Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 28 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism (Part 26)

Isaiah 28 – This oracle was delivered before the fall of Samaria [Israel] to the Assyrians in 722 BC. They have become a “faded flower” “prostrated by wine” (28:1). The priests and prophets there are “reeling from strong drink” (28:7) and do not lead competently. They mock Isaiah and his style of prophecy.

The New Jerusalem presents this section in a unique way. A note to this passage tells us that some critics of Isaiah mimic his style, “which they consider unintelligible, with words chosen for their sound-value and recalling the babbling of a child. The NJ passage reads, “With his sav lasav, sav lasav, kav lakav, kav lakav, zeer sham, zeer sham” - If the words are to be translated at all, they will read ‘order on order, order on order, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there’ (1185).   They reject Isaiah’s way of prophesying, so now they will have to learn through “foreign oppressors who speak a strange language” (28:11).

The essence of the oracle is this “I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken. I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness” (28:16-17).

Hail and flood will sweep the “refuge of lies” away through the “mysterious work” of Yahweh. Like the farmer, who harrows the soil and then plants seed in it, so too Yahweh winnows without crushing the seed or remnant.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 26
The theology Fox articulated to explain his insight and experiences was not unorthodox. The ecclesiological (church-related) conclusions he drew were – very, but the Christology he adopted was fairly mainstream. Fox explained his experience of Christ’s presence in himself and in others as a fulfillment of two Old Testament prophecies: the promise that a prophet like Moses would come in the future (Deut. 18: 15-19) and the promise that a new covenant would be instituted by this new Moses (Jer. 31: 31-34).

The Deuteronomy prophesy reads, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among your own people. . . . Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hole accountable.”

That Christ was this new Moses was not an idea unique to Fox. It was very much a part of the vision the New Testament gospel writers had of Christ. Matthew, in particular, develops the view that Christ is this promised prophet. Like Moses, he is threatened with extinction in childhood by a tyrannical ruler (2: 13); he is called out of Egypt to go to the land of Israel (2: 19-21); he is tempted in the wilderness for forty days and nights as Moses and the people were tempted for forty years (4:2); and he gives his new law to the people from up on a mountain rather than down on a plain as recounted in Luke.

The question of whether the writer of Matthew added these “events” to link Jesus with this prophesy is something I think New Testament readers should ponder. I think it likely that 1st century believers might have had a different standard in evaluating “Truth” [perhaps believing that the imagination – literary creativity – helped arrive at it, not undercut it. I must add that last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” [12/15/2013] story on the Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt adds a new layer to the complexity of the Matthew story, because apparently the Coptic Christian community there holds strongly to the historicity of the story. Their Church is built on it in many ways. I was not aware of this. I still have my doubts about some of the  “historical” details of Jesus’ birth and childhood. They seem to be imaginative ways of affirming the Old Testament prophecies and seeing them fulfilled in Jesus’ identity.

The fact that his new law is not one primarily concerned with outward observances but inward, heart-related realities brings out the connection Matthew also seeks to draw to the Jeremiah prophesy:

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,  . . . But this is the covenant that I will make  . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,  . . . for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Christ had come not only to die for our sins but also to bring this new covenant into being. The law would be established in human hearts when the Holy Spirit came:

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. [. . .] But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14: 23, 25).

The inward teacher, alluded to in Jeremiah’s prophesy, was this Advocate, this Spirit. John also refers to it as the anointing:

“. . . the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him” (1 John 2: 27).

This anointing or Advocate – the Holy Spirit – was the voice that spoke in Fox, and the voice that spoke in all who sought to be guided by God. Again, none of this was new theology. The prophecies of Moses and Jeremiah were not excluded from the list of prophecies that had been fulfilled in Christ from the point of view of Christian believers, but Fox drew conclusions from these prophecies that other Christians had not and that certainly the church had not. Here I would include in my definition of church not only the ancient historic churches (Catholic and Orthodox) but also Reformation churches. If Christ within was to be our teacher, if the law and way of life he had instituted was so accessible that they “no longer [needed to] teach one another [to] know the Lord . . . ,” then why had the faith remained so wedded to outward things, to complicated doctrinal statements, elaborate sacraments, and outward practices? Fox concluded that all of this was way off base (what he called apostate) and had been for nearly the entire span of the church’s existence – sixteen hundred years. Christ’s coming, he said, had meant to bring to a close the time of outward law and outward religious observance, not just the outward practice of circumcision and temple sacrifice. The church had not been faithful. Its leaders had not trusted in God’s anointing to teach and bring believers into communion, but had fallen back on outward forms and rituals – Christianized forms perhaps, but outward all the same: baptism, communion, ordination of priests, liturgies, even the outward letter of Scripture. By the outward letter, Fox meant the kind of “cookbook” approach to Scripture he felt the Reformed churches were guilty of.

Fox rejected all of these—not the inward realities represented by them, but the outward acts or practices meant to embody them. His rejection of outward observances didn’t mean that everyone was on his own to decide what was true, however, or that there was no communal dimension of church life. Fox was not an anarchist. The New Covenant gospel gathered people and kept order among them even without these outward things, an order he called “gospel order”. It was to keep “gospel order” that Fox established Monthly Meetings and Yearly Meetings that would handle issues that arose and test controversial leadings people claimed to have from Christ.

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