Archive for the ‘textures’ Category

Biblical wisdom probes inconveniently into our multi-tiered strategies for bailing out.

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength being small; if you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death, those who go staggering to the slaughter; if you say, “Look, we did not know this”— does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it? And will he not repay all according to their deeds? (Proverbs 24:10–12 NRSV)

Awash in a sea of refugees, newly awake to working-class seething of long standing beyond our earshot, bombarded by raw evidence that racial peace is not the settled shalom we had imagined, it is nice from time to time simply to look away.

The biblical witness follows us to our corners, asking nagging questions.

The wise are toned for the day of adversity, it insists. It is when their memorable work gets done.

Neither does a probing Watcher does accept our pleas of ignorance. He discards the defense that we were busy elsewhere.

Where were you when … ? What did you do in that hour … ?

We might have saved some who were staggering to the slaughter.

Oh, here they are again. Through my window, just across the way.



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If there is a passage in the entirety of Isaiah’s massive volume that more precisely captures the book’s trajectory than does its fourth chapter, it is hard to imagine what that passage would be.

In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain. (Isaiah 4:2–6 ESV)

The brief oracle reckons with Zion’s filth and Jerusalem’s bloodstains without allowing this scrutiny to eclipse the beauty and glory that shall be hers.

The key to understanding how this paradox can stand occurs at the core of this brief prophetic declaration. Rarely does a future perfect deliver itself of more consequence:

… when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.

This is where the drama of collapse and rebirth becomes white hot. YHWH’s great expectations for his people are a future upon which he will insist with the most redemptive zeal. Yet Zion will not achieve her final destiny without the burning cleansing that is YHWH’s judgement. There’s no other way to get there from here.

The Hebrew משפט requires in each instance that the English translator choose ‘justice’ or ‘judgement’. The nuance is important each time the decision has to be made, and to some extend this linguistic necessity veils a most crucial fact: Zion will become full of justice only when she has survived the fulness of judgement.

For the student of this massive scroll, it can almost be said that chapter four says everything that must be said. The rest is commentary.


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The early verses of Isaiah’s fiftieth chapter are pregnant with enigma and resistant to simple theodicy.

Thus says the Lord: ‘Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce, with which I sent her away? Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities you were sold, and for your transgressions your mother was sent away. Why, when I came, was there no man; why, when I called, was there no one to answer? Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a desert; their fish stink for lack of water and die of thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering.’ (Isaiah 50:1–3 ESV)

On the one hand, the passage contains elements of that familiar prophetic explanation of national calamity. ‘It was for your iniquities that you were sold, and for your transgressions that your mother was sent away.’ (more…)

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Isaías el profeta describe la conducta anticipada de YHWH de llevar a sus hijos exiliados a su hogar, de una manera que logra combinar ternura y lo  eterno.

Como un pastor que cuida su rebaño, recoge los corderos en sus brazos; los lleva junto a su pecho, y guía con cuidado a las recién paridas. ¿Quién ha medido las aguas con la palma de su mano, y abarcado entre sus dedos la extensión de los cielos? ¿Quién metió en una medida el polvo de la tierra?  ¿Quién pesó en una balanza las montañas y los cerros?  ¿Quién puede medir el alcance del espíritu del Señor,  o quién puede servirle de consejero?  ¿A quién consultó el Señor para ilustrarse, y quién le enseñó el camino de la justicia? ¿Quién le impartió conocimiento  o le hizo conocer la senda de la inteligencia? (Isaías 40:11-14 NVI).

La poesía de Isaías adorna la convicción bíblica profundamente arraigada de que YHWH es incontenible. No responde a nadie, su brazo no es demasiado corto para cualquier propósito que corresponde a su carácter y naturaleza de su reinado. (more…)

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Los días oscuros antes de la destrucción de Israel por el poder de Asiria, dejaron a pocos intactos. Incluso los niños.

Luego el Señor me dijo: «Haz un letrero grande y escribe con claridad el siguiente nombre: Maher-salal-has-baz[a]». Les pedí al sacerdote Urías y a Zacarías, hijo de Jeberequías, ambos conocidos como hombres honrados, que fueran testigos de lo que yo hacía.

Después me acosté con mi esposa y ella quedó embarazada, y dio a luz un hijo. Y el Señor me dijo: «Ponle por nombre Maher-salal-has-baz. Pues antes de que este hijo tenga edad suficiente para decir “papá” o “mamá”, el rey de Asiria se llevará la abundancia de Damasco y las riquezas de Samaria». (Isaías 8:1-4).

Cuando el profeta fija este sobrenombre sombrío a su bebé, él señala la inminente destrucción de los vecinos amenazantes de Israel. El nombre significa  ‘Pronto al saquéo, rápido al botín ’. (more…)

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We often think of religious leaders as unable to change. We think they believe they know it all, have the answers already, cannot alter their presumably doctrinaire convictions.

So refreshing, then, this priestly cameo in one of Luke’s summary reports of growth in the early, Jerusalem-based Jesus Movement.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7 ESV)

Luke seems not to be going anywhere with this observation. He has no agenda on this front. There is no subsequent re-take on priestly influence at the core. After this, Jerusalem’s priests are largely left alone to live their lives unobserved. (more…)

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Even if one did not know that the discourse of Isaiah will pivot repeatedly on the Hebrew word אמן—used of faithfulness, reliability, truthful sturdiness, and belief—the italicized exclamation that follows might hint at the direction to come.

How the faithful (נאמן) city has become a whore, she who was full of justice!

Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them. (Isaiah 1:21–23 ESV)

The book’s prefatory first chapter, after all, serves like a thematically dense prelude to a theatrical work, much as a pit orchestra might touch on all the themes soon to be broached by the actors on the stage. It soberly teases the reader with topics that will shape the core of the book’s sustained argument. Nothing lies nearer to that core’s core than justice. (more…)

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