Wednesday, December 04, 2013

"He Will Baptize With Fire": The Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent

This Sunday as we continue to prepare for Christmas--for the coming of the Lord--the lectionary has us reflect on the gift Christ comes to bestow upon us: the Spirit of the Lord.

Here's a brief commentary on the Sunday readings

FIRST READING: Isaiah 11:1-10

The Messiah as "the Branch"
On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
Here we have a prophecy that played a pivotal role in the development of Israel's messianic hopes. While the term "messiah" is not specifically used, ancient Jews clearly linked this passage to such expectations (cf. 1 Enoch 49:3, which links the passage to the Danielic "son of man"; cf. also later rabbinic tradition, Gen. Rab. 97; Ruth Rab. 8:2). Many of the themes that appear were clearly associated with the messianic age (e.g., the age of justice, the inclusion of Gentiles, etc.)

Specifically, the prophecy here alludes to the apparent non-fulfillment of God's promise to David. Let me explain.

God had promised David a kingdom that would last forever: "And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.’” (2 Sam 7:16). Of course, David was the son of Jesse (cf. 1 Sam 16). The royal line is thus from the family tree of Jesse. (This is the origin of the "Jesse Tree" Advent devotional: Christians reflect on God's promises to David, the son of Jesse.)

However, Isiaah doesn't see a tree of Jesse but a stump. In other words, the line of David seemed to have come to end. This was the situation Israel found itself in after the fall of the Davidic kingdom in the sixth century B.C. God had promised that a descendant of David--someone from the line of Jesse!--would reign over a kingdom... that promise seemed to have failed.

Thus, the tree of Jesse now appeared to be a "stump"; the tree had been "cut down".

Yet Isaiah envisions a shoot coming, apparently miraculously, out of the stump; the line of David had not in fact come to an end. There is hope! A future king will come. The prophetic literature therefore sometimes refers to the Messiah as "the Branch" (cf. Jer. 23:5).

Incidentally, many scholars think this helps to explain an enigmatic passage in Matthew's Gospel. "And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazarene'" (Matt 1:23).

The problem here is this: there is no prophecy that states, "He shall be called a Nazarene". Why does Matthew say this? Probably because "Nazareth" etymologically related to the Hebrew word "branch" (netser). "Nazareth" is, essentially, "Branch Town". Because Jesus was from Nazareth, Jesus was a "Nazarene", i.e., "a Branch".

The Spirit of the Lord
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
Isaiah explains that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon the Messiah. Indeed, the "Spirit" is inseparable from the Messiah's role.

"Messiah" (in Greek, Christos = "Christ") literally means "anointed one". In the Old Testament, we read about how kings (as well as priests) were anointed with oil. The anointing of oil was linked with the coming of the Spirit. I cannot fully develop this theme but let me simply highlight one passage where this is clear, the anointing of David. In 1 Samuel 16 we read: "Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed [David] in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. (1 Sam 16:13)."

What is the Christ? He is the "anointed one", i.e., he is the one who comes in the Spirit. 

It is no surprise then that the Gospels especially link the public initiation of Jesus' Messianic ministry with his baptism. There the Spirit visibly descends upon him. In fact, in Luke Jesus' baptism is followed with an account of Jesus reading Isaiah 61, which states, "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me" (Isa. 61:1; cf. Luke 4:16-18).

Isaiah goes on to describe the Spirit in several terms. In the Greek version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (LXX), this passage involves seven elements: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Might (Fortitude), Knowledge, Piety (LXX only), Fear of the Lord.

The Holy Spirit is linked with the imagery of "seven" elsewhere in Scripture. In Isaiah 61 (a passage which also describes a figure upon whom the Spirit rests!), the Spirit is associated with seven activities. In Zechariah 4 the seven lamps of the menorah (Zech. 4:2) and the imagery of seven "eyes" (Zech. 4:10) are associated with the Spirit (Zech. 4:6). Likewise, in Revelation 4, a passage that draws on Zechariah 4, the "seven spirits" appear as an image of the Holy Spirit.

The Messiah is the one therefore who will come in the Spirit. 

The Messiah as Miraculous Judge
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. 
The Messiah is described here in terms of Solomonic wisdom. He will be able to go beyond appearances and judge what is unseen (the heart?). He will bring about justice and defeat his enemies with his word ("the rod of his mouth").

It is worth noting that some ancient Jews apparently read this verse quite literally.

One of the fascinating figures we read about in Jewish literature is Simon Bar Kosiba, a failed messianic prophet. In the end the movement he led was crushed. What gave it away that he wasn’t indeed the Messiah?
"Bar Kosiba reigned two and a half years, and then said to the Rabbis, 'I am the Messiah.' They answered, 'Of Messiah it is written that he smells and judges: let us see whether he [=Bar Kosiba] can do so.' When they saw that he was unable to judge by the scent, they slew him" (b. Sanh. 93b; cf. also m. Ta'an. 4:6; b. Git 57a—b; Lam. Rab. 2:2 §4). 
The passage alludes to Isaiah 11:3, 5: "He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear. . . he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked".

Simon Bar Kosiba apparently failed to convince that he was the Messiah because he could not judge with his eyes blindfolded; i.e., he had to judge by "what his eyes see" or "by appearance".

Apparently, this was not the only element of the prophecy he tried to convince others he could fulfill. The reference to the powerful breath of the servant ("with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked") may also have been behind Jerome's testimony that Simon "fanned a lighted blade of straw in his mouth with puffs of breath so as to give the impression that he was spewing out flames" (Rufinus 3.31; PL 23.480).

It seems some at least fell for his act. According to rabbinic tradition the famous Rabbi Aqiba held Simon to be the messiah because he believed he was able to perform miraculous signs (cf.y. Ta'an. 68d).

The Messiah and the Restoration of Zion
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.
On that day, the root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.
Isaiah here envisions a New Creation: all creatures with be at peace with one another. Specifically, this idea is linked to the hope of the restoration of Mt. Zion, the location of the temple.

Last week we also read from from a prophecy about how all peoples will come to worship the Lord in his house on Zion (cf. Isaiah 2). This theme is continued here with references to the peace established "on all my holy mountain" (cf. Ezek 28). We read that Gentiles will seek out the King, the root of Jesse.

Obviously, from the perspective of the New Covenant this is fulfilled in the Body of Christ, the true Temple (cf. John 2:19-21), who draws all men to himself.


The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended" (Ps 72:20), it seems that this was most likely understood as a psalm by David about Solomon. 
In keeping with the Davidic themes of the first reading, the responsorial psalm is taken from Psalm 72, which, in the Psalter, is described as a "Psalm of Solomon". Of course, the title could mean that the psalm is written by Solomon. However, given the fact that the psalm ends with the line, "

I won't comment on every line of the psalm. However, one key idea in this psalm needs to be developed a bit. Specifically, the psalm envisions God's promises to Abraham as being fulfilled in the rule of the son of David.

In Genesis 22, after showing his willingness to offer his only beloved son, Isaac, God tells Abraham: ". . . I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Gen 22:17-18).

This promise to Abraham is picked up in the description of the reign of the son of David, Solomon, in 1 Kings 4:20: "Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea". It is also picked up in Psalm 72, our responsorial psalm: "In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed" (Ps 72:17).

Indeed, in Scripture God's covenant to Abraham is portrayed as fulfilled, as least partially, in the Davidic kingdom. This is especially underscored by the Chronicler, who portrays David as receiving promises nearly identical to those given to Abraham: both are (1) promised a great “name” (Gen 12:1–3; 1 Chr 17:8); (2) that their people will be “planted” (Gen 12:1–3; Gen 17; 1 Chr 17:9; 28:9); that from them will emerge a line of kings (Gen 17; 2 Chr 17); promises are made regarding their "seed" (zera‘) (cf. 2 Chr 17). In fact, the son of David even eventually builds the temple built at the site where Abraham offered Isaac (cf. 2 Chr 3:1)!

All of this foreshadows the way Jesus, the Son of David, fulfills God's promises to Abraham. Indeed, the first verse of the New Testament describes Jesus as "the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matt 1:1).

SECOND READING: Romans 15:4-9

The Second Reading builds on the themes we have already been exploring.
Brothers and sisters:Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,
that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.May the God of endurance and encouragement
grant you to think in harmony with one another,
in keeping with Christ Jesus,
that with one accord you may with one voice
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul explains that what was written in the Old Testament is ultimately written for our instruction. The Old Testament is revealed in the New.

In it we find encouragement. God has been faithful to all of his promises. This should lead us to endure any suffering or affliction--we know that God has a plan and that those who trust in him will not be disappointed.
Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you,
for the glory of God.
For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised
to show God’s truthfulness,
to confirm the promises to the patriarchs,
but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
As it is written:
Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles
and sing praises to your name.
 Much could be said about these verses. Let me offer three thoughts.

First, Paul encourages believers to welcome one another. In context, Paul seems to be especially concerned about Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians living in harmony and unity in the Church.

Second, Paul explains gives the theological rationale for his appeal: the inclusion of the Gentiles is the fulfillment of God's promises to the Patriarchs. Above we discussed how this hope was especially connected to Abraham. Paul climaxes his argument with a quote from Isaiah 11, which we heard in the First Reading.

Third, Paul also explains that the goal of God's plan to include the Gentiles is ultimately liturgical: "that the Gentiles might glorify God". God's plan is ordered toward worship. 

GOSPEL: Matthew 3:1-12

"The Kingdom of Heaven"
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Once again the lectionary returns us to an image related to God's promises to David: the kingdom. In the Old Testament, the kingdom of David was identified as the "kingdom of the LORD". What made the kingdom of David so important? Again, the answer is liturgy. The kingdom of David was centered in Jerusalem, the location of the temple.
“[King Abijah said:] And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David, because you are a great multitude and have with you the golden calves... 9 Have you not driven out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for yourselves like the peoples of other lands? … 10 But as for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken him. We have priests ministering to the Lord who are sons of Aaron, and Levites for their service. (2 Chronicles 13:8-10)
I should mention that Jonathan Pennington has written a masterful study exploring the theme of the "kingdom of heaven" in Matthew's Gospel (see also this interview). Pennington highlights the way that the terminology points to the heavenly nature of the kingdom announced by Jesus. In particular, Pennington underscores the way the language draws from the book of Daniel.

In sum, the New Covenant isn't simply going to bring about a restoration of the Davidic kingdom as it existed in the Old Testament. Jesus is ushering in something new, a kind of transcendent fulfillment of Israel's hopes. What is realized in the Incarnation goes far beyond what was experienced in the kingdom of David centered in Jerusalem.

The Way of the Lord and the New Exodus
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord,make straight his paths.
Here John linked to Isaiah’s famous New Exodus prophecy. As in the Exodus, in the New Covenant (=New Exodus) God is preparing a "way". In Greek the word is hodos. "Exodus" (ex-hodos) means the “way out”, i.e., out of Egypt and in the wilderness.

John the Baptist and Elijah

In addition, John the Baptist is linked to another figure who was also linked to Moses and to Israel’s future deliverance: Elijah. This connection is evident in Luke 1, in which John's birth is announced.
And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:16–17) 
In fact, in Matthew 3, John the Baptist is described as essentially wearing the costume of the Old Testament prophet:
"Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey." (Matt 1:4) 
 In 1 Kings we discover, “[Elijah] wore a garment of haircloth, with a girdle of leather about his loins” (2 Kgs 1:8).

Elijah as a New Moses 
Elijah was described as a New Moses figure.* It makes sense that a figure announcing the New Exodus—John the Baptist—would be linked to Elijah. Consider some of the following ways Elijah mirrors Moses’ life and ministry. I could compile quite a list. Let me just name a few points of contact here.
  1. He upheld Mosaic religion and cult against Baal worship 
  2. He went into exile after angering the King (Ahab) (1 Kgs 17:1–7; cf. Exod 2:11–15 where Moses goes into exile) 
  3. He miraculously provided “bread” and “meat” in the morning and in the evening in the wilderness (cf. 1 Kgs 17:6; cf. Exod 16 where Moses provides the manna). 
  4. He gathered Israel at a mountain (Carmel) where God’s power is revealed in fire (1 Kgs 18:19; cf. Exod 19:17 where Moses leads Israel to Sinai) 
  5. He combats false prophets of Baal (cf. 1 Kgs 18:20–40; cf. Moses vs. Magicians, Exod 7:8–13, 20–22, 8:1–7) 
  6. He intercedes for idolatrous Israel, appealing to God of “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (1 Kgs 18:36–38; cf. Moses' intercession for Israel after the sin of the golden calf Exod 32:11–14) 
  7. He repairs the altar of the Lord at Mt. Carmel taking 12 stones symbolizing Israel (1 Kgs 18:30–32; cf. Exod 24:4: Moses erects altar with twelve pillars at Mt. Sinai) 
  8. He calls down fire to consume the sacrifices. Notice the parallels here! 
    1. “Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God” (1 Kings 18:38–39).
    2. “Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting; and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. 24 And fire came forth from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat upon the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted, and fell on their faces” (Lev 9:22–24). 
  9. Elijah commands idolaters to be slain (1 Kgs 18:40; cf. Exod 32:25–29: Moses commands Levites to kill those who worshipped the golden calf)
  10. After slaying idolaters Elijah goes up to Sinai/Horeb and fasts for forty days and forty nights in the (1 Kgs 19:8; Exod 32:28: Moses also fasts at Sinai/Horeb).
  11. Elijah is (re-)commissioned at Horeb (1 Kgs 19; cf. Exod 3: Moses is commissioned at the burning bush) 
  12. Elijah was in a cave when the Lord “passed by” (1 Kgs 19:9–11; cf. Moses in Exod 33:21–23) 
  13. On Horeb/Sinai there is a theophany with storm, wind and an earthquake (1 Kgs 19:11–12; cf. Exod 19:16–20 and Deut 4:11; 5:22–27: at Sinai “wind, earthquake, fire”)
  14. Elijah becomes depressed and “asked that he might die” (1 Kgs 19:1–14; cf. Num 11:1-15: Moses also prayed for death to come) 
  15. Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume his enemies (2 Kgs 1:9–12; cf. Num 16 and Lev 10:1–3: fire consumes Moses’ enemies) 
  16. Elijah parts the Jordan: “the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground” (2 Kgs 2:8). Compare with Exodus 14:21-22: "Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left” (Exod 14:21–22) 
  17. Elijah appointed a successor who resembled him and split the Jordan (2 Kgs 2; cf. Moses appoints Joshua)
  18. People thought Moses might still be alive, cast “upon some mountain or into some valley” (2 Kgs 2:9–18; cf. Deut 34:6: Moses died mysteriously and no one knew the place he was buried). 
In short, Elijah is a New Moses.

Elijah and the Restoration of Israel

As I mentioned, Elijah was linked to Israel’s future hopes for deliverance. Malachi describes the way “Elijah” will come before the eschatological age—i.e., the messianic age.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.” (Mal 4:5) 
Sirach also speaks of Elijah in similar terms:
“you [Elijah] who are ready at the appointed time, it is written, to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the heart of the father to the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.” (Sir 48:10). 
Notice the similarities here with the angel’s description of John to his father Zechariah in Luke: “he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children”.

Not surprisingly, then, John is identified by Jesus as Elijah. This is made explicit in Matthew after the Transfiguration. The disciples wonder at Jesus' eschatological language, asking, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” (Matt 17:10). Jesus replies,
“Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matt 17:9-13).  
John’s Baptism and the Essenes 

It appears that John had his finger on the pulse of first century Judaism. As the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal, there were many Jews who were thinking eschatologically, preparing for the coming of the messianic age.

Interestingly enough, the Jews at Qumran, apparently used language and performed rites similar to John the Baptist. For instance, in a striking parallel to the speech of John the Baptist recorded in the New Testament, we read in one Dead Sea Scroll text:
“When such men as these come to be in Israel, conforming to these doctrines, they shall separate from the session of perverse men to go to the wilderness, there to prepare the way of truth, as it is written, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’ [Is. 40:3]” (1QS 6:12-16). 
Likewise, we know that the Essene community, which is most likely to be identified in some way with the community who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, practiced ritual washing, symbolizing cleansing from impurity and entrance into the New Covenant community. Whether John had direct contact with the Essene community is impossible to know. But we do see John announcing something that many were apparently looking for: the dawning of the messianic age.

Of course, the New Testament points to John’s baptism as only a foreshadowing of Christian baptism. In Acts of the Apostles, Jesus explains after his resurrection to the apostles, “for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Likewise, Paul explains to those who had only received John’s baptism the need to receive Christian baptism, through which they receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 19:1–7).

Elijah and Elisha, John and Jesus

Given that Jesus comes after John, it is also worth noting something else about Elijah: he was followed by Elisha. After Elijah is taken up by a heavenly chariot at the River Jordan, Elisha receives a “double-portion” of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kgs 2:9–15). He in fact becomes a figure much like Elijah, performing several miracles reminiscent of his mentor.** For example,
  1. Like Elijah, Elisha works a miracle making oil last indefinitely (cf. 1 Kgs 17:8–16; 2 Kgs 4:1–7). 
  2. Like Elijah, Elisha parts the waters of the Jordan (cf. 2 Kgs 2:8, 13). 
  3. Like Elijah, Elisha raises a child from the dead (1 Kgs 17:17–24; 2 Kgs 4:32–37) 
Yet it is worth noting that, Elisha’s miracles are more numerous and impressive!*** He is the only figure other than Moses to cure leprosy (cf. Num 12; 2 Kgs 5). Likewise, whereas Elijah feeds the widow and her son, Elisha feeds a hundred men with ten loaves (cf. 2 Kgs 4:22–24).

If that last miracle sounds reminiscent of a miracle of Jesus, it should. Scholars recognize that Jesus feeding of the five thousand mirrors Elisha’s miracle of feeding a hundred men with only ten loaves. Consider the parallels between 2 Kgs 4:22-24 and Matt 14:15-21:
  1. Bread plus another item is brought to Elisha / Jesus 
  2. Jesus / Elisha instruct their servant / disciples to give the bread to the crowds. 
  3. The servant of Elisha / the apostles of Jesus protest that there is not enough food for everyone. 
  4. The people eat and food is left over. 
Notably, that miracle follows on the heels of the account of John’s death in Matthew 14 and Mark 6. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Like Elisha receives a double spirit of Elijah’s spirit at the Jordan, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, where the Holy Spirit descends upon him.

John is therefore the final prophetic figure, the final messenger, announcing the coming of the Messiah. He, in a sense, is the last of the “Old Testament” prophets—though clearly he is described in the New Testament. Thus Jesus describes him as marking the end of an era in Matthew’s Gospel:
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matt 11:11–14). 
John is the greatest of the messengers sent by the Lord. Yet the New Covenant surpasses the Old. Those who are least in the Kingdom are greater than John. What does that mean about the dignity and importance of the vocation to the Christian life?! Quite a lot I suspect. But I suppose that is something best taken to prayer.

Baptism of Fire and the Holy Spirit
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The Gospel concludes with John the Baptist's description of the Messiah as one who will come to baptize with the "Holy Spirit and fire". Christ's coming will bring the Holy Spirit--but also judgment.

In short, there will be only two camps: those who accept the message of the Messiah and those who do not.

Which side will we be on? Will we be among those given the Holy Spirit? Or will be we the ones upon whom judgment falls.

The Messiah is coming.

The choice is ours.

*The most comprehensive overview of the parallels is found in Dale Allison, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 39-50. See also R. A. Carlson, “Élie à l’Horeb,” VT 19 (1969): 432; P. Josef Kastner, Moses im Neuen Testament (Munich: Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, 1967), 30; Frank M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epoch (Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard, 1973), 192; G. Coats, “Healing and the Moses Traditions,” in Canon, Theology, and Old Testament Interpretation (Tuck, G. M., et al eds.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988, 136; R. P. Carroll, “The Elijah-Elisha Sagas: Some Remarks on Prophetic Succession in Ancient Israel,” VT 19 (1969): 411; G. Fohrer, Elia (ATANT 53; Zürich: Zwingli, 1957), 57); R. D. Nelson, First and Second Kings (Atlanta: John Knox, 1987), 128; Laurence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 301. Many of the similarities between the two figures were spelled out in detail by R. Tanhuma (Pesiq. Rab. 4:2).

**For a fuller discussion of the relationship between Elijah and Elisha as well as the literary unity of the narrative in 1-2 Kings see the great discussion and the plethora of references in Thomas Brodie, The Crucial Bridge: The Elijah-Elisha Narrative as an Interpretive Synthesis of Genesis Kings and a Model for the Gospels (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 1-27.

***See Colin Brown, “Miracles,” in vol. 3 of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (4 vols; G. W. Bromiley, ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 373, who explains that after Elisha receives a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit, we read about “miracles greater and more numerous than those performed by Elijah.” Here he sees more than the Elijah-Elisha succession, but also Moses-Joshua (see below). See also Paul J. Kissling, Reliable Characters in the Primary History: Profiles of Moses, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha (JSOTSSup 224; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 192: “The miracles which Elisha performed are far greater in number than those which Elijah performed.”


Lisa M. said...

Excellent explanation of Sunday's readings. I very much appreciate your insight. It helps me to grasp the deeper meaning of the Scriptures. Thanks for all this hard work. Blessings!

Timothy Foy said...

Beautiful article --- I did find one misquote. When it describes Elisha's multiplication of ten loaves it is from 2 Kings 4:42-44 rather than 2 Kings 4:22-24.

Vince C said...

[6] The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the failing together,
and a little child shall lead them.
[7] The cow and the bear shall feed;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
[8] The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adders den.
[9] They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
1869 Haydock Commentary (w/Douay Rheims Bible)

Ver. 6. Wolf. Some explain this of the Millennium. (apud St. Jerome) (Lactantius vii. 24.)
--- But the more intelligent understand, that the fiercest nations shall embrace the gospel, and kings obey the pastors of the Church. (Calmet)
Ver. 8. Basilisk [adder]. Psalm 9:13. The apostles subdued kings and philosophers, without any human advantages.
Ver. 9. Kill [destroy]. The most inveterate pagans, being once converted, entirely alter their manners, Hosea 2:18.
A friend of mine says that his wife insists that these verses about wolves and lambs and such are all about the parousia; that is, they will have a literal fulfillment after the Second Coming of Jesus and have no fulfillment until then.

There’s a couple of reasons why these verses are about the kingdom of God as established here and now by Jesus the Messiah and not just about the parousia (though it will be completely fulfilled at that time). First, Isaiah at that time was prophesying the coming of a future Messiah—one who has already come in the person of Jesus. Jesus told us his kingdom is already among us. Second, after the passage in question Isaiah says that the Gentiles will flock to the Messiah. We know that this is already happened—has been happening since Jesus established the Church. So it wouldn’t make sense to read this prophesy as talking about the first coming of Jesus (verses 1-5) then switch to the parousia (verses 6-9) then switch back to something that happened at the first coming (verse 10). Therefore everything in this passage, in some sense, had to be accomplished (or began to be accomplished) at the first coming of the Messiah. Since we don’t see carnivores refraining from killing and eating prey or little kids playing near snake pits right now, the meaning must be mostly symbolic for our times, not literal. The explanation given above by Haydock and Calmet above fits best, i.e., that the strong will no longer be free to prey on the weak and get away with it. This also goes nicely with verses 3-4.


Myshkin said...

Wow! Dr. Barber, thank you!

You make me wish I had been a theologian, when I see the depth & breadth of your understanding of the Faith.

God had other plans for me, and so I remain a very appreciative reader of you and of Dr. Bergsma here on The Sacred Page.

SAM said...

Thanks for the Nazareth information (branch). I was wondering how it could play into the Davidic promises.

Andy said...

You make a great point Vince. I don't think we can take a particular chapter of the prophets that holds sense beyond the immediate sense of the day, and place it purely with the christological or escatological.

All three senses of scripture hold the imagery of the God's salvific plan. That's why the mass is both a remembrance of what was, and a celebration of what is to come. But there are certain matters in individual passages, which dissecting these passages beyond the passages as a whole, do appear to hold meaning more toward either the immediate, christologial, or the escatan. Here, you reference Isaiah 65. For instance perhaps someday, there really will be a holy mountain in Jerusalem or a literal fullfillment of it as it is invisioned in the mind as a physical mountain after the coming of christ....However the greater holy mountain is the church itself. In that sense, this part of the passage has a greater fulfillment in Christ with the establishment of the mass and the sacraments. On the other hand you later have reference to the wolf dwelling with the lamb....we haven't seen this within history. You could say that it is somehow fulfilled in Christ...but it seems that there would be greater ground in this regard in association with the Escatan.

Its good to hear this, because I don't think a lot of people do what you did in interpreting scripture this way. I think the majority of theologians, including myself, tend to look at passages like these from the prophets and define them in the sense of the passage as a whole. If one or more passages in the whole point toward the christological or the escatatological fulfillment, there can be a tendency to look at it and then say: while this "sense" must hold as the principle "sense" for the entire chapter...and even go so far as to attack the views of those who hold to the contrary. This is seen particularly in the prophets because much of what they addressed was on future matters. But still, I would argue that the immediate sense of the prophets day seems less important than either the Christological or the escatological. Its like comparing the sacrifice of animals to the mass. The sacrifice of animals was atonement of sin reminding the world that it was still in need of a savior, whereas the mass is savior himself and a reminder of the life to come.

Andy said...

Just re reading what you stated, I realize there is some slight disagreements in that Im stating that it actually does make sense for there to be some degree of greater fullfillment between the christological and the escatan from one verse from another throughot a chapter....but I was acknowledging more that its refreshing to hear someone at least acknowledge that while the prophets and their writings find fulfillment in Christ, there are some senses of the prophets that may find greater fulfillment in that which is to come. of course I may be associating greater fulfillment in direct association with a more literal interpretation of scripture. I suppose one could state that the symbolic is just as great as the literal...I would disagree with this...though I would also respect those who believe otherwise since there knowledge of scripture is much greater than mine.

Andy said...

And yes, I am referring to the symbolic interpretation strictly in the sense of the prophets here. Passages like the wolf shall lie down with the lamb seem like they would hold a much higher meaning in the escatan even though I would be interested learning more about the christological fullfilllment. I believe its there but I've actually never heard much in that regard. Isaiah 66 is discussed extensively with the conversion of the jews its association with the proclomation of the gospel. Ive heard that many times from more than one source, but outside of that I suppose part of it is that Ive never really had a discussion of the other symbolic imagry of Isaiahn that simply appears more closely resembling the end times.