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Sunday, January 19, 2014

On Isaiah 58 verse 9


This may sound a little bit wacky, but I'm beginning to use some of the national/international televised teaching ministries as a Bible study technique—take notes and then check to see if what was said, particularly the main point, is in correct literary, historical, and cultural context.
I bring this up in that one of the main errors in this regard is to quote something that is connected to the Old Testament Law, which, of course, was fulfilled by Jesus' death on the cross, and use it as if it is part of what is directed to believers today. I write this as what I studied went in a direction that I did not expect when I started. Today's speaker was attempting to make the point that it is correct to ask God in prayer and keep asking until it happens. I am aware, and assume you are (if you aren't, you are now) that there are all kinds of speakers that defend both sides of this issue. On one side, that God is all powerful, all knowing and hears your prayer the first time. Others, such as this man that, as usual, I am intentionally not naming, who maintains the opposite. In today's case, he uses the example of the Canaanite woman who is making a request directly to Jesus, and of whom Jesus' answer, at first, would come across as insulting and rude in our culture today, and of whom, on the fourth recorded request, has Jesus answer as she was asking by words.
The speaker then jumped to Philippians 4 verse 7, focusing on the word “petition”. I should note that this word in translated “request” in the NIV and NKJV, at the least. He builds on the idea that, equal to a modern petition being a list of names who agree with a statement, a “petition” in prayer is quoting a list of scriptures back to God. This rang a bell inside me, as one of the oldest misuses of scripture that I know of, going back to Old Covenant rabbis, is called “pearl stringing.” It is quoting a group of verses from various places to build a point. The problem with this is that is really easy to be quoting one (or probably more) out of context. Even if the average believer doesn't know this, and I didn't for a long time, if (and I use this in the logical sense of the word, not that I am doubting God) God is the creator of the universe, including guiding the many writers of scripture, then He perfectly guided the literary context of the words. This isn't empirically provable any more than God is, but we will believe this by faith, probably without even thinking about it. Connectedly, if we believe, we cannot take a piece of scripture and just throw it into whatever context we wish it to be in. Much error comes from doing this, usually without the person being aware of it. One problem, which only God knows the answer to, and applicable to leaders which are attempting to enlarge their influence with mass media, is whether they do this innocently and unaware, or are being intentionally deceptive, or some mix of both, possibly because someone they respect said that it was ok.
Anyway, after a cutaway for some of his organization's self-promotion, he came back to end his program with one scripture: Isaiah 58 verse 9 (he said, although it is only the first half of the verse, and, chapter and verse numbers are not part of scripture anyway)--”Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer: You shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'” That certainly sounded lke that fit his message, but I immediately wondered whether that was quoted in context. Given that that was in the Old Covenant times, I feel that I had good reason.
The easy part to check was literary context. I saw that this was part of a prophetic word from God to the rebellious Old Covenant chosen people, especially including leaders, through Isaiah. The phrase that marks the beginning of this prophecy--”Thus says the Lord”--is back at Is. 56:1, and the end of it, “The mouth of the Lord has spoken”, is at Is. 58:14. So 58:9 is near the end of a long prophecy. This prophecy follows a previous prophecy that includes Is. 53, which clearly describes occurances in Jesus' life. Isaiah 56:1-2 mentions that a messiah is coming for those who obey the Law. I believe, although I might be wrong, whether in that day “obey the Law” would have been understood to mean generally devout persons in the chosen people, or the theologically technically correct persons who had never sinned. Verses 3 through 8 make it clear that this includes Gentile converts to following YHWH. Verses 56:9 through 57:13a state that there are “leaders” in Israel who are not obeying the Law and leading righteously, but instead are lusting after idols, with specific sexual imagry connected to their not following the Law. 57:13b-57-21 continues on the theme that God will bless the righteous and punish the wicked.
Some might argue, and may well be correct, that, to understand Isaiah 58:9 in literary context, we would only need to go back to Is. 58:1, or even 58:6. Maybe so, but going back further doesn't hurt anything. In Is. 58:1-5, God tells Isaiah what to do—tell the people they are praying and fasting, but not rightly. From what I find from other sources, in that day, the idea of fasting is something rare outside of what the Bible tells us, and what little it was done in other cultures would be connected to mourning (1). Then, in Is. 5:6-9a, in an interesting twist of thought, of which the quoted verse is part of, the people need to pray arightly by fasting from injustice towards others. 9Bto 14a, begin to conclude that if the wicked repent, they may live like the righteous. 14B concludes this prophecy with, “The Lord has spoken.”
Just as historical context, the people, for the most part, did not repent, nor did they repent after other prohecies of Isaiah and the other minor prophets, not did they repent from hearing John the Baptist or Jesus. Therefore, Jesus died for the sins of humanity, fulfilled the Old Covenant, and established a New Covenant with a new chosen peoplewhose hearts, spiritual, not literal, of course, have been circumcised and had His law of love placed in them by the Holy Spirit.
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1) Walton, Matthews, & Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary—Old Testament, on Isaiah 58:3-7, page 637.

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