Israel and Judah are separate kingdoms.
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Isaiah is probably referring to king Hezekiah whom he hopes will reunite Israel and Judah again. It doesn't quite work out as planned thanks to Assyria (and obviously Israel wasn't too interested in uniting with Judah at the time anyway). Isaiah envisions a united Israel with a king in the lineage of David. When Israel split from Judah, the 10 northern tribes' kings were not davidic, while Judah maintained the davidic line. This was often used by Judah as part of its claim to legitimacy over Israel. This is later used in Christianity as part of the argument to legitimize messianic kingship and partly why Isaiah is often quoted or referenced in the New Testament (and represents about 20% of the Old Testament lectionary passages). At any rate, it is here a mixed message of hope and warning ... hope for a united kingdom at some point in the future, but a warning that not following God leads to the same fate as Israel's (aka destruction).
1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Perhaps one of the most famous passages in Isaiah is this description of the ideal kingdom, headed by a king in the line of David (Jesse being David's father) and ushering in an unprecedented time of peace and prosperity. In Isaiah's time this might have been in reference to the hope for upcoming Hezekiah's kingship of Judah and centuries later used in reference to Jesus. Isaiah's prophecy likes to use the literary style of oracles, which are essentially general idealized predictions about or visions of the future, and this is no exception.
6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 8 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
In Isaiah 24 to 27:13 we take a break from the first author of Isaiah (or first Isaiah for short) to later oracles that are thought to have been inserted much later. This vision is more of life after the apocalypse, after the evil have been vanquished and it's time to celebrate. Death is conquered and every need of the righteous remnant is met. This passage is also quoted in 1 Corinthians 15:54 in reference to the resurrection and in Revelation 7:17 in reference to the wiping away of tears at the end times.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you." 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Chapters 34-35:10 and 40-55 belong to an anonymous author writing after the time of first Isaiah probably during the Babylonian exile. This oracle envisions the return of a remnant of Israelites returning to Jerusalem. The road leading back through the desert from Babylon is divinely prepared for a safe journey. God is with them and the punishment for prior transgressions is over.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." 6 A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" 10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Here Isaiah intimates that Israel has been given a double-share of punishment for their sins, so now God is going to make it up to them by removing the obstacles that might prevent rebuilding Jerusalem (Zion). Even the mountains between Babylon and Jerusalem will be leveled to make the road back easy (consistent with the last passage only using more of an interstate highway analogy). God is portrayed as a shepherd lovingly tending the his flock - the restoration will bring God's people to a very close and personal relationship.
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. 5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
This is one of four so-called servant songs in Isaiah (the others are 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12) and is steeped in imagery used in Judaism and Christianity alike. For Judaism this proclaims a strong monotheism and suggests that Israel is the shining light to all the nations (a universal example and message). The servant may be Jacob, Moses or the nation of Israel. Second Isaiah's monotheism is the strongest yet in the Old Testament as YHWY is not just the God among gods, but is the only God. Christianity often associates it with Jesus and in Luke 2:32 Simeon even paraphrases this passage in reference to Jesus. Again, the main reference here is that Israel will be the beacon of justice, the example to the nations as result of this second exodus (back to Jerusalem from Babylon).
16 Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17 who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. 22 Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel! 23 You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings, or honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, or wearied you with frankincense. 24 You have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. 25 I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
More on how the second exodus (Babylon to Jerusalem) will be made easy instead of difficult (per the original exodus from Egypt to Canaan). God also makes the case that God didn't abandon Israel; it was the other way around. They didn't observe temple worship and even when they did, it had not kept them from sin. God suggests the approach that many a coach recommends to their good athletes ... have a short memory when things aren't working (aka keep trying until it's working again). God is looking past the past problems hoping this will set the stage for God's people to do better in the future. Hopefully they will learn from it.
Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me. 2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 3 And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." 4 But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God." 5 And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength-- 6 he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." 7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."
The second servant calling comes from the servant this time, rather than God as before. The servant is named as Israel and is again identified as a light to the nations to save all the earth. In the first servant passage Israel's justice is emphasized, and here it is salvation. Being called in the womb (of Jerusalem aka mom) is a sign that the servant is a prophet. It a way of showing that it is destiny, not a coincidence or an accident, that the prophet fulfills.
8 Thus says the LORD: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; 9 saying to the prisoners, "Come out," to those who are in darkness, "Show yourselves." They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; 10 they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. 11 And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up. 12 Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene. 13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
These verses are all about restoration and celebration. The thoughts about re-establishing Jerusalem from the previous verses continue although less about Israel's example and more about the LORD's part in it. It also echoes Isaiah 40 regarding the interstate highway-like ease the LORD will make the return to Jerusalem from Babylon. Other familiar symbolism includes the prisoners are set free, the hungry are fed, light will come to those in darkness and finally the mountains themselves will sing to the glory of it all.
4 The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens-- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7 The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. 9 It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
This is part of the third servant song in Isaiah with the servant speaking to the Israelites. In a nutshell, the servant is given God's word to teach to the Israelites, which he does and many reject (to their own peril). No teachers were hurt in the making of this cartoon.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
This passage is excerpted from the fourth and last servant song in Isaiah (the full passage is 52:13-53:12). Its original context is most likely in reference to Israel being the servant suffering for the salvation of all of the nations. Isaiah 40 suggested Israel had indeed suffered more than was necessary for just their own transgressions (a double-portion), which might be what was necessary to move from redeemed (or restored) to redeemer (or example) to the other nations. Christianity often uses this passage as a parallel to Jesus as the suffering servant and messiah. Paul also uses it (Isaiah 52:15) in Romans 15:21 as part of the justification for his mission to the Gentiles.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Chapter 55 ends second Isaiah's oracles with an invitation to abundant life. God's word is compared with water that nurtures all of the earth providing food and everything is coming up roses ... or cypress trees or myrtle. This is a great passage of joy and hope for the future. Trees especially like it.
3 "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? 6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
Chapter 56 begins what scholars consider to be third Isaiah, writing just after the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem. The return is not quite all second Isaiah had hoped it would be, rebuilding Jerusalem will be a long hard task, so these oracles are a bit less optimistic and idealistic. This passage is contrasting true and false worship. It's not hard to discern the meaning, God would like sincerity in worship that leads to and results from caring for each other. God is seldom about going through the motions (fasts, sacrifices, rituals) for their own sake, but almost always about living correctly and giving credit where credit is due. Also, beware of eggs in frilly underwear.
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.
Echoing the optimism of second Isaiah, this oracle is believed to be written shortly after the return to Jerusalem. This is sort of an ode to Jerusalem, looking forward to restoration and a return to prominence among the nations. Camels are pretty happy about their role in this one.
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
The prophet is anointed by God, like Elisha, and proclaims the good news of God's restoration of Israel. Many familiar metaphors are used - the captives are freed, mourning turns to joy, Israelites are like plants showing God's glory and Zion (Jerusalem) is restored. Jesus quotes this passage in Luke 4:18-19. Some refer to it in Luke as the Gospel within the Gospel (aka Jesus' mission statement). It is no coincidence that this cartoon will look familiar to those who have read the Cartoon Gospel of Luke.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. 62:1 For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
The rest of Chapter 61, and on into 62, eludes again to Israel's place as an example to the nations. Zion (Jerusalem) will be an example of righteousness to all the nations and it will be restored to glory. Fashion divas not withstanding.
For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
This passage repeats verses 1-3 but adds 4 and 5. It's a good thing to move up from being called "forsaken" and "desolate" to "My Delight Is in Her" and "Married." Jerusalem's new relationship with God is compared to a marriage, meaning it is closer than ever. Even when prophets get to tell the good news the audience can be tough.
7 I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 8 For he said, "Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely"; and he became their savior 9 in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
The Israelites are reflecting on the mercy and love of God. It is sort of a psalm-like community remembering of what God has done to redeem God's people. Even though this is about God's presence rather than God's presents, is still about God's gifts.
16 For you are our father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our father; our Redeemer from of old is your name. 17 Why, O LORD, do you make us stray from your ways and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you? Turn back for the sake of your servants, for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. 18 Your holy people took possession for a little while; but now our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary. 19 We have long been like those whom you do not rule, like those not called by your name. 64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-- 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
The oracle continues with a frustrated plea from the Israelites. Things are so tough that they argue that Abraham and Israel (Jacob) have abandoned them. They call upon God as father (63.16 and 64:8) (one of the few places that God is referred to as father in the Old Testament) with a direct, yet personal, plea for help. While they seem to be acknowledging their sins, they suggest it is because God hardened their hearts (as God did to Pharaoh) and remained hidden from them (as though they had been trying to find God). This passage ends on a Psalm-like, up-beat, appeal to God as "our Father" and a request for direction - "you are our potter; we are the work of your hand."
Note: Second Isaiah's staunch monotheism is echoed in third Isaiah only in 64:4 (which is possibly paraphrased later by Paul in 1st Corinthians 2:9).
17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well. 24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent--its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
This is a picture of the new Jerusalem which will be like the Garden of Eden only better. All will live a full, healthy, happy life (100 or more years), enjoy the fruit of their hands and families. There is joy, peace and harmony in all the land - the wolf, lamb, lion and ox will all eat together and the serpent will be stifled (eat dust). This picture of the new creation is also referred to in the New Testament (2nd Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21) with regard to a post-apocalypse new beginning for the world. You have to admit, it would make for an interesting buffet.