Week 7 Make

Make Option 02: In the lecture, in the Bandstra reading linked above (or your textbook of choice), and in the recommended reading, find what is available on “Isaiah’s Servant” (or the Servant of YHWH, or the Suffering Servant) with regard to the book of Isaiah.

Pick someone whom you would like to teach about “Isaiah’s Servant.” (A colleague, a prospective MDiv student, a curious family member, or anyone else.) In about 1000 words, and using these course materials as a resource, write them a letter about what this “servant” is for the book of Isaiah. Be sure to cite appropriately, so that they can engage these materials themselves also. Don’t “lecture” (we all know how off-putting that is!), but do find compelling ways to include the relevant information. Anticipate their questions and concerns, and address them overtly.

Dear Children of [insert church name],

 

Today, I would like to talk to you about something we see in the Bible. By the way, learning about this today will probably make you smarter than your parents, but you probably already are. If you have ever looked at the books of the Bible that start at the beginning, before we get to the part that talks about what Jesus did and said, you have probably seen that there are a lot of pages! This section of the Bible is called the Hebrew Bible, because we get these books of the Bible from the Torah, which is kind of like a Bible for Jewish people. When we look at the book called Isaiah, there is something that is mentioned over and over again, it is the phrase “Isaiah’s Servant” or “The Suffering Servant.” Before we talk about who the servant is, we need to understand who Isaiah is, what suffering means, and what a servant is. Let’s start with Isaiah. Isaiah was a man who lived before Jesus was born (he lived about 780-651 B.C.E. which was a REALLY long time ago!). Isaiah was called a prophet, a prophet is someone who God tells things to and asks them to tell the people. Now let’s talk about suffering. Some of you probably know what suffering is, but I am going to explain it so we are all on the same page. Suffering is when you are hurting, having a hard time, or worried about something really important. Servants are people who do things for others. Now I know some of you are thinking that your parents are servants for you (and they probably are!), but this kind of servant is typically someone who is not related to you.

Back to that Isaiah book. Now that we know who Isaiah is, what suffering means, and what a servant is, we can dive into the idea of “Isaiah’s Servant” or “The Suffering Servant.” One of the people who lived during the days of the early church (about 184-254) was named Origen. He came up with the idea that these phrases that we see over and over again in the Hebrew Bible mean that the servant is Israel.

Some other people think that the suffering servant is a person that we hear about in the Bible. Still, others think that the suffering servant might be a sign of Jesus. There are many different ideas about what this suffering servant could be, but whoever the servant is, we know that God loved it and cared about it.

The Suffering Servant in the Hebrew Bible could be talking about a lot of different people or even be talking about the nation of Israel. However, what is important in this story is that God loved the servant and the servant found that God loved and cared for the servant even when the servant had to go through some tough stuff. The servant did not make God happy by taking over other nations or hurting people, the servant found favor with God by working and being obedient, even when the servant did not want to. Obedient is when you do something someone else asks or tells you to do (and you typically don’t complain about it!). So when God saw the servant (whoever the servant is supposed to represent) being obedient even when the servant was tired or didn’t want to do what the person over the servant told the servant to do, the servant was still obedient. It’s kind of like when the people who take care of you ask you to clean your room, or make your bed, or set the table for dinner, etc. and you might be too tired or playing a cool new video game, or whatever you are currently doing, we are called to be obedient and do what we are asked by the people who take care of us. God is one of the people who cares for us and we are called to do what God asks of us, even if we are tired, or don’t think it would make us look cool, or even if we simply do not want to do whatever it is God is asking of us. Sometimes being obedient does not get us exactly what we want. The Suffering Servant had a lot of problems; it had to accept the punishment for the sins of other people at times. Think of when you argued with a brother or sister, or even a friend and you didn’t want them to get in trouble so you took the blame for what was going on and got in trouble, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. That is kind of what is going on here. Even if we don’t like what is happening or we have to take the blame for something we didn’t do to protect someone else, God still sees that we are being obedient by doing what God asks us to do.

It’s really interesting to think about who the Suffering Servant could be in the Book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible, because that gives us a better understanding of who the person or nation was so that we can better understand what the Book of Isaiah is trying to tell us. When we try to learn and better understand the Bible, sometimes we are able to better understand what the message is and what the author is trying to tell us, so we can be better people and better Christians.

Sincerely,

Jonathan

Throughout this letter I have hyperlinks to various resources supporting the statements. In the second paragraph of the letter there is a hyperlink on who Origen is, and according to our readings for the week Origen was one of the first theologians. He is credited with coming up with the idea that the Suffering Servant used in this passage is a reference to the nation of Israel. A hyperlink is also contained in the third paragraph of the text linking to the reading from Barry Bandstra. Bandstra suggests that in Christian interpretation, the Suffering Servant is a reference to Christ; he uses Handel’s The Messiah to support his point. Bandstra also suggests that the servant could have been Judah, Jeremiah, etc. citing that Moses is called this in Deuteronomy, so the suffering servant could have been a real prophetic figure. Regardless of who the servant is, Bandstra also points out that this is a shift from animal sacrifice that the Israelites were used to participating in to atone for sins to the suffering of a human to atone for the sins of the people.

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Week 6

Read Jeremiah 20:7-13, the last of the “laments” of Jer 11-20. There, Jeremiah complains that God has “deceived” or “enticed” him: the word has elsewhere connotations of sexual entrapment, perhaps even rape (cf. Exod 22:16 [English verse numbers]; Judges 14:15; 16:5). Ezekiel says that God will “deceive” prophets in order to destroy them (Ezek 14:9), and Micaiah has a vision of God sending a “lying spirit” to “deceive” prophets and make them unwittingly prophesy falsehoods (1 Kgs 22:20-22). Other ancient Near Eastern religious texts also accept that the gods may deliver lying oracles.

Read Jer 20:7-13 again, holding in view his concerns about a God who lies. What do you think of Jeremiah’s “deceiving God”? What is his complaint? What is his petition? Can you think of modern examples of ways people contend with the possibility of God lying? How about withholding truth? Does Jeremiah have anything to offer someone who feels betrayed by a lying God?

When I first read this “make” I was interested in the idea of a lying God. Throughout the passage I kept hearing clichés like “God will take care of you;” “God NEVER gives you more than you can handle;” etc. Why was I thinking these thoughts, you might ask? Because I have experienced these ideas from people throughout my years in ministry. These ideas bring people to the understanding that God has somehow caused the bad situation they are in, or God has somehow made their spouse have cancer when they have an autistic 4-year-old and a mother-in-law with dementia that has to live with them.

 

In Jeremiah 20:8, Jeremiah complains that God (YHWH) has placed it upon his heart to prophesy that “violence and destruction” are coming and will rain down upon the people. This has caused him to become unpopular and a “laughingstock” amongst the people (Jeremiah 20:7). Then he goes on to say that if he tries not to speak of God and prophesy “then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9). Jeremiah feels pain (it is implied that it is literal pain, however it very well could be figurative pain) when he does not prophesy and tries to hold in the word of God (YHWH). In verses 11 and 12, Jeremiah asks God for retribution to be done to those who are persecuting him because he has obeyed and followed God. According to Bandstra, Jeremiah suffered greatly at the hands of the people. Bandstra outlines different situations Jeremiah was put into throughout his time prophesying. Due to the persecution he faced from prophesying, something that caused him pain if he did not do it, it is easy to see where Jeremiah would feel like he was in between a rock and a hard place. YHWH put these messages on his heart to prophesy the the people and it caused Jeremiah pain to not prophesy; however when Jeremiah prophesyed, the people persecuted him. Bandstra also discusses the language Jeremiah uses when he “complains” to YHWH. In Jeremiah 20:7-8, Bandstra notes that the word Jeremiah uses for “Seduce” is actually a stronger word that has the meaning of “rape.” In essence, Jeremiah is saying that God raped him or forced him to do this against his will.

 

Jeremiah’s complaint seems to be that he is frustrated with God, because God has put prophesy on his heart that only speaks of violence and destruction, which causes the people around him, including friends, to mock him and has made him a laughingstock. The petition he has for God is for God to, in essence, punish the people who are mocking him. Jeremiah appears to feel that he has been deceived by God in that he did not anticipate that the prophesy he would receive would only breed mocking, anger, and shame upon him. Jeremiah’s story right here reminds me of a church I once served, however this story happened before my time at the church. A few of the members felt called to bring a Wednesday night children’s ministry to the church, so they all agreed that it would be a good thing and began the ministry. Within months the ministry was shut down, because they did not realize (for whatever reason) that the children would play rough and the floors would get scuffed and the walls might get marked up and the children might spill juice on the carpet and drop crumbs on the floor. They did not anticipate that following something they felt called to do by God, would not go exactly the way they wanted it to go. Jeremiah appears to feel deceived by God, because he might have expected something great or some great status because of his prophesying, instead he was mocked and reacted out of anger by asking God to invoke retribution upon the people who were mocking him.

 

Going back to my original rant, I have come across many people who have “lost their faith” in God, because they fell prey to those kinds of clichés. When things get hard, they feel that God is picking on them and they are 1. Not worthy of anything good and must have done something wrong to have the things happen to them or 2. God is a jerk and they don’t need that in their lives. I have heard people say “Well God lied, because I am only supposed to have what I can handle and I cannot handle this!” Somehow these clichés have bred a thought process that life is supposed to be easy and following Jesus is supposed to be a walk in the park (have you ever heard of martyrdom?!), so when the going gets tough, they drop out and renounce their faith. But, alas, there is hope. Jeremiah 20:13 states “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.” Even in the midst of struggles (after he has just asked God to punish people who are mocking him), Jeremiah gives praise to God. That is the message I would give someone from this passage, even when things aren’t going your way and you feel deceived by God, still give praise to God.

 

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Week 5

Make Option 01: (Exercise 87 in Stanley.) Read Amos 2:6-16; 5:10-17; 6:1-8; 8:4-9:4. In about 750-1000 words, what does Amos say is wrong with Israelite society? What will happen to the people of Israel if they don’t change their ways? Is there anything that they can do to avoid this fate?

The Book of Amos is a piece of prophetic literature found in the Bible. Amos is the earliest of the prophetic books and we see trends, started in Amos that continue throughout the other prophetical books in the Hebrew Bible (New Interpreter’s Bible, 339). Amos makes a lot of predictions about the end of time and the fate of Israel if she does not change her ways. Amos discusses the problems with Israelite society and specifically cites that the people do not care for the poor or the afflicted and abuse and oppress them; the elite fine the poor to death and then use the money from the fines for immoral acts, the people commit sexual immorality, etc. (Amos 2:6-8).

Amos prophesies in chapter eight that Israel will rise, like the waters of the Nile, be tossed around, and then sink back to its normal height, like the waters of the Nile (Amos 8:7-9). Amos also prophesies that YHWH will not forget the deeds done in Israel (Amos 8:7). Based on this statement from YHWH, I understand it to mean that YHWH will not forget the heinous acts done in the city and the city will always suffer because of it. However, in previous chapters YHWH seems to be wanting them to change their ways and repent (“Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.” Amos 5:14). YHWH might intend to do harm to the entire nation of Israel at this point, but might realize that taking out the entire city would be punishing the righteous, the poor, the afflicted, etc. that have not committed the crimes YHWH is angry about. The crimes YHWH seems to be angry about are the crimes of the elite, not the poor. Many of the crimes YHWH is citing as injustices are crimes selling the needy, fining the poor and using the money for lavish expenditures, etc. These are crimes the poor simply could not participate in, white collar crimes, if you will. This makes the entire passage more confusing, because if there are some committing the crimes, but not all, how can YHWH righteously punish all the people of Israel. However, on the flip side, Amos makes the statement for YHWH that YHWH will not forget the deeds that have been done in Israel, which leads into the prophesy about Israel being risen, tossed aside, and sunk back down.

One idea is that the prophesy about what will happen to Israel is a metaphor. YHWH specifically uses the Nile as an example of what will happen to Israel. Every year the Nile floods its banks, then goes back to its normal water table after a few months. The Nile could have been chosen to be used as a metaphor for the constant rise and fall of Israel (like the constant rising and falling of the Nile). What YHWH, through Amos, could be trying to say is that the suffering Israel will incur is suffering of the rise and fall of it as a prominent nation. For example, when we have white collar crimes occur today (think the whole Bernie Madoff fiasco), how does the government punish them? They take away their money and put them in a high security prison (granted it is for white collar crimes, but they still can’t eat gold leaf, look it up, the governor of California had it sprinkled on all of the food for his recent Oscar’s party). YHWH might be trying to do this with the nation of Israel. Allowing it to rise and fall keeps the people from becoming overly rich and greedy and allows for the nation to “restart” itself every time it falls. Regardless of how Israel will be destroyed by YHWH, it seems from the text that it will occur in some shape, form, or fashion and the people need to be repentant, even though it does not seem YHWH will change its mind at this point. The people of Israel angered YHWH by their greedy ways and by taking advantage of the poor and marginalized (why can’t these people ever get it together?!) and it seems from the statement that YHWH will not forget the deeds done in Israel, that the nation is going to be destroyed because of their sinful ways.

The Book of Amos seems to have inspired other prophetic literature, all with a common theme: “The end is coming!” Even though the Book of Amos is one of the least popular prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible, it still served as the ground work for all of the other prophetic books (New Interpreter’s Bible, 339-340).

 

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Week 4: Apocalyptic Literature

One hot afternoon, I was sitting in my car waiting to go into the church for a meeting. I had my large sweet tea in one hand and was propped up against my other hand, resting. Suddenly, I heard a voice speaking to me.

“Come, follow me.”

“Is that you, God?”

“No, I have been sent from our Lord to tell you important information.”

By this point I was excited.

“Just one more question. Can the sweet tea come with me?”

“Yes, yes, alright! Can we go now?!”

“Of course.”

I stepped out of my vehicle and onto a field. The field was barren and no life had obviously lived there in quite some time.

“Why did you bring me here? Is this the Valley of Dry Bones?”

“You preach every Sunday in the Valley of Dry Bones. Why would God ask you here?”

“True.”

At this point several things happened all at once. I saw a dove, obviously dehydrated and starved, desperately searching for nourishment. I then saw a dog pounce on top of a dove, at the same moment a hunter in the background shot the dove. The bullet went through the dove and into the dog. Both were alive and suffered for quite some time until meeting their end. During this time, I had lost the ability to speak. Once the dove died, the dog soon followed and I regained my composure and the ability to speak coherently.

“Being, what have you just witnessed?”

“I’m not entirely sure. The dog was so focused on the dove, it did not notice the hunter when it pounced on the dove and thus met its end as well. Surely, though the hunter must have seen the dove AND the dog before pulling the trigger.”

“You are correct.”

“Which part?”

“All parts.”

We sat in silent reflection for a good while, before I had the courage to speak again.

“This is a metaphor, and I understand the dove is a representation of the church and the dog is a representation of the evils of the world, but who is the hunter?”

“Ah, now you are beginning to think for yourself. The hunter is every Christian that did not speak out against injustices. Did not speak out against the things of the world, which we are called not to engage in. Did not speak out against status quo. Did not speak out against the loss of religious freedoms. The hunter is the church, not the church Jesus established, but the church that is more concerned about status quo than reaching those in need.”

“So is the dove a representation of a church that does not exist?”

“No. The church is the people. The dove is a representation of all of those who spoke out against injustices. Spoke out against status quo. Spoke out against the evils of the world.”

We sat in silence for a few more minutes while I pondered my thoughts.

“So the hunter became afraid of the true church and killed it, which also killed the world?”

“Perhaps.”

We sat in silence some more.

“Is there any way to change the outcome?”

“There are always ways to change outcomes. Alas! Changing this outcome would be going back to the core of Christianity, not many are willing to do this, you see.”

“But surely the church will not perish?! Surely there will be no world without the church?!”

“Do not forget. The dog died at the hands of the hunter, as well.”

“So this is how it will all end?”

“Perhaps.”

“Can you say anything else on the matter, besides “perhaps?!?”

“Perhaps.”

…..

At this point I began to feel crunching under my feet. I looked down and the lifeless body of the dove was somehow under my own foot.

“Dear one, each individual action we make give one of the three beings [the dog, the dove, or the hunter] more power. We each face choices and challenges every day. Each moment could be just enough for the hunter or the dog or the dove. Do you understand?”

“I believe I do.”

“Good.”

“I do have another question though.”

“What is it?”

“What point in time does this scenario take place?”

“That has not been decided. Like I said, each action could be just enough for one of the three.”

We sat in silence some more.

“You haven’t touched your sweet tea you were so adamant on bringing. Why is that?”

“Oh. I forgot about it. I guess watching something I love die makes it a little hard to enjoy the sweet tea.”

“It has not happened as of yet, dear one.”

With those as our parting words, I was whisked back into my car in the same position I began in. When I went to take a sip of my sweet tea, I realized it was unsweet and had a note attached to the side of it, “get to work” it said. I smiled, stepped out of my vehicle, stretched, and went in to face the hunter itself.

 

Apocalyptic literature has its place in ancient and modern times. Ancient apocalyptic literature was not labeled “apocalyptic” during the time in which it would have been written (http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-21-ch16.html). The Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible most closely resembles what we think of when we hear the term “apocalyptic literature;” many people immediately think of the Left Behind series of books, movies, and now video games. However, true apocalyptic literature is a “revelation from God through a mediator about future events that may unfold” (http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-21-ch16.html).

 

I imagine that for some Christians the thought of the apocalypse is terrifying, while for others it is comforting. Some Christians are terrified by the images that seem to be ingrained in the post-Left Behind series world. While some take comfort in the idea of being reunited with God and Christ. I can see where both sides would have something to seemingly fear in their ideas and images associated with apocalyptic literature, because the world tells us that suffering is wrong and bad. Is there such a thing as good suffering? I’m not sure, but I think we need to analyze where some of our ideas about apocalyptic literature come from, and what it actually is.

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