Wednesday, March 27, 2024

I am the first and the last (Isaiah 48)

Isaiah chapter 48 once again has a lot to say about idolatry and false gods. The chapter opens addressing the nation of Israel as the people "which swear by the name of the LORD," provoking the SAB to ask, Is it OK to swear? which I answered in Genesis chapter 21, where I said the real issue isn't whether oaths are okay, but rather whether you are being sincere. God emphasizes here that unlike false gods, he is able to tell people what will come to pass in the future, and he does so specifically so that people can't say, "My idol told me." Closing off this section, God refers to himself as, "I am he; I am the first, I also am the last." This provokes the SAB to ask Who is the first and the last?, which is not really a contradiction, because Jesus is God; once again, it's a Trinity issue, and you could say this of the Holy Ghost as well, even though the Bible doesn't.

The SAB has a couple issues with verse 13, "Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together." Apparently it's unscientific and absurd. I think you have to understand what is being said here. Saying "laid the foundation of the earth" is saying God is the creator. Saying "my right hand hath spanned the heavens" is just saying God is bigger than you can imagine. The last little bit is just implying that God is also in complete control of the universe. Verse 14 is marked as cruel and unjust, but I don't think "his arm shall be on the Chaldeans" implies violence; I think it's about control (which I suppose could still be considered unjust, but God's in control of everything and that's just the way it is). Verse 19 is marked absurd, and there's definitely something to be said about this. This really sounds like God is saying the promise he made to Abraham has already been fulfilled in the time frame of this chapter, but whether it's pre- or post-exile, the idea of the Jews being "like sand" (i.e., virtually uncountable) is something I don't think has ever been fulfilled. Some have suggested that this promise is fulfilled in the sum total of all adherents to Abrahamic religions, but that can't be the case for this time frame, so maybe absurd, but I don't know the reason it's marked that way, as is so often the case. Verse 21 is also marked absurd, but that's just a call back to the miracle in Exodus 17, as the SAB itself notes.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

His arm shall be on the Chaldeans (Isaiah 47)

Isaiah chapter 47 has a lot of symbolic language, but it's not clear (to me at least) what the level of symbolism is. There's a lot of talk in the beginning addressed to the "virgin daughter of Babylon," which could mean Babylon as a whole, or perhaps the women of the conquered empire of Babylon, or maybe even the queen or a princess of Babylon. The SAB marks verses two and three for "Sex" because it talks about her nakedness, but once again (especially if it's referring to the nation) this could be simply symbolic of the shame of being conquered, although if it's referring to actual women, it could be literal.

Verse one mentions Chaldeans, which is worth a moment of reflection. (This name hasn't come up prominently in anything I've covered except tangentially in the fact that Abraham may have been a Chaldean, as he came from Ur, see Genesis chapter eleven.) The thing is, "Chaldeans" can refer to four different groups of people, which all have some overlap. 1) People who live in the lower Tigris and Euphrates region, 2) various subjects of the Babylonian Empire, 3) people trained in the art of divination (this comes up mostly in Daniel), and 4) a specific ethnic group from the region in (1). These are used pretty interchangeably. Anyway, it's not clear which sense of the word is being used here, as there's stuff in the chapter alluding to all of them, but I thought it was worth discussing.

Verses 13 and 14 are marked for injustice, intolerance, and cruelty, and they come at the end of a larger discussion of Babylon's arrogance and reliance on sorcerers of various sorts. I suppose you could say the SAB has a point here, but the point Isaiah is trying to make is that the Babylonians themselves were cruel, and didn't rely on God, and at least the former is something skeptics should understand. I think the language here about "the fire shall burn them" is likely not meant to be literal, but simply is using fire as a metaphor for the level of destruction that would come upon Babylon. See this post for general reflection on the topic of people being burned to death in the Bible.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Turn ye not unto idols (Isaiah 46)

Isaiah chapter 46 is a short one, pretty much all about idolatry. God points out that when you make an idol, it becomes a literal burden, because you or your pack animals have to carry around this hunk of metal, but a hunk of metal can't answer prayers. On the other hand not only can the God of Israel answer prayers, but in times of weakness, he carries you. Speaking briefly about "the man that executeth my counsel from a far country" he's probably referring to Cyrus again. The SAB asks How many gods are there? which I answered in Exodus chapter twelve.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth (Isaiah 45)

Isaiah chapter 45 is mainly a message to King Cyrus, and opens by calling him "anointed one". Yes, as the SAB notes, this is "messiah", but this isn't a challenge to Jesus's status as Messiah; there simply happen to be many in the Bible who have such a title, as many had been anointed to serve God in a special way. (Really, if you look back, the priests were anointed, and so were all kings, including Saul, and it's sort of implied that even Abimelech was anointed in Judges nine.) Anyway, God talks about all the things he's doing for Cyrus, including naming him in this prophetic book that was supposedly written a long time before Cyrus was even born.

God says that he is the only God, prompting the SAB to ask How many gods are there?, which I answered in Exodus chapter twelve. God says he creates everything, including evil, prompting the question Is God the creator of evil? which I pretty much addressed in Isaiah chapter 31, but that was technically a different page, so I should expand here. Actually, it's surprisingly simple "yes", as I don't think either of the verses in the "no" section are saying that. I mean, just because evil doesn't dwell with God doesn't mean he can't create it on earth. It presents a big theological issue, however, because those who follow the God of the Bible believe he is thoroughly good, so how can a good God create evil, right? I've said before that such questions are really out of the scope of this blog's purpose, but when I came to this before, I felt it should be addressed nonetheless, so I examined it elsewhere.

In verse twelve, God says, "I made the earth with my hands, and stretched out the heavens." The SAB marks this with absurdity and science, but I'm not sure why. All it's really saying is that God is the creator of the universe, which is pretty basic theology, and there's nothing really unscientific here. If it's the stretching that's the issue, science says that the universe is expanding, so there is a very real sense in which the heavens are "stretched out".

Does God help in times of need? the SAB asks, which I answered in 1Samuel chapter eight. In verse 22, God says, "Look unto me, and be ye saved," which prompts the SAB to bring up the topic of salvation. This is a big subject to delve into, and some day I hope to make a post about that page, but for here, let it suffice to say this is about being saved from enemies, not eternal salvation. The SAB asks Is it okay to swear?, which I answered in Genesis chapter 21, where my answer was that yes, you can swear, but you need to be sincere.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus (Isaiah 44)

Isaiah chapter 44 has some interesting things to say about idolatry and generally a very pleasant chapter. God talks about the restoration of Israel, calling it "Jeshurun" which is sort of a nickname (I don't know why it's spelled without the h here in the KJV, because it's always spelled the same in Hebrew); it means something like "upright". The Lord talks about how he is the only God, which prompts the SAB to ask "How many gods are there?" which I addressed in Exodus chapter twelve.

There's a big section in the middle making fun of idolatry. It talks about a metalsmith working so hard he gets tired from making an idol. It also tells a story about a man who cuts down a tree, burns part of it for heat, burns part of it for cooking, and then he takes the leftover wood and fashions an idol and worships it. I'm pretty sure this is intended to be ironic, in case you missed it.

The SAB asks who created heaven and earth, which I answered in John chapter one (it was both Jesus and the Father). There's also a lot of stuff marked absurd, but I don't know what to say about it. Cyrus was God's "shepherd" because he helped the Israelites return to their land.

Monday, March 04, 2024

All things are become new (Isaiah 43)

Isaiah chapter 43 seemed pretty simple when I gave it a read through, but the SAB has a lot of notes, so let's see what's up.

First of all, in verse two, God says that the Israelites will walk through fire without getting burned, which the SAB calls absurd. Of course it's absurd, because it's describing a miracle, and perhaps it's referring to the event in Daniel chapter three where three Jewish men are thrown into a furnace but remain unharmed. It could be a more general statement about protection from fire, but I also think it could be a metaphor for protection from trouble during difficult times, which Israel definitely goes through before, during, and after the exile period.

In verses three and four, God talks about how Egypt, Ethiopia (a.k.a. Cush), and Seba were given as a "ransom" for Israel, which the SAB assumes means that these nations were sacrificed on Israel's behalf. I don't know if there's some historical context suggesting this that I'm missing, but it seems to me this could be referring back to the Exodus, when Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt (at which time Cush and Seba may have been united with Egypt, as they're all in the same general area), and Egypt suffered as a result.

The SAB asks "How many gods are there?" which I addressed at length in Exodus chapter twelve, where the answer was complicated. Verse eleven says, "I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour." This provokes the SAB to ask about Jesus, but once again, I say it's a Trinity thing, and Jesus is the Lord, for all intents and purposes.

Verse 19 provokes the SAB to ask, What's new? because Ecclesiastes says nothing is new. I think there are two ways to look at the claim in Ecclesiastes, and both are correct. First of all, there was nothing "new" at the time Ecclesiastes was written, but all of these other verses were about times afterwards. Secondly, I think it's fair to say that there's a lot of hyperbolic language in Ecclesiastes, and this is some of it; there are always new things. New people being born, new words being said, new buildings being built, but there's also a sense in which these are not new because they are similar to things that have come before, and that's the point. So the answer to "What's new?" depends on the sense in which you are asking.

I talked about mythological beasts in Isaiah chapter eleven, and talked about whether God gets tired in Isaiah chapter 40.