‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’: The Messiah

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(Read Psalm 72, Isaiah 42, Daniel 7)

Because of the Kingdom of David and the Temple in his city, the kings that followed bore his blessing, his expectation, and the burden from their shortcomings. We hear these hopes in Psalm 72, on the occasion of the coronation of a new king or his renewed blessing.  But there were of course a series of kings who fell short and reverted to the old paganism or autocratic injustice.  The usual hopes and rebukes associated with the kingship come to an end with the exile. 

However, the vision of the righteous anointed one (messiah) is not then abandoned with this failure. On the contrary it expands, even as it is changed. The messiah will come with God’s victory, once and for all, over the nations.  He will exhibit all the virtues the real kings have fallen short of.

And, in the wake of the suffering and displacement of exile, this coming anointed one will take a form not yet imagined, a surprisingly lowly form. In the latter chapters of Isaiah he is a humbled servant with not a smaller but a greater mandate- to bring God’s light to the nations now their overlords, among whom they are scattered. This is indeed a reason they have befallen this calamity.  Is he an individual or the nation? The ambiguity itself is informative. In Daniel 7 is he a humble human being or a mysterious heavenly being? Again, the very question says something about who he will be. In both cases his suffering at the hands of the nations is conceived as the means of his victory. We can see how this transformed hope becomes the fertile ground for the coming of Jesus centuries later.  Disappointment did not lead to despair, but to a wider hope for a future. The people of God came to hope not for their own victory, but for a final resolution, a comprehensive coming of God’s reign. (The term in theology is ‘eschatology,’ i.e. the knowledge of the last things).  This hope had elements of ‘settling the score’ with the arrogant Gentiles, of the establishment of the Messiah on the throne, of conquering death itself. And of course, all would come to pass, but not as they could have foreseen.

Listen to Handel’s Messiah through ‘and He shall purify’

The Wisdom Books

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Counter-point, Talking Back, Bringing Yourselves, Your souls and Bodies:  the Wisdom books (Job 38, Proverbs 8, Ecclesiastes 1, Song of Solomon 1)

Some resist reading the Bible because they suppose it has a kind of distant sanctimony unrelated to ‘real life,’ that is, things like doubt, desire, practicality, and our ‘off-message’ emotions toward God.  But in fact, the Old Testament acknowledges and includes these, so that the answers it provides truly addresses our lives as we actually experience them.

This entry is but an invitation to read the books in their entirety, but at least let me point out how they challenge other parts of the Scripture, so as to provoke answers which we can more deeply appropriate. Ecclesiastes throws in doubt the sense that godliness will have its reward. Job likewise complains about how the mystery of evil fits into God’s plan. Song of Songs is an unabashed love song. Proverbs includes worldly advice, much of it from pagan sources.  But the assumption behind the inclusion of all of this literature is that we do not need to protect God, as if He could not provide an answer. In Job 38 He places us and our questions in their place, though He goes on to reward Job’s complaining!

Wisdom literature finds a place in the whole collection, or canon, of the Old Testament. Likewise desire in marriage, doubt in waiting and listening, suffering in the message of the suffering servant, and practical advice in a life with the larger purpose God gives us. These have their place, but there remains a larger context in which to understand ourselves before God.

Google ‘Song of Songs’ and Bernard of Clairvaux and read a few pages.

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