Thursday, February 29, 2024

This is my name for ever (Isaiah 42)

Isaiah chapter 42 doesn't have a lot of notes in the SAB, and I don't think I have much to say about it. There's some odd imagery here, so let me see if I can sum it up. There is a lot more talk about God's servant here, and it's said he will judge the Gentiles, restore sight to the blind, and release captives from prison. It talks about God going to war and destroying...something? Perhaps the unrighteous? It talks about the shame of those that trust in idols, and seems to be calling them blind and deaf. It also however says the servant is blind and deaf, and that the people who receive his message will not see or hear it. It talks about how Israel has been plundered and has fallen in a hole, amd how this is because they were disobedient to God.

The SAB asks What is God's name? I'm going to give pretty much the same answer I gave in the case of Jesus: they all are! It just happens that all three persons of the Trinity are known by several names throughout scripture for whatever reason. Maybe it's a bit strange, but that's the way it is. In actuality, this list could be a heck of a lot longer, if you really seek the names out, although most of them are variations on "YHVH".

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood (Isaiah 41)

Isaiah chapter 41 is mostly nice stuff, but there are a few notes here. First of all, there are a couple verses marked as absurd, both having to do with "islands"; I think it's intended to be understood that these are referring to the inhabitants of said islands, which hopefully makes them less absurd. Whether or not there was ever a righteous person was addressed in Genesis chapter 15 where I explained that there are different types of righteousness. Verse four has God referring to himself as "the first and the last", which the SAB compares with Jesus calling himself that in Revelation; Jesus is God, so really, there's no problem with this.

In verse eight, God refers to Israel as his "servant", which the SAB notes as significant because there are prophecies about a servant in Isaiah that Christians view as being about Jesus. Now, I'll readily admit that the SAB is right about Israel being God's servant in Isaiah, however it's also true that there are passages in the Bible that have more than one layer of meaning to them. Probably the most well-known is Daniel 8:13, often referred to as "the abomination of desolation"; it was understood to have happened in the 2nd century BCE when King Antiochus Epiphanes profaned the second Temple by offering a sacrifice of a pig to Zeus during the time of the Maccabees. However, Jesus talked about "the abomination of desolation" as though it was yet to be fulfilled in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 (and possibly Luke 21:20), and Christians believe he was talking about the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE by the Romans. All that being said, Israel could still be the servant of God in Isaiah, and at the same time, one or more of those prophecies could be also referring to Jesus.

So God says that he will protect Israel, and that all who try to attack Israel will be destroyed. The SAB marks this as unjust, but I think there are a couple things to consider; this is about protection from attack, and I think it's clear from the larger context of the book (and history) that this is conditional based on Israel being good. God also promises to help the poor and needy, making streams and planting trees. I just wanted to take a side note here about the "shittah tree"; this word appears nowhere else in the Bible, although the plural "shittim" shows up several times. This is not a translation, but the KJV editors having no idea what this tree is and just transliterating the Hebrew word; modern translations have decided that this is the acacia. (See also "gopher wood" in Genesis six.) God challenges the gods of other nations to predict the future the way he does to prove they are gods, and scoffs at their lack of power. He talks about bringing someone powerful from the north, but I don't know what this prophecy is about; it may be Cyrus.

Friday, February 23, 2024

And he rested on the seventh day (Isaiah 40)

Isaiah chapter 40 is supposedly (as the SAB notes) the beginning of "Deutero-Isaiah", under the scholarly assumption that the book of Isaiah was written by three authors. It's interesting to me to hear about this, as I had heard the theory of two Isaiah authors, but not three. The links given in the note outline this theory, but don't really get into the nitty-gritty of the details, however it's clear that the latter chapters of Isaiah talk about the exile and post-exile periods in a way that people take to suggest they are not predictive prophecy, but contemporary writing. I don't really have much of an opinion on this subject, although certainly there are people who feel strongly about it. Some Christians have noted that Jesus quotes from both the early and latter part of this book, and attributes both parts to Isaiah, but I don't think that's conclusive, as it makes sense that Jesus would refer to it as it is known, otherwise people would be confused. Maybe I'll revisit this topic later.

The SAB takes issue with verse three for the reason that in various places in the New Testament, it's taken as a Messianic prophecy, yet there's no real indication that it was considered so before John the Baptist. This is actually an interesting thing about the way the New Testament deals with Messianic prophecy that I think Christians need to be aware of: there's a lot of claims of fulfillment of prophecy by Jesus, but many of these prophecies are passages from the Old Testament that nobody considered to be about the Messiah. A lot of prophecy in the New Testament is along the lines of, "Remember this verse from the Scriptures? Yeah, that was about Jesus." This doesn't necessarily mean it's not real fulfillment of prophecy, but there's not a lot in the New Testament that's particularly impressive to an educated Jew. There are a lot of prophecies that are clearly Messianic that Jesus did not fulfill, and while the standard explanation is that Jesus will fulfill those at his second coming, most Jews aren't going to believe it until they see it. I don't know why this didn't come up when I was covering the gospels, but maybe it did and I don't remember? Anyway, the Christian view of prophecy is quite different the Jewish view.

I answered the question of whether everyone will see the glory of God in Isaiah chapter 26 where I pointed out that there's technically a difference in the wording between these two chapters that I think is significant. I'm not really clear on why the SAB marks verse six and seven as good, other than the fact that they're truthful. The next several verses wax poetic about how amazing God is, with verse 16 shifting to talk about how foolish idols are in comparison. The SAB makes a joke about Christmas trees, but I feel like Jeremiah 10:3-4 is a better passage for this joke. Verse 22 has the semi-famous bit about how God "is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth" that people like to quote as proof that the Bible knows the earth is round. I don't think it's particularly convincing, although it's possible that this is the meaning (the same Hebrew word is used in Job to refer to the sky, which is more obviously spherical). I once again rely on the fact that the spherical nature of the earth is fairly obvious if you watch a ship disappear over the horizon or see the shadow of earth pass over the moon during an eclipse. Verse 26 talks about stars, and while the SAB is right that new stars are created and old stars die out all the time, nonetheless none of them fall, although really, given the nature of stars, it's not really that profound.

Does God ever get tired? I'm actually a little surprised I haven't covered this one. I'm going to say the answer is no, so I need to address the "yes" section, I guess. I think I can say that except for the Exodus verse, these aren't really about getting tired. Saying you're weary of something that someone does repeatedly is really a figure of speech; you're not literally tired, you're just done with it and wish it would stop. So what about Exodus 31? I think the SAB gets that it isn't about resting, or they would have included Genesis 2:2; it's that Exodus says he was "refreshed", which would seem to imply he needed refreshing. And there's nothing ambiguous in the Hebrew, I think, because not only does the KJV always translate this word as "refreshed", but most other translations do as well. Still the word has the connotation of having air blown upon someone, and one of the translation notes I read unrelated to this passage suggested it means to take a breath. I think, although I admit it's probably not going to be convincing to the SAB, that it's more of a figure of speech, still meaning in essence to take a break.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Even them the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon (Isaiah 39)

Isaiah chapter 39 is a short one, and the SAB just calls the whole thing boring. It's certainly not very exciting, but the implications of this story are important in the long term. The son of the king of Babylon comes to visit Hezekiah, he shows off all the treasures he has. Isaiah says that he's just ensured that Babylon will eventually invade and conquer Judah to take away all these treasures, and to boot, Hezekiah's sons will be slaves of Babylon. Oddly, Hezekiah doesn't pray for God to change this outcome as he did when it was his own life.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs (Isaiah 38)

Isaiah chapter 38 is a pretty simple one, I think, but it has a few notes that need to be addressed. King Hezekiah's sick, and Isaiah tells him that he is going to die, so Hezekiah prays to God to let him live. God speaks to Isaiah and tells him that Hezekiah is so good that he's going to get another 15 years and defend Jerusalem from Assyria. This brings up the issue of whether or not God repents, which I largely addressed back in Genesis chapter six, but here it deserves another look. Although the word "repent" is not here, the SAB is quite right to question this passage, because it seems appropriate; did God say Hezekiah was going to die right away and the change his mind? I think what's going on here is something that mught actually be considered more problematic: God had Isaiah tell Hezekiah what was either a lie or at best a misleading prophecy. I mean, Hezekiah is still going to die, it's just going to happen in 15 years! I think for whatever reason, God wanted to goad Hezekiah into praying what he prayed, and write what he wrote later in the chapter, and always intended to let Hezekiah live because he knew this was in Hezekiah's character.

God gives a sign that this will happen: the shadow on the sundial will move backwards ten degrees; and it happens. The SAB marks this with absurdity and science, and while I get the science one (generally sundials don't move backwards) I think it's far from absurd, specifically because it's so outlandish; this is a clear and obvious miracle, because it just goes against the laws of physics! It's an interesting thing to me personally that I see miracles happen in two classes: miracles that are something incredibly unlikely happening, and miracles that are something that shouldn't even happen at all. I think both kinds can be effective as signs, but the former type are easier for a skeptic to deny in a way (although skeptics will likely deny both, of course) because one can say it was just a coincidence. I once walked away unscratched from an auto accident in which my car flipped over twice, and a lot of people told me it was a miracle, but I don't think any atheist would change their beliefs based on that story. If an atheist saw someone walking on water, it would probably make them question, if only for a moment.

The rest of the chapter is mostly a little poem written by Hezekiah about his feelings in facing death. Verse 18 raises a couple questions, such as "Is death final?" which I answered in Joshua chapter 23, and "Does Hell exist?" which I answered in John chapter five. The SAB lastly makes an observation that the last two verses would fit better between verses six and seven, which is true. There probably was some bad editing of this book at some point in time, admittedly.