Helpless and Hopeless Humankind (Motyer)

Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary If you’ve used Bible commentaries even a little bit, you know that they are quite often hit or miss.  I’ve had it more than a few times that I purchase a highly recommended commentary and was disappointed with it so much that I turned around and sold it. Such is how it sometimes goes!

However, I’ve always been happy with Alec Motyer’s commentaries.  I was reminded of that today when studying the pretty tough and dark prophecy in Isaiah 13, where Yahweh uses the Medes to brutally wipe out the Babylonians.  It’s the Day of the Lord in all it’s fury!  Isaiah 13:14 notes that on that day (the day of Yahweh) the people (of Babylon) will be like “gazelles that are chased” [וְהָיָה֙ כִּצְבִ֣י מֻדָּ֔ח] and “like sheep that no man gathers” [וּכְצֹ֖אן וְאֵ֣ין מְקַבֵּ֑ץ] (JPS).  What does this mean? Obviously, it has to do with the Babylonians trying to escape the merciless slaughter of the Medes.  But what’s with the imagery?  Motyer comments briefly but well:

‘Like a hunted gazelle’ and ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ are complementary similies.  The first animal is endangered by the attentions of the people, the second is endangered without their attentions. So, finding the Lord as their enemy and losing him as their shepherd, humankind is indeed helpless and hopeless, with everything to flee from and nowhere to flee too.”

There’s more to this passage for sure.  But Motyer picks up the poetic imagery very well.  It also reminds us that rejecting the Lord is not the path of joy, peace, and comfort.  Instead, it’s a path full of hopelessness and helplessness.

J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 139.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

“The Abrahamic Position in Babylon”

 I recently spoke to a friend about how Jeremiah’s letter (Jer. 29) to the Jewish exiles in Babylon is quite applicable to Christians today – in whatever country they live.  I like how Christopher Wright talks about this on pages 99-100 of The Mission of GodNote: I’ve edited it slightly for the purpose of space.

“Babylon was not their permanent home, but it was their present home.  This, however, was far from a despairing resignation to their fate.   Jeremiah goes on: ‘Increase in number there; do not decrease’ (Jer. 29:6).  The echo of the Abrahamic covenant is surely not accidental.  …Israel would not die out but prosper – as other prophets likewise affirmed (Is. 44:1-5; 49:19-21; Ezek. 36:8-12).”

And based on Jeremiah 29:7, we can say this:

“The exiles had a task – a mission no less – even in the midst of the city of their enemies.  And the task was to seek the welfare of that city and to pray for the blessing of YHWH upon it.  So they were not only to be the beneficiaries of God’s promise to Abraham…they were also to be the agents of God’s promise to Abraham that through his descendants the nations would be blessed. …So let Israel assume the Abrahamic position in Babylon.  …Let them be a blessing there to those they live among by seeking and praying for their welfare.”

“There is something deeply ironic about this since of course the whole story of Israel had begun with Abraham being called out of the land of Babylon-Babel.  It might seem that history is going into reverse, with Israel being exiled ‘from Jerusalem to Babylon’ (Jer. 29:1, 4) – the opposite direction from the whole narrative of Israel thus far.  But in the mysterious purpose of God, the descendants of the one called out of Babylon in order to be the fount of blessing to the nations now return to Babylon in captivity and are instructed to fulfill that promise right there.  There is a typically divine irony, possibly noticed by Jesus, in this challenge to Israel to be a blessing to the nations by first all praying for their enemies (cf. the combination of blessing and prayer in Mt. 5:11, 44).”

“Such teaching, conveyed by Jeremiah’s letter, turned victims into visionaries.  Israel not only had a hope for the future (in the famous words of vv. 11-14), they also had a mission in the present.  Even in Babylon they could be a community of prayer and shalom.  As Ezekiel saw, YHWH was just as much alive and present in Babylon as in Jerusalem.  His universal power and glory would be felt in judgment, but would also protect and preserve his people through judgment for the sake of God’s own name, and for the fulfillment of his wider purposes among the nations.”

Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006).

shane lems

Bruce’s Habakkuk Commentary

 I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the commentary series on the Minor Prophets that Thomas McComiskey edited (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993). I appreciate the layout: the top half of the page has textual and syntactical notes and the bottom half of the page is the commentary section.  The commentators also give their own translation and compare it to the NRSV.  The font is handsome and the formatting makes the commentary easy to read and use.  Contributors include Baldwin, Waltke, Longman, Motyer, Dillard, Niehaus, and Bruce (yes, F. F. Bruce of NT scholarship).

For one example of why I like this commentary set, I’ll use a section of Bruce’s commentary on Habakkuk since I’ve been preaching through this OT minor prophet on Sunday evenings.

Bruce’s translation of 1:13: “You are too pure of eyes to behold wrongdoing / you cannot look on evil /  why do you look on treacherous people and remain silent / when the wicked swallows up one more righteous than himself?”

Since the textual/syntactical notes are to detailed to quote here, I’ll move to his commentary on Habakkuk 1:13.

“…Here is his (Habakkuk’s) question: Should not Yahweh’s instrument for the accomplishment of his purpose reflect something of his own purity and righteousness?  …(The Chaldeans/Babylonians) display the same evil qualities as those against whom they were executing Yahweh’s judgment, and on a greater scale.  The cure is far worse than the disease! The righteous among God’s people suffer from the brutality of the invaders.  Why does God not intervene?  Habakkuk might have said, like one of the psalmists in a similar situation, ‘Why do you hold back your hand; why do you keep your hand in your bosom?’ (Ps. 74:11).  Does God not realize that his own reputation is at stake?”

I realize it’s tough to just quote a few comments on a lesser known verse from a minor prophet.  However, after translating, studying, and reading other commentaries, I think Bruce’s summary here is a good description of Habakkuk’s lament to Yahweh due to the surprising circumstances (cf. 1:5). 

If you go through the minor prophets, I’d strongly recommend this series.  Even if you can’t read Hebrew, or if your Hebrew is rusty, you’ll still benefit from the comments.  (Just noticed this – the WTS bookstore has it on sale/clearance for $28.00  as of April 20.)

shane lems

sunnyside wa