Where Is God?
Preparing for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost: One Day after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Isaiah 12
Old Testament: Isaiah 59:15b-21
Gospel: Luke 17:20-37
Psalter: Psalm 98
Old Testament: Ezekiel 10:1-19
Gospel: Luke 17:20-37
Hear our prayers, God of power, and through the ministry of your Son free us from the grip of the tomb, that we may desire you as the fullness of life and proclaim your saving deeds to all the world. Amen.
Truth is lacking,
and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one
and was appalled that there was no one to intervene,
so his own arm brought him victory,
and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness like a breastplate
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing
and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle.
According to their deeds, so will he repay
wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render requital.
So those in the west shall fear the name of the Lord,
and those in the east, his glory,
for he will come like a pent-up stream
that the wind of the Lord drives on.
And he will come to Zion as Redeemer,
to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the Lord.
And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord: my spirit that is upon you and my words that I have put in your mouth shall not depart out of your mouth or out of the mouths of your children or out of the mouths of your children’s children, says the Lord, from now on and forever (Isaiah 59:15b-21).
This section again draws on familiar themes to respond to the people’s confession of guilt. The writer presents God in the recurring imagery of the mighty warrior who brings deliverance to His people (see The Turn Toward Hope, comments on Isa 40:3). Such an appearance of God was called a theophany or an epiphany (see A Prayer of Hope, comments on Isa 64:1). It always had two dimensions. For the righteous, God’s "coming" (v.20) brought peace and security, or in this case justice. For the ungodly (enemies, foes, v.18) God’s newly revealed activity in the world brought judgment (note Amos 5:18-20).
15b. no justice Normally, God acted in the world to bring deliverance from external foes. But several prophets also portray God acting to establish justice among His people (Habakkuk 1:2-4; 3:3ff; Micah 6:9-15).
16. his own arm The term own is not in the Hebrew. It is possible that "his arm" refers to an agent by which God would work out his purpose in the world (perhaps also 40:10). Some commentators see a reference here to the Persian ruler Artaxerxes who intervened to reestablish law and order in the country (Ezra 7). Earlier parts of Isaiah have clearly shown that God used non-Israelites for his purpose. Isaiah himself had labeled the king of Assyria a razor in the hand of God (7:20). The Persian ruler Cyrus was later announced as God’s "anointed" (45:1).
There is a strong underlying conviction that permeates the book of Isaiah. God is ultimately Lord of human history. He will use events (even "negative" ones) and people (even pagan ones) to work out His purposes in the world (note Genesis 50:20). Whatever the means, God was at work to bring justice to the community.
worked salvation The Hebrew verb can mean simply "to bring victory" in battle, and should be translated that way here (as RSV, NEB). Helmet of salvation (v.17) also could be "helmet of victory."
his own righteousness sustained him Again, own is not in the Hebrew. The pronouns in this section are not clear. They could all refer to God himself (as NIV, RSV). Or they could refer to both God and his "arm" who is bringing victory.
17. Paul uses the same imagery in a different way in Ephesians (6:14-17).
18. According to what they have done reaffirms the prophetic principle that in God’s scheme of things evil actions create their own negative consequences. This system of retribution is a consistent biblical theme (Job 4:8; Gal 6:7) especially in the prophets (Isaiah 3:9-11; Habakkuk 2:15-16; Hosea 8:7).
19. The prophets after the exile feared that other peoples would look at the condition of Israel and conclude that Israel’s God was not much of a god at all. God’s actions to establish justice in the land would again affirm the true nature of Israel’s God. For comments on glory as a symbol of God’s presence, see The Turn Toward Hope, comments on Isaiah 40:5.
20. Redeemer as a biblical title for God occurs almost exclusively in the second and third sections of Isaiah (41:14; 43:14, etc.). The idea of redemption arose from the custom of buying back something that had been sold, either a piece of property (Leviticus 25:25-28) or a person (Leviticus 25:48-54). Usually a close relative or kinsman did the redeeming. The term then described generally the familial responsibilities of relatives (Ruth 3:1-4:12 where "do the part of the next of kin" translates the same verb in the RSV). The verb then poetically described God’s saving actions in the world to establish relationship with His people. It could describe the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 15:13), the return from exile (Jeremiah 31:11), or generally deliverance from death (Hosea 13:14).
Paul uses parts of verses 20 and 21 to refer to Jesus (Romans 11:26). He quotes from the Greek version which has "deliverer" instead of redeemer. He combines these with part of Isaiah 27:9.
21. my covenant Some see this as referring to the promise of God’s coming in the previous verse (v.20). Verse 21 is a prose conclusion to the previous poetic section. Since this verse is distinct from the preceding verse, covenant more likely refers to the continuing presence of God (v.21). In many places covenant is a key idea. While the usage here recalls the importance of covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), the meaning is more simply "agreement" with overtones of "promise."
The NIV and NASB capitalize Spirit here. Since Hebrew does not have capital letters, this gives the verse more meaning than the Hebrew conveys (RSV and NEB: "spirit"). The Hebrew word (ruach) means "breath" or "wind." When used of God it symbolizes His active presence in the world. The term translated who is impersonal and can be translated "which."
your children . . . their descendants The ongoing survival of the people as God’s people was a primary concern of the post-exilic community (Nehemiah 13; see The Third Generation: Nehemiah and the Question of Identity).
PRAYER: Life-giving God, heal our lives, that we may acknowledge your wonderful deeds and offer you thanks from generation to generation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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