What makes Jeremiah’s prophecies both of “doom” and of “hope”?

Jeremiah was introduced by Bandstra (p322) as “the weeping prophet” which implies Jeremiah’s passionate and frank expression of his own feeling from his inner spiritual life. According to Dr. Lester’s lecture “Jerusalem and Jeremiah B”, the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy is between the age of during King Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform (around 626 BCE) and the Fall of Jerusalem by Babylonia (586 BCE), which is shown in his prophecy in the book of Jeremiah. In his prophecies, Jeremiah expresses his concern about social justice and denounces the king (Jehoiakim) and the people for their idolatry and injustice, which is against the optimistic Zion theology of Judah (Dr. Lester’s lecture of Jerusalem and Jeremiah B; Bandstra p 330)  Bandstra affirms that Jeremiah thoroughly shaped by the Mosaic tradition was against the dogma of Davidic-Zion theology (p330). Thus, Jeremiah’s prophecies appear to be negative and “doom” in general compared to the optimistic Zion theology. However, as Dr. Lester mentions in his lecture, Jeremiah’s prophecies also suggest a hope among his prophecies of “doom.” I would like to figure out how it works in the following texts.

Jeremiah 1:1-19 provides the information about Jeremiah as a Judean prophet with a Deuteronomic-style introduction (Bandstra, p326); vv.1-3 presents Jeremiah’s dates of prophecy and vv.4-19 his call and commission. Jeremiah’s call is expressed in poetic form in vv.4-10 followed by two visions in vv.11-14 with two editorial expansions in vv.15-16 and vv.17-19. In his call (vv.4-10), Jeremiah’s response to God’s call (v.6), an objection to his call, echoes Moses’ in Exodus 4:10-12, which might imply Jeremiah as a “prophet like Moses”(Deut 18:15-22) (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p998).  However, God’s persistent call and appointment of Jeremiah as a prophet continues in vv.7-10. In v. 10, God appoints Jeremiah “over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant,” which is understood as a recurring motif of Jeremiah’s message (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p1001). The first vision, “a branch of an almond tree,” which is interpreted as a pun emphasizing God’s enactment of the prophetic word, and the second vision, “a boiling pot,” is interpreted by God in v 14 as “out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land”, which is explained in the following editorial expansion in vv. 15-16, that is, the Babylonian conquest resulted from violation of the Mosaic covenant, “wickedness in forsaking me…made offerings to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands” (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p1002). The vision of “a boiling pot” in v.13 and God’s saying in the editorial expansion of vv. 15-16 sound like a prophecy of “doom” as a warning against the Babylonian conquest in the future of Judah. However, God’s appointment of Jeremiah as a prophet like Moses, God’s command to Jeremiah to tell the people of Judah what he heard from God with the reason of God judgment against  them, and God’s promise to protect Jeremiah from the Judean leadership’s predictable opposition and persecution,  all these appear to imply a message of “hope”, a warning with a “hope”; if the people of Judah would accept Jeremiah’s prophecy and turn from their sinful ways, there should be a hope of their salvation, the possibility of “non-destruction from Babylonia.”

Jeremiah 2:1-13 presents the Exodus story and God’s covenant with Israel as the standard that the people of Israel at the time of Jeremiah are to be judged (Stanley, p447). In vv. 1-3, Jeremiah uses Hosea’s metaphor of ‘marriage’ and describes Israel as Yahweh’s bride (Dr. Lester’s lecture, Jerusalem and Jeremiah B). In this text, Jeremiah contrasts Israel’s faithfulness in the Sinai wilderness with its disloyalty after entrance into Canaan in their following the Canaanite god Baal. (The Harper Collins Study Bible, pp.1002-1003) “But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit,” in v.11 and “… be utterly desolate,” in v.12 appear to be connected to God’s saying in Jeremiah 1:15-16 and “for m y people have committed two evils… dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” in v.13 sounds hopeless.

Jeremiah 4:23-28 is continuing part of Jeremiah’s second prophecy in which Jeremiah urges the people of Jerusalem, which is under the siege of the enemy, Babylonia, to repent and engage in lamentation. In the text, Jeremiah described the result of the invasion as the state of chaos like the state before the creation.(The Harper Collins Study Bible, pp.1008-1009) The poem indicates the destruction of war looks like the end of the world; “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end,” in v.27 and the expected lamentation of the earth and heavens described in v.28 with the ending “I have not relented nor will I turn back,” sound like a prophecy of “doom”, which does not provide a glimpse of a hope.

Jeremiah 5:1-5 is a judgment oracle which describes the continued disobedience and sinfulness of the people of Jerusalem under the siege of the enemy, Babylonia. In 5:1, Jeremiah’s looking for one righteous person “who acts justly and seeks truth—“reminds us of Abraham’s efforts to save Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:22-23. However, Jeremiah’s efforts are in vain, which is described in vv.2-5; the people falsely swear to the covenant in v.2; they refuse to turn back to correct their sin in v.3; both the people who know the law of God and those who do not know “all alike had broken the yoke, they had burst the bonds.” All these implies a prophecy of “doom” that even with Jeremiah’s efforts to find one righteous person who may save Jerusalem, he couldn’t find one “who acts justly and seeks truth so that God may pardon Jerusalem.” (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p1009) However, Jeremiah’s efforts to find a righteous person to save Jerusalem, as Abraham did for Sodom and Gomorrah, still appears to bring a thread of “hope” to the future of Jerusalem at that era.

Jeremiah 7:1-34 includes Jeremiah’s Temple sermon under the reign of Jehoiakim (vv.1-15), which indicates Jeremiah’s challenge against the doctrine of Zion theology, that is, “the belief that the temple on Mount Zion automatically protected Jerusalem” (Bandstra, p329), or the surety of royal theology, that is, the belief that God’s everlasting covenant for Davidic line will protect Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord from the destruction (Dr. Lester’s lecture, Jerusalem and Jeremiah A & B). In the Temple sermon, Jeremiah condemned this view of the Judean people because of their immoral behaviors. This sermon consists of introduction (vv.1-2), two admonitions (vv.3-4, admonition against Zion theology, vv.5-8, admonition to return to the Mosaic covenant), two rhetorical questions against Zion theology (vv.9-11), and a threat of destruction and exile with mention of Shiloh (vv. 12-15).(The Harper Collins Study Bible, pp1013-1014) Vv.16-20 express God’s anger for the people’s disobedience to Him by forbidding Jeremiah’s intersession as a prophet to save the nation. Vv. 21-28 express God’s commandment of obedience to the people of Israel including moral behavior as the basis for the covenantal relationship with God with the nuance of expected disobedience in vv.24-28. Vv. 29-34 also expresses the fate of Judah and the disinterment of its leaders, which sounds like the prophecy of “doom” with the final phrase, “for the land shall become a waste.” ).(The Harper Collins Study Bible, pp1014-1015) However, the description of God’s persistent sending “all my servants the prophets to them, day after day” in v.25 and still asking Jeremiah to tell the people even with their refusal to listen to and their disobedience to God reveals a possibility of hope in this prophecy of “doom.”

Jeremiah 8:18–9:3 presents Jeremiah’s experience of divine suffering over the imminent destruction of the people during Jehoiakim’s reign (609-598 BCE). Despite the people’s refusal to repent and failure to obey to God’s law, Jeremiah still deeply committed to his people as a prophet like Moses and the images of the destruction that Yahweh intended to bring on them made him greatly painful (Stanley, pp.446-447). Jeremiah’s expression of his grief and heart-sickness for “the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land” would suggest a hope for the future of Jerusalem and the Jew in that Jeremiah’s suffering would also reflect God’s divine suffering for the cry of His poor people of Judah and Israel. Thus, as God changed His mind at the Sinai by Moses’ dissuasion of God not to destroy the with mercy in Exodus 32:7-14, from destruction to non-destruction of the Israelite for their making and worshipping the golden calf, here we can find a glimpse of hope even in the condition of a prophecy of “doom” which brings about Jeremiah’s divine suffering.

Jeremiah 18:1-12, a prose narrative, includes a symbolic act of the pottery which needs the potter’s skill to manage the wheel to produce vessels, to shape clay in his palm, painting and burnishing, etc (vv.2-4); God has planned evil against Judah and Jerusalem, but will change this fate if they will repent and turn from their evil ways (vv.5-11). However, the conclusion in v.12 indicates the people’s saying against God’s will by following their own evil will (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p1031). Unlike the preceding texts, in this text, using the symbolic act of the pottery, the prophecy of “hope” comes up first; in vv.7-8, God, who has planned a disaster against Judah, that is, “the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonia,” will change his mind about the disaster, if the nation turns from its evil; in vv.9-10, God also will change his mind about the good, if the nation does the evil in God’s sight not listening to His voice. However, for God’s offer of Jeremiah’s prophecy of hope described in v.11, the people of Judah still refuse to accept God’s will in v.12, which brings on an expectation of the prophecy of “doom.”

Jeremiah 20:7-13 is one of Jeremiah’s laments (Dr. Lester’s lecture, Jerusalem and Jeremiah B). Bandstra asserts that Jeremiah’s complaint in this text is very direct in its criticizing God in his saying that “God seduced him, in effect, raped him.”(p335)  In v.7, the word “enticed” is used two times, which is understood as two important meanings, “to deceive” and “to seduce.” According to The Harper Collins Study Bible, the first word may describe God’s deceiving a prophet and the second, which was used in Exodus 22:16-17 to refer the seduction of a virgin, is metaphorically applied to God’s “seducing Israel” as in Hosea 2:14. Considering the use of ‘overpowered’ in v.7 implying ‘rape’ and the death-penalty for the sinner of ‘rape’ in Deuteronomy 22:25-27, this text appears to reflect Jeremiah’s harsh complaining for God’s dealing with him; God has seduced and then raped him. (Dr. Lester also cites this in his lecture.) In v.8, Jeremiah’s cry, “Violence and destruction!”, is not heard and in v.10, Jeremiah’s enemies, “close friends,” mention the same language of seduction and rape with a word of revenge on him. This complaint is related to his experience of mistreatment at the leaderships of the Jerusalem establishment including Pashhur in 20:1, the priest in charge of the temple police (p335).   But, in vv.11-12, Jeremiah expresses his faith in God to ask a petition for God’s “retribution on his persecutors”. In v.13, Jeremiah praises God as a thanksgiving to anticipate His salvation, that is, “God’s delivering the needy from the evildoers” (p1034). In this text, Jeremiah also appears to express his prophecy of “doom” for his persecutors through his lament and petition and of “hope” for God’s salvation of the needy.

Jeremiah 23:9-32 expresses Jeremiah’s criticism of the false prophets, which Stanley mentions can be found in the prophetic books and in which the criticized biblical prophets usually have more influence with the rulers and people than the criticizing one (p412). According to The Harper Collins Study Bible, in the poetic section of vv. 9-22, vv. 9-12 describes general wickedness that priest and prophet share and vv. 13-15 presents a judgment oracle against the prophets of Samaria and of Jerusalem; vv. 16-17 provides a warning in prose not to pay attention to the false prophets; in vv.18-20, rhetorical questions and a vision report about the failure of the false prophets to see the coming judgment of the Lord are expressed; in vv.21-22, Jeremiah expresses God’s rejection of the false prophets; in vv. 23-32, a sermon stressing God’s opposition to false prophets. In this text of Jeremiah’s criticism of the false prophets, as expected, we can find Jeremiah’s prophesy of “doom” without a hope; the prophets of Samaria is described to have prophesied by Baal and lead the people of Israel astray (v.13), and those of Jerusalem are mentioned to become like Sodom and Gomorrah (v.14) and to be rejected by God (v.32) (pp.1040-1042).

Jeremiah 31 and 32:1-15 express Jeremiah’s prophecies of hope for the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah after destruction, which Bandstra suggests Jeremiah’s message of ‘building and planting’ that was expressed by God in his calling: “to uproot and to break down, to destroy and to overturn, to build and to plant”(p333). In 31, Stanley suggests, Jeremiah expresses “his belief that one day God will restore his people to their land and initiate an era of peace and prosperity in which finally they will live as he hopes.” (p447) Stanley also asserts that this message of hope, which is surprising regarding  Jeremiah’s persistent negative prophecies of “doom”, is directly revealed in his emphasis on the importance of God’s new covenant with Israel (vv. 31:31-34), which will be engraved not on the stone but on the hearts of his people (p448). Therefore, in 31, Jeremiah directly expresses the hope of restoration after destruction with his prophecy of a new covenant God provides for the continuation of Israel. In 32:1-15, Jeremiah purchased a field during the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar, at the time of conquest and threatened exiles, which emphasizes Jeremiah’s faith in a future restoration.

In the all texts of Jeremiah mentioned above, what makes the differences of “doom” and “hope” in Jeremiah’s prophecies? As Dr. Lester mentions in his lecture, Jerusalem and Jeremiah B, for Jeremiah as a prophet, whose basic function is to be most concerned that the moral and religious principles govern the corporate and personal lives of God’s people” (Bandstra, p195), the historical circumstances where the people lived and their needs in the light of God’s demand could be the factor that might influence on appropriate direction of Jeremiah’s prophecy, whether he should offer a call of love or claim of God’s demand. For example, in Jeremiah 7, Jeremiah condemned the people of Judah under the reign of Jehoiakim for their immorality and optimistic view of the Zion theology and offers them a claim to be moral and Jeremiah’s appropriate prophecy would be “doom.” On the other hand, in Jeremiah 31, Jeremiah brings on a prophecy of hope with God’s new covenant for the people of Judah in the historical circumstances of Nebuchadrezzar’s siege of Jerusalem with the anticipation of exile. In addition, as mentioned in the texts above, God’s persistent call for Jeremiah to tell His words to the people of Judah even with the expectation of their disobedience appears to imply a chance of hope that God offers to his people; if they respond to the prophet’s claim and return to God’s law, then there shall be a hope of salvation from God. This is compatible with what Dr. Lester mentions regarding Deuteronomists’ theological claim about the prophecy of hope appearing at the end of pessimistic prophecy like Amos’s that when the people cry out to God in their punishment, He would respond to them and restore their fortune. Thus, agreeing with Dr. Lester’s argument for “Hope” and “Doom” of Jeremiah, I think both the prophecy of “doom” and of “hope” could come from the same prophet and I will also preach both “doom” and “hope” when I discern it appropriate for the congregation that I am preaching for. However, at this moment of no experience of preaching, I cannot imagine under what circumstances, I could preach both “doom” and “hope.”

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Amos’s prophecy with an apocalyptic vision on Israel

Amos was a Judean prophet who went to Bethel of Israel at the time of Assyrian Expansion in order to expose the exploitation of the poor and the distortions of religious practice that thrived in the relative security and economic prosperity of the privileged class in Israel and resulted in wide gap between the rich and the poor (Bandstra, p287). In the book of Amos, Amos, as a prophet called directly by God, not a professional prophet belonging to the prophetic guild (Bandstra, p288; Dr. Lester’s lecture: Prophecy A), condemned the morality of the countries in Syria-Palestine territories with oracles starting with “Thus says the Lord” speaking in the first person, “I”, and Israel is the last target of his condemnation.

Amos 2:6-16; 5:10-17; 6:1-8; 8:4-9:4, show Amos’s prophecy with an apocalyptic vision on Israel in terms of the elements of each word, ‘prophecy’ and ‘apocalypse’ presented in Bandstra and Stanley. Bandstra suggests that “the basic function of biblical prophecy was to analyze political policies and social conditions in light of Yhwh’s demands of justice, loyalty, and faith in him” and that what biblical prophets predicted was “basically extrapolations from the present state affairs into the future, based on their knowledge of what God demanded. If the people would not change their errant ways, then the future would hold nothing but trouble for them. If they repented, then the grim scenario would be averted.” (p195) For the latter part of what biblical prophets predicted, Amos’s prediction uses, “the form of vision,” to describe what God said to him about his plan for the future of Israel using imaginative imagery”(Sheol, sea-serpent, in Amos 9:1-4), which is one of the common features of apocalyptic literature suggested by Bandstra (p443) and Stanley (p482-484). Thus, I add ‘with an apocalyptic vision’ to the title of this blog.

Amos 2:6-16; 5:10-17; 6:1-8; 8:4-9:4, describe what is wrong with Israelite society, what will happen to the people of Israel if they don’t change their ways, and whether there is anything that they can do avoid this fate.

What does Amos say is wrong with Israelite society?

Bandstra suggests that Amos is very sensitive to the matters of social welfare in Israel and condemned the privileged class of Israel for their abusing and increasing their wealth at the expense of the poor (p289). Stanley also asserts that Amos delivered his message of condemnation of the privileged class, the king and the wealthy elites, in the name of YHWH; the rich are living a luxurious life ignoring the poor and needy (5:12, 6:1, 4-6), making money by abusing them (2:6-8, 5:11-12, 8:4, 8:6), and engaging in deceitful business practices (8:5-6).

Amos also accused the wealthy’s arrogance of self-satisfaction (6:1-7) which will result in God’s judgment (6:8).  In addition, as Stanley suggests (p 429-430), Amos criticizes the wealthy’s losing sight of the social dimension of Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh, which reflects a deeper spiritual sickness reducing religion to the proper observance of public rituals, which Amos persists Yahweh is disgusted (Dr. Lester’s lecture: Prophecy B) For the wealthy who may consider their wealth and success as signs of divine favor, Amos’s condemnation would have sounded like the agitation of a madman from Judah. Thus, Amos was ordered to stop his prophecy (Amos 2:12), which implies the wealthy would not listen to Amos’s prophesy and God’s judgment would be with them.

What will happen to the people of Israel if they don’t change their ways?

Amos warns the privileged class of Israel that if they don’t change their ways, there shall be the judgment of Yahweh.  The Harper Collins Study Bible explains that  in 2:13-16, the Lord announces judgment against Israel in the form of a military catastrophe in which the army is routed and even the most courageous flee away naked (p1220); in 5:16-17, there shall be wailing everywhere and mourning songs announce the death of Israel and professional mourners shall be called (p1223); in 6:7, the leaders will lead the way into exile and in 6:8, The Lord solemnly swears to hand over (deliver up) the city and its inhabitants to its enemies (p1224); in 8:7-8, the Lord will intervene against the land, the earth (p1226); in 8:9-14, the coming day of the Lord (5:18-20) will be a time of darkness, mourning, famine, and thirst (p1226-1227); in 9:1-4, Amos’s fifth vision is reported as the most severe judgment, that is, God’s order for the total destruction of the people and no escape for the Lord is possible, even in death or captivity (p1227). In this fifth vision, as mentioned before, we can see an element of apocalyptic literature using an imaginary in which Amos sees Yahweh standing by the altar instead of showing an object, constructing a lesson around it and issuing an order to “smash the pillar capitals”(Bandstra, p293).

These are Amos’s prophecy which is warning the people of Israel, specifically the privileged class, to repent and change their ways of living following God’s way in their morality and faith.

Is there anything that they can do to avoid this fate?

As Stanley suggests, Amos calls on the wealthy elites of Israel “seek good and not evil, that you may live” and provides the possibility that “the Lord, the God of host, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph “(5:14-15), which implies that there is still hope.  However,  Amos’s fifth vision described in 9:1-4 appears to show his expectation of little real hope for the people of Israel, the king and the wealthy elites. (p430) According to Stanley, the message of hope at the end of the book (9:9-15) seems to be added later, which reflects “the circumstances and hopes of the Exile, but it should not be credited to Amos” (p 430).

The Elements of Apocalyptic literature in Daniel 7-12

“Apocalyptic” is derived from the Greek verb apokaluptein , that is, “to reveal, disclose, uncover” and Bandstra defines “apocalypse”, a literary genre found in apocalyptic literature,  as a ”revelation of future events initiated by God and delivered through a mediator (typically an angel) to a holy person.” This definition of ‘apocalypse’, Bandstra asserts, is strictly fits Daniel 7-12, even with other books in the Hebrew Bible, such as Isaiah 24-27, and the book of Revelation in the New Testament. (P442)

According to Dr. Lester’s lecture, the historical settings of apocalyptic literature is communities in crisis and its function is to provide comfort for the members of the communities and tell them how to respond to the crisis. Bandstra also suggest that “most apocalypses were written during times of political persecution and they were intended to encourage perseverance by revealing the destruction of the wicked and the glorious future that awaited the faithful.” Bandstra affirms that one of the main features of an apocalyptic community is its social political, or economic alienation within the larger society and that apocalyptic literature expresses an alternate universe where the alienated community and its deity will defeat the larger one. In addition to these socio-historical situation of apocalyptic literature, Bandstra presents the term ‘eschatology’ that refers to “the complex of religious belief regarding the end-time.  In the eschatological perspective of apocalyptic literature, God is intervening history in cataclysmic ways to achieve his goal and the role of God’s people is to acknowledge God’s plan and to be prepared to support it. (p442-443)

Bandstra presents some common features of apocalyptic literature in the Bible as follows,

It is in the form of dreams or visions that was witnessed by an individual describing it using the pronoun, “I”;  the authorship is pseudonymous legendary figures;  highly imaginative symbolic imagery is used, such as strange hybrid animals, numbers; secret code words are also found; many apocalypse contain vaticinia ex eventu, that is, predictive prophecies after the event;  the authors of apocalyptic literature describe God as the sovereign power of the universe and other nations under the control of Israel’s God; apocalyptic literature is filled with dualisms: cosmic dualism (the universe as heaven and earth), temporal or chronological dualism (the course of history as “this age” and “the age to come”), ethical dualism (humanity as the large evil-motivated group and the smaller righteous group)

Stanley (p 482-484) also presents common features of apocalyptic literature as follows;

1. various visionary experiences of an individual to whom  Yahweh or an angel disclosed his plans for the future of humanity, sometimes identified as dreams and accompanied by interpretations explaining their significance for the audience

2. a loose narrative fictitious framework to allow the vision of retroactively predicted events by the time of the writing, which brings credibility to the author’s prediction about the events in the future.

3. cosmic dualism to view the universe as the battleground between two opposing armies ; Yahweh and his angels on one side and the personified supernatural forces of evil against Yahweh’s goal on the other side; all humans are considered allies of one army or the other; the evil forces dominate the present world system, Yahweh will conquer and overthrow them in the future.

4. eschatological orientation to anticipate Yahweh’s cataclysmic intervention the result of which is a abrupt change of the present world order, creating a new heaven and earth, a new era of human history; all insists the time of Yahweh’s intervention is near and Yahweh will defeat the evil and rescue his faithful followers at the time of salvation that only Yahweh knows.

5. moral strictness to avoid the temptation of Yahweh’s enemies to urn away from the path of righteousness and join their side and live strictly by the law; the suffering and death from the radical devotion to Yahweh will be rewarded by Yahweh after death, which is useful for motivation people to keep their faith in the face of temptation and persecution.

6. symbolic language of vivid imagery and symbols to appeal to the readers’ imagination rather than their rational faculties; the texts overflow with images of beasts with many heads and horns, vines and trees growing as high as heavens, stars falling from the sky, and battles that pit the armies of evil against the forces of good; but, the meaning behind these symbols apparent to the people familiar with the world of apocalyptic thought, and the message serious.

All these elements of apocalyptic literature commonly mentioned by both Bandstra and Stanley are found in the following verses of Daniel 7-12.

As indicated by Bandstra and Stanley, the apocalypses of Daniel consist of Daniel’s visions in his dream followed by angels’ interpretations. The first apocalypse is Daniel 7 :1-14 and its interpretation is given by an angel in 15-27.  In Daniel 7:1-14, we can find most elements of apocalyptic literature that Bandstra and Stanley suggests above; the apocalypse is in the form of dream witnessed and described by an individual ‘I’ , whose name is ‘Daniel’, a legendary figure of Israel; in the dream,highly imaginative symbolic imagery, such as ‘four winds, the great sea, four great beasts out of the sea,  the first beast… like a lion…had eagle’s wings…made to stand on two feet like a human…was given a human mind…another beast…like a bear…had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth…another…like a leopard…had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads…fourth beast…had great iron teeth…had ten horns…there were eyes like human eyes in this horn…, according to the Harper Collins Study Bible (p1182-1184),  these symbolic animals and their shapes symbolize the historical figures and nations in the history of Israel ; in 7:9-14, God in the heaven witnessed by Daniel in his dream is described as the sovereign power of the universe and other nations symbolized into the beast with the horn and the rest of the beasts described as under the control of God in the heaven, which exemplifies a cosmic dualism between God and the beasts against God; the beasts out of the sea and the heavenly scene exemplifies chronological dualism, the current Israel under the persecution and the future; the interpretation given by the angel in 7:15-27 provides the eschatological perspective (orientation) of the apocalyptic literature; the “holy ones” will be given the kingdom of God forever.(Bandstra, p452)

In Daniel 10:1-14, Daniel’s visionary experience of an angel in human form (the Harper Collins Study Bible, p1188) is described by his narrative and the angel’s speech to Daniel about “the end of days,” which also reflects eschatological orientation of apocalyptic literature. In addition, we can also find a reflection of the socio-historical situation of apocalyptic literature that was mentioned by Bandstra, that is, the marginal status of Israel  within the larger society, here in Daniel 10-12, in the conflict between the Ptolemies and Seleucids for control of Palestine and it also includes the great tribulation introduced by the military campaign of Antiochus IV (p452).

In Daniel 11:1-12:13, Stanley suggests that the vision described in Daniel 11-12 is compatible with the history of the period that most scholars believe that it was created after the events took place,  which is an example of ‘retroactively predicted events’ or vaticinia ex eventu as Bandstra mentions, that is, “making predictions a subtle form of literary fiction.”(Stanley, p490) In reality, the events “predicted” in these visions had already happened by the time of writing and the writer assured that Daniel’s predictions were historically accurate. The readers who knew the accuracy of the visions would accept the message of the visions, that is, Yahweh’s victory over Antiochus IV, which would encourage them to keep their faith and not to turn away in the face of persecution. (p490-491)

As for the latter part of Daniel 11 (11:20-45), Stanley suggests it describes the rise and fall of Antiochus IV persecuting the Jews from 167-164 BCE. and that none of the events described here never took place. The reason for this loss of accuracy of the prediction, Stanley assures, is that the person who created the visions was writing it during the time of Antiochus IV whom the writer viewed an evil threat to be stopped only by divine intervention; the author intended to encourage his fellow Jews to keep their faith in the midst of a painful and seemingly hopeless persecution of Antiochus IV through the vivid description of the ultimate victory of Yahweh. This is compatible with the function of apocalyptic literature that Dr. Lester mentions in the lecture, that is, to provide comfort for the members of the communities in crisis and tell them how to respond to the crisis; to keep their faith and not to turn away in the face of persecution.

Stanley explains in detail that in 11:40, the vision speaks of a final series of battles that will end with the death of “the king of the north” , that is,  Antiochus IV; in 12:1-2, 13, the vision of the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment follows. (P490)  In other words,  “even if they should be forced to die for their faith, Daniel’s vision assured them that they would soon be restored to life and rewarded by Yahweh.” (Stanley p491) This would be what the author of Daniel intended to speak out with the elements of apocalyptic literature in it.

The Ancient Near Eastern Literature and the Biblical Wisdom

Among the Ancient Near Eastern Literature that helps us better understand biblical Wisdom, there are some Egyptian and Mesopotamian literature of wisdom, which show close connection to relevant biblical texts in the Old Testament.

One of them is The Instruction (Teaching) of Amenemope, which Bruce k. Waltke (“The Book of Proverbs and Ancient Wisdom Literature,” Bibliotheca Sacra 136 (July-Sept. 1979): 211-38) asserts belongs to the Egyptian instruction literature and most closely resembles the Book of Proverbs. Bandstra (p 407) also suggests that the book of Proverbs looks similar with the ancient Egyptian instruction literature in that both may have been the court wisdom to train the next generation of their leaders for effective public service. The date of this text is disputed a lot and the recent discovery in the Cairo Museum supports the date before the time of Solomon (Waltke, p 223, note 9), which Bandstra suggests around 1200 BCE (p 407). According to Waltke, The Instruction (Teaching) of Amenemope, is Amenemope’s expressive writing, who is an Egyptian high official in the administration of royal estates (‘a tax official’ according to Walter Byerlin, Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 1978: 49), to his son who is a young priestly scribe. The literary structure of the Egyptian instruction literature, which includes a) a title, b) a prose or poetic introduction of the motive of the instruction, c) the contents of admonitions and sayings, is also found, with the omission of the first section (a title), in Proverbs 22:17-24:22 which is known as “Thirty Sayings of the Wise”; that is, the motive of the admonitions is given in 22:17-21 followed by the diverse contents of admonitions in 22:22-24:22 (Waltke, p225). Bandstra also presents the close proverbial parallels between The Instruction (Teaching) of Amenemope and Proverbs 22:17-24:22, which was suggested by Simpson (“The Hebrew Book of Proverbs and the Teaching of Amenophis,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 12 (1926):232-39.), as an example of direct literary borrowing even with their differences in wording. This close proverbial parallels as well as the similar literary structure between the Egyptian instruction literature and the Book of Proverbs helps to understand the biblical literature of Wisdom better by providing a basis of the form and content, and setting and function of Wisdom literature in the Bible.

One of the characteristics of the Ancient Near Eastern Literature, Claude Mariottini suggests (“the Pessimistic Literature of the Ancient Near East,” posted on the blog, a Christian perspective on the Old Testament and Current Events, on March 5, 2012), is a “pessimism about life,” which focuses on two major themes of life:1) theme of innocent suffering, that is, the question of “Why does a righteous person suffer?” and 2) the search for the meaning of life. Mariottini defines “pessimism” as “the inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities.” With this definition of “pessimism”, Mariottini suggests that pessimistic literature emphasizes what is ‘unjust, paradoxical, or just plain confusing.’ The issue of the question of the suffering of the righteous person is articulated in the book of Job in the Bible. Bandstra asserts that wisdom literature relies on a “basic belief in the goodness of God’s created order” and the issue of ‘theodicy’, that is, “the justice of God.” According to Bandstra, the issue of theodicy concerns the problem of reconciling the belief of God’s goodness with the facts of the suffering and injustice in the world and it is also behind the theological debate going on in the book of Job (p 401).

Among the pessimistic literature of the Ancient Near East,  Man and His God: A Sumerian Variation of the “Job” Motif (James B. Pritchard, ed., the Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd. ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978: 589-591); Walter Byerlin, Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating to the Old Testament, (Philadelphia:Westminster Press,1978: 140-142)), is called “the Sumerian Job.”  According to Byerlin, Man and His God is Sumerian Wisdom text and the date of being copied is 1800 BC. The content of the text is also predicted from the title; like the book of Job, it is about an anonymous man involved in suffering without any reason, but, unlike Job, he only asks for deliverance in humble lament and petition; for he says no one is free from sins. As a result, his god saved him from the misfortune and he finally praises the god (Byerlin, p140; Pritchard, p589). Byerlin suggests that the core of this piece of teaching recalls the prose framework to the biblical book of Job (1:1-2:10; 42:7-9) though it is about 1500 years later (p140).  Bandstra also suggests that this Mesopotamian literature of wisdom, A Man and His God, has a common view with the book of Job that the conventional wisdom, that is, ‘if one does the righteous, then one has blessings; if one does the wicked, then one will has curse’(Dr. Lester’s lecture of “Wisdom A”), does not work out in every situation (p 409). Even with its side title “the Sumerian Job” and the similar contents, this Sumerian Job appears to be different from the book of Job, in that it is not from theological speculation that Job ponders in his experience of ‘an obvious misfit between the world of doctrine and the world of experience’ (Bandstra, p 409), but from Sumerian pragmatism (Byerlin, p 140). However, it still helps to understand the motive of dissenting wisdom , which Dr. Lester explains as “”setting the bait” of conventional wisdom, before “springing the trap” of the dissenting ideology”(Dr. Lester’s lecture of Wisdom B).

I would like to add one interesting thing that Bandstra presents about the similarities of the Egyptian wisdom and the Proverbs; the Egyptian wisdom personifies ‘wisdom’ as a goddess (the Goddess Maat, the personification of truth, morality, and justice in Mariottini’s post) as it is portrayed as a respectable and proper woman (1:20-33; 8:1-36; 9:1-6) contrasted with ‘folly’ pictured as a loose woman who deceives a young man with sensuous pleasures and led him to his death (7:6-27; 9:13-18) in the Proverbs. Bandstra suggests that this personification of wisdom might reflect the gender of the Hebrew word for wisdom and also the virtuous wife as the model for Ideal Wisdom as described in Proverbs 31:10-31 (p 404-405). As Bandstra indicates by citing Newman (1989), this is a remarkable concession for a patriarchal society like Egypt and Israel or Judah (p 405).

Lament Psalm for my weakness

My Lord, my Father!

Why do you let me be still weak like this

after such a long and hard spiritual journey for You?

You are the only Savior, my Father, and Redeemer

that will deliver me from this frailty and evilness of myself!

 

Gracious God, my Father!

I have been crying and praying for Your Grace

to make strong my physical and spiritual weaknesses that I face in my daily living!

Everyday, however, I find myself still so weak and not changed much

in my loveless, ungenerous and criticizing mind to my close friends

who have never doubted my friendship, generosity, and understanding love for them!

I am listening to them with pretending love,

but criticizing them in mind with ungenerous censure on my own judgment,

not on Yours!

What an evil hypocrite I am against Your Grace and Mercy for me, an ungrateful sinner!

The confession of love and discipleship for You, my Lord, Father, and Jesus Christ,

that I made with my lips, cannot keep me strong and changed

in a way You asked me to do!

 

My Lord, my Father!

Please come and save me from this heartbreaking disappointment for myself,

recreate me into Your loving child, and allow me to be joyful

in my spiritual transformation by Your Grace!

I will witness and proclaim Your Love and Grace

through the spiritual changes that you will make for me

to the people that do not know of You!

I will praise You, my Lord, Father, forever in my life!

All who know You will praise Your Grace and Mercy that we all do imitate in Your image!

Before I started to write this lament psalm for my weakness, I was thinking about a complaint that I have for God as the psalmists expressed in individual and communal psalms of lament about the troubles they were in. But, I couldn’t find any complaint about other exterior troubles at that time except one that I have had about my spiritual weakness that I realize cannot be overcome by myself. Thus, I chose to write a lament psalm about the suffering that I have from inside myself, not from outside, hopefully which could be fit in the form of individual lament psalms.

While I was writing the psalm, I have learned how the form (genre) of lament psalm helps to express effectively my complaint and need of God’s help for my spiritual transformation and salvation from the sin as it did for the ancient psalmists of Israel. I start my complaint by addressing to God as I call Him in my prayer, introduce my complaint and statement of my trust in Him followed by petition for His help to make me spiritually transformed in His will, and then add vow of praise to show my faith in Him, as I have learned in my reading and the lecture. Even though my lament psalm is about a trouble that I found from inside myself, I could share the psalmists’ experience of praising God by expressing their complaints for God about His indifference of their troubles from outside and petition for their need of God’s help anticipating His salvation with vow of praise and thanksgiving in the form of a lament psalm. With this experience of writing a lament psalm, as Dr. Lester mentioned in the lecture with Brueggemann’s concept of “The Costly Loss of Lament”, I understand that this lament psalm validates our experience of lament as a way of our prayer to God in a communal worship; lament psalms could provide us with a better chance to express our confidence in God’s help and salvation for us and praise him with vow of thanksgiving, as the ancient psalmists did in their individual and communal lament psalms.

 

I felt like being overwhelmed by the newness of the Old Testament!

While I was listening to the lecture and reading the chapter of the introduction to the Hebrew Bible given for the first week of oothle17, I felt like being overwhelmed by the newness of the Old Testament.

When I was reading the Old Testament in a Bible study or by myself, I was reading it without considering the questions such as “what is the genre of each book?”, “who wrote the book?”, “what is the socio-historical context that the book was written?”, etc., which Dr. Lester mentions in the lecture. So, most information that I heard and read from the lecture and the reading is very new to me, more than I expected.

So, I am a little bit concerned about my working time to spend reading and listening to the resources, which should be longer than other classmates because I am using English as a second language.  But, I will do my best to figure out what I read and understand to join the classwork and activity well.

I hope that I will get improved in my understanding the Hebrew Bible, as I express in my name “Finding a way to go in the Hebrew Bible”, by enjoying the twittering,  blogging and other activities in ootle17.