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Monday, March 6, 2017

Two Peoples Divided By A Common Faith?

I'm enjoying reading familiar verses from Isaiah in a different light. Sometimes we're so sure are own interpretations are the only possible ones, and so we divide when we really ought to unite. But it's not new--it's human, and the Bible story tells the wonder of when human meets divine--real world, real people, and real God!

(43)Deutero-Isaiah and the Return

Nbonidus and Belshazzar were coregents over Babylon. The citizens were tired of Nabonidus’ long absence and refusal to worship. They were also tired of Belshazzar’s excess, so when Cyrus marched in (550BC), the Babylonians greeted him with celebrations in the street. Meanwhile the Israelites were still the downtrodden poor. How might they have viewed regime change? In the light of last week’s study, what or who might have influenced their views?

Jewish tradition keeps the book of Isaiah as one volume, but splits the authorship into Isaiah and Deutero-Isaiah—a second prophet speaking at the end of the exile. Deutero-Isaiah is split into three parts: Chapters 40-48 written before the return, 49-57 written after the first wave of exiles return, and 58-66 when redemption seems slow in coming. We looked at chapter 49 last time. 
Read Isaiah 49:1. Why might you think it was written in Jerusalem rather than Babylon?

Read 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, (Jeremiah 29:10) and 2 Kings 25:27-30. What similarities or differences do you notice in how the two histories end?

The Persian Empire thrived on respecting the values and religions of its subsidiary nations. Allowing the Israelites to go home was standard policy, but also God’s will. How easy or hard to we find it to see God’s will in secular events? Remembering the exile was also God’s will, do we find it easier to see God’s hand in good events than in bad ones? How might we see God’s will more clearly?

Returning Jews would find their land occupied by non-Jews, half-Jews, and proud surviving Jews. How might the groups be expected to view each other?

1.       Read Isaiah 50:1 The Jews viewed themselves as God’s wife and God’s children. How do we view ourselves in relationships to God? Do problems make us view that relationship differently?

2.       Read Isaiah 50:4-5 Which segment of the Jews might say this of themselves? Who might it apply to in the New Testament?

3.       Read Isaiah 50:10-11 How might this be applied to the wisdom of the present day?

4.       Read Isaiah 51:1-2 What Rock do we look back to?

5.       Read Isaiah 51:4-6 We read this as prophecy of salvation and end-times. What might the original listeners have heard?

6.       Read Isaiah 51:4,7,9,17,52:1 What’s the connection between listening and being awake?

7.       Read Isaiah 52:4-6 When did God’s people go to Egypt? And who will go to Egypt? Why might the pattern be important?

8.       Read Isaiah 52:7-10 Can you read it without hearing music? How do you suppose the first listeners heard these words?

9.       Read Isaiah 52:13-15 We believe the servant is the Messiah. Who else might this have referred to? Does prophecy usually have only one meaning or many meanings? (Jewish tradition prefers the servant as nation, or as a suffering part of the nation, since Deutero-Isaiah is not believed to refer to an individual Messiah. Where might Christian interpretations of passages be dogmatic—“never refers to”— rather than inspired?)

10.   Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Can you list all the references to Christ?

11.   Read Isaiah 54:6-8. How would this comfort the Israelites (see question 1)? How does it comfort us? And has it happened yet? What about 54:10?

12.   Read Isaiah 54:11 Where else do we see precious jewels mentioned as part of a city?

13.   Read Isaiah 54:14 Does this refer to the past or the future for us? Why would listeners returning to Jerusalem have viewed it as imminent? Are we tempted to view things as coming soon when they might be gifts of the far future?

14.   Read Isaiah 55:1-5. How do you interpret these verses?

15.   Read Isaiah 55:6-7. Could this be viewed as a call to the non-Jews and partial-Jews of Jerusalem? Equally could Isaiah 55:8-9 be a reminder to the returnees that God’s plan is bigger than theirs? In what sense do we still need both these reminders—that those who don’t belong can belong; and those who do belong don’t know it all?

16.   Read Isaiah 55:10-11. How does this comfort you?

17.   Read Isaiah 55:12-13. Can you read this without singing?

18.   Read Isaiah 56:1-2. Do you remember why Jeremiah and the other prophets said the nation would be handed over to Babylon?

19.   Read Isaiah 56:3-5. Did this happen when the Temple was rebuilt? Who were still kept out in Jesus’ time? Who do we still try to keep out?

20.   Read Isaiah 56:7-8. Who quotes this in the New Testament? When and why? (Read Jeremiah 7:11, Matthew 21:13)

21.   Read Isaiah 56:9-12. Deutero-Isaiah sounds a lot like the first Isaiah. Has Israel been changed by its exile? Or might this refer to the people left behind?

22.   Read Isaiah 57:3-7. Isaiah goes on to list the same sins as before, including child sacrifice and prayer to gods on mountain tops. Which would be easier for the returning refugees – to follow the customs of those left behind, or to keep to God’s true laws?

23.   Read Isaiah 57:16-18. Which would be easier for the returning refugees – to totally reject those sinners left behind, or to accept that God heals and forgives? Why is it easier to remember God forgives us than to remember he forgives our neighbors?

24.   Read Isaiah 57:19-21. Is this where no rest for the wicked comes from?

Read Ezra 1:1-8. Almost a second Exodus, the Israelites return to the Promised Land.

1.       Read Ezra 3:1-5. They start as they mean to go on, with public worship since there’s no Temple. When and how might we worship in public instead of in church?

2.       Read Ezra 3:8 Why does it take so long to start building the Temple (see verse 3).

3.       Read Ezra 3:10-13. How would this have looked to the outsiders? How do we look to outsiders?

4.       Read Ezra 4:1-3, 24. What went wrong? What would Isaiah say? Are we ever guilty of delaying the growth of God’s kingdom?

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