Bible study, 6 December 2015

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6 December 2015 – Classic Advent texts. Readings:

Isaiah 9.1-7, on
Isaiah 11.1-10, on
Isaiah 40.1-11 – God’s people are comforted, on
Isaiah 52.7-9, on
Micah 5, on

6 December 2015 – Classic Advent texts. Notes and questions:

Introduction: Advent – using passages we’ve heard before. Read them, discuss their significance, set historical scene, look at one passage…

Read the passages above, familiar to us from Advent services, or listening to The Messiah

Discuss: what is particularly special to you, what evokes memories or has a message for you?

Setting the Historical scene: At the time these prophets are writing the land of Israel is in two:

  1. Northern Kingdom: ISRAEL – Galilee etc – ruled from Samaria
  2. Southern Kingdom: JUDAH – Jerusalem, Temple, Bethlehem etc – the original ROYAL part, ruled from Jerusalem.

Israel is overcome by the Assyrians who then de-populate the region in 722, when Samaria falls.

Judah is ruled by a continuing line of kings until Ahaz (735-715) appeals to Assyria for help against Syria and Israel. This is when the – original – first section of the book of Isaiah is written. The Assyrians basically run Judah – they have Jerusalem under siege in 701 for example – followed briefly by the Egyptians and then the Babylonians take over Assyria and the people go into exile.

ISAIAH – presents Assyria as ‘the rod of God’s anger’ in chapter 10.5. The people have failed God and are being punished. Most of the earlier part of Isaiah is filled with warnings about judgement but also promises of restoration. So Isaiah 9 is one of those passages of promise.

The later section of Isaiah changes mood – much more to hope and comfort; chapter 40 onwards. It is thought that this section is written in the Babylonian exile. (e.g. 52 – Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem…’, or references to idols, like the Babylonian Marduk who is carried about in statue form during processions (Is. 40.19-20)

MICAH – same sort of period as early Isaiah, with same balance of judgement – restoration. It is likely again that Chapter 5.2 onwards, was written down during the exile – so it was looking back to Bethlehem in hope that the Davidic line will continue.

Isaiah 9.1-7

One of the best known pieces for Advent, Messiah, and felt to be a prophecy about Jesus. Written 740-mid 5th Century (we don’t really know…)

We’re going to read this again, then look at it in more detail.

vv.2 – darkness – where else do we get these references?

(Job 3.3f darkness claims the day of his birth, Ps 143.3 ‘the enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead’ Ps. 23 ‘though I walk through the valley of deep darkness’ Ps 107.10 ‘some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners of suffering in iron chains, for they had rebelled against the word of God’)

Darkness = death in OT tradition

Light – in Old Testament?

Ps 27.1 ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation’

Ps 89.15 ‘Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence of Lord’.

So this sense of light v. dark is not unique to the New Testament, nor to the person of Jesus. (As we might expect, v common imagery across major faiths and millennia)

First NT reference: Luke 1.79 ‘to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace’ – who said this? Someone versed in OT tradition and faith. (Zechariah, father of John the Baptist)

  1. 3 the light brings restoration – the nation grows, has life and abundance

vv.4-7 You should have 3 lots of ‘for’ now, at the start of v. 4, 5, and 6. These 3 statements are part of a poetic Hebrew structure… it’s a model of a hymn of praise.

  1. Yoke, burden etc – has been broken, like on the day of Midian – can you recall that?
  2. The enemy have been utterly defeated – wiped out
  3. We have a new king. Another passage in Isaiah which echoes a son being born? 7.14 – ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel’! – quoted in Matthew’s gospel.

v.6-7 This passage is suggestive of an enthronement hymn – very similar to the sort of thing found in Egyptian writings. The Egyptians give their king 5 titles, here the king has 4.

  1. 6 authority rests on his shoulders – this refers to the sceptre placed upon shoulders
  2. 6 ‘he who plans wonders/wonderful counsellor -?? his is like God, this king, able to make his own decisions, not needing guidance

‘Divine Hero/Mighty God’ – any thoughts about the significance of this title? Egyptian influence – the king is the regent and representative of God on earth, and shares his nature and his will

‘Eternal Father/Father of spoil – ?? some think this isn’t ‘eternal father’ because it echoes v. 7. So Father of spoil – i.e. he makes his own plans, he has the victory, he holds the spoil

‘Prince of Peace’ -?? secures the peace for the people and care for law and righteousness throughout the kingdom.

So this block basically summarises the role of the earthly – God chosen – king, who rules, and reigns over his people with justice.

v.7 David was given the kingdom to rule on God’s behalf, as chosen by God. His name, his household, therefore, continues that reign.

Matthew’s Gospel – Jesus comes from David… (though via Joseph!)

‘…from this time onwards and for evermore’ – any familiar other places where we hear this?

Luke 1.33 – Angel Gabriel ‘And he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, his kingdom will never end’

2 Samuel 7.14-16 ‘…your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.’

‘The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this’ – compare this with 2 Kings 19.31 – Isaiah sends this message out about Judah in prosperity…

Lord of Hosts – Sabaoth – a name showing God is omnipotent.

For further thought…

What is the connection between this passage, the other passages in Isaiah and Micah etc, and the Birth narratives? Are these passages ‘prophecy’? Remember, prophets in OT aren’t prophets as we imagine, but rather commentators on the current situation and advisors of consequences: If you do this, that may happen…