Fun with Hebrew

There are many different names attributed to God in the Bible.  Often, they are associated with a particular action being attributed to God.  Amy Grant made “El Shaddai,” which roughly means “God Almighty” famous.  Speaking of which, this video is way to 1990s to not let you see it.

Yeshua, the Hebrew version of the name Jesus, means “God Saves.”  The list goes on.

Often in Scripture, the translators would keep the Hebrew word and then translate it for those of us not in the know, but that isn’t the case in the Jeremiah lesson appointed for Sunday, which caught my attention.  Here, the prophet is sharing God’s vision of a future restoration for Judah.  Verses 15 and 16 are almost identical to the same prophecy given several chapters earlier in 23:5-6.  In both cases, the NRSV, and several other English translations choose not to publish the two word Hebrew phrase, but rather the English equivalent.

And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

In doing a bit of digging, I came to realize a few things.  First, it seems the reason that the English translations don’t include the Hebrew original is because it includes the tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters that make up the holy name of God, a name so holy that it ought not be spoken, but rather, is always replaced when read in Hebrew by “Adonai” or in our English translations by LORD in small caps that the WordPress editor doesn’t allow.

What I found even more interesting, and another reminder in how our English translations lack a lot being read some two to five thousand years removed from their original contexts, is that the word translated as righteousness is likely a play on words.  Tzedeq, according to my handy HarperCollins Study Bible, could be a wordplay on the name Zedekiah, which also means “the Lord is righteous” and happened to be the name given to the last King of Judah who was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon.  Tzedeq can also mean “legitimate,” which could very easily indicate that these parallel prophecies from Jeremiah are about a future king whose life and actions will indicate that the LORD is the legitimate King of Judah.

While it can be dangerous, and often self-serving, to read these prophecies backward through Jesus, that is what the RCL is inviting us to do by appointing Jeremiah 33:14-16 for the First Sunday of Advent.  The Branch, itself a word used to describe the Messiah, that will come and live a life showing the legitimate kingship of God is Jesus, whose birth and second coming we long for during this season of preparation.

Will it preach?  Maybe not, but just like Sheldon and Amy’s “Fun with Flags” series on “Big Band Theory” aren’t you glad you learned something today?

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Jesus came to bring what?

“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!”

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Even if Jesus came to bring long division to the earth, I wouldn’t like this passage.  As I’ve said all week, these words from Jesus are difficult to hear.  This isn’t the Kumbaya Jesus of modern day prophets – you know, the kind that the prophet Jeremiah spoke against in Sunday’s Track 2 Old Testament lesson – who wants to give you “your best life now.”

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No, this is the Jesus who has come to stake his claim on your life so that the world might come to know the kingdom of God now.  Living a life of the kingdom of God in a world hell-bent on the successes of the kingdoms of power, privilege, money, and self-interest will cause division, of that there is no doubt.  However, this reality seems to be difficult for many preachers to name.  Instead, we hem and haw about how in the time of Luke’s Gospel, following Jesus might mean getting kicked out of the Synagogue or your family business, but we don’t really know those struggles today.

What we do know is that there continues to be an ongoing battle between the kingdom of God and the powers and principalities of this world.  Following Jesus in 21st century  American means doing such unpopular things as caring for the poor, showing hospitality to immigrants, honoring the sanctity of all human life, forgiving those who have hurt you, praying for your enemies, showing compassion to the weak, respecting those with whom you disagree, and generally loving your neighbor as yourself.  This is 100% counter to the politics of this age that are built upon fear, mistrust, anger, and self-preservation.

Those who are called to live lives of the kingdom today will, no doubt, find themselves at odds with the rhetoric of the day.  They won’t fit in with the Republicans or the Democrats, which will make them seem as strange outsiders.   It will cause division in a world that is increasingly bipolar; seeing the world only in black and white, or red and blue, with no room for the beautiful color palette that makes up the middle.  Jesus came to bring division, but not the sort of division that  FoxNews and MSNBC have come to create.  Jesus came to tear us away from hateful rhetoric of this world in order to see the beautiful peace of the kingdom of God.

A 21st Century Jeremiad

After many, many, many months of procrastination, I have finally started the research phase of my DMin Thesis, “William Reed Huntington Meets Brian McLaren and The Episcopal Moment.”  One of the reasons I was so slow to begin was that the first book staring me in the face wasn’t one I wanted to read.  The American Jeremiad was recommended by a member of the Sewanee Thesis Committee who suggested that perhaps the narrative of a changing world was nothing more than an old wive’s tale, based on the founding narrative of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the theory posited by Sacvan Bercovitch, author of The American Jeremiad.  I’m 25% through the book now, and I just don’t buy it.

What I have found interesting is the word in the title that I had never heard before, Jeremiad.  According to Google, a jeremiad is a long, mournful complain or lamentation.  Bercovitch expands that definition to include not only lamentation, but the promise of restoration of God’s chosen people.  His argument is that America, or at least the Massachusetts Bay Colony portion of it, was founded on a belief that America was God’s new Promised Land, that the early settlers were chosen by God to bring about the End Times, and that any suffering they encountered was simply God preparing them for their future glory, and he bases it on a series of sermons, preached over the course of three generations on the Old Testament lesson appointed for Lent 5B, Jeremiah 31:31-34 (hence the name Jeremiad).

Like I said, despite what I said yesterday about Rabbi Friedman’s theory of foundation story, the American colonies were too diverse for me to believe that to this day, all of American society is built on some sermons by early preachers/civic leaders on Massachusetts Bay. (And I don’t think this opinion is merely the result of my overwhelming dislike of all things New England).  The fact that Jeremiah 31 is scheduled to be read this Sunday does have me thinking about what a 21st Century Jeremiad might look like.

Most American preachers have long since given up the idea that American prosperity will bring about the return of Jesus, but we are very accustomed to the idea of the New Covenant, written upon our hearts.  When we look at the world around us, we realize, very quickly, that it is not the way God intended it to be, and yet we know that in Christ, we find the fullness of the Kingdom of God living and active not only in 1st century Palestine, but through his Church, empowered by the Spirit, to this very day.  Not only in America, but around the globe.  The 21st century Jeremiad, the promise of restoration even in the midst of pain and hardship, thanks to the power of the internet is an international promise as well as an international call to repentance.

The world is once again flat.  Overindulgence in America creates climate woe in Africa.  Political hardship in the Middle East creates an immigration crisis in Eastern Europe.  The ubiquitousness of Social Media creates violent reactions in non- or anti-globalization cultures.  The Jeremiad of the 21st Century is a call to read the law written upon our own hearts and to live it, to set an example of justice and peace for the people around us, and to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world at large.  It is not less idealistic that it was when Jeremiah spoke his now famous words, but it is likewise no less the call of God to his faithful people.