Week 1--Monday, 2/09/09 Reflections and thoughts on the First Book of Isaiah: 1-39 The vision of Isaiah: The first book of Isaiah is not limited to Israel only. Its vision is international and universal. When God speaks accuses people for being sinful, he does not limit himself to the Israelites and Judeans. Foreign leaders are accused also, including the king of Assyria, who has caused God’s wrath for being arrogant (10:5:19). The book of Isaiah presents a perspective of God’s judgment and promise of salvation that extends beyond Israel. Isaiah is commissioned by the Lord, in his encounter with the Lord in the Temple, in which he saw the Lord sitting on his throne, surrounded by seraphim. God purifies Isaiah, then he appoints him as a prophet not only to Israel, but to foreign nations. In the books 13:1-23:18 Isaiah has an international role. His prophecies sweep over all nations, presenting a plan that God has for all people. Specifically: 14:26—This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. This verse presents a God whose vision goes beyond his covenantal relationship with the nation of Israel. This God is a judge (and a savior) of the entire world. Sin, judgment, and mercy in First Isaiah. What is considered sin in the book of Isaiah? Rebellion against God (1:2-3), failure to know or acknowledge God (1:4), rejection of the law of the Lord and the word of the God of Israel (5:24). Sin is to trust the trappings of worship while the people should care for the oppressed, the widows and the poor (1:10-17). The people are accused of being unjust, through certain economic, judicial and social activities (5:8-24; 10:1-4). The leaders and the powerful are called upon their sinful behaviors (3:1-15), for failing in their responsibilities (28:1-8) or not obeying the word of God (28:11-15). Isaiah speaks of Gods judgment, which is God’s punishment of people’s sins. This is punishment that knows no limits. It is illustrated in the allegory of the destroyed vineyard because it produced sour grapes (5:1-7), or with the violent imagery of a complete holocaust of national proportion (3:1-5), or forced exile (39:6-8). In 2:12 and 4:1 God’s judgment is called “the day of the Lord”. That day of judgment is not limited only to Israel, but it includes foreign nations (13-23), the entire earth and the heavens (24:1-23). But along with God’s judgment, Isaiah speaks also of God’s mercy. Along with destruction, there are also God’s acts of salvation, redemption and transformation. In Isaiah 11:1-9, “a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse”. With this metaphor, the prophet’s voice speaks in beautiful verse of God’s plan of salvation in the sociopolitical realm. This will be affected through the birth of a ndw and ideal king from the line of David. Verses 6-9 give the promise of the reign of God in the order of creation, with the establishment of peace and tranquility among all creatures. This is a peace that transcends all possibilities and is presented in an imagery that human imagination cannot capture. Creation here is presented

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II in a state of peace in which predators and victims have settled in a peaceful, restful coexistence. Amazing poetry. Amazing imagery.


God shows God’s mercy also over Jerusalem, protecting her from the Assyrians (37). The exiles will return to Jerusalem (35:1-10), where there will be healing, restoration, and redemption. Book 35, filled with healing imagery is juxtaposed to book 34, in which a prophecy of the destruction of Edom, addressing all nations and peoples, unfolds in a series of horrible scenes of destruction that present God’s eschatological plan of judgment. What I find interesting in first Isaiah is that there is not much instruction about how one should behave to avoid God’s wrath. God’s judgment is prophesied as inevitable, but also always coexistent with God’s mercy and redemption. The juxtaposition of the two is “jagged”, in which grotesque scenes of holocaust are juxtaposed next to scenes of complete, sudden and inexplicable restoration and healing. God’s eschatological plan is presented as a mystery that transcends our human categories. The only instruction the prophet gives is that of faith and trust. In 7:9 God tells Ahaz “if you don’t stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” In 30:15, the Lord tells Jerusalem “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength”. Finally, in 31:1, the prophet indicts the ones who trust nations and armies but not the Holy One of Israel. The people are told to seek help form the Lord. Faith is proclaimed as trust in the Holy One of Israel, not necessarily as faith in a system of ideas, whether religious or political. I see this “blind, unconditional faith in God, whose plans transcend our human reason and who can cause absolute destruction and bring life out of irrevocable nothingness” as the same faith Luther talks about. Though I do not relate the book of Isaiah to Luther’s writings, I can nonetheless hear the same God—the one our reason cannot grasp—speaking, asking from us the same unconditional trust and commitment.

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II Week 1--Monday, February 9, 2007 Second and third book of Isaiah—40-55 and 56-66 Second Isaiah is—in my opinion—even more powerful than the first. Even though the prophet is not “seen”, the prophet’s voice speaks through God’s (and the divine court members’) words, full of power and majestic imagery.


What strikes me in second Isaiah is God’s word that becomes action and accomplishes what God wills. In First Isaiah one reads that the prophet’s word would not be heard for generations, but it would remain God’s word for a later generation. In chapter 49 one reads in God’s words God’s commitment to fulfill God’s promises. These are verses of love, of consolation, of the steadfastness of God’s love for God’s people. Second Isaiah has a monotheistic theology that transcends the boundaries of Israel. God is not only Israel’s God, but of the entire universe. God’s people are introduced as God’s servants. Chapter 49 presents “servanthood” as God’s relevation to those who don’t believe. “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves” (49:7). The quality of God’s servant is not militaristic, dominant, and forceful. Rather, the servant is “despised, abhorred by the nations”. The servant’s victory over the nations will not be a militaristic one, but one accomplished through suffering and death. The servant’s final destiny is given in chapters 52:13-53:12, where the victory of the servant is prophesied. It will be a victory through death. “By his knowledge, he will justify many and he wil bear their iniquities” (52:11). Second Isaiah resembles the gospel of Mark. Both passages speak of a sender and a sent one. Both texts describe an intense, close relationship between God the Sender and the Servant (or the Son) as the Sent one. The relationship between the two and also the mission of the Servant as one who will illuminate and redeem the nations not through war and victorious conquests, but through suffering, woundedness, death and resurrection. (“of his anguish he shall see light” Isa. 53:11). The Servant will fulfill God’s promise to Abraham. In Second Isaiah God’s promise extends to the entire world, not just Jerusalem. The Servant who fulfills the promise in Second Isaiah becomes Jesus in Mark. Second Isaiah, though an Old Testament book, clearly presents a “theology of the Cross”. The songs of the suffering servant speak of a God whose saving power is manifested not in big, bold actions of redemption, but hidden in suffering and death. There is clearly a mention of resurrection that brings knowledge to the sufferer/servant. It is through this knowledge that the servant redeems the nations who recognize in him the saving power of God. Also, Second Isaiah’s interpretation of history recognizes that the course of events is something more than a chaotic sequence without meaning or order. God incarnates in history, using human action, achieving God’s purposes. Toward the end, the book takes us back to the beginning, where it indicts false religion. In God’s words, God gives God’s final vision, which is God’s accomplished purpose for all mankind. The question becomes how do we deal with this, if we cannot identify the figure of the servant. For Christians, it would seem impossible to read this passage without correlating it to Jesus and to crucifixion. I am tempted to do it, too. But Isaiah was written 500 years before Jesus. Can it speak of a historical fact that happened 500 years later?



If yes, then Isaiah’s prophecies sound like a script that was handed to him by God, which then is acted out by humanity, unbeknownst to us. This thought scares me, really, and it is also contradicting the whole theory of incarnation, which I understand as happening through the relationship between God and humans in time. A prophecy can look into the future, but I don’t think it can see the future, as it will exactly happen, especially chronologically. Even God did not give a time frame regarding the fulfillment of his promise to Abraham. The promise was fulfilled as a result of the complex interaction between God and humans as it happened within time. The figure of the servant is definitely pointing to an individual. Not to a group of people or to a nation. The Messiah is one, and the Messiah has a human form. This is what I read here. History will call this Messiah and this Messiah will incarnate in due time. When this time is, no one knows. Perhaps not even God.

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II Week 2—Monday, 02/16/09 Thoughts on Jeremiah 30:1-31:40


What strikes me in these chapters are the imagery and meaning of “home” and homecoming as a manifestation of God’s mercy and love. In scripture, home is not the place where one is born, or where one’s heart is. It is a gift from God. There are many passages in the Old Testament, in which “the return to home” equates with salvation and deliverance. That is a return to a place of security, to a place where all the means to life can be found. As an immigrant woman, born and raised in a very old culture who, then, I left to come and live in the “New World”, I can identify with the millions of people who—for many reasons— have lost their “earthly home”. The longing, the yearning to “return home” is always deep and all too painful. It takes on spiritual dimensions, especially when one knows that the “home” one has left behind no longer exists. The yearning for home is then the yearning to find the city without foundations, the city built by God. This city is God’s gift, and I understand it as “the return to God’s promised land”. In the text, this city is God’s good news to the suffering and the afflicted. It is God’s gift that speaks for the divine love and mercy. It is the city to which the people arrive after having suffered God’s judgment. But the God of Israel, unlike the gods of the Greeks and later of the Romans, is not a two-faced, temperamental god, who oscillates between wrath and mercy. This God’s mercy subjugates this God’s wrath. In the center of this God’s heart there is love and understanding for the suffering and the pain of the people this God created. The God of Israel does not want for his children to suffer or wander homeless, away from him. If homelessness is a result of human disobedience and God-forgetfulness, the God of Israel never forgets. He promises home (i.e., redemption) and home he delivers. The imagery of the new Jerusalem as the holy city that God will build amidst all humanity (30:18-22) is a theme that runs throughout Scripture, first appearing in a negative way in the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and ending in Revelation 21:1-4, reflecting Jeremiah’s vision. I understand this city not only as a political symbol or a human community governed by divine and human rules, but as a manifestation of the compassion of God. It is the manifestation of the eschatological vision proclaimed by the gospel again and again, throughout scripture. This vision, though prescriptive, has inspired religious and political leaders throughout history in carrying out their mission as they saw it entrusted by God. But, on a deeper level, I see this vision as our deep longing to be with God in a relationship that transcends death and brings us into a life that knows no end. That, I understand, as the ultimate meaning that “home” and “homecoming” have in Scripture. Chapter 30 concludes with the verse “The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his mind. In the latter days you will understand this.” (24). It is good to be reminder that not everything about God’s works make sense in the moment they happen. This is especially crucial in moments of suffering, darkness and confusion. Remembering that God’s vision is cast far beyond our own, meditating upon this in moments of darkness and unknowing, deepens our faith in the One and moves us to surrender further into the mystery. It is difficult, but inevitable. Along with the unknowing comes the hope that God knows and remembers God’s promise for deliverance. We are on our way home and God leads this way.

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II Week 4—Monday 02/23/09 Thoughts on Ezekiel Three things strike me in reading Ezekiel: his visions, his obedience, and his oracles.


There is harshness and extreme imagery in Ezekiel. It is ridden with color, emotion, and divine power that knows no limits. The book begins with Ezekiel’s visions of the Merkabah, God’s chariot of fire. I cannot imagine a human being having received such vision and stayed alive. Death is the price a human being must pay for seeing God in that form. It may not be physical death, but it is death, nonetheless. Unlike Isaiah’s witness of commission, in which he sees God on his throne in the Temple, surrounded by the seraphim, Ezekiel’s commission by God comes with his self-annihilation. First, the vision of the chariot is too overpowering, as a direct, spontaneous experience. Our contemporary eyes are accustomed to Hollywood special effects of extreme phantasmagoria. In our post-LSD era, we can talk about other people’s “trips” and hallucinatory experiences. But Ezekiel is not hallucinating, nor is he watching a sci-fi movie. He is being visited by God and commissioned to be God’s prophet. The scene in which God gives him the scroll with the divine words—literally, God shoves it down Ezekiel’s mouth—has a literal and metaphoric meaning for me. The scroll comes from the hand of the awesome Being that addresses Ezekiel from the middle of the fiery chariot. The Deity—in Ezekiel’s vision—can move everywhere, his movement transcending linearity, predictability, and human logic. The Being is no longer bound to the confines of the Temple. Fire is the Being’s moving force and glorifying power. Fire that consumes, enlightens, and purifies. Ezekiel swallows the scroll. By swallowing God’s words, he is rendered silent. From now on, he cannot speak “for himself”. Whatever he will utter from now on, it will be God’s words. God demands his complete obedience. Though not forbidding him to speak of his visions, the Deity commissions Ezekiel to be his prophet, for as long as God wills. Ezekiel, though scared and resentful, “bitter in his spirit”, obeys. His obedience spans over twenty harsh, lonely years, during which Ezekiel lives among people who are apathetic and unwilling to listen to him. I wonder if modern believers can have an appreciation for Ezekiel’s obedience. God commands him to do things that simply do not make sense, and Ezekiel obeys. I read the chapters 3 and 4, as Ezekiel’s ‘formation’ rites into becoming a prophet. Among other things, God asks him to lie on his side for 390 days, “bearing the sin of the house of Israel.” (4:4). I understand this to be an experience he must undergo, in order to “feel God’s feelings” for the sinning of Israel. The pain, the humiliation, the anger from being unable to do anything else by lie on one’s side, are all feelings Ezekiel must feel on God’s behalf. God is in love with Israel and Israel has been unfaithful. Ezekiel must feel as broken hearted as God feels, before he utters God’s words that he has swallowed. Such obedience, such unconditional, total surrender, in which a human being avails all of one’s self to become God’s conduit of vision, word and passion, though at first inspiring, is really frightening to us. No matter how deep our faith in God, we don’t want to be annihilated by the One we claim to love so much. In the depth of our relationship with God, what seems to truly matter is the preservation of our Ego. This Ego we ask of God to protect, to love, to nourish, to sustain, to forgive, again and again and again. And it is within this Ego that we—oh, so often—try to limit God, defining him per our Ego’s parameters, fitting him within our categorical confines, dismissing or avoiding whatever aspect of God we cannot understand or simply fear. Most of the time, in our relationship

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II with God, we define God using our own words. Instead of letting God’s Word symbolically “kill us”, we kill God with our own words. What we end up hearing is the sound of our own voices and we think this is God speaking to us…


Ezekiel does none of this. He accepts his call and the ego-annihilation his call entails. He swallows God’s words, and that act kills his verbal categories. Then, through absurd—but God-ordered—rites he experiences both Israel’s sinfulness and God’s pain for losing God’s beloved Israel to sin. He shaves his face and head and mourns on behalf of God. And he avails his sight to God, who shows Ezekiel the human condition through God’s eyes. Once Ezekiel starts to speak the language is harsh, the oracles are horrific. They induce terror that turns people away, rather than call them to change and repentance. Today, we do not like to be treated “like this” by our spiritual leaders, and much more importantly, we definitely do not like a God who is so enamored with us that he commands us to eat “bread made of human dung” (4:9) when he summons us for a divine mission, or a God who calls us “prostitutes” and threatens to publicly humiliate us (i.e., ego-annihilate us) when we break his heart with unfaithfulness. We want our God polite, understanding, therapeutic, politically correct. We want our God to understand us, to go along with us, before we ever try to understand or go along with him. The truth is, we want our God to be on our terms. This is why we give our trust and money to the special effects that Hollywood movies afford us in the safety of a theater than partaking in Ezekiel’s direct visions of God. This is also why we prefer watching reality shows in the comfort of our living room for endless hours, seeing fellow human beings to be publicly humiliated on account of their personal choices (i.e., “sins”) that are too similar to ours—their humiliation is not ours. It is all too safer than the humiliation Yahweh is threatening to bring upon Israel (i.e., us) through Ezekiel’s prophecy. As far as the “prostitute” language in the oracle of chapter 16, well, I understand, it is reflective of the Biblical tempora et mores, in which women are possessions, men have all the power, and a brokenhearted husband must annihilate his unfaithful wife before calming down and loving her again (i.e., “re-possessing” her, after losing her to unfaithfulness). I may not agree with it, but I can see it in its context. Nevertheless, dismissing the chapter for presenting a metaphor that demeans and dishonors women is not the way to deal with its message. The way I read this chapter is that, in our relationship with God, God is the partner who has the first and last words. Surrendering to this truth is really difficult. It is really, really difficult to admit that—initially and ultimately—God is in possession of us, and God yearns to re-possess us after losing us to unfaithfulness. There is something essential in God’s being that wants to be incarnated through us, and this moves God to want to possess us on God’s terms. This divine yearning is expressed throughout Scripture, especially in the Old Testament. That would mean that we must surrender unconditionally to God’s terms, relinquishing our own. That would mean ego-annihilation, and total trust, a “trust that goes into death”, to use Luther’s words. This is as scary as eating “bread made of human dung”, lying on our side in the desert, for two entire years. In Ezekiel, the Word is all too powerful. I understand why we may feel too frightened to wrestle with it. I understand why Ezekiel is not a popular book. I understand why only chapter 37, the vision of the dry bones, made it into the Lectionary. Ezekiel is not for the faint of heart. The voice of God that speaks in this book speaks of a love that knows no limits. Its power, both to destroy and create, scares us and humbles us. But we prefer to hear the good news first, and then, more good news. Ezekiel brings the bad news first. We have strayed away from God and God wants us back. In order for that to happen, God will destroy all the categories within which we’ve been trapping God, hoping to domesticate God into a servant of our whims, hungers and desires. This destruction, Ezekiel says, is not symbolic, bust also literal. It happens in spirit and in flesh. It is our death that precedes our resurrection in God, whether we like it or not. Before the bones take flesh and come alive

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II with spirit again, the flesh must first turn into dead bones. In our relationship with the Almighty, this is something only God can do and always does to bring us back to God, whether we read the “heavy” chapters in Ezekiel or not.


MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II Week 4—Monday, 03/02/09 Hosea: Harlotry, Marriage and Knowing God in Hosea


In the book of Hosea, God accuses Israel of “harlotry”, God speaks of God’s brokenheartedness and wrath, and God promises to restore Israel after punishing her for infidelity. God uses the term “husband” to describe himself and his role. The book is divided into two major sections: • The illustration of Israel's infidelity (Hosea 1-3) • The charges & punishment against Israel (Hosea 4-14) The details of Israel’s Infidelity are: The charge (Chs. 4-7), The sentence (Chs. 8-10) and The restoration (Chs. 11-14). The metaphor and meaning of Harlotry: The book begins with God’s command for Hosea to marry a prostitute, so that Hosea feel God’s feelings for Israel, who has become a harlot. Though difficult to accept why God would command Hosea to marry a “common woman” and suffer humiliation, I can understand why: God wants his prophet—and us—to “feel God’s feelings of brokenheartedness, of humiliation, of being rejected”. It’s easier of us to identify with the human Hosea, than with God. The story manages to do that, by beginning with a man—a prophet—marrying a whore, following divine instruction. Read by men in the Judaic tradition, this story must have had a tremendous shocking effect, in showing them how God must have felt for Israel’s “unfaithfulness”. Later in the book, (2:14) God commands Hosea to buy his wife back for 15 shekels and bring her home. In this way, Hosea is commanded to feel God’s unconditional love, that knows no limits and is not shunned by humiliation and rejection. Also, forgiving and restoring an unfaithful wife was countercultural in Hosea’s times. According to the Mosaic law found in Deuteronomy 24:1, when a man finds that his wife is unclean (literally naked), he writes a certificate of divorce and sends her out of the house. God does this with Israel, for her unfaithfulness, then promises and delivers healing and restoration, through Hosea’s prophecies that are paralleled by his actions in his marriage to unfaithful Gomer. The book of Hosea is ridden with sexual metaphor to describe our relationship to God, in terms of marriage fidelity versus adultery and prostitution. “Whoredom” is used to describe the human practice of idolatry, which breaks the First commandment. God condemns Israel, through Hosea, for the religious rites that they perform. Divination (4:12), sacrifices (4:13), religious prostitution (4:13b-14), feasts (2:11). The reference is to the worship of the god Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility, whose worship included performing sacred sexual rites as reenactments of his union with the goddess Anat, as it was believed that when he copulated with her, fertility would result in the land. Religious prostitution was a sort of imitative magic, in which Canaanites and Israelites induced Baal to come into a union with Anat that would produce green growth, abundant fruit and well-stocked herds. For the God of Israel, such worship of foreign gods is abhorrent and heart-breaking, because his people do not see that abundance does not come as a result of their sexual rites to Baal. In fact, it is not Baal who gives them abundance, but the God of Israel. In Hosea 2:5, God says: "'For their mother has played the harlot; She who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.'" And in Hosea 2:8, ""For she does not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil, And lavished on her silver and gold, Which they used for Baal."



God's punishment involves taking away the harvest and showing Israel that He is the one in control of fertility, not Baal (2:6,9) “Knowing” God in a marriage of fidelity God’s desire is that his beloved Israel “knows” him, the way a wife “knows” a husband. God’s greatest charge against Israel is that they did not know God. (Hosea 4:1) "... there is no faithfulness or kindness Or knowledge of God in the land." (Hosea 4:6) "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being my priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children." It seems that this knowledge God yearns from Israel is not just theoretical, but also experiential. It is a knowledge that involves the intellect, the spirit, but also the flesh. God wants to be known by Israel in a way a husband is “known” by his faithful wife. Such knowledge cannot be achieved when the Israelites avail themselves to other gods. The analogy between God’s marriage with Israel and Hosea’s marriage with Gomer is stunning. The God of Israel wants a marriage with us of both spirit and flesh. God wants our knowledge of him to take flesh in our life. The God who speaks to us through Hosea’s lips does not want to be known as a concept, an idea, a symbol, a possibility. He wants to husband us, he wants a partnership of marriage that can and will work only if we are faithful. His yearning is heartbreaking. As I read Hosea, I am taken by this divine yearning. In fact, I read it as much more powerful and forlorn than our human yearning for God. This God does not need “inducement rites” to give us anything… He only asks for faithfulness. Complete, utter, unconditional faithfulness. It seems to me that the divine anger expressed in the book of Hosea is provoked by no other human behavior, but lack of faith (i.e., lack of trust). God is angry with us for refusing to trust that all that which is our life depends on and comes from him, and instead attributing our knowledge of God to other sources (i.e., idols). According to the book of Hosea, God needs to correct our lack of correct knowledge of him, and he does so by removing all that which we consider “life”, until we realize our mistake and turn to the One we formerly refused to know. The paradox here is amazing. In order to know God in the flesh, God punishes us in the flesh, by withdrawing all that which used to nurture and sustain it. Though cruel, it seems fair and just. I understand it because I have experienced it. I am deeply humbled and grateful for it. To me, this is how Grace appears. But, even in the midst of God's condemnation of Israel, God gives through the lips of Hosea a prediction of Israel's future restoration. Israel will come to know Yahweh, and He will give them plentiful crops and fertile herds (Hosea 2:23) "I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, And I will say to those who were not My people, 'You are My people!' And they will say, 'You are my God!'"" But this restoration will not come without the repentance of Israel. In a plea with his people, Hosea says, if Israel returns to the Lord, he will heal and bandage Israel and bring back the rains (Hosea 6:1, 3). In Hosea 10:12, the prophet urges Israel: "Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you." In repentance we learn that God is the initiator of restoration. He is in charge of time and do not know how long it will take before “the rains will come again”. But the whole journey



of repentance is one of knowing God again, as God reveals God’s self to us, in the flesh that has been broken in order for God to heal again. In journey of return to God, God is in charge of our steps. With each step toward him, he is asking more of our faith. This is how we come to know God in the flesh. By being faith-full. Chapter 14 concludes the book restating Hosea's plea to Israel to return to God. God speaks through Hosea’s lips and assures Israel—and us—that he is faithful; that he will restore us; and that we shall know our God in a marriage of mutual knowledge, a marriage based on love and repentance. (Hosea 14:4-7) " I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; He will blossom like the lily, and he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. His shoots will sprout, and his beauty will be like the olive tree, And his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. Those who live in his shadow will again raise grain, and they will blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.”

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II Week 6—Monday, 03/08/09 Reflections on Jonah


Of all the prophets of the Old Testament, Jonah is the only one I have known since childhood. His death and resurrection from the belly of the Big Fish echoes parallel stories I heard as a child from Greek mythology (i.e. descent into Hades) and from the life of Jesus, especially his three day passion, crucifixion and resurrection, in which Jesus descended into Hell and rose again. Reading Jonah now, reinforces truths about God that I have held dear all my life. I think the message of the book concerning God can be summarized as follows: a. God's love and concern is for all people, and anyone who is willing to repent and turn to God can find salvation (Acts 26:19-20; II Peter 3:9). b. God is a universal God. There is but ONE God, and He alone is to be the God of all people. Jonah preached to a monotheistic people, but the god they worshipped was Nebo. He warned them they must repent and turn to Jehovah, and worship and serve Him only. So, the promise of salvation is not restricted only to Israel. The book of Jonah shows clearly that God cares and has great compassion for all people. Jonah proclaims that God as the creator of the sea and the dry land, when he confesses his identity and his faith to the sailors. From this God no one can escape. This God exists everywhere and loves everyone with the same love, for everyone is this God’s creature. Unlike the God of the book of Amos who is angry and hurt by Israel’s unfaithfulness, the God in the book of Jonah hurts for the unfaithfulness of all people and wants to draw everyone near to God’s self. Jonah does not like this all-loving God. He does not agree with this God’s universality. A faithful Jew, Jonah runs away from God when he is told to prophecy to Nineveh, calling that city back to salvation. He refuses to be the prophet of a universal gospel. He refuses to preach salvation to the enemy, for Nineveh is Israel’s enemy, as Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE. So, Jonah runs and runs and runs away from God. His flight is described as a descent that ends up in the belly of the Big Fish. Also, it is described as a flight in the direction opposite from that which God instructs him to. God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh, which is in the East, but he embarks on a ship going to Tarshish, which is in the West. The tension between Jonah’s disagreement with God and his faith in God, in which Jonah lives while running away from God’s call is high. On the one hand, he does not want to preach salvation to the enemy, but on the other hand, his confession of faith in the God of all Creation to the sailors, transforms them and converts them into believers. Against his will, Jonah is preaching salvation, while running away from the God who is calling him. Jonah’s self-proclaimed righteousness against the enemy remains even after he has surrendered to God’s call and prophesied to Nineveh. He is astonished with God’s mercy for Nineveh’s repentance. Even though he preached a universal Gospel, he does not believe in it. He prefers to die than see the enemy of his country saved. So, once again, he isolates himself from God, in a booth that he builds “away from the city”. He sits there, hoping for something to change, hoping that the city will burn up in fire. Instead, the hot sun is burning up his head, until God covers it with the shade of a bush that soothes Jonah.

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II This part of the book is simply beautiful. Using simple metaphor, the author portrays poetically and so accurately the infiniteness of God’s love and mercy, juxtaposed with the limited, conditional human love. Jonah, though a prophet of God’s universal gospel, is nonetheless a sectarian in his love for the other. He cannot forgive what he cannot understand. He does not understand God’s love for Nineveh, and he cannot forgive even God for God’s boundless mercy.


And the beauty of God’s tender love is even better portrayed by the author in the last few verses, in which God ever so tenderly reminds Jonah of God’s care for all creation, without bringing up Jonah’s earlier refusal and flight. God is not petty. Humans are. God cares equally about great cities and isolated individuals, God loves equally “us” and “them”, God wants to draw close to God all those who surrender our attachments to whatever mental, religious, political or psychological categories define our faith, our views of the world and one another, and our understanding of our place in this world. God defies and transcends all these categories, the book of Jonah shows, and God will fulfill God’s plans in spite of our efforts to disagree with them or block them from happening. Jonah is a short, concise story with a message about a love that knows no limits. His prophecy is only one verse, and yet it condenses the boundless message of the universal gospel. The power his laconic prophecy encapsulates is so potent, that it makes an entire great city repent from its evil ways and follow God’s ways. I think that God hid God’s love in those few words, but the people heard the message loud and clear. They saw the impending divine wrath, but they also sensed the unquestionable divine mercy and forgiveness. This is the God Jonah also believed in, even though he refused to accept that his God could be everyone’s God, even of his country’s enemies. What I like about the book of Jonah is the very contradiction between divine and human love, and how the Infinite One uses a finite human being to save thousands of people, against this individual’s will, then finds that rebelling individual and tames him with the same infinite love that saved thousands.

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II Week 8--Monday, March 23, 2009 Reflections on the book of Micah


Rich in graphic imagery, the book of Micah is about prophecy of God’s wrath, punishment and eventual redemption. It also warns against false prophecy, which is prophecy that flatters and fosters complacency. What strikes me in this book is the realization of how difficult the position of a prophet is in a society that, though aware of its fallen moral state, still wants to hear the good news first, and then more of the good news. I guess this is part of the fallen human nature, whether in individual or corporate form: we know we are sinners, we know that our actions bear consequences, we know that with each sinful act we move further and further away from God, we know that historically, scripturally, traditionally, the sins of the fathers have always befallen as punishments on the later generations, and yet we don’t seem to repent easily. Hearing that God is angry and will punish us, is unacceptable when we are in pain. We want to be comforted, soothed, then. In other words, we want to listen to false prophets. And when we are amidst “good times”, in other words when we act out of the assuredness of our willful human nature, easily giving into actions of greed, power and violence, then we simply do not care about the consequences. We are so far away from God in such times, that the idea of someone prophesying our definite demise as divine punishment sounds ludicrous. These thoughts I have as I read Micah—and all the other prophets—as the news is broadcasting hope through the approval of an astronomically high “stimulus plan”, which will revive the economy that has suffered due to sin. I remember the same news broadcasters, eight years ago, when the war in Afghanistan had started, giving a different prophesy of hope: they had called that a war against the axis of evil, a war that was going to bring to the world freedom from terror and new beginnings in countries ravaged by the tyranny of their leaders. That first war was presented to us enveloped in prophesies about freedom, democracy and justice that this country was called by God to bring to the rest of the world. The name of God had been mentioned way too often next to announcements about military operations first in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq. Now, eight years later, this country is lamenting losses: losses of loved ones who died in those wars that proved to be meaningless, purposeless, and unnecessary; losses of financial prosperity—or the illusion of it—which was the #1 promise for all the people of this “chosen” land; millions of people lost their homes, their employment, their sense of purpose, their sense that God was on their side and was taking care of them; angry, betrayed and disappointed, the people of this land refuse—nonetheless—to hear that sin has consequences. We refuse to hear that we are all immersed in sin, whether this sin inflicts pain on others through our actions, or whether it hurts us through the actions of others. We don’t want to hear such words, and if Micah were among us today, we would not have patience for him. We want to hear all about hope, restoration, renewal, and the “stimulus package”. We want the false prophets to tell us “you’ll be saved, no need to repent.” I may have deviated from the text, but not from its meaning. Micah and all the prophets whom God called to speak God’s anger and pain in human words, calls Israel to repent. This is, in my opinion, the essence of every prophetic message: Repentance. God is hurting because we are doing things that do not reflect God’s character. God wants to draw us close to God, because God wants to express God’s character through our actions. This is how God incarnates through us, and this is God’s deepest desire for us. By repenting, we draw closer to God, and through our actions, we express God’s character. Ultimately, our will becomes God’s will and this is how this world receives healing and restoration. This is how the future



generations enjoy a blessed life, this is how peace is restored, this is how God smiles upon God’s creation and says, “this is good!” The prophet’s call is to bring us the news about the urgency of repentance, by describing what will happen if we don’t. It’s obvious, hell on earth will happen, and it always has. Pain is what rehabilitates human nature, and it seems that we do not want to learn from scripture that pain is inevitable if we do not repent. If God’s love does not draw us close to God, then God draw us close to God through pain. This is what the prophets say, but their imagery is too loud for our delicate ears. Being a prophet is not a popular task. On the contrary, it is very painful. I can understand why Jonah ran the other way—his act, though silly, expresses panic well justified in my eyes. Their message often includes painful criticism, and the listeners’ first impulse is to condemn the message and isolate the messenger. Through his words, the prophet may come across as hating humanity, but in Micah this is not the case: through his laments I can detect the inner pain he feels on God’s behalf. The same pain I have seen in other prophets, along with their awe and trepidation before their superhuman task (Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, to name a few). But how can a prophet articulate a message of hope that is honest, realistic and potent in reviving the spirit of the ones who feel desperate? And when is the appropriate time to speak of hope? In preaching, the good news always comes after the bad news. Gospel gives new life to the ones the law has killed. In Micah, the prophet speaks of God’s wrath (1:13:12), then offers a message of hope (4:1-5:15), and then again words about God’s anger (6:1-16), the prophet’s lament over the decadence of society (7:1-7) and a closing liturgy that concludes with a hopeful note. In 5:2-5a, Micah prophesies about the coming of the promised ruler from Bethlehem, who will restore the messes caused by the public leaders. I do not know why the sequence is somewhat irregular, with message of doom and hope being intertwined and alternated. Perhaps this reflects more closely the way punishment, repentance and redemption functions in real life: the progress of salvation is not linear nor does it happen in one time. We are sinners and saints, in our individual and collective lives, we move closer to God and away from God through actions and thoughts conscious and unconscious, we suffer consequences from actions known and unknown, individual and collective, familiar and alien, and our repentance happens gradually and in zigzags. God knows all this. God also knows our forgetfulness, our smallness, our silliness, our utter need of God’s mercy. That is why God does not let us go.

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II Week 8--Monday, March 23, 2009 Reflections on the book of Habakkuk


The book of Habakkuk, like the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, calls attention to and criticizes injustice as it prevails in the political, judicial and economic institutions of Judah and its capital, Jerusalem. It also predicts the demise of this unjust society that will happen due to coming events representing God’s punishment of unjust leaders, followed by events that will reestablish equity and proper order. Two things strike me in this book: how the prophet addresses injustice, and the vision of justice God is presenting through him, which will be sustained by the faith of the righteous ones. The phrase “the just shall live by faith”, quoted by the apostle Paul in his letter to Romans (1:170, though brief, is essential in how the prophet addresses the problem of injustice. In the prophetic tradition, world injustice is a troubling and challenging theme, juxtaposed with divine righteousness, which eventually will reign. In this contrast, real-world politics seem to be continually at odds with the prophetic passion for justice and faith in God’s just rule. In the book of Habakkuk, this problem seems to be addressed by means of faith in a just world according to God’s vision, in spite of the injustice that prevails in the human world. This is the problem every faithful person is faced with: trusting that God’s vision of a just world will finally reign, while one lives the daily reality of the absurd injustices humans inflict upon one another. The example of Martin Luther King comes to mind when I think of the “just who will live in faith”. In the Old Testament, several books address the contrast between divine justice and human injustice. The book of Job is one, in which the inverse situation is presented: righteous Job experiences God’s unmerited acts of injustice, until he questions the Judaic religious assumptions about God’s just rule. In the psalms of lament, the psalmist pleads with God for restoration of justice, so that suffering inflicted by injustice and unfairness end. Jeremiah also questions God’s reliability in keeping a just order in the world. But Habakkuk seems to address the issue of justice/injustice quite explicitly, bringing the message of faith. In Habakkuk, the righteous, those who long for and work for justice and righteousness receive the strength to go on, not because the world itself I just or because it reward those who work for justice, but because these persons possess a larger vision of the way things should be. This vision of just reign is God’s vision. There will always be a discrepancy between this vision and the human world. But the faithful ones trust more deeply the truth of that vision than the hard facts of their experience. Mother Teresa next to Martin Luther King, is another visionary. In essence, it is by those visionaries faith that God’s vision of a just world has taken flesh among us, humans, in history. The recent election of president Obama, the first African American president of this country, is Martin’s Luther King’s “dream” about a world reign but just rule, forty years ago. The dream took flesh. God’s vision became reality.



A voice contradicting the teachings of Wisdom, Ecclesiastes is an intriguing a challenging book to read. I love the opening verse, 1:2 “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”, because it brings me back to my Greek roots and religious education. I recall theology teachers in high school begin classes with this verse, and often refer to the work of Gregory of Nyssa “Ματαιότης Ματαιοτήτων”—revered in the Eastern Orthodox Church—in which he dedicates eight sermons on the first 3 chapters. In reflecting upon the book, I must admit that the notion of life’s “vanity” or “absurdity” does not estrange me. I was born and raised in a very old culture, which survived 5,000 years of historical cycles, living and re-living through birth, maturity, decline and death, again and again. A cyclical view of history (much like that of Qohelet’s) was always familiar to me. The vanity of human existence as inevitably leading to death was a concept deeply embedded in the culture that raised me, along with an inherent cultural belief that “fate” is something we cannot escape, since it has a lot to do with God’s will: in that context, fate always had one and only one meaning: death. In some ways, the central themes of Qohelet were woven in the fabric of the culture in which I grew up. My native culture is very old, very complex, and multi-layered. The themes of Qohelet are woven in its fabric together with the influences of the French existential philosophers Sartre and Camus I read as a young adult, the theater of the absurd I loved in the plays of Beckett, Adamov, Ionesco, and Genet, and in the endless hours of conversing on philosophy, politics and the human condition with fellow students as an undergraduate student of philosophy, in an Athenian café across from the Acropolis and the Agora. Somehow, the themes of Qohelet transpired through my experiences of the culture, as the “other voice”, responding to that of theology and religion. That other voice, was the voice of tradition, wisdom, and the people who had God’s blessing because they walked in God’s ways. Qohelet is not a book about God. Rather, it is a book about ideas. That is probably why I can recognize its ideas in my experiences of my native culture. Its ideas are about human survival in a world in which work is pain, overwork is foolish, pleasure soon fades in the face of death, and wisdom is unable to comprehend even the simplest sequences that would make possible real understanding of the world. Such a world is absurd. For Qohelet, wisdom is not the fear of the Lord. Though he holds God in respect, he does not resort to God to explain the absurdity of this world. Nor will he use God to propose a system of justice in this world. Qohelet does not tell us if this God is a good or bad God, a God who cares or does not care. Qohelet is not about God. This is a book about life seen from the human perspective, lived in universe created by God. Three themes I recognize as parallel to my experiences from my native culture are: 1. Everything is “vanity”; trying to examine life does not bring any satisfactory meaning. 2. God determines every event (the cyclical notion of history from which nothing can escape). 3. We can’t really tell where God is or how God works in the world. In this way, God is not revealed in any way in history. In a way, Qohelet sets the drama of human life against a dark background, where God cannot be easily found. It does not have a theology. Rather, it is an anthropological book, that makes a statement, which I find consistent with my experiences from my native culture as I described them above: that deeply within human nature there is a desire for happiness,

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II planted there by God. This pursuit of happiness must be done then by living a moral life, which means that one does the will of God. I am aware that, in this entry, my thoughts may completely disagree with those of Prof. Robinson about the book of Ecclesiastes. But the echo of “Vanity of vanities” awakened formative memories too deep-seated to deny…


MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II Week 10--Esther—A role model for “acceptable” female power amidst patriarchy


The significance of the Book of Esther is that it testifies to the secret work of God as he watches over a captive Israel. The name of God does not once occur, but—as it happens with the story of Joseph--divine providence is very conspicuous. In this book, God shows care for the Jews who preferred the easy and lucrative life under the Persian rule and did not return to Israel. This shows God’s faithfulness to His people, according to the covenant The book is in seven parts: I. The Story of Vashti, 1.1-22. II. Esther made queen, 2.1-23. III. The conspiracy of Haman, 3.1-15. IV. The courage of Esther brings deliverance, 4.1-7.10. V. The vengeance, 8.1-9.19. VI. The feast of Purim, 9.20-32. VII. Epilogue, 10.1-3. The events recorded in Esther cover a period of 12 years. Upon reflection of the book of Esther, I find myself having a mixed reaction. There are two women mentioned in the book: the queen Vashti and Esther. Vashti disobeys her husband’s authority and disappears in the first few verses (1:19). Esther “plays by the rules” and becomes a heroine and an instrument of God’s plan for the salvation of his elect people. It seems to me that the book, besides presenting a story about God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to his people, also has a secondary purpose of presenting an acceptable role model of a powerful woman in a patriarchal world. That is Esther. In contrast to Vashti, who refused to be men’s sexual object and her husband’s toy (1:12), Esther is the stereotypical woman in a man’s world. She follows norms set by men, even though when those norms instruct her to betray her heritage and religion (2:10). A careful reading of the book reveals to me a hidden agenda: between the lines it transmits a code, a norm of behavior for women. This code and the norm is delivered completely from the male point of view. Although Esther acts with considerable skill and bravery to save the Jews from destruction, she leaves the patriarchal norms of ancient Jewish (and Persian) society intact. When I compare Esther’s character to that of Judith’s (a story about a very strong and pious Jewish heroine who saved her people by taking justice in her own hands) I am seeing striking differences in the way the two women are portrayed. Interestingly, the book of Esther is the one included in the Jewish (and Protestant) scripture. Though the reasons attributed to the inclusion expand beyond the scope of the portrayal of the main heroine, the result nonetheless remains the same: Esther’s character of female power is the one “approved” to be part of Scripture. Judith remains hidden in the “Apocrypha” (pun not intended…) First of all, Esther is married, as all young women should be. Her primary characteristic is her beauty, which only adds to the honor of the king who possesses her. She is also obedient. She respects the power of the man over his household (see 1:8). The importance of this is emphasized from the fi rst chapter, in which Vashti defi es Ahasuerus’s command to come before his guests during his banquet. So great is the threat that it must be countermanded by law: “every man should be the master in his own house and the one who speaks in the language of his own people” (1:20) and “every man should be master in his own house” (1: 22).



Esther does not work publicly. She leaves the private quarters of the women only briefly; both her dinner parties take place in private. She herself does not slay Haman—unlike Judith, who kills Holofernes using a man’s weapon, which is a sword. In Esther’s story, it is Ahasuerus who sentences Haman. When the king gives her Haman’s property, she turns its management over to Mordecai. She receives permission from the king to thwart the edict against the Jews, but it is Mordecai who writes the letters and gives the commands. As for the establishment of the festival of Purim, Mordecai writes the initial letter and Esther merely confirms it. Only one verse gives a hint that Esther actually exercises public power on her own: “The command of Esther established these customs for Purim, and it was written in the book.” (9:32). Finally, at the end of the book, Esther completely disappears, and all the adulation is reserved for Mordecai, “For Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews and in favor with his many kinsmen, one who sought the good of his people and one who spoke for the welfare of his whole nation.” (10:3). Esther won a beauty pageant and the king’s heart. Then, she became God’s instrument in fulfilling a divine plan of salvation. But she did so obeying the norms of her culture, not once threatening the status quo. I am left wondering who is the true actor in this story that does not mention God even once. Though I don’t doubt God’s presence behind human actions, when I think of Judith’s story next to Esther’s, I can’t help but see a God who favors and blesses a world of men, whether or not they are among His elected ones.

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II Week 11-Thoughts and reflections on the Psalms. a. Gunkel’s form-criticism categorization of the Psalter


I don’t claim to have read all the psalms. I think reading and praying the psalms is a lifelong practice, in response to God’s unconditional love and mercy, incorporated with all other forms of a person’s spirituality and piety. The Psalter fascinates me, especially since I began Seminary and have started to sing the psalms in chapel. In this entry, I will reflect on the theology of the psalms as I understand it through my experience of the psalms since I began Seminary and in light of my experience in last January’s class Living Scripture. Given that after reading them for while, all Psalms sound similar, I did some reading on the Gunkel’s form criticism, which gave me insight into the classification of psalms according to categories. This helps me have a general sense of the Psalter as a whole and refer to this classification each time I read a Psalm: Lament of an Individual: a. Sickness: 6, 38, 41, 88 b. Lamenting for false accusation of some offense: 5, 7, 11, 17, 26, 59, 109 c. A king’s or a leader’s lament: 3, 35, 56, 57 d. Lament for suffering (human and divine) 3, 13, 22, 31, 51, 69, 88, 109,130 Thanksgiving: 30, 34, 92, 107, 116 Their structure consists of: a. expressions of praise and gratitude to God b. description of the trouble or distress from which the psalmist has been delivered c. testimony to others concerning God’s saving deeds d. exhortation to others to join in praising God and acknowledging God’s ways Lament of the Community: Communal laments encourage reflection on what it means to continue to profess faith in God’s sovereignty in extreme situations: 44, 74, 79, 80, 83 Hymn or Song of Praise: the structure consists of: a. Opening invitation to praise b. Reasons for praise c. Repetition of the invitation to praise Invitation to praise psalms: 100, 148, 150 Enthronement psalms that proclaim the reign of God: 29, 47, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99 Songs of Zion that focus praise on the city of Jerusalem: 46, 48, 76, 84, 87, 122 Other songs of praise: 8, 33, 103, 104, 113 Royal a. b. c. Psalms: these are not a form-critical category, but grouped by content: Coronation ritual: 2 Royal wedding: 45 Prayer for the king on his coronation day: 72, also 18, 20, 221, 89, 101, 110, 132, 144

Wisdom/Torah Psalms: Gunkel suggests that certain psalms should be identified as wisdom poetry based on their content. According to Gunkel, these psalms are filled with pious reflections: 1, 37, 73, 128 Certain psalms share characteristics with the wisdom literature. The psalm opening the Psalter is a wisdom psalm, which serves as the preface of the Psalter. Psalm 1 (along with



psalms 19 and 119) is considered a torah psalm. These three psalms, along with psalms 18, 25, 33, 78, 89, 93, 94, 99, 103, 105, 11, 112, 147, 148) are pointed out for their didactic and instructional orientation. Entrance liturgies: This, according to Gunkel, is a minor category, consisting of psalms 15 and 24. They invite theological reflection on what it means to enter God’s reign and to submit to God’s sovereignty upon the entire world. Their structure consists of: a. The question apparently asked by those approaching the Temple or sanctuary b. The answer, perhaps delivered by a priest c. Concluding blessing or affirmation Prophetic Exhortation: Gunkel distinguishes psalms 50, 81, and 95 as prophetic exhortations, with an instructional intent. They challenge the reader to make a decision regarding God’s sovereign claim. Psalms of Confidence/Trust: These are explained as derivatives of the lament of an individual. They were composed to express the “certainty of being heard” separately from the complaint and petition. Such psalms are 16, 23, and 91. They assert God’s sovereignty, despite appearances to the contrary. Mixed Types: Gunkel was aware of the individuality of each psalm. He recognized certain psalms as especially unique and refused to categorize them using his method. Instead, he named them “mixed types”. Gunkel’s recognition that typifying the psalms was not sufficient for understanding them in their final form and literary setting, was an admission that form criticism was limiting the psalms into categories and invited a movement toward rhetorical criticism and toward a consideration of the importance of the shape and the shaping of the book of Psalms as a literary context for interpreting the individual psalms. For the purposes of this journal as this class’s assignment, I will use Gunkel’s categorization.

b. Reflections on Psalm 1 I chose this Psalm because I see it as the introduction to the Psalter, a prayer and a poem that “sets the tone” for the entire book of Psalms. I am struck by the first word, “Happy” (NRSV) or “blessed” (NIV), which immediately informs me of the instructional/didactic content of the psalm. The psalm speaks of the antithesis of righteousness versus wickedness in very concrete terms, describing the two polar opposites of the human condition as it is manifested in the dispositions of human beings toward God. This psalm presents the qualities of righteousness, happiness, and prosperity as states of being expressed through human actions and attitudes. The righteous in Psalm 1 is the person whose life is completely centered in God. This, in a way, is antithetical to our contemporary understanding of happiness and prosperity as a result of our individual efforts. Our contemporary, secular definition of righteousness is self-centered. So is our understanding of happiness: that it depends on us; on our choices; on our thinking (that we can change from “negative” to “positive”); on our “working through” childhood traumas and “overcoming” past wounds; on our improving our social class; on our choosing the right neighborhood, the right associates, the right partner, the right car, even the right religion.



Psalm 1 categorizes this self-centered “happiness” as “wickedness”. For the psalmist, happy is the person whose life depends completely on God. The whole book of Psalms seems to extol “trusting in God” as the prerequisite for happiness, blessings and prosperity. This psalm specifies that this delight a person can experience depends on this person’s following the teaching (law=torah) of God. In addition to that, praising God amidst all life’s circumstances is the purpose of righteous living. This is diametrically opposite from pursuing happiness according to one’s self-fulfilling impulses, and responding to suffering with disdain and contempt. In the psalms the righteous person often suffers, due to attacks, threats, persecution, and unjust actions against him, even though he has not caused suffering to others. Also, this psalm does not present happiness as a cause-and-effect function (in other words as the “outcome” of certain “correct” choices and actions). Rather, “happiness” or “righteousness” is the unfettered reliance on God and the trust in God’s teachings, the belief in God’s unfailing love and mercy, and the constant praising of God’s sovereignty and goodness. “Prosperity”, on the other hand, is not necessarily “material wealth”. I understand it here as God’s blessing upon the righteous, and God’s faithfulness that does not ever wither. The “prosperous” is the person who stays connected with God and whom God sustains with God’s faithfulness amidst all life’s circumstances, both positive and negative. The second half of the psalm juxtaposes the “wicked” to the “blessed”. The wicked, here, is described as the person who walks “his own path”, away from God. In contemporary terms this can be considered as the “self-reliant” individual, for whom personal autonomy and the “way of the Ego” are paramount values, dictating his/her actions, thoughts and attitudes toward God. The Psalmist does not consider this person righteous, but a sinner, whom God will not bless. A Lutheran reading of this psalm: In reading this psalm, I cannot help but think of Luther’s definition of the sinner as the homo incurvatus in se (the human who is folded unto himself), which I find to be parallel to the description of the “wicked” in this psalm. I also see an open ending: by describing the two kinds of human attitudes toward God, I am reminded that these are two simultaneous attitudes within me, each of them fighting its opposite (in Luther’s terms, I am simul iustus et peccator). The word “law” (1:2) reminds me of the importance of reading the Word, to be reminded of God’s promise, each time I seem to forget it. I am also reminded that when I walk in life disconnected from God, I am cut off from the Tree that gives me life. In this respect—and to use Luther’s terms—when I am incurvata in me, I am dead. Psalm 1 opens the Psalter as instruction and invitation to avoid self-interested righteousness and, instead, offer one’s self to God’s sovereignty and unfailing faith.

MARIA GRACE, Ph.D. OLD TESTAMENT JOURNAL--II Week 12--Some thoughts on Proverbs 1-9


The instructions offered in proverbs 1-9, in addition to being advice for key life transitions, seem to present a certain worldview. Proverbs 1-9 give a moral map of the world, a world made by God with wisdom. The proverbs are given to a young, inexperienced males on the threshold of adult life. The purpose of the book seems to be one of confirming the wisdom of the old and wise. Proverbs 1-9 reveal the following themes: A. B. C. D. E. F. G. H. I. J. K. L. M. 1:1-7, Title and Prologue 1:8-19, Warning against Outlaws 1:20-33, Wisdom’s Prophetic Warning 2:1-22, The Search for Wisdom 3:1-12, Instruction in the Fear of the Lord 3:13-35, On Wisdom: Blessing, Creation, Admonitions 4:1-27, Tradition, Wisdom and Ways 5:1-23, Adultery as Folly; Marriage as Wisdom 6:1-19, Money, Sloth, Good and Evil 6:20-35, Teaching against Adultery 7:1-27, A Tale of Seduction and Death 8:1-36, Wisdom’s Cosmic Speech 9:1-18, Two Houses at the End of the Road

Observations on the content of the Proverbs 1-9: The Proverbs introduce a world created by God, in which God also provides the conditions that make life possible. It is a world in which humans have freedom to make choices. Life in the Proverbs is presented as dynamic and purposeful and it happens along good or bad paths that a man chooses to take. Lady Wisdom speaks to the young man in metaphors, describing life as the course that a man chooses to take moved by his desire for women and material goods (i.e., sex and money). Misdirected desire has disastrous effects in a man’s life. Sexual desire versus obedience in God’s ways in the Proverbs: Erotic desire seems to be the moving force behind a man’s life choices. The woman a man chooses to love will determine his life. Along this way, a man may choose to trust in God (Prov 3) or be selfreliant. The first choice brings righteousness, wisdom and life. The second brings sin, folly and death. The implications are not simply moral, individual or religious, but cosmic. These are the two axes upon which the God-created universe turns, as this universe is portrayed in the cosmology of the Proverbs. Prov. 3 gives concrete examples of justice that are essential for a healthy society. Individual choices seem to affect the social whole. Prov 3 gives advice on how to relate to the neighbor in ways that add to the health of the social community. Interesting I find the mentioning of “envy” as the spiritual root of all sins that affect our neighbor and cause social wounds. “Keeping up with Joneses” is a social disease that has destroyed many families, as we are observing in the current crisis of foreclosures in this country. Coveting what our neighbor has—whether that is acquired ethically or unethically—is a human disease that moves people to many harmful actions against themselves, their neighbor and the ecology of this planet.



Prov. 5 juxtaposes the wisdom of channeling sexual desire within a faithful marriage next to the folly of consummating it in adultery. The poet does not deny the existence of sexual desire—on the contrary, he celebrates it within a faithful marriage. Though addressed only to men and their erotic impulses, this proverb clearly presents the dangers that unruly sexual expression may bring to social structures, beginning with the family. Prov 8 presents Wisdom’s cosmology, given as a speech by Wisdom herself, personified as a woman. It is beyond the scope of this journal to comment on the level of identification of Wisdom with God himself. Or, whether Wisdom is a facet (person) of God, besides the Son and the Holy Spirit (C. G. Jung commented that she is the Fourth person of the Trinity, which he called Quaternity). The cosmology of Wisdom presents a universe in which the forces of sexual and material desires are limited by God-set boundaries. Using the metaphor of the sea (8:29) and the foundations of the earth, Wisdom clearly states that boundaries, limits, structures that control and regulate the sexual desire are God-given, in order for human life to be happy and harmonious. Justice is also ensured by God-set limits, translated into law. When love is misplaced, when one loses direction, when boundaries are violated, when creation’s goods are misappropriated, then the good becomes harmful and damage is done. Wisdom implies love (i.e., expression of sexual desire) within limits, freedom within form, and life within law. Post Scriptum: I find fascinating that the father of Depth Psychology, Sigmund Freud (not Carl Jung!) defined the sexual drive to be one of the two primordial forces (i.e., instincts) that drive human civilization (the other being the death instinct. Interestingly, death is presented in Wisdom 1-2 as the prime negative motive for loving justice and seeking God). Frued’s Jewish heritage and study of Scripture must have influenced his thinking and subsequent theory about the power of sexual desire (and the fear of death) to destroy (or give meaning to) communal (and individual) living, depending on how “wisely” those two forces are directed.

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