Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Death of Blogs and Dying

Tyler Williams is one of many bloggers who has discussed the Death of Blogs and what it might mean. I suppose for many, blogging is a fad and when it is no longer a fad it is time to move on to the next fad which may be moveon.

If the idea is not original, it is not worth writing and if someone has already said it, it is not worth repeating is probably a poor excuse and certainly not an adequate explanation why people stop blogging. Some people enjoy writing but the academics have a problem of attribution of ideas. It is time-consuming to check out every idea and document with some level of comfort that the idea is original.

I would like to think that what I write is original but I recognize that it may not be. Let me mention some ideas I been addressing in no particular order that are troubling but have not been adequately addressed.

The dispute about waiting on tables in Acts 6 is both a criticism of the leadership and a response to intermarriage that must have occurred in the Jerusalem community. The Lucan Jesus addressed the issues in Luke and Luke by rewriting Nehemiah 9 addressed the issues in Acts.

Repentance is also an issue. Matthew and Mark respond by making almsgiving and repentance less important. However, Matthew and Mark may have understood the Prophet Isaiah as suggesting repentance was no longer required because the obligation was too difficult.

Sometimes the best way to understand a Biblical idea is to review what Jewish writers, like Josephus and Ben Sira, said or did not say. Why are Jeremiah, Jonah and Saul more important than David and Isaiah in the writings of Josephus?

Developing ideas is time consuming and some times I have to slow down the writing to have some time for the thinking. I hope you understand. I am hoping blogging for me will continue to be “an enjoyable creative outlet” as it ought to be for Tyler.

Copyrighted 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Matthew said that "the prophet" predicted the birthplace of the savior would be the town of Bethlehem. All agree that Matthew considered the prophecy contained in Micah 5:2 to have been fulfilled with the birth of Jesus. Several verses before the prophecy in Micah, we read about the birth-pangs. Matthew has included both the birth-pangs and the prediction in reverse order with different meaning. Micah, who has the two ideas close together and in correct order, is talking about a new age to be announced by birth pangs. Matthew believes the new age is yet to come.

Matthew has included “For all the prophets and the law prophesized until John” [11:13] and the “birth pangs” [24:8] without recognizing that the new age which Jesus had announced had already begun. Mark has only the “birth pangs” [11:13]. In this instance it looks like Matthew used both Luke and Micah as sources.

Matthew is confused. He includes the language in 11:13 which is considered to be parallel to Luke 16:16 and also the birth pangs language of a new age in 24:8.

Verse 16 appears in variant form in Matthew 11:12f in reverse order and verse 17 in Matthew 5:18 with Luke preserving the original wording. Matthew’s use of Micah and Luke is consistent in that he has rearranged material which he found in juxtaposition in his sources.

Luke, because he is writing early, has not experienced the banditry, false messiahs and the abomination of desolation. Matthew included the birth pangs using Micah as his source. Mark has experienced the banditry, false messiahs and the abomination of desolation and included the birth-pangs in his gospel. Mark may also been influenced by his contacts with Paul.

Is there a better explanation?

Copyrighted 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

In Search of a Title

Although the birth-pangs introduce the idea of restoration, there are consequences to be faced for covenant violations and cultic pollution that will place the land under a curse. “They are saying ‘Let her be profaned’ and ‘Let our eye gaze on Zion.’”

Micah is telling his audience the enemy intends to enter into the holy precincts of the Temple. The mere thought that an outsider might look inside the sanctuary was considered a profanation.

Micah presents Zion as a city under siege that will conquer the world. The historical reality is the kingdom is in great distress. The king is humiliated. In times of great distress, the people look to a promise of divine intervention. In these verses at the end of chapter 4, Micah is not promising immediate relief.

Copyrighted 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Birth pangs of new beginnings

Last April 30, 2007, before I began my commentary on the Book of Micah, I posted these words. Today I delete the last paragraph of my previous posting and provide a new ending that better explains why Luke has no birth pangs.

Birth pangs and labor pains signal destruction in sight with new beginnings promised from the ruins of that destruction. According to the War Scroll the final age was to be preceded by a period of tribulation or "birth pangs [of the Messiah]" (1QH 3:7-10), which "shall be a time of salvation for the People of God ..." (1QM 1)(B.C.E.). This 1st statement is best illustrated by three verses from the fourth chapter of Micah where the Prophet states:

9: Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pangs have seized you like a woman in travail?
10: Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail; for now you shall go forth from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued, there the LORD will redeem you from the hand of your enemies.
11: Now many nations are assembled against you, saying, “Let her be profaned, and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”

With respect to verses 9-11 in Micah, Stephen L. Cook, The Social Roots of Biblical Yahwism, writes: “New life will come for the people only after they have suffered the fall of Jerusalem to their enemies.”

Beginning in the mid-first century, we see the first reference to birth pangs in one of Paul’s earliest letters. In 1 Th. 5:3 we read: “When people say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.” The emergence of false prophets appear to reflect the circumstances from the mid-fifties CE to the end of the Jewish War as described by Josephus. Both Matthew and Mark include “all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.” The calamities existing at the close of the present age and the beginning of the new age are said to present the birth-pangs of the new age.
The Greek word
ρχ occupies the same role in Matthew and Mark as does the three instances of “now” in Micah. Cook writes: “Each passage begins with the word “now” followed by a vivid description of Jerusalem besieged by enemies. These descriptions of the contemporary suffering of Jerusalem, right “now,” use striking quotes and rhetorical questions, forcing Judah to realize that Jerusalem is vulnerable to defeat.”

But Luke has already announced the birth of the new age. Danker said: “All ceremonial requirement is shattered with this one piece of good news, for even unclean shepherds are welcomed in God’s presence.” I suspect that the title of Danker’s book, Jesus and the New Age, A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, explains why Luke does not include the birth-pangs. For Luke, the new age has already begun. “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”

Matthew and Mark, by rewriting Luke to include the birth pangs, have postponed the arrival of the new age the beginning of which Jesus had already announced. Matthew and Mark have demonstrated their utter lack of understanding of the good news. The followers of Jesus have already experienced new life. They do not have to witness the fall of Jerusalem to experience the beginning of the new age.

I am perplexed that I did not realize this earlier. I have been studying Micah hoping, inter alia, to understand why Luke did not include birth pangs when I could have looked in my own library to see the answer on the spine of the book I read nearly twenty years ago.

Copyrighted 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tower of the flock

Mic 4:8 And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.

In this verse, Micah changes the theme from the restoration of the remnant to the restoration of Jerusalem. The oracle contains a promise that the former kingdom will be restored. Waltke has identified this verse as a “hinge” verse that looks both backwards to the flock and forward. Waltke says the verse predicts that Mount Zion will become a tower guaranteeing its security. The watchtower permits a shepherd to better observe his flock. The verse also looks forward to the divine program of restoration of Micah 4:9 to 5:14.

Copyrighted 2007

Thursday, September 06, 2007

I will gather the lame, the outcasts and the afflicted

The Priestly Code severely restricted access to the Temple for the chronically ill, including lepers, the blind and the lame, deaf, those with physical deformities and blemishes. Samaritans, and persons employed in unclean occupations such as tanners, and outcasts were also excluded. Yet Micah tells in that day, the Lord will assemble the lame and gather together all of the outcasts and make the remnant into a strong nation.

Mic. 4:6-7 In that day, says the LORD, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away, and those whom I have afflicted; and the lame I will make the remnant; and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and for evermore.

Previously it was noted that Micah 3:9-12 and 4:1-5 are linked together by striking contrasts. In Micah 2:12-13, the remnant will be brought into the besieged Jerusalem. In verses 6-7, Yahweh will after the fall of Jerusalem make the remnant into a strong nation and rule over them from Mount Zion using the same verbs, gather, assemble and bring into that appeared earlier in verses 12-13. The mention of Mount Zion in verse 7 forms an inclusio with 4:1.

Hasel, Mays and most recently Waltke have shown that “remnant” terminology predates the exile. Hasel has demonstrated that the concept is found in the flood accounts in the Akkadian, Ugarite and Egyptian literature. There is no reason to treat the appearance of “remnant” in Micah as a late addition.

Did the audience consider Micah a messenger of radical change? It is not likely that Micah is suggesting that the lame and unclean shepherds will now have access to the Temple. Instead, Micah is using “lame” as a literary paradigm to announce the restoration of the people of God.

Did Luke consider the ministry of Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy? The Lucan Jesus instructs his host: “when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” Luke is interested in women, Samaritans, lepers, the blind, the lame, the poor, God-fearers, proselytes, Greeks and Gentiles not only because they were marginalized religiously by being excluded from participation in the Temple worship but also because they were marginalized socially.

The Lucan Jesus is a messenger of radical change and he is announcing that everyone will have access. No one will be excluded from the community. In the Gospel of Luke, the people are healed and integrated into the community of the followers of Jesus.

Copyrighted 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

The most famous oracle

The announcement of the most devastating judgment and punishment is followed by the most famous oracle of the prophetic literature. Micah presents a vision of paradise on earth that has been called “an impossible dream for all of humankind.”

The striking contrasts between Micah 4:1-5 and 3:9-12 serve to link these two sections demonstrating not only coherence of the literary structure but also the centrality of Zion. In one sense, the Prophet also contrasts Zion with Sinai. No one can touch Sinai because Yahweh protected his holiness with fire. Micah does not promise protection for Zion. Instead, the Prophet proclaims an idealistic and utopian vision of the future that seems so realistic it sounds feasible.

Mic 4:1 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it,

Mic 4:2 and many nations shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Mic 4:3 He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more;

Mic 4:4 but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

Mic 4:5 For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.

This oracle supported the belief of the audience that Zion can not be destroyed. Micah does so at this point in his argument to stress the certainty of disaster. They had said: “Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No evil shall come upon us.”

“In the latter days” now refers to the time after the destruction. As Shaw stated: “The very oracle in which Micah’s audience found security actually demonstrates their security is false.” And further “The entire speech is well crafted to shake the false confidence of the leaders of society through confrontation.”

The abrupt change in form from an oracle of doom to one of salvation is consistent with the theme of destruction and renewal that is so characteristic of the prophetic literature. This oracle completes the second of three cycles of messages of judgment and salvation.

Copyrighted 2007

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Daughter of Zion

In last Sunday’s gospel reading, we heard the story of Jesus healing a person in the synagogue described as worthy of being healed on the Sabbath because she is a “daughter of Abraham.” Jesus in effect says if the cattle can be fed on the Sabbath, he can heal a daughter of Abraham on the Sabbath. Interestingly, the Jewish people apply this appellation, “daughter of Abraham,” to the name of each woman who converts to Judaism.

At the beginning of the gospel, Elizabeth is identified as one of the “daughters of Aaron.” Finally as Jesus walked to Calvary, he tells the “daughters of Jerusalem” not to weep for him. One phrase not employed by Luke is “daughter of Zion” which does appear in Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15. Micah includes the phrase several times in the fourth chapter.

Why is it that Luke did not use “daughter of Zion” and Matthew, Mark and John did not use the phrases “daughter of Aaron,” “daughter of Abraham” or “daughter of Jerusalem”?

Copyrighted 2007