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Ichabod: Godlessness

I. Introduction

A Godless church, Godless community, Christ-less church, and a Christ-less community—this is how our society, our church, and our Christianity is. We lost God in his own house! When God leaves, an utter chaos sets in. We no longer feel the guilt of sin. Immorality rules our families, society, and our churches. Moreover, we, Christians, while claiming that we know God; we live quite the opposite of our claim. This morning, I would like to challenge us all to evaluate ourselves to see whether we have lost God in our midst or He lives in our midst. 1 Samuel 4 talks about how people of Israel attempted to manipulate God into giving them victory. However, the same chapter sternly expresses that God cannot be manipulated and that He co-exist sin. Therefore, as Christians we cannot manipulate God to bless us while we live totally in opposition to the Word of God.

II. Context of the Text:

The read text comes before Samuel took over leadership from Eli. The period is almost the end of Judges. The people of Israel are now in the Promised Land but their lives were not worthy of the promises of God. Samuel’s day was marked by immorality and corruption. There was leadership corruption, religious corruption, and economic corruption.

            This chapter expresses an on-going conflict between Israel and Philistines. Furthermore, it also expresses Israelite’s false hope in YHWH that He would save them in spite of their constant sin and disobedience. In that Israelites thought that the Ark of the Covenant would give them victory. They saw it only as a symbol or an object but not as “YHWH’s presence.” It is in this context, we see the downfall of Eli which symbolizes the fall of worship and also the departure of God’s glory from Israel.

III. Ichabod: The Glory Departed (1 Sam 4:12-22)

  1. Ark of the Covenant:

The details of its construction have been recorded in Exod. 25:10-22. The details express the meticulousness of YHWH regarding the materials that are to be used, measurements that are to be maintained in building the ark. In other words, God is very concerned about the place where He is going to dwell. There is a theological significance which we will discuss in the application.

            Another aspect of the Ark is that it is the “seat of God’s presence.” It is placed in the Holy of Holies. It is from the mercy seat of the Ark, God would relay His commandments to the people of Israel. The presence here is not an illusion, but is a ‘living presence of YHWH.”

            The Ark is the symbol of Israel’s identity. It is because of the Ark which is the symbol of YHWH’s presence that legitimizes Israel as the “people of God,” a “Priestly nation” among the other nations. If there is no Ark, there is no Israel! However, in the read text, the Ark has been captured. As a result, glory of the LORD has departed. So, what are the reasons for the departure of the glory of the LORD?

  1. Reasons for Ichabod:

The first reason is a family’s failure. Eli failed more as a father than as a priest. 1 Sam 2:22-25 expresses Eli’s laxity in disciplining his sons stringently. We do not see any action taken by Eli.

Secondly, the abuse of the power by the Eli’s sons. They used their priestly roles for self-benefits. They had no regard for God (1 Sam 2:12). As a result there was no real knowledge of God, and no fear of God. The offerings that were brought to the temple were profaned.

Thirdly, religion was used to manipulated and oppress people for selfish motifs and indulgence.

Fourthly, Israel’s attempt to manipulate YHWH in order to win the battle against Philistines. 1 Sam 2:5-10 expresses Israelite’s false hope for victory while living in utter disobedience to the Law. The bringing of the Ark to the camp shows the intensity of their false hope. Israelites thought that the Ark would save them. However, they experienced quite the opposite of what they have hoped for. Here we need to take note of two shouts. One is a shout of victory (1 Sam 4:5) and another is a cry of failure (1 Sam 4:14). The former is a shout of victory stemmed out of false hope whereas the later is the experience of failure and defeat. The reason for such an unprecedented outcome is that Israelites objectified God. They were under the false illusion that YHWH would never abandon them. Similar tone can be heard in the 8th century where people of Israel held on to false claim that “Jerusalem cannot be destroyed.” While holding on to this claim, Israelites profaned the Temple. So, God rejected their worship as it has become a noise (Amos 5:23). God prophesied that Temple will be destroyed. So the bottom line is that God and sin cannot co-exist.

  1. Consequences of Ichabod:

The sinfulness of Israel has led to the capture of the Ark and consequent departure of the glory of YHWH. We also see Eli’s sons’ death and Eli’s death. Israel was defeated. They hoped for victory as they brought the Ark to the camp but instead Philistines won the battle. It is quite interesting to note that God raised Israel as His instrument of judgment to punish the seven Canaanite nations. However, later, he raised pagan nations to punish His own people.

            1 Sam 4:18 symbolically expresses Eli’s death. We should take note of two phrases here. First, “fell over backward” is indicative of the apostate state of Israelites. Israelites have fallen back from the Covenant. Secondly, the word “heavy” indicates the physical stature of Eli who is quite hefty. This is due to consumption of meat from the offerings. This shows the self-indulgence of the priestly office during that time. Eli failed as a father. As a result his sons failed. As a result religion failed. As result the whole nation failed. As a result Ichabod.

            A stage is set by YHWH to raise his “faithful priest” who would steer Israel once again towards the delegated purpose of YHWH to the people of Israel to be a “priestly nation”—a nation in whom YHWH dwells!

            Lastly, the final stroke was Ichabod. This is most gruesome consequence of all. 1 Sam 4:21-22 shows the intention of the narrator how the departure of the glory of the LORD is quite real. Here we see Eli’s daughter-in-law who names her son as “Ichabod” remembering the pain of God’s departure from Israel. Glory departed means Israel’s glory departed. As a result there is no hope. Shiloh where the Ark resides, now that it is no more there, lost its significance. Here we see God himself went into exile. The reason is Israelite’s disobedience to the law (Jer 7:1-4).

            Many a times, our churches can lose God. We hold on to false hope in our offerings, worship as there is no real transformation of the heart. Today our churches are filled with corruption, disparity between the poor and the rich, immorality in the leadership and a hypocritical worship. The worst of all is our claim that God lives among us while we mock at His presence with our spiritual decadence.

Application

Is there any relevance for us today from the chosen text? Exod. 40:34 records the filling of YHWH’s glory in the Tabernacle, only when it is finished according to the meticulous instructions given by YHWH. This indicates the meticulousness of God in the place of His residence. On the other hand, 1 Sam 4:12-22 shows that God cannot stay in a place where it is marked by sin. God’s departure is God’s judgment.

            In John 1:14, we see Jesus Christ who is the eternal word of God “tabernacled” among us. He is the true manifestation of the glory of God. Later on, Paul, most probably taking his cue from the incarnation of Christ, writes in 1 Cor. 5:19-20: “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were brought with a price; therefore glory God in your body.” If God is so meticulous about the place of His dwelling, we, who are the “temple of the living God”, how meticulous we are to be with our bodies? Paul’s rhetoric expresses the ethical, moral, and spiritual significance of our bodies. This concept is quite pervasive that it impacts every minute aspect of our lives. By the virtue of being the “Temple of the living God,” it is imperative for us to reflect God’s glory in our most private and public spheres. Failure to relay God’s glory in and through us, will result in Ichabod and God would raise another “faithful priest” who does according the “heart and mind” of God. It is only at the feet of the Cross, as we truly repent, the glory that has departed will be filled in our bodies once again.

            So, it is my prayer that we would be that “faithful priest” with an absolute realization that our bodies are God’s temples and we become “points of contacts,” and “tent-meeting place” of God with the world outside. In other words, we are the church; I am the church—relaying God’s glory to the world that is darkened by sin, and immorality.

 

Amen

Hebrew Bible and Archaeology

 

I. Introduction

Hebrew Bible (HB) has strong archaeological evidences that establish its authenticity as a religious document that is dexterously preserved and transmitted. In order to support the aforementioned claim, the paper focuses on the variants and versions as witnesses to the Hebrew Bible. So, firstly, we would briefly look at some selected variants and their significance as a witness to HB. Second witness, the paper presents is the transmission of the text. Here we would briefly discuss how meticulously the text has been preserved. Thirdly, the paper briefly outlines some extra-biblical evidences. Finally, we would discuss vitality of these archaeological evidences in order to establish the authenticity of the HB. In the appendix, few archaeological findings were provided which throws light into events and also the text that were recorded in the HB.

II. Archeological evidences in relation to Hebrew Bible

A. Various witnesses to the MT

When it comes to the archaeological evidences or witnesses for the Hebrew Bible, we mostly rely on the ancient manuscripts. Glenn Archer outlines these manuscripts based chronological order. The earliest of all these manuscripts is Qumran scrolls (300 BC) belong to Pre-Christian era.[1] Post-Christian manuscripts consist of British Museum Oriental (850 AD), Codex Cairensis (895 AD), Aleppo Codex (900 AD), Leningrad MS (916 AD), Leningrad MS B-19 A (1010 AD), Samaritan Pentateuch, and Torah Finchasiye (1204 AD).[2] Besides these, there are printed editions like Bolonga Edition of the Psalter (1477 AD), Soncino Edition of OT (1488 AD), and Second Bomerg Edition (1525/26 AD).[3] In addition to these, we have Greek versions like Septuagint (250-150 BC), Aquila’s version (130 AD), Symmachus’ version (170 AD), and Theodotion’s version (180 or 190 AD).[4] Furthermore, we have Targums like Targum of Onkelos (200 AD), and Targum of Jonathan be Uzziel (300 AD).[5] In addition to these, we have Latin and Syriac verisions as well.[6]

1. Significance and Contents of the ancient manuscripts

i. Qumran Scrolls 𝔔

These scrolls were discovered in the caves near Dead Sea in 1947. The discovery of these scrolls is considered to be the greatest discoveries of all times. One of the reasons is because these scrolls were dated to between 3-1 B. C.[7] Another reason is that these scrolls shed light on the scribal work in relation to the process of transmission of the text.[8] The significance of these materials is that they are several centuries older than any material that we possess now.[9] McDowell points out that there is 95% of closeness with Masoretic text (𝔐) that we possess now and 5% can be considered as “slips of pen.”[10] This only shows accuracy in the transmission of the text. For our purposes we will briefly see three manuscripts.

Regarding the content of these scrolls, we have two manuscripts that belong to the book of Isaiah. One is Isaiah manuscript from Cave 1 (1QIsa = 𝔔a) which consists of Isaiah cps 1-33, 34-66. Second one is Isaiah scroll (cps 41-66). Both Archer and Würthwein agree that this scroll has more closeness to 𝔐 compared to 𝔔a.[11] In addition to this, Edwin Yamauchi points that manuscripts of Qumran belong to the MT tradition though it has variations which does not issue in change of the text.[12]As a result of this, LXX (𝔊) has been superseded by 𝔔.

Another scroll that was discovered in the Cave 1 was the Habakkuk commentary. It consists of Cps 1-2 with comments inserted in between. Here also the text of Habakkuk stands very close to 𝔐 than other variants.[13]

ii. Codex Cairensis (C):

This Ms contains former and later prophets which are believed to be copied by Aaron ben Asher in 895 A. D as pointed out by Archer.[14] On the contrary, Wurthwein suggests that it was written and pointed by Moses ben Asher.[15] Whatever it is, we can say that this Ms was from Ben Asher’s family. This Ms also shows a great affinity with 𝔐.

iii. Aleppo Codex

This is another Ms from Ben Asher family. This is the oldest complete Masoretic manuscript of the entire OT. It dates from first half of 10th century A.D. It was It was Aaron ben Mosheh ben Asher added punctuation and Masora. It was first situated in Jerusalem, and then later to Cairo and eventually settled at Cairo.[16]

iv. Codex Leningradensis (L):

This is the oldest surviving manuscript of the whole Bible from Ben Asher family.[17] This text is dated at 1010 A. D which is considered as a “faithful copy” of another MS (980 A. D) which was lost.[18] This text became a basis for Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica today.

v. Samaritan Pentateuch (⅏):

Samaritan Pentateuch is often regarded as a “sectarian” text.[19] The reason for this is the schism between Samaritans and Israelites. Würthwein suggests that the climax of this schism took place in 4 B. C which has been long process.[20] However, the current research is suggestive of Hasmonean period.[21] A form of ⅏ was discovered by Pietro della Valle in Damascus in 1616 A. D. It has some 6000 variations from 𝔐. Out of which 1,900 variations agree with 𝔊 against 𝔐. It also constitutes Samaritan biased insertions in the text. Nevertheless, ⅏ also may be considered as a “witness” or a version of Pentateuch.

vi. Septuagint (LXX 𝔊)

Septuagint is often considered as a witness to 𝔐. The significance of this text lies in the New Testament’s dependence on LXX. Furthermore, the early church fathers also depended on LXX.[22] Pentateuch was translated into Greek by the Alexandrian Jews in Egypt in 3 B. C while other books were translated by the end of the following century. However, with the church regarding LXX as their Bible, Jews renounced it and started to develop their own Greek versions.[23] Here I would like to just outline them. They are Aquila (€), Symmachus, and Theodotion which are independent translation done by Jews. In third century B. C there are three Christian translations of LXX. They are Origen, Hesychius and Lucian.[24] Therefore, these translations with their long history of transmissions and translations do bear the marks of the Hebrew Bible. In that case they also stand as a witness to the Hebrew Bible.

B. Textual transmission and fidelity of MT

So far we have considered few documentary witnesses that stand as evidences to MT but how to measure the fidelity of MT? Why the documentary witnesses are to be considered as strong archaeological evidences? The answer to that question is to investigate how the textual transmission has been undertaken and who are those responsible for such titanic task?

1. The scribes

The following are to be considered as various Jewish scholars who are committed to standardize and preserve the biblical text. We will mainly discuss very briefly about three such scholars.

The word ‘sopherim’ means ‘scribe.’ These are Jewish scholars and they were the custodians of the text between 5-3 B. C.[25] It was under Ezra the Scribe, this group had its beginning.[26] They were given a responsibility to standardize a pure text of the Hebrew text and then to pass to the “hypothetical revision committee” for approval.[27] They devised a system of “cross-check” method by counting all the verses, words and letters of each book in the Hebrew Bible and then record them at the end of the respective book.[28] In this way, they can judge which book or copy has errors or not.

After Sopherim, comes Zugoth (pairs of scholars) who were committed with the task of guarding the text. After Zugoth, the third group is Tannim (repeaters or teachers) who accepted the task of being custodians of the text till 200 A. D. In addition to preserving the text, they were involved in writing Midrash (textual interpretation). The fourth group is Talmud (instruction) who appeared in ca. 100-500 A. D. Talmudist were given the responsibility to preserve the text and it was probable that they were responsible for the versification of the text.[29] However, versification does not necessarily mean verse numbering and the division of the chapters.[30]

The fifth group is Masoretes. These Jewish scholars existed between 500-950 A. D. They gave the final form to OT.[31] After the destruction of the temple in 70 A. D, Jews were scattered. This gave an impetus to standardize the text by introducing punctuation and use of vowels for correct pronunciation and standardized consonantal text.

2. A Breif History of Textual Transmission

The text from the Sopehrim period during which Ezra involved, was passed on to the Talmudic period and later on transmitted to Masoretes. Masoretes who received unpointed consonantal text from the previous guardians inserted vowel points to preserve the pronunciation. In doing so, they not only developed vowel system but also a Ketib and Qere system to preserve the oral tradition of the text. This process of Ketib and Qere is reflected in the Masora of the text.

Three major schools are to be considered among the Masoretes—Babylonian, Palestinian and Tiberian. The most famous of these is Masoretes living at Tiberius in Galilee viz., Ben Asher family. It is this Ben Asher text— the standard Hebrew text today which is represented by Codex Leningrad B 19 A and Aleppo codex which we have already discussed.

Now the earliest manuscripts awaited the confirmation until the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls. It was with the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls which are older than the existent MT, and with its greater affinity with the same has established the accuracy in transmission and fidelity of MT.

D. Extra-biblical evidences[32]

McDowell outlines few extra-biblical evidences that refer to the composition of the Hebrew Bible especially its sections. For instance, the Prologue to Ecclesiasticus (130 B. C) mentions the three fold division of the Torah. Also, Philo of Alexandra—a Greek historian, refers to the same. Likewise, Josephus, a Jewish historian, spoke about tripartite division of Torah. Another historian Eusebius in his book “Ecclesiastical History IV. 26” refers to Melito who enlists the first known lists of OT books.

III. Bearings of archeological evidences on the Hebrew Bible

Archeological evidences with its substantial documentary proofs for the Hebrew Bible have shed light on scribal transmission. In addition to this, it also have revolutionised biblical criticism. Especially, with the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls, the Hebrew Bible was even more authenticated for its accuracy in transmission. Moreover, the historical process of the transmission was well corroborated by the archaeology while comparing with versions and manuscripts of 𝔐.

These findings are very significant for us because of mainly two reasons. Firstly, the text that is transmitted to us is the Word of God. The accuracy of the text in transmission can be considered to be almost a miracle. Secondly, it sheds more light in the field of textual criticism and historical criticism. In that a gap in reconstructing the text and Biblical history can be filled with the available archaeological evidence.

IV. Conclusion

In an attempt to outline the archaeological evidences to the Hebrew Bible, we have first started with briefly examining witlessness to 𝔐. In addition to this we also have discussed how these witnesses are significant for us today. While comparing these witnesses with each other, we can see their mutual affinities in terms of the text transmission. Another witness we considered was the textual transmission itself. We have briefly seen how meticulously the text has been transmitted. All the above, archaeological evidences establish the authencity of the Hebrew Bible in terms of its text. Therefore, we can be lest assured the text that we hold today, indeed the Word of God which has been miraculously passed on to us!

Endnote

 

[1] Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Revised. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 42.

[2] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[3] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[4] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[5] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[6] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[7] Ellis R. Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism A Practical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 45.

[8] Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism A Practical Introduction, 43.

[9] Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament An Introduction to the Biblica Heraica, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes, Second. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 33.

[10] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Secundrabad: Om-Authentic books, 2006), 77.

[11] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 33; Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 44.

[12] Edwin Yamauchi, The Stones and the Scripture An Introduction to Biblical Archeology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972), 130.

[13] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 44.

[14] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 47.

[15] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 35.

[16] Würthwein , The Text of the Old Testament, 36.

[17] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 36.

[18] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 48.

[19] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 48.

[20] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 45.

[21] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 45.

[22] William W Combs, “The Transmission-History of the Septuagint,” Bibliotheca Sacra 146, no. 583 (1989): 256.

[23] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 54.

[24] Chaim Pearl, “The Bible: Transmission–Interpretation,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 24, no. 2 (1996): 256.

[25] McDowell, The New Evidence, 73.

[26] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 67.

[27] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 67.

[28] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 67.

[29] Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism A Practical Introduction, 47.

[30] The division of chapters, according to Würthwein, was introduced by Stephen Langton (1150-1228) which was later adopted by Latin Vulgate in 14th century A. D.,Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 21.

[31] McDowell, The New Evidence, 75; Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 70.

[32] McDowell, The New Evidence, 28–29.

An Essay on Biblical Criticisms: Methods to Old Testament Interpretation

I. Introduction

This is a brief survey of approaches to Old Testament interpretation. The approaches basically can be categorized under three sections. They are historical critical methods, textual methods, and contextual methods. These three approaches have three different emphases. Historical- critical approaches emphasis on intent of the author. Textual methods emphasize on the text itself. Contextual methods emphasize the context of the reader. This essay will elucidate these approaches along with some critical observations.

II. Historical–Critical Methods

Historical–critical methods (HC) can be categorized as “diachronic” approach (through time). HC is an integrated approach. It takes into consideration several approaches to exegete the text. It is author–centered approach. In that these approaches goes ‘behind’ the text. These methods are concerned with the origin, transmission, original intent of the author and original readers. Christopher J. Wright likens this approach to a ‘window.’ So, through the window we can see the outside world—the landscape, and the horizon. It also means that the light from the outside world enters through window as well. In other words as we see through the window of text in to the world of text, the world of text also illumines our understanding of the text. There are four main methods under this approach. They are Source criticism, Form criticism, Tradition criticism, and Redaction criticism. We shall see discuss these methods briefly.

A. Source Criticism (SC)

Source Criticism (SC) was active during 17th and 18th centuries. It was first Jean Austruc who suggested that Moses used different sources to compile Pentateuch. So, this approach assumes that there are sources behind the texts, and these sources were composed by different authors. SC goal is to identify sources behind the text, reconstruct them and then assign them the dates. It was Julius Wellhausen who systematized earlier work and proposed ‘documentary hypotheses in which he suggested four sources J E D and P with the dates. According to him J is Yahwistic source from 10 B. C, E is Elohistic source from 9 B. C, D is Deuteronomistic source from 7 B. C, and P is Priestly source from 5 B. C. These sources are indentified based on the stylistic differences, repetitions, doublets, different theonyms, theological, and narrative differences.

B. Form Criticism (FC)

Form Criticism is a reaction against SC. It was first proposed by Herman Gunkel. This method assumes a pre-literary stage in which the text is transmitted in different forms such as sagas, stories, narrations, and poems. These forms arose in different life-settings (sitz-im-leben) and the function of these forms varies according to their respective life-settings. Therefore, this approach constitutes analysis of the genre, its sitz-im-leben, and its function in different life-settings. For example, Psalm 2 is categorized as royal enthronement Psalm used as a cultic poem in the covenant renewal ceremony.

C. Tradition Criticism (TrC)

Tradition or Tradition history (TrC) is an offshoot of FC. The main proponent of this approach was Gerhard von Rad. According to this approach, text has traditions behind the text. These traditions constitute different stories, legends, narrations, and poems. These traditions in turn may have been used for different purposes in different life-setting. This is the reason an exegete is concerned with tracing the history of traditions in the Scripture. For example, Jacob’s narratives in Gen 28, 32, and 35 are different in function when compared with Hos. 12. An exegete will trace the history of Jacob’s narratives in different life-settings in the Scripture to form one consistent tradition history. Martin Noth using this approaches proposed Deuteronomistic history whereas von Rad proposed tradition history of Israel.

D. Redaction Criticism (RC)

Redaction criticism (RC) is basically concerned with the editorial work of the redactor or the redactor of the text. It assumes that the redactor/editor made some changes to the text according to his or her theological orientation. The editorial work involves changing of some words, phrases, and arranging the material that reflects theological framework of the scribe. So, an exegete will try to analyze the text to see the intention behind such editorial changes made to the text. For example, in Gen. 26, redactor is clarifying the flow of the text by inserting his/her comment as he found the same type of story reflected in Abraham narrative elsewhere.

III. Textual Methods

Textual methods arose in the context of HC. There has been a growing frustration regarding the fragmentary view of HC method. As a result final form approaches emerged. These approaches can be catalogued under “synchronic” category (same time). Their main focus is on the text which is seen as a final product. These approaches can be likened to a “portrait.” In that we would focus on the aesthetic values of the portrait—its textures, colors, and the meaning of the portrait itself. This means that the meaning of the text lies in the text itself rather than behind it. The following methods will be discussed briefly.

A. Structuralism

Structuralism deals with the meaning of the text that is enshrined in the structures of the text. De Saussure, first used this approach in the field of linguistics. For him the meaning of the word is in the context of the text rather than in the etymological survey of that particular word. Later James Barr used this approach in the field of Biblical studies. For him, the meaning of the word does not lie in the comparative philology but in the syntax of the text. In other words, the meaning of the word lies in the relationship of that word with other words in the syntactical sentence. So, there is a shift from diachronic way understanding the meaning of the word to synchronic way of understanding the same. This approach is used in biblical anthropology. For example, a structuralist understands the table of nations in Gen. 10 and food laws in Lev. 11, to see Israel’s position among other nations.

B. Rhetorical criticism

The art of rhetoric is a classic discipline started with Aristotle. It is an art in composing a language to be more attractive, descriptive, interpretative, and persuasive. It is art of public speaking. Rhetorical critics are concerned about what a text communicates, what and how the text communicates to the reader or listener, how one is persuaded towards certain praxis.

Rhetoric criticism as an interpretative tool was first introduced by James Muilenberg in 1968. He appreciated form criticism for uncovering various forms (guttungen). However, he criticised FC for overemphasising similarity of forms and for not focusing on the formulation of the form. According to Muilenberg, rhetorical criticism is concerned about understanding nature of Hebrew literary composition which exhibits as structural patterns used and fashioning of literary units, discerning many and various devices, predictions formulated and ordered to a unified whole. Here in this approach, words are analyzed syntactically which reveal thought patterns of the writer. Muilenberg did not propose any set of methods for rhetorical criticism. V. Robbins proposed “socio-rhetorical” method. Later George Kennedy combines Muilenberg and Robbins. According to Kennedy text should be studies from the author’s or editor’s intent. He seems to incline to historical criticism a bit. Kennedy proposes following steps for Rhetorical criticism viz., delimiting rhetorical unit, finding context of the text, identifying rhetorical arrangements, techniques, and effectiveness.

C. Narrative criticism

The focus of narrative criticism is setting, plot, characters, suspense, patterning, and world play. It makes uses of poetic art which constitutes parallelisms, metaphors, imagery and climax. These tools help to uncover different layers of meaning which were artistically designed, and patterns woven by the original authors.

Narrative criticism distinguishes between a “story” and “narrative.” Story is abstract and becomes concrete when it is given utterance through a medium of narrative. Since story can be told and re-told in many ways, a narrative critic undertakes a close reading of the text to discern narrator’s concerns. R. Alter’s book “The Art of Biblical narrative” (1981) stimulated much interest as he presented distinctive features of Hebrew narrative. Narrative criticism is extended to Pentateuch as whole as well. For example D. J. Clines argues the entire Pentateuch is unified by a prominent theme i.e., the partial fulfillment of the promises to the patriarchs.

D. Canonical criticism

Canonical criticism uses the canonical shape of Scripture as a lens to interpret the text. Two leading figures of this approach are to be noted. First, it was J. A. Sanders, who was the first one to coin the terms “canonical criticism.” He has two primary interests—canonical process and canonical hermeneutics. The former has to do with the way in which Canon was formed and the later examination of the interpretation of the canonical texts. The second one is Brevard S. Childs. He is less concerned with the process of canonization. He interprets Scripture in the light of final form. Childs opined that HC has been less fruitful. For him, final form of the text can profitably be interpreted. Childs supports the use of other critical approaches. However, he was often criticised for ignoring HC.

IV. Contextual Methods

Contextual methods are reader-centered approaches. They are likened to a “mirror.” This means the meaning of the text arises from the reader in the “act of reading.” Therefore, the focus is not on the text but on intentions of the reader. These approaches are influenced by post-modernism. These methods emerged as a reaction against the ‘atomic’ view of the Scriptures by HC. HC does not address the contextual problems of the readers. So, the focus of contextual methods is to address the existential problems of the reader. Under this method, we have liberation hermeneutical approach, Post-colonial hermeneutics, Dalit hermeneutics, and Feminist hermeneutics. In these approaches we have actual reader—original audience, and implied reader—foreign nations. Later redactors gathered, edited, and canonized these texts. After canonization, Jewish Christians read these texts. Now, we the contemporary readers, read the text. We bring our own assumptions to the text and read the text with various contextual lenses. In other words, there is no objectivity in these approaches. Interpreters are affected by their own socio-cultural and Psychological factors. For example, a Biblical interpreter in India brings his/her own contextual experiences such as marginalization, Dalit and adivasi struggles to the text. These experiences would shape the interpretation of the text. In other words, the text becomes alive in the act of reading.

A. Liberation Hermenuetics

Liberation theology was first pioneered by Gustavo Guitèrez in America in 1970. This is based on Black American struggle against racism. Later Black feminists and Dalits used this as their framework. Liberative reading constitutes of preferential opinion of the marginalized and emphasizes active role of the church towards emancipation of the marginalized. They take Exodus as a paradigm of salvation by which God liberates all kinds of oppression. Rowland and Corner opines that Liberation reading awakens an exegete to his/her own contexts. Two important critical tools are used—Hermeneutical circle and hermeneutic of suspicion. The hermeneutical circle begins with experience of the interpreter; and then to ideological/theological suspicion; to exegetical suspicion, to new interpretation which gives feedback to interpreters experience of reality which will modify his/her conception of reality and then starts the process anew. Hermeneutic of suspicion deals with tracing the history of interpretation to expose bias reading of the text. The following are some examples of liberation hermeneutics.

 

B. Feminist Hermenuetics

Feminist hermeneutics as distinct discipline started in 19th century. It was first Huberten Avelert coined the term “feminism” in 1882. This term is associated with women’s struggle for political rights.

Feminist interpretation of the Bible is rooted in feminist critical consciousness that men and women are fully human and equal. Lelty M. Russel opines that this new approach undertaken by women because Bible is mistaken to promoting and authenticating dominance and supremacy of man.

For example, feminist theologians use various approaches and methods in order to challenge the view that Bible is the product of patriarchal undertakings. Rosemary Redford Ruether apprals that women’s experience should be taken into consideration to interpret the text. The focus should be given to women characters in the Bible. In that the positive qualities of women should be identified and re-imagine Biblical stories with women characters. By doing so, the women can be written back into the history of Israel in which voice of women is made to be heard in the andocentric texts.

Another example is Elizabeth Schuessler Fiorenza’s approach. She uses rhetorical feminist model. Her approach constitutes first, hermeneutics of experience. In that the experience of the marginalized should be considered in interpreting the text. Moreover, the oppression of women should get due attention. Secondly, hermeneutics of domination and social action also should be considered. It deals with how one act in a specific situation and how one expresses in those situations. A critical evaluation of the social location of the interpreter is needed. Thirdly, hermeneutics of suspicion must also be used. The texts are andocentric and needs to be approached with suspicion. Fourthly, hermeneutics of recuperation deals with recovering from the Bible different forms of patriarchal misinterpretations. Fifthly, hermeneutics of creative imagination deals with imagining the new world of justice and well being and employs aesthetic methods such as role play, bibliodrama, pictorial arts, dance, and story-telling. Sixthly, hermeneutics of resistance emphasizes on being a resistant reader than an assisting reader. In that a male mind in us is exorcised.  Seventhly, hermeneutics of remembrance and reconstruction will search and bring forth the forgotten stories and nameless women alive in order to contribute to the struggles of women today. Finally, hermeneutics of reconstruction deconstructs andocentric layers in the Scripture and reconstructs the text with a positive outlook towards women.

C. Post-modern criticism

Post-modern criticism is against any attempt of objectification. Post-modern critics consider objectification is an illusion. It believes that there are pluralistic ways of understanding the text and interpretation. Human thoughts are changeable. Truth and truth claims are relative. They are changing according to changing context. There is no single approach that can be normative. Its significance is in contextual, local and pluralistic interpretation in the Bible.

D. post-colonial criticism

Post-colonial criticism emerged from third world context—the nations which were formerly colonised by imperial nations. These colonial nations used Bible as their major tool to subjugate natives. Post-colonial criticism gained its momentum with the work of Edward Said’s critique of Western constructions of the orient in his book “Orientalism.” He explains how the West colonised and treated the ‘orient’ as the ‘other’ as an object of knowledge waiting to be dominated. Keeping this in mind, post-colonial reading is an effort to interpret the Bible that resonate with the indigenous cultural values and highlights the issues of imperialism, experience of conquest, colonization, and migration. The aim of post-colonial criticism is to scrutinize and expose colonial domination that embedded in the Biblical texts. This approach applies hermeneutics of resistance. In that a critic of this approach would identify colonial ideologies in the text, deconstruct them and reconstruct the texts that reflect indigenous values of the natives and seeks to emancipate them from colonial dominance.

V. Critique on the methods

A. Historical-Critical Method

Historical-critical methods are not concerned with the context of the interpreter. The results of these methods are mostly hypothetical in nature. Moreover, it has fragmented Scripture so much so that theological understanding is left out. These methods are reductionist in nature. In that HC brings out meaning ‘behind’ the text but shifts the attention of the exegete to pre-canonical stages. These approaches tend to doubt the divine inspiration of the Word of God.

B. Textual Methods

Textual methods arose out of the frustration because of historical-critical methods. Their main focus is the finished product i.e., the text itself. However, the context of the reader is not adequately taken into consideration. It main focus is “what the text meant” but it does not talk about “what it means to the reader.”

C. Contextual methods

Contextual methods removed the limits of interpretation. In that reader becomes the starting-point for interpreting the text. It takes the context of the reader very seriously. It is true that oppression of the marginalized is a reality. It is also evident that Bible is also used as tool to subjugate other. However, these approaches tend to very subjective in nature. Bible is treated as a ‘proof-text’ to support one’s own ideology. This leads to eisegetical reading of the text.

VI. Conclusion

This essay outlined different approaches towards Old Testament. These approaches are basically divided into three sections viz., historical-critical, textual, and contextual methods. We have also discussed the different approaches under the respective approaches. Under historical methods, we have discussed source, form, tradition, and redaction criticisms. Under textual method, we have discussed structuralism, rhetorical, narrative, and canonical criticisms. Under contextual methods, we have liberation hermeneutics, feminist, post-modern, and post-colonial methods. Historical methods are compared to a ‘window’ in which the meaning of the text lies behind the text. Textual methods are likened to ‘portrait’ in which the meaning of the text lies in the text itself as it is considered as finished product. Contextual method are similar to ‘mirror’ in which the meaning of the text arise in the act of reading by the reader.

All these approaches have their own merits and demerits. Scripture is rich in diversity of the material. To address this diversity we need to critically use the approach to bring out the meaning of the text. So, it is a task of an exegete to constantly engage in evaluating the approaches in order to apply them for an effective use.

Christ’s Resurrection: A Call for Radical Transformation An Exposition on I Corinthians 15

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I. Introduction

Christ’s resurrection is very pervasive that it calls for the wholistic transformation of the creation. If we truly believe in the resurrection, then there are serious moral and spiritual implications. However, the question that we need to ask is whether we truly believe in the resurrection? Do our moral and spiritual lives reflect resurrection experience? Or we just make mockery of Christ’s resurrection? These questions resonate with the questions raised in the Corinthian church. Paul in 1 Cor. 15 gives an extensive treatment on resurrection. Keeping this in mind I would like to entitle my sermon as “Christ’s resurrection: A Call for Radical Transformation.”

Last year one of my juniors at UBS suddenly died. In 2012, just before Xmas, one my classmates who has been working as a missionary in Nepal, suddenly died. Early that year, we have all witnessed the gruesome rape of a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi. Everyday our newspapers resonates with news of violence, corruption, discrimination and many more. We for the most of the times witness this chaos in our lives in the form of sickness, financial crisis and many more. It is in these chaotic times, we need to ask how resurrection is important for us. Is there a hope for us in Christ’s resurrection? Or is it a fancied idea of Christians?

Now, let us dig into these questions as we try to understand what is Christ’s resurrection and how does it influence our moral and spiritual lives.

II. Context

Corinth was a cosmopolitan city. It is situated in Greece. It served as a major center for religious, commercial and cultural advancements. Moreover, the city in general, especially wealth and affluent in the society were attracted to many philosophical ideas.

Paul established church at Corinth. However, the church has very serious problems. There was disunity in the church which led to factionalism; syncretistic tendencies crept into the church, spiritual complacency and immorality. It was in this context Paul writes this letter addressing the above issues. The last part of the letter is about resurrection, with which he brings all His arguments together.

Today’s church is also more or less similar to the Corinthian church. Now let us turn to the first part of the chapter.

III. Christ’s Resurrection: the foundation and condition of our salvation 1 Cor. 15: 3-9

Paul’s intention is not to prove the historicity of resurrection of Jesus Christ but to draw the attention of the Corinthians to the implications of it. However, he argues for the historicity of resurrection by pointing four testimonies—Scripture (vv. 3-4), eyewitnesses (vv. 5-7), special witnesses (vv. 8-10). This particular section predates Gospels and it is traditional confessional formula of the early church. We need to take note of two aspects here.

Firstly, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is foundational to Christian faith. In fact, Gospel itself hinges around the fact of Christ’s resurrection. It is not a fabricated story but it is a historical fact (1 Cor. 15: 3-9).

Secondly, Christ’s resurrection­— belief in it is a condition for our salvation (Rom. 10:9). If we don’t believe in resurrection, then sin and death would still be our unconquered enemies (Rom. 6:23). There is no hope for us. Moreover, we, Christians would be liars. On the contrary, Christ’s resurrection did happen and it is God’s seal of salvation for all who believes in His Son Jesus Christ (Acts. 5: 30-31).

IV. No Resurrection and its consequences 1 Cor. 15: 12-19

What would happen if there was no resurrection? Paul responds through a series of rhetorical question. In other words he answers by stating the consequences of resurrection having not had taken place at all.

Firstly, sin and death would still be our conquerors. Secondly, there would be no salvation. Thirdly, apostolic kerygma would be in vain. Fifthly, our faith in Christ would be in vain. Sixthly, there would be no hope for the humanity. Seventhly, our cries for justice would be unheard. To simply put it, humanity would be eternally doomed.

Illustration

I was once an atheist because of the death of my youngest uncle. However, after few years, as I was pursuing my engineering studies, my eldest uncle became chronically ill. I saw him in the hospital and without my knowledge I started to cry. There was a great turmoil in my heart. I was confused. All my philosophical ideas did not comfort. As I started to cry, I began to ask myself why I am crying. If he dies, then that’s the end of him.

You, see, since I rejected God, I rejected the power of Christ’s resurrection. The result is hopelessness. I felt petrified by this truth. It took me some years to come to the Lord with a renewed commitment. In 2008, as I just joined my theological studies, at UBS, my eldest uncle passed away. But this time, God kept me in the same place where I rejected, to speak on His behalf to my family who are mourning, reminding them the power in Christ’s resurrection. There is a hope beyond the grave. I told them, we must envy them as they enjoy the eternal presence of Christ.

You see, my dear church, Christians do not mourn over the death but we rejoice because of the joy that was given to us by the power of Christ’s resurrection.

V. Resurrection: the greatest hope 1 Cor. 15: 20-28

On the contrary to the earlier consequences, resurrection of Christ did happen. It has inaugurated a new era. This is the greatest hope for us.

Paul uses a metaphor ‘first fruits’ for Christ. Christ is the ‘first fruit’ of all those who would be raised. Here this metaphor, evidently is taken from the Old Testament (Lev. 23:10). It is mandatory for the Israelites to offer first fruits of their harvest to the priest. Likewise, Christ has offered Himself to death on the Cross and but was raised as the ‘first fruit’ of all those who would be raised. This means the harvest of the believers would follow. Christ’s resurrection is the prerequisite for the resurrection of the believers. In a way we all live between two Easters— Christ’s and the believer’s.

Paul uses Adam/Christ typology to further illustrate his point. Just as in Adam, we all inherited sin and the consequence of it i.e., death, we all inherited life through Jesus Christ. In other words, Christ came into this world to make dead people to live.

Finally, Paul drives his point home, by pointing out to the finality of restoration by Jesus Christ at the end (vv. 24-28). Christ will restore everything in the way God originally created this creation. The enemies of God will be finally conquered and destroyed by Christ himself.

It gives such a hope for us that in Christ’s resurrection, we find such solace and confidence that all our tears will be counted for and justice will be delivered.

VI. Resurrection: A Radical Transformation 1 Cor. 15: 35-49

There is a Greek philosophical idea behind this argumentative question raised by Corinthians. For Greeks, matter is evil and soul is divine. There are two ramifications to this. Firstly, body is evil and soul needs liberation. Secondly, because there is no intrinsic value to the body, it can be used for immoral purposes as soul will be uninfluenced by the body. For them death is a beautiful thing and it is a liberator. This materialistic view discards human personhood. Likewise other religions express the idea about ‘escape’ of the soul from the body which they call ‘moksha’ or ‘nirvana.’ There is a dichotomy between body and soul. Therefore, death for them is an aide for liberation.

Paul uses three illustrations to respond to this question. Firstly, just as the body of a seed and a plant that grows are different, so also it will be with our resurrected bodies. Secondly, just as the bodies of human beings, animals and heavenly bodies are different, so it will be with our resurrected bodies.

Paul then, uses some series of contrasts—perishable/imperishable, dishonour/glory, weakness/power, natural/ supernatural. Paul categories them under two realms—flesh & blood that which is corruptible and Spirit which is life, an element of resurrection.

In other words, our earthly bodies will be totally transformed. This is not just a physical transformation, or escape from the body. But this is a wholistic transformation of Body, soul and spirit. The totality of man is restored. Not just man but the nature itself will be transformed.

In fact, spiritual transformation has already begun. We are already in eternal life. Mortal transformation will take place at the Christ’s Parousia. This is the reason why Christ’s resurrection has moral implications. In Gal. 5: 24-25, Paul connects our belongingness to Christ with His ‘dying-raising’ from the dead. If we belong to Christ, then we must put to death this worldly desire and passions and then raise to live a new life of resurrection that Christ has granted to us only to consummated at His second coming.

VII. Conclusion

Let me close my sermon with a true story. This is a true story of a young pastor. He loved God so immensely. His hope was very strong. He reflected that light and glory of God in everything he did and said. He contracted cancer. He and his wife were told that he had only months to live. But they have not shown any sign of pain or anxiety. In his last Sunday sermon he said, “Our Lord suffered and died for our sins. Why should I not share in his sufferings? After this he sang this beautiful song which made everyone to cry. Hear these words that he sang:

Must Jesus bear the Cross alone,

And all the world go free,

No, there is a Cross for everyone,

And there’s a Cross for me

How happy are the saints above,

Who once went sorr’wing here,

But now they taste unmingled love,

And joy without fear

The consecrated Cross I bear

Till death shall set me free,

And then go home my crown to wear,

For there is a crown for me.

Here is a man of God who was not shaken by death but boldly faces as he knows the power of Christ’s resurrection. Death is not beautiful but it is ugly. But Christ has defeated death in its own arena.

Christ’s resurrection is the foundation and the condition of our salvation, without which we are doomed. It is our greatest hope— that one day God would wipe our every tear. It calls for radical transformation—both moral and mortal transformations.

Let us introspect into our own lives. If we claim to be Christians, are we living under the influence of resurrection or are we living under the rejection of it. How are our spiritual and moral lives? Let me close with these words that Paul echoed in the Corinthian church:

“Where O death, is your victory? Where O death is your sting?”

Indeed Christ has defeated death and removed its sting by His blood!

Amen

 

Psalm 23: An Exegetical Essay from Leadership Perspective

Psalm 23

An Exegetical Essay From Leadership Perspective

By

YESHWANTH.B. V

 

I. Introduction

Psalm 23 is a very profound and pastoral Psalm that might have assured and comforted us in times of distress. This Psalm basically talks about the care, providence and protection assured by God to the believers and this gives every reason for the believers to rejoice and celebrate in thanksgiving. This is something that has been portrayed through the mixture of metaphorical language merged with the realities of life. To have a deeper and comprehensive understanding of Psalm 23, we will first look into the worked out translation from the Hebrew text and then we will analyse its form, structure and setting. We will also pick up some keywords in the passage and we will analyse them and see that how these keywords enhances the meaning of the passage. We will also propose an exegetical outline which will be later elaborated in the paper. We would also look into the theology of this Psalm and apply this to the contemporary idea of leadership. We would also look at Psalm 23 from a Sensus plenor approach to draw a complete meaning of this Psalm.

II. Translation

Psalm 23

1 A melody of[1] David.

Yahweh is my shepherd, I shall not lack (I shall not be in want).

2 In Pastures of grown grass,

He shall cause me to lie down,

By the water of resting-place,

He shall lead me with care. (He shall lead me to a state of rest)

3 My soul (life) he restores (he shall bring to a state of life),

He shall cause to lead me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of his name.

4 Even though I shall walk in the midst of valley of death shadow,

I shall not fear,

For you are with me,

Your rod and your staff,

They comfort me.

5 You arrange (prepare), indeed before me,

A table (weapon) in front of my adversaries,

You cause yourself to anoint me with the oil,

(And) my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and loving kindness (your loving kindness) shall follow me,

All (the) days of my life,

And I shall dwell/ returns in the house of Yahweh,

For long days. (Forever).

II. Form

The form of Psalm 23 generally can be classified as Psalm of trust or Psalm of confidence.[2] However, there is no consensus among scholars. Kraus points out to L. kohler who opines that Psalm 23 is a “continuously uniform hymn”[3] with predominant imagery of the Lord as shepherd. Kraus observes a transition of Psalm 23 from being a prayer song to a thanksgiving song of an individual.[4] The reason is because of the confessional tone in vv. 2-3. According to Bruggeman’s classification, this Psalm can be categorized as the Psalms of orientation.

1. classification and explanation of genre

There are many differences among the scholars about the genre of the Psalm 23. Some scholars opine that this Ps. 23 is s Psalm of thanksgiving. Some, they proposed that this Psalm is a Psalm of confidence and trust, a royal Psalmody. However, this Psalm seems to be a Psalm of faith and confession or a confession of Faith by the people of Israel. It resonate Yahweh’s role in the Exodus redemption. We can therefore classify this Psalm as hymn which portrays the trust, confidence and protection in Yahweh’s shepherding care. This Psalm can be classified as a hymn because as we see some allusions of sanctuary of God, and a reference to cultic meal.

III. Structutre

The structure of Psalm can be divided in to two main sections- 1. The Lord as shepherd (Ps. 23: 1-4) and 2. The Lord as host (Ps. 23: 5—6). Ron Tappy considers V. 1 as an introduction of the theme of the passage and v. 6 as the closure of the passage.[5] V. 1, 4, 6 are very strategic and self-contained verses which holds the whole Psalm together in terms of the transition of the image of Yahweh from being a shepherd to being a host and also a “passage”[6] from one situation of an individual life to another situation. Some scholars do disagree with this idea of transition of the imagery as they opine that the imagery of the shepherd is retained in Vv. 5-6.[7] A tripartite structure of the Psalms 23 was proposed as the Lord who was depicted before the Psalmist (Vv.1-3), The Lord with the Psalmist (V. 4), and the Lord following the Psalmist (Vv. 5-6).[8] The structure of the Psalm 23 can be divided as

I. The role of Yahweh as a shepherd (Vv. 1-4)

II. Experience of contentment, trust and confidence in Yahweh through the vicissitudes of life (Vv. 5-6)

Let us closely observe the structure of the psalm. Vv. 1-3- Yahweh as shepherd who is mentioned in third person (a); v. 4 – Yahweh as shepherd who is mentioned in 2nd person (b); v. 5- Yahweh as host who is mentioned in 2nd person (b’); Yahweh as shepherd who is mentioned in third person (a’). We have observed this by looking at how Psalmist referred to Yahweh. The structure of the Psalm then is abb’a’.

If we see from a thematic point of view:

Vv. 1-3- Shepherding care (a)

V. 4. Protection given by the shepherd (b)

Vv. 5a and 6a- protection and hospitality (b’)

Vv. 5b and 6b- protection and hospitality (a’)

The structure is then abb’a’. This is a rhetorical structure in which the role of Yahweh is emphasized.[9]

IV. Setting

It is difficult to place Psalm 23 to one particular setting as it is very ambiguous. However, there are some hypothetical proposals in relation to the setting of this Psalm. These hypothetical explanations can be classified as cultic, non-cultic, pilgrimage, royal interpretation and exilic setting. It can be of a cultic setting as we see in v. 6 a reference to the “house of the Lord” which can also presume a pilgrimage setting.[10] Therefore this Psalm can also be called as “Psalm of Pilgrimage.”[11] The other probable setting of this song is that of an exilic time. This may well be the reason we see a movement towards the temple, most probably for a feast.[12] With the mention of enemies in V. 5, we may assume a setting where the Psalmist was protected from enemies by Yahweh and out of that experience he thanks Yahweh. From Mowinckel’s point of view we can classify this Psalm as a “song of thanksgiving.”[13]

Keeping in view the said arguments regarding the setting of Psalm 23, I would like to classify this Psalm to a setting of an individual’s journey of life in which he/she is confident of Yahweh’s shepherding protection, care and also guidance. This breaks forth into a longing for worship among the people of God in the temple.

V. Analysis of the keywords

A. Lexical data

1. רעה– “to lead; cause to graze, guard.”

The Qal participle form of the above word can be translated as “shepherd.”[14] It is used 168 times in qal form in OT. In a larger context of AWA, this word is used for kings and rulers.[15] This metaphor of “shepherd” has been used as a title for the kings and gods in Mesopotamian, and Egyptian but this word differs in meaning in Greece as we see there are variant words used for this metaphor.[16] The other meaning for this word is “to get involved with” as in Hos. 12: 2; 2 Kgs. 10: 12.[17] We see this word in “shepherd” chapters (Ezk. 34; 23:7” 24; Zech. 11). Depending on the subject and object there are variant translations of this verb in Qal.[18]

a)      Sub: people- “to drive cattle to pasture, let graze, pasture.” (Gen. 29: 7; 30: 31, 36 etc)

b)     Abs- “to be a shepherd, to guard” esp in ptcpl (Gen. 37: 2, 13, 16; 1 Sam. 16: 11 etc).

c)      Fig: “to guard (people), to govern (2 Sam. 7: 7= 1Chron. 17: 6; Jer. 3: 15 etc)

d)     Personified- Sub- “to nourish, refresh” etc (Hosea 9: 2, threshing floor and winepress; Prov. 10: 21).

i. Metaphorical usage

The metaphor of “shepherd” in Psalm 23 can be understood from religious and cultural point of view. In a community where the economy is mainly dominated by farming and rearing cattle, the title “shepherd” is very common title that can easily be attributed to God, King and authorities in general.[19] This usage of the title is very old that goes back to patriarchal religions (Isa. 63: 11; Jer. 13: 17; 23: 1-4; 31: 10; 50: 19, Ezek. 34: 11 ff). However, Wallis opines that the metaphor “shepherd” was used hesitantly to connect with leadership.[20] In other words the word “shepherd” as title was never used for a king in Israel, as there are no such evidences of such usage.[21] However, we do see an explicit expression of Yahweh as a shepherd which presents us a high probability of such usage for the leadership in Israel.

2. נחל– “to lead, guide.”

The Lexical meaning of the above word is “lead, guide to a watering-place or station and cause to rest there; bring to a station or place of rest.”[22]  This particular word is used in Isaiah 40: 11 and Psalm 23: 2 which portrays the helpless state of the sheep which depend on the providence and the care of the Shepherd. Another meaning of this word is “lead to a watering-place, and cause to rest there with subject as Shepherd (Isa. 49: 10, Ps. 23: 2, Isa. 40: 11).[23] In other words this word means to “give rest or bring to rest.”[24]

3. נחה- Lead, guide

This verb in Qal and Hip means “to lead/ guide.” Its Arab equivalent means “to wend one’s way…turns go into the direction.”[25] To talk more precisely as per the Psalm 23: 3, it can mean “Yahweh self initiation to lead his sheep in a right way.” The word, in this particular context highlights the action of the Shepherd to lead his flock in a right way. Therefore the word can be interpreted as to “lead someone in the right way, show someone the right way.”[26] We see a poetic parallelism in the usage of the two different words which sound similar – נהל in Ps. 23: 2 and נחה- in Ps. 23: 3. This word encompasses past, present and future dimensions. This word is used in the wilderness stories where God has led the people of Israel in the wilderness. In Psalm 23: 3, this word connotes a confession of trust which depicts Yahweh as the upholder of those who laments. This also has an anticipatory dimension of Yahweh’s “protective accompaniment.”[27] The context of this verb’s usage is its application of shepherd image to Yahweh.  This verb is used in parallel to רעה (Ps.23: 2); 31: 4 parallel to 77: 21- “like a flock”; 78: 72. Antonym- “to lead astray.”- (Jer. 50: 6).

B. Dictionary data

1. רעה– “to lead; cause to graze, guard.”

The word רֹעִי (participle) occurs 60 times in Old Testament. The primary meaning of this word is “feed.” The later versions translated this verse as “kept” as in Gen. 29: 9 (KJV and RSV), then to “tend” (JPS). However, there is a great degree of confusion among the translators of different versions regarding this word. The actual meaning of this word is “pastured” or “herded.”

In the Ancient Near Eastern culture this word is used to qualify the ability of a king who “pastures” his people. “Shepherd” is an attribute that is ascribed to God which is a mark of OT offices of Prophet, Priest and King. This paradigm of “shepherding” has to be maintained. Any failure to fulfil this role is viewed as a gross transgression (Ezek. 24: 2ff). Isa. 40: 11 portrays God as a caring and loving shepherd. This theological idea of Good shepherd in OT (Jer. 3: 15) becomes prominent in NT (Jh. 10: 11).

2. נחל– “to lead, guide.”

This verb here in piel or Hithpael connotes a meaning of “shepherd’s loving concern” in leading his flock. The basic meaning of this root is “leading by the hand (Isa. 51: 18) – to lead someone who is helpless. The other basic meaning which is parallel to רעה connotes the loving care of the Shepherd who would carry the lambs in his arms (Isa. 40: 11).

3. נחה

The root of this word means “conducting one’s path in a right path.” It occurs 39 times. It also means “to heard” to a predetermined destination. It is used equally with the verb “to lead tenderly (Ps. 31: 3; Job. 31: 18).” This verb points out to the destination also. It means that “God going before and showing the way.” (Ps. 5: 8, Prov. 6: 22; Prov 11: 3; Ps. 67: 4; Ps. 31: 3).

VI. Synthesis of the passage

A. Exegetical outline

1. Psalmist’s contentment in Yahweh’s providential care. V.1

a. Yahweh’s providential care. V.1 a

b. Psalmist’s contentment. V. 1 b

2. Yahweh’s loving care in the vicissitudes of life of the Psalmist. V.2 

a. Yahweh’s loving care. V. 2a

b. Yahweh’s leading through the vicissitudes of life. V. 2b

3. Yahweh’s restoration of psalmist’s life and guidance into the right paths.

a. Psalmist’s life restored by Yahweh. V. 3a

b. Psalmist is guided into right paths by Yahweh. V. 3b

4. Psalmist’s security in Yahweh’s presence V. 4

            a. Fearlessness in death 4a

b. Yahweh’s presence as a reason to be fearless. 4b

5. Psalmist’s security from adversaries in the presence of Yahweh V. 5

            a. Psalmist’s confidence of Yahweh’s protection in the future V. 5b

b. Celebration of Yahweh’s protection. V. 5c

6. Psalmist’s assurance of and gratitude to Yahweh’s providential care.  V. 6

            a. Psalmist’s self-assurance of Yahweh’s protection V. 6a

b. Psalmist anticipation to rejoice in the temple V. 6b

VII. Theological analysis

The OT theology of Shepherding role of Yahweh has completely been fulfilled in Christ. In John 10: 11- 18 Jesus explains more explicitly about the role of a “Good shepherd.” He himself being the gate (Jh. 10: 7), he was able to lead the sheep into his fold and thereby giving them protection, contentment and assurance of hope both individually to the people of Israel and also to those who are not of his fold. Here, NT theology of a good shepherd goes an extra mile than OT theology of a good shepherd. OT theology is of Jewish particularity to universality of all. Therefore the role of Yahweh as a good shepherd is fulfilled in Christ who extended this role to all the peoples of the earth. (Jh. 10: 16).

VIII. Expository explanation

I.  Psalmist’s contentment in Yahweh’s providential care. V.1

            Psalm 23 starts with the Tetragramaton “יְהוָה” and the same word occurs at the end (v. 6) which would form an inclusion.[28] The main theme of this psalm is Yahweh as shepherd to his flock. The metaphor of Shepherd is used to project a relationship and also Yahweh’s providential care to his sheep. The phrase “I shall not lack” points out to Psalmist’s contentment in Yahweh’s providential care. In other words this verse is a faith affirmation of Psalmist who lacks nothing as a consequence of being in the shepherding care of Yahweh.

2. Yahweh’s loving care in the vicissitudes of life of the Psalmist. V.2 

If we observe Hebrew translation and NRSV translation we find significant differences. In NRSV the phrase “he makes me lie down” sounds so superficial because it is not so clear about the state of condition of the Psalmist. But the wooden translation of this phrase throws more light into it. The appropriate translation would be “he shall cause me to lie down.” What does it mean? It points out to the helpless condition of the Psalmist to help himself. It is God who “causes” him to lie down. So, therefore it is not David’s effort to act but it is God’s act of grace and care caused him to lie down in green pastures.  The word “נחל” which means “to lead or to guide.” This is not just leading or guiding. Here, we see a priestly care of looking back and leading by the hand. This verb here in piel or Hithpael connotes a meaning of “shepherd’s loving concern” in leading his flock. The basic meaning of this root is “leading by the hand (Isa. 51: 18) – to lead someone who is helpless. The other basic meaning which is parallel to “רעה” connotes the loving care of the Shepherd who would carry the lambs in his arms. (Isa. 40: 11).

3. Yahweh’s restoration of psalmist’s life and guidance into the right paths. V. 3

NRSV translation misses the “causative” aspect. It simply says “he restores my soul,” and “he leads me in …” It doesn’t present the state of condition. The Hebrew wooden translation gives us a vivid picture. This verse means God brings Psalmist’s life to a state of life and he causes him to walk in the paths of righteous. It is God’s act. Psalmist was is in helpless state of condition but it is God who causes him to come to a state of life and who causes him to walk in the paths of righteous just as God did to the people of Israel in the wilderness. To understand this phenomenon we need to understand the word “נחה.” This word means “conducting one’s path in a right direction, going before to show the right path.” This needs confrontation whenever we go astray. This same word is used as an antonym in Jer. 50: 6- “to lead astray.” So, God acts as a “shepherding- prophet” who by himself confronts us when we go astray and causes us to walk in righteous paths by making a way before us.

4. Psalmist’s security in Yahweh’s presence V. 4

This verse portrays a precariousness of life and also Psalmist’s trust in God’s shepherding protection and care in such times. The expression “death shadow” is a metaphor closely associated with the Shepherd and his flock. This may simply means “total darkness” in the events of life. This expression as a metaphor may also conveys the wilderness experience of the people of Israel.[29] The rod and staff are used to drive away wild animals and also to control the sheep respectively.[30]These two can be understood as the symbols of authority and defensive tool in leading the flock.

5. Psalmist’s security from adversaries in the presence of Yahweh V. 5

This verse serves as a transition of imagery of Yahweh as shepherd to Yahweh as host in the midst of Psalmist’s adversaries. This verse also serves as mixture of metaphorical language in Vv. 1-4 and reality of life in vv. 5-6. It may well be assumed that Psalmist by reminiscing the redemptive acts of Yahweh in the past, he anticipates God’s hospitality as a shepherd and as host in the midst of Psalmist’s adversaries. The phrase “You cause yourself to anoint me with the oil” conveys a meaning of a “traditional anointing ceremony of preparation”[31] or it may also mean host pouring out oil on the guest’s head.[32] Either ways both convey a joyous situation or a celebration of Psalmist as he reminisces and anticipates Yahweh’s unfailing love which he is experiencing at the present which is conveyed in the phrase “(And) my cup overflows.”

6. Psalmist’s assurance of and gratitude to Yahweh’s providential care. V. 6

            The saving presence of Yahweh in the past and the present gave rise to confidence of Yahweh’s unfailing love to the Psalmist. This was well expressed in the covenantal terms like הסד loving kindness. In other words the God who bountifully dealt with the Psalmist in the past and present would continue to do so in the future.[33] This gives every reason for the Psalmist to worship and celebrate in the midst of the people of God in the house of Yahweh.

IX. Application: a perspectival reading of the Psalm 23

Psalm 23 can be read from a leadership perspective as we have observed Yahweh’s shepherding role in protecting, providing, comforting and confronting. Therefore, Psalm 23 presents us “a paradigm of leadership.” We can categorize the role of Yahweh in being a Shepherd played a role of a king who provided and protected his flock, as a priest who led his flock with utmost care, and comfort and as a prophet who guided his flock in righteous path and also as a host who would demonstrate his providential care towards his flock in the midst of adverse times and adversaries.

How do we apply this paradigm for leadership in Psalm 23 to our present day context? We will apply this individually and corporately. Everyone called to be a leader in their own respective areas. Yahweh’s role as a shepherd presents a paradigm for leadership to be imitated. We all have a king, a priest and a prophet in us. I may be good as a king but weak in other two areas. What I need to do is to make space for those two areas to show my weakness with their strengths and strengthen me wherever I am weak. I need to learn and willing to be corrected in order to grow. Grow into what? Into Christ-likeness. Corporately in any institution or in any church in order to deal with the crisis in leadership it has to make space for each of its departments like HR (which is equivalent to priestly office), board advisors (prophetic office) and administration (royal office) in order to grow mutually by strengthening each other growing into the likeness of the Kingdom of God. Besides this, we need to show hospitality towards each other especially in difficult times. This is where a pastoral dimension becomes very much relevant. So, individually and corporately we need to apply this paradigm in Psalm 23 in order for us to grow into Christ-likeness in order to enter into his kingdom. This paradigm has been fulfilled in person of Christ.

X. Conclusion

Psalm 23 is all about God’s providential care and protection through the vicissitudes of life which calls us to rejoice and celebrate in the community of people of God. The role of God as shepherd presents us a paradigm for leadership for us today. Psalm 23 reassures us and invokes confidence in us as it helps us reminisce the saving presence of God in the past, present and the future. Psalm 23 presents is one of those texts which present a rich and higher concept of “leadership” in metaphorical language. The first three verses present a picture of God as a shepherd metaphorically. It is not just a metaphor. It presents Yahweh’s act of grace and providence in the past and his continual providential care at the present and assured security and hope in the future. This is something profound meaning arising out of this metaphor. So, therefore by experiencing God’s providential care, as believers we should acknowledge God’s Shepherding love with thanksgiving. By the Sensus Plenor approach, Psalm 23 can be fully understood through the re-reading of the text from the Gospels point of view. Jesus Christ has personified this metaphor of “shepherd” and gave us the meaning and reason to worship in thanksgiving.

Bibliography

Barth. “נָחָה.” Edited by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry. Translated by David E. Green. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

Brown, F, Driver S. R., and Briggs C. A. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907.

Craigie, Peter C. “Psalms 1-50.” Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983.

Goldingay, John. Psalms. Edited by Tremper Longman III. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

Jenni, E. “נחה.” Edited by Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann. Translated by Mark. E Biddle. Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

Kapelrud. “נָהַל.” Edited by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry. Translated by David E. Green. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

Kraus, Hans-Joachim. Psalms 1-59. Translated by Hilton C. Oswald. A Continental Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Lundbom, Jack R. “Psalm 23 : song of passage.” Interpretation 40, no. 1 (January 1, 1986): 5-16.

Smith, Mark S. “Setting and rhetoric in Psalm 23.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, no. 41 (June 1, 1988): 61-66.

Soggin, J. A. Edited by Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann. Translated by Mark E. Biddle. Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

Tappy, Ron E. “Psalm 23 : Symbolism and Structure.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57, no. 2 (April 1, 1995): 255-280.


[1] We also need to point out that this Psalm belongs to individual Psalms and by the superscript we may assume a Davidic authorship to this Psalm. However, we do have some problems in attributing this Psalm to David because of varied meaning to the Hebrew word “לְדָוִד” which can be translated as “for David, or of David.” If we observe from the text we observe first person usage for the Psalmist which leads us to think this Psalm is “of David.”

[2]Gunkel classifies Psalm 23 as Psalm of trust or confidence, Peter C Craigie, “Psalms 1-50,” in Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), in Psalms 1-50, 19:204.

[3] Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59 (trans. Hilton C. Oswald; A Continental Commentary; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 304.

[4] Ibid., 305.

[5] Ron E. Tappy, “Psalm 23 : Symbolism and Structure.,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57, no. 2 (April 1, 1995): 260.

[6]The author in  this article considers Psalm 23 as a song of passage as it describes God’s providence and care in all the seasons of life in an individual lives, see,  Jack R. Lundbom, “Psalm 23 : song of passage.,” Interpretation 40, no. 1 (January 1, 1986): 7.

[7] Craigie, “Psalms 1-50,” in Psalms 1-50, 19:205.

[8] Mark S. Smith, “Setting and rhetoric in Psalm 23.,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, no. 41 (June 1, 1988): 62-63.

[9] John Goldingay, Psalms (ed. Tremper Longman III; Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 346.

[10] Ibid., 23.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 63.

[13] Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 306.

[14] J. A Soggin, “רעה,” ed. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, trans. Mark E. Biddle, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 3:1246.

[15] Wallis, “רָעָה,” ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, trans. David E. Green, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), XIII:544.

[16] Ibid., XIII:547–549.

[17] Soggin, “רעה,” 3:1246.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 3:1247.

[20] Wallis, “רָעָה,” XIII:549.

[21] Ibid., XIII:550.

[22] F Brown, Driver S. R., and Briggs C. A., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), 624.

[23] Ibid., 625.

[24] Kapelrud, “נָהַל,” XIII:260.

[25] E Jenni, “נחה,” ed. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, trans. Mark. E Biddle, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 2:729.

[26] Barth, “נָחָה,” ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, trans. David E. Green, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), XIII:312.

[27] Ibid., XIII:318.

[28] Craigie, “Psalms 1-50,” in Psalms 1-50, 19:206.

[29] Ibid., in Psalms 1-50, 19:207.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., in Psalms 1-50, 19:208.

[32] Goldingay, Psalms, 352.

[33] Craigie, “Psalms 1-50,” in Psalms 1-50, 19:208.

The Fourth Trumpet: An Exposition on Rev 8: 12-13

“THE FOURTH TRUMPET”

Rev 8:12-13

Introduction:

In this postmodern world where there are no absolutes, man has become relativistic in nature. When there are no absolutes, there is no need to identify sin and acknowledge it. Morals and ethics are no longer absolute in nature but relativistic. By breaking moral and ethical laws, today, we have witnessed a surge of chaotic incidents like people killing each other in the name of religion, abuse of little children, illicit relationships, and large number of abortions. The root cause of all these chaotic happenings is the inability to identify sin in our conscience. When we do not identify sin, there is no chance of feeling guilty, for some, though they feel guilty, they do not confess. Revelation 8:12-13 speaks about God’s judgment on such people. Though the message is ancient old written to that particular context, it still speaks out to us with a tone of warning about the things to come. Keeping in view of this Passage, I would like to entitle my sermon as “The Fourth trumpet.”

The Background: the context and genre

The book of Revelation is normally considered as belonging to a class of literature referred to as apocalyptic. The term “apocalypse” used to denote a literary genre is derived from Rev. 1:1, where it designates supernatural unveiling of that which is about to take place. The context behind this book is persecution. The names of the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, modern Turkey, specifically locate the recipients of the book which gives us some historical situation. Some of the churches were under persecution under the emperor Domitian. As a part of persecution John was exiled to Isle of Patmos. It is in this context John wrote this apocalypse which he has received from God to exhort and to warn all the believers who were scattered in different churches. He also presents the coming day of the Lord. To have brief understanding I would like to divide both the verses in tow different sections,

V. 12: “The blowing of the fourth trumpet and its effects”

V. 13: “The Eagle’s cry”

The Blowing of the fourth trumpet and its effects:

12  the fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of the stars, so that a third of their light was darkened; a third of the day was kept from shinning, and likewise the night.

The fourth trumpet can be compared to the ninth Egyptian plague (cf. Exod. 10:22). “…their light was darkened;” can be understood as the darkness that has covered all the celestial bodies and also the earth. Darkness often referred as God’s judgment throughout Old Testament. We can see in Exod. 10:22, because of the ninth plague from God, the thick darkness spreads over the land of Egypt for three days except the land of Goshen. John wanted to symbolize this phenomenon in a metaphorical way to exhort all the believers scattered in different churches about the “coming day of the Lord” and the judgment on the wicked kingdom by whom they were being persecuted. The prophet Amos spoke of the day of the Lord as a day of darkness rather than light (Amos 5:18). For Joel it will be  “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (Joel 2:2). Jesus, quoting Isaiah, says that in the day of the Lord “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light” (Mark 13:24; cf. Isa. 13:10). Thus, the fourth trumpet is a fulfillment of these prophecies.

Though the message is age old but is still fresh and relevant to today’s context. In the persecution we are living in, the message of revelation gives us hope but it also demands our patience to endure the suffering and pain. It also exhorts us to look for a breakthrough in every breakdown in our lives. So, during the times like this, it is our faithfulness that proves our love for Christ.

The Eagle’s cry:

 13 then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew in mid-heaven, “woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

The first four trumpets were directed towards the celestial bodies. The Eagle’s cry “woe, woe, woe!” is a metaphorical cry that depicts three more disasters to come. This time it is towards rebellious humanity. We see the effects of the two woes in Ch. 9 and the other in Rev. 11: 15-19. The first woe has a parallel in the Egyptian plague of locusts (Exod. 10:1-20), and the second woe with the killing of the first born of Egypt by the Angel of death, and the third is ultimate judgment of God in nation.

Now, by reflecting on these woes and on the condition of humanity mentioned in the passage, more or less it reflects the condition of the present times. Unfortunately, many of our young brothers were so obsessed with technology in order to make their lives more comfortable, sophisticated and more so they have reached a point where they are preparing their ground to challenge and question the very existence of GOD. Atheism is all about “There is no GOD” or “GOD does not exist” but now in a technical-obsessed generation it has taken a new visage and it has come about like “If GOD exists, we are here to dispose HIM off”. Man has come to this point where he wants to play GOD. When we retrospect in to our history, many have tried to play GOD but always left them a bitter taste at the end. The first pioneer to play GOD is Adam and he brought sin and death together at the same time. People like Voltaire, Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, Napoleon, and Alexander the great, as he was called; they all have had a very bitter taste of their lives at the end. There is other kind of people who doesn’t care whether GOD really exists or not and more so they don’t like that idea. So, in a world view like this kind, man has lost the ability of the self-conscience awareness of sin. It is for this kind of people the Eagle’s cry “woe, woe, woe!” has been echoed and it is still fresh to this very day which gives every reason for each one of us to identify our sin in us and acknowledge it to God for forgiveness.

Conclusion:

To conclude, the message of Revelation may have been written in metaphor to the churches that were being persecuted under Domitian but still its message echoes convicting our hearts and minds. Rev 8:12-13, is all about the fate that is inevitable for the rebellious mankind. Now the message is revealed and unfolded, a hardened heart will see the darkness and hear the woe of the great disaster.

The coming wrath and the judgment give every reason to each one of us to have an obligation of carrying the love Christ to those who are perishing in sin. Keeping in mind the message of Revelation, a Christian should penetrate in to the thickest corrupted society transforming the very nature of the society from inside out. This is the responsibility of every Christian in whom God has placed his burden which becomes the sum and the substance of his very existence.

AMEN.

Making the Invisible God Visible: An Expository study on 1 Jon 4: 7-12

creationIntroduction

How do you define love? What is love? Sadly, in English love is a common word for everything I like. For example, I can use the same word to say I love Cricket and I love my mom. Greek philosophy presents four different usage-one is Agape which is divine love, second one is Philia- friendly love, Eros-romantic love and Sotge- parental love. The point I want to make is that I can define ‘love’ according to my own desires. Because of this, the world itself is struggling to find the true meaning of ‘love’ because everybody has got their own definition of love. Due to this we see lot of confusion, wrong ideas and teaching which has led our world through a painful history of violence. We as humans still can’t learn from our past mistakes. The underlying and lurking problem is impiety – Godlessness. Godlessness precedes immorality.  Even the church, which claims to be ‘knowing’ God, could not able imitate God’s love in the church. This is the reason the church is imitating world rather than her Master.

1 John. 4:7-12 presents the same situation, where John is confronting the church of its heretical teachings. John emphasizes the need and obligation to love one another as he feels love is the hallmark of Christian community. It is only when God is the subject of love and the realization of it in the person and work of Jesus Christ can we, as Christians, be able to witness Agape love in and outside of the church. Keep this in mind, I would like to entitle this article as “Making the Invisible God Visible.”

Illustration:

Fedrick Neitzche- “God is dead” philosophy influenced Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. These people in turn became the cause of millions of deaths. There was brutal blood shed the world has ever see. You see, when kill God, we actually dig our own grave. This exactly what happened in our past and it will happen if we eliminate God who is the subject of love.

I. God is love (Vv. 7-12)

V. 7 Beloved, let us love another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

A. Love is the nature of God and God is the source of love.

Love is not just one of the characteristics of God but it is in the very being of God. It is the nature of God. God is always in loving communion within. There is mutual loving in the Godhead. This is not an abstract concept rather it is the ground reality. Therefore, whatever God does, He does in love.

“Love is from God”

God is the subject of love. In other words God transcends all our ideas of love. The true definition can only be understood only when God is the subject of it. This makes God to be the absolute source of love. The phrase “love is from God” shows that God is indeed the true source of love.

B. Loving one another: Result of New- birth

“Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God”

Those who claim to ‘know’ and born of God should love one another because of the ground reality of God is love and He is the true source of love. This love should be practiced in our Christian community.  This is what it means by the phrase “everyone who love is born of God and knows God.” If we think we are born-again then the immediate result should be our ‘love for our neighbour.’

V. 8 whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love

This phrase points out to those who claim that they know God but does not love their fellow-Christian does not know God. Their lives are in contradiction to the ground reality “God is love.” We cannot claim knowing God without loving our neighbour. This leads into spiritual hypocrisy and immorality.

Let me illustrate you with the concept of ‘Image of God.” Gen. 1:27 says that man was made in the image of God. Image of God has three relational dimensions. One is God-man, man-man and man to natures. Sin has distorted our image and so also our relationship with God was broken and the rest followed. To restore this broken image God sent his only son for us to die on the Cross which is the ultimate expression of love. Our image has been restored. Now the point is restoration in us starts with realization that you and I were made in the image of God. Realization starts with feeling of guilt because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, then it leads to confession and repentance. It is only at the feet of the Cross, as we realize our nothingness, indeed, we realize that God has created us in His image. When we realize that we were made in the Image of God, we realize our neighbour bears the same image as ours. Therefore, we will be able to love our neighbor. In a nutshell, we will be able to love our neighbour only when we truly love God.

John as he called the Church to love one another because God is the ground reality of love, source and the his nature is love; now he gives two evidences on how God revealed his love in the past and He is made visible in the community.

II. Evidences 1: God’s revealed love (9-10)

v. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only son into the word so that we might live through him.

A. Cross: the ultimate expression of God’s love v. 9

The revelation of God’s love took place in the fact of the reality of sending his only son. He did not send his son but only son. The phrase “only son” is used in Gen. 22: 2 where God in order to test the love of Abraham towards Himself commands him to sacrifice his only son Issac. As the narration tells us that the moment Abraham raises his blade to slay his only son; God calls out and stops the blade from striking Issac.

Almost 4000 years later, God did not stop the blade from striking His “only son” on the Cross. The Son’s sacrifice is a requirement for the atonement of our sins. God in love gave his only son to us and Son in love, gave his life for us. So that we might live through Him. Therefore Cross stands as the greatest expression of God’s self-sacrificing love for us. This is Agape love.

B. Definition of Love: God’s love precedes our love v. 10

v. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and send his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The definition of love apart from God is only an illusion or a lie. If God is not the subject of our human love, then that loves ceases to be love. Here in the verse John now defines what true love is. The phrase “In this is love” recaps what he said in the previous verse about the fact of God giving up His only son for us as an “atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This is the fundamental reality and truth that it is God who took first initiative to love before we actually had the notions of loving Him.

He loved us first irrespective who we are. He loved both the saint and a sinner alike. This is divine love- Agape. This is the true and ultimate definition of love. As John defined the definition of true love, now he goes on to give second evidence as of how this divine love is manifested in Christian community.

III. Evidence 2: Making Invisible God visible Vv. 11-12

v. 11. Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

A. Obligation to love one another v.11

In this verse the preposition “so” recaps what John was discussing so far. He started with explaining God as the subject of love; source and he revealed His love in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Based on this revelation, John is re-emphasizing the church to “love one another.” This is an imperative obligation for those who claim to know God. There are three results associated with this act of “loving one another.”

v. 12. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.

i. Result 1: God is made visible V. 12a-12b

The phrase “No one has ever seen God” is a direct confrontation of those who falsely claim that they have seen God and not loving one another. John takes his argument to a different level. The invisible God made Himself visible in the person and work Jesus Christ and He is made visible in the community by us when we love one another. This is the most profound idea that flows out the greatest truth that ‘God is love.’ In other words, God’s visibility in the community is a direct result of our mutual communication of love in the community.

ii. Result 2: The dwelling of God in the community v. 12c

The second result is “God lives in us.” Not only God is made visible in the community of faith but also He tabernacles ‘in’ us. The preposition ‘in’ emphasizes both individual indwelling and indwelling of God in the community. In other words, as we love one another, Christ’s love is made visible in the community of faith. Hence, God lives in us.

iii. Result 3: The perfection of God’s love in the community v. 12d

The third result is “his love is perfected in us.” By the very act of loving one another, God is made visible in our community, He dwells in our community and finally His love is made perfect in us. We all are not perfect but we are in the ‘becoming.’ As we love one another, God’s love is becoming perfect in and through of our relationships. Sometimes we may fail to love but this verse calls us back to make an extra effort to love our neighbor.

Mother Terresa was invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast held on Feb 3rd, 1994 at the White House, United States. All the participants who were assigned to speak were given strict instructions as of not to speak anything controversial. There were many heavy hitters like Algore and his family alongside the President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton. However, Mother did not get that notice. Particularly on that day she spoke against ‘abortion’ which strongly sounded controversial. In her speech, there were many issues which are in disagreement with Clinton’s view on abortion. One of the reporters asked him to comment on her and here is what he said, “How can anyone argue on a life so well-lived?”

How can anyone argue on a life well-lived? This is the evidence of God’s love dwelling in her as she practiced God’s love in and through her life. No wonder she is called St. Mother Terresa.

Conclusion

I would like to conclude my sermon with two illustrations. Many a times we don’t even know there is a need to forgive and to be forgiven. We claim that we love God but we can’t love our neighbor.

There is a story about a young Jewish boy during Nazi regime. His father was murdered by a Nazi officer in one of the concentration camps. From then, this young boy wanted to take vengeance. After 15 years of struggle and searching finally he finds that officer in a hotel room. He puts his gun on the officer’s head and asks for his last wish. Officer replies by asking him to forgive him, but that young man says, “I may stop myself killing you, but I can’t forgive you.” And he pulls the trigger.

The point here is the reluctance to forgive. Many a times we find ourselves in more or less same situation. Though the Holy Spirit convicts us, we will not take a step ahead to forgive but rather build grudges and with this attitude we come to worship claiming to know God. We need to ask ourselves – “how can I worship in the presence of God without making peace with my brother or sister?”

God rejects such worship because prerequisite to worship is a right relationship with God and man or else our spirituality has no meaning. It is mere hypocrisy.

God’s love for us is not static but it is contagious. It should flow through us to others, healing others of their brokenness. Lending a shoulder to those who needs a shoulder to lean on. Helping those who are struggling in their academic and spiritual pursuits. Forgiving others – are marks of the one who lives in the presence of God.

It is not so easy. It is struggle. It’s a war against with ourselves. We need to break our pride, ego and hatred to love and forgive.

It is in such relationship, we can witness the presence of God (1 John 3:12). As we depart from this morning, let us once again remind ourselves that God is love and he revealed that love in the person and work of Jesus Christ and it is perfected among us in and through our loving relationships with each other.

As we love one another, we actually make God visible in our community thus witnessing to the world of our Master’s sacrificial love.