Aug. 7 – 13
Isaiah 1: 1, 10 – 20
First Isaiah, the author of the first 39 chapters of the Book of Isaiah, was a court prophet active from around 740 to 770 BCE. He was adviser to several kings and a major player in the story of King Hezekiah (see II Kings 18 – 20). Like Amos and Hosea, who were a generation older, he railed against the sinfulness of his people, but he was preaching to the people of Jerusalem and the southern kingdom, called Judah. He addresses them metaphorically as the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel, the northern kingdom, had fallen to Assyria, and its people were being taken into slavery. The same would come to Judah, he says, if it does not reform. Like his recent predecessors, Isaiah believed the reformation should be of moral behavior. God wants clean lives and honesty and kindness and justice rather than cult worship and holy days.
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
Genesis 15: 1 – 6
Abram (later to be renamed Abraham), his father, and two brothers came from Ur, a major city of the rich, technically advanced Mesopotamian civilization, and settled in the more remote town of Haran. Then Abram, following God’s call, left Haran with his wife, Sarai, and servants and animals to go into the relatively uncivilized Canaan to claim it. God promises descendants numerous as the stars and promises to give him the land for their home (see 12: 1 – 3, 7 – 8; 13: 14 – 16). The years go by and he and Sarai grow old without children. His heir, he complains to God, is going to be the son of Eliezer, his chief servant. But god assures Abram his heir will be of his own issue. Because Abram believed, God recognized him as “righteous,” that is, he had a right relationship with God.
Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16
This essay, written a generation after Paul, got its name from a sort of mailing address on the outside of one of the oldest manuscripts, “To the Hebrew.” The sermon which opens the piece might have been directed to a Jewish group, perhaps a group of Jews who had accepted Christ, but need not have been. Its genre is puzzling since it opens as a sermon but closes as a letter.
It is hard to imagine what Christianity might have been like without Hebrews. Although its concepts may have been current at the time, this letter is what nails them to Christian theology and doctrine. It establishes some of our fundamental doctrines—that Christ is our only high priest; that his sacrifice leaves no need for cult sacrifices; that mysteriously Christ is at one time the high priest, the lamb of the sacrifice, and the mediator who pleads for sinners. It strongly reinforces Paul’s point that the call to obedience to Christ supersedes the Jewish law. Interestingly, the author finds that the new law which supersedes Jewish law is epitomized in Jeremiah’s “New Covenant” of natural law and love (Jer. 31: 31 – 34).
©Arthur H. Cash