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.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib was come (Isaiah 37)

I was considering taking a break for a few days before Isaiah chapter 37, but then I figured I should do it while the previous chapter was still pretty fresh in my mind, since this is just more of the same story. I was talking with Steve Wells about Rabshakeh's claim that God told the Assyrians that they could defeat Judah, and we both agreed that it was strange, however it seems from this chapter that he was bluffing.

So king Hezekiah rends his clothes, puts on sackcloth, and goes to the Temple, where he sends for Isaiah. Isaiah sends word back that Rabshakeh was blaspheming, and God is still with Judah. God promises that the king of Assyria will die by the sword in his own land. Rabshakeh returns to Assyria to find that the nation is at war, and he hears that the Ethiopian army is coming. He sends a message to Jerusalem saying, don't think we won't be back to defeat you; we've defeated a lot of other nations and your time is coming!

Hezekiah gets the letter and puts it before God and prays. The wording of the prayer prompts the SAB to ask Who is the Lord of this world? which I actually addressed in Ruth chapter four, where the answer is complicated. Hezekiah points out in his prayer that all the nations that were conquered by Assyria were idolatrous nations, whose gods were only pieces of wood to be cast in the fire, but the God of the Jews is different, and can deliver them from Assyria. Isaiah sends word that his prayer will be answered and God says to the king of Assyria that all his conquests were really no big deal compared to the power of God. God predicts that the Assyrians won't even come back.

So, God kills 185,000 Assyrian soldiers while they sleep, and when the remaining soldiers wake up, obviously they are rather alarmed. This is a lot of killing on God's part, but remember this is an army that was threatening Judah, and had already killed who knows how many in destroying all the kingdoms mentioned previously in this chapter. At least they died in their sleep. So Sennacherib the king, who sounds like he was present at this event, goes back home to Nineveh, where his children assassinate him as he's praying. Yes, that's pretty cold, but does the wording of verse seven imply that God made Sennacherib's sons do this? I think it's likely that they intended to do this all along, and God just sent Sennacherib home so it happened sooner rather than later, but you can interpret it as you want.

Friday, February 09, 2024

But Rab-shakeh said unto them (Isaiah 36)

Isaiah chapter 36 doesn't sound like a prophecy, but rather a straightforward telling of an event in Judah's history. King Sennacherib of Assyria sends an army with a message, which boils down to, "Don't ally with Egypt; ally with us, because your own God has told us that we can destroy you." King Hezekiah's representatives ask Rabshakeh, the messenger, to speak in Assyrian so the inhabitants of Jerusalem won't overhear him, but he repeats his message louder and in Hebrew so everyone can hear it.

Rabshakeh prefaces his repetition with what is perhaps some coarse language about eating dung and drinking piss, hinting at the likelihood of a siege against Jerusalem. This prompts the SAB to ask Is every word of God pure? First of all, I suspect the word "piss" was not considered so crass in the 15th century as it is today; the word "piss" or "pisseth" appears eight times in the KJV, but never "urine" or "urinate" which we in modern times would consider more neutral language. Thus, in addition to this verse being something a foreigner said, I don't think "piss" or "dung" are particularly vulgar. However, there are other verses to deal with here. More generally, I have to ask what is meant by "pure"; I mean, this claim is being made particularly by Proverbs 30:5, but does it really mean there's nothing ugly in the Bible? I mean, really, if you wanted to, the list in the second section could be made much longer, and I assume the author of Proverbs 30 (Agur the son of Jakeh, apparently) was familiar with the scriptures. The Hebrew word behind "pure" in Proverbs 30 and Psalm 119 has the essential meaning of being refined by fire, like a metal such as gold. The Hebrew word for "pure" in Psalm 12, however, has the connotation of being ceremonially clean. While I think the latter comes closer to the kind of purity I think the SAB is trying to imply, I believe in general the idea is that the Bible is unadulterated by falsehoods, and that still not to say that there's no instance of lying in the Bible, but that there's no lying by God. I don't know if this is right or even if it totally makes sense, but I don't think there's any clear contradiction here nonetheless.

I don't know if there is any real need to comment on the existence of a nearly identical passage in 2Kings 18; I don't think there is anyone who would claim the Bible is free from repetition.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk (Isaiah 35)

Isaiah chapter 35 looks a lot easier and much more light hearted than the last chapter. The SAB marks this chapter as boring, but I sort of wonder why verses three through six aren't marked "Good Stuff", because it seems like very positive things from any perspective (maybe verses one and two as well!).

Verse seven talks about dragons again, which I talked about in Isaiah chapter eleven. Verse eight talks about the "way of holiness", which is a road that only holy people will walk on, which is admittedly an odd idea, but what can I say about it? On this road, God's people will return to Israel, apparently.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns (Isaiah 34)

Okay, back to Isaiah chapter 34 for another end times prophecy, and it's a pretty violent one by the look of it, or at least the SAB marks it as such. I answered whether God gets furious in Isaiah chapter 27, and the answer was yes.

So, God here has fury on the armies of all nations, and slaughters them all. It's surely hyperbolic language, but the blood of this slaughter melts away mountains. Clearly this is a massive killing unlike any other with the probable exception of Noah's flood, so yeah, it's violent, but these are armies we're talking about, so it's arguably violence begetting violence. This is likely God protecting Israel from some sort of massive invasion.

Verse four has some interesting language that the SAB marks with the "Science" icon; and indeed, what is being described here sounds very scientifically unsound. It's pretty reasonable to assume "the host of heaven" refers to the stars, so is the imagery of them falling suggestive of a meteor shower? Possibly, but there is the matter of the sky being "rolled together as a scroll" and the fact that it says "all their host", suggesting the sky is essentially obliterated. While it's entirely possible that God miraculously causes the universe to collapse (because he certainly could), and that would sort of fit this description, we're talking about stars that are tens of thousands of light years away (if we're just talking about our galaxy--unfathomably more if the whole universe) collapsing on a time scale that would supposedly be visible from earth. I don't think I have any idea what this verse could reasonably mean! (I mean, it's been suggested by astrophysics that the universe could possibly collapse in on itself in a reverse of the Big Bang, but not only does current evidence suggest that won't happen, we're talking about trillions if not quadrillions of years.)

So the chapter goes on to talk about more violence, this time specifically mentioning Idumea (also known as Edom), but while God is definitely spilling the blood of people, it's apparently also animal sacrifices, as a number of animals are mentioned in verse six. (I don't know why the mention of the fat of sacrifices leads the SAB to talk about fat people, but it does.) Verse seven mentions "unicorns", verse 13 has "dragons", and verse 14 has a "satyr" calling to others of its kind. I talked about mythological beasts in the KJV in chapter eleven, where I said that most of them are questionable translations, a "unicorn" most likely being some sort of wild horned animal, a "dragon" being some sort of large, scary beast, and "satyrs" are probably wild goats. Yes, verse 14's "screech owl" is "lilith" in the Hebrew, which is sometimes considered something mythological, but the word only appears here in the entire Bible, so who knows what is meant?

Verses nine and ten talk about the land becoming burning pitch, supposedly forever (at least it's supposed to be free of people forever), although it goes on to say that various birds will come to live there, which I assume couldn't happen if it's on fire, so this is admittedly a bit unclear.