He will be like Elijah (Lk 1:17-1:17)

“With the spirit

And power

Of Elijah,

He will go

Before the Messiah.

He will turn

The hearts

Of parents

To their children.

He will turn

The disobedient

To the wisdom

Of the righteous.

He will

Make ready

A people

Prepared for the Lord.”

 

καὶ αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἡλεία, ἐπιστρέψαι καρδίας πατέρων ἐπὶ τέκνα καὶ ἀπειθεῖς ἐν φρονήσει δικαίων, ἑτοιμάσαι Κυρίῳ λαὸν κατεσκευασμένον.

 

Luke then introduced the concept of Elijah to this new child. The role of Elijah can be found also in Mark, chapter 9:11, as well as in Matthew, chapter 17:11, where the disciples of Jesus asked him why the Scribes said that Elijah the prophet had to come first.  The prophet Malachi, chapter 4:5, had also foretold the coming of Elijah.  Malachi had said that Yahweh was going to send the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of Yahweh would come.  Jesus did not disagree with this comment.  He responded by reiterating that Elijah was indeed coming to restore all things.  There was no doubt about the role of Elijah, a 9th century BCE northern Israel prophet, as in the Elijah cycle in 1 Kings, chapter 17-19.  He dominated late Jewish thought.  In Matthew, Jesus had a clear link of Elijah to John the Baptist, since he was the new Elijah.  Here Luke said that this child would precede or go first before the Lord (καὶ αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ).  He would have the spirit and the power of Elijah (ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἡλεία).  Then he would turn the hearts of parents to their children (ἐπιστρέψαι καρδίας πατέρων ἐπὶ τέκνα), as well as turn the disobedient ones into wise righteous ones (καὶ ἀπειθεῖς ἐν φρονήσει δικαίων).  He would prepare people to be disposed to get ready for the Lord (ἑτοιμάσαι Κυρίῳ λαὸν κατεσκευασμένον), by teaching about repentance and restoring families.  This child was going to be the forerunner for the Messiah, since all the prophets and the law had predicted this right up until the time of this child John.

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Breaking the covenant agreement (Jer 34:17-34:18)

“Therefore,

Thus says Yahweh!

‘You have not obeyed me

By granting a release

To your neighbors,

As well as to your friends.

I am going to

Grant a release to you,

A release to the sword,

A release to pestilence,

A release to famine.’

Says Yahweh.

‘I will make you a horror

To all the kingdoms

Of the earth.

Those who transgressed

My covenant,

Those who did not

Keep the terms

Of the covenant

That they made before me,

I will make them

Like the calf

When they cut it in two.

As they passed

Between its parts.’”

The people of Jerusalem had not obeyed Yahweh about freeing up their Hebrew slaves. Now Yahweh was going to free them to the sword, pestilence, and famine, the common formula of Jeremiah for destruction. They would become a horror for all the countries in the world. They had broken their covenant with Yahweh. They had not kept the terms of the covenant agreement, since they had re-enslaved the freed Hebrew slaves in Jerusalem. The ancient practice of cutting or sacrificing an animal into two pieces was a way of ratifying an agreement, as can be seen in Genesis, chapter 15. Then the two people would walk between the two pieces of the calf to indicate that if they broke the agreement, they too would be killed. Thus these disobedient ones who broke the covenant were subject to death, just as the calf had been killed and cut up.

Historical punishments for sin (Sir 16:6-16:14)

“In an assembly of sinners,

A fire is kindled.

In a disobedient nation,

Wrath blazes up.

The Lord did not forgive

The ancient giants

Who revolted in their might.

He did not spare the neighbors of Lot,

Whom he loathed

On account of their arrogance.

He showed no pity

On the doomed nation,

On those disposed because of their sins.

He showed no pity

On the six hundred thousand foot soldiers,

Who assembled in their stubbornness.

Even if there were only one stiff-necked person,

It would be a wonder

If he remained unpunished.

Mercy is with the Lord.

Wrath is with the Lord.

He is mighty to forgive,

But he also pours out wrath.

As great as his mercy,

So also is his chastisement.

He judges a person

According to his or her deeds.

The sinner will not escape with plunder.

The patience of the godly

Will not be frustrated.

He makes room for every act of mercy.

Everyone receives in accordance

With his or her deeds.”

Sirach mentions the people and the groups from the Torah that were punished for their sins. A destroying fire will rage where sinners or disobedient nations are gathered. The Lord did not forgive the ancient giant Nephilim people in Genesis, chapter 6, before the flood. The Lord did not forgive the evil arrogant Sodomite neighbors of Lot in Genesis, chapter 19. He did not have pity on the disposed Canaanites in Joshua. The 600,000 Israelites in the desert revolted against Moses in Numbers, chapter 16. Not one person gets away with being a stiff-necked proud person. They will not go unpunished. The Lord has both mercy and anger. He judges according to the deeds of the people. No sinner will escape. The patience of the godly will run thin. While there is room for mercy, everyone will receive punishment based on their deeds.

Ezra explains the rebellion of the Israelites (Neh 9:26-9:31)

Nevertheless they were disobedient.

They rebelled against you.

They cast your law behind their backs.

They killed your prophets.

The prophets had warned them

To turn them back to you.

They committed great blasphemies.

Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies.

Their enemies made them suffer.

Then in the time of their suffering,

They cried out to you.

You heard them from heaven.

According to your great mercies,

You gave them saviors.

These saviors saved them from the hands of their enemies.

But after they had rest,

They again did evil again before you.

You abandoned them to the hands of their enemies.

Their enemies had dominion over them.

Yet when they turned and cried to you,

You heard them from heaven.

Many times you rescued them according to your mercies.

You warned them in order to turn them back to your law.

Yet they acted presumptuously.

They did not obey your commandments.

They sinned against your ordinances.

By the observance of which a person shall live.

They turned a stubborn shoulder.

They stiffened their neck.

They would not obey.

Many years you were patient with them.

You warned them by thy Spirit through your prophets.

Yet they would not listen.

Therefore you handed them over to the peoples of the lands.

Nevertheless in your great mercies,

You did not make an end of them or forsake them.

You are a gracious and merciful God.”

Their ancestors were disobedient and rebelled against God. They turned their backs on the law. They killed his prophets. They were defeated by their enemies, who made them suffer. Then they cried to God for help. After God saved them, they turned their backs on him again by doing evil. Once again they cried out after their enemies defeated them. Again they acted presumptuously and would not follow his commandments. They were stiff necked people, yet God in his mercy heard their prayer of distress. He did not abandon them because of his great mercy. God is gracious and merciful.

 

Perspective on the struggles of the exile (Deut 28:47-28:68)

“Because you did not serve Yahweh your God joyfully and with gladness of heart for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom Yahweh will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and in lack of everything. He will put an iron yoke on your neck, until he has destroyed you.”

Bad things are going to happen to you because you did not serve Yahweh. You will serve your enemies as we see a foretaste of the exile with the iron yoke on your neck.

“Yahweh will bring a nation from far away, from the end of the earth, to swoop down on you like an eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a grim-faced nation, showing no respect to the old or favor to the young. It shall consume the fruit of your livestock and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed, leaving you neither grain, wine, and oil, nor the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, until it has made you perish. It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout your land. It shall besiege you in all your towns throughout the land that Yahweh your God has given you. In the desperate straits to which the enemy siege reduces you, you will eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom Yahweh your God has given you. Even the most refined and gentle of men among you will begrudge food to his own brother, to the wife whom he embraces, and to the last of his remaining children, giving to none of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because nothing else remains to him, in the desperate straits to which the enemy siege will reduce you in all your towns. She who is the most refined tender and gentle among you, so gentle and refined that she does not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground, will begrudge food to the husband whom she embraces, to her own son, and to her own daughter, begrudging even the afterbirth that comes from between her thighs, and the children whom she bears, because she is eating them secretly for lack of anything else, in the desperate straits to which the enemy siege will reduce you in your towns.”

Wow, what a shocker. This is an obvious reference to the Babylonian exile and captivity. This strong nation from the ends of the earth, with an unknown language will take over everything from you. However, the cannibalism seems strange because it indicates that people will turn on each other, especially the parents toward their children by eating their flesh. Even the most refined and gentle men and women will begrudge others about food. They will eat the flesh of their own children. Of course, we do not know what we would do. Still this is striking and so unlike the high motives associated with the promised people. This is the worst kind of disaster that can come upon you.

“If you do not diligently observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, fearing this glorious and awesome name, Yahweh your God, then Yahweh will overwhelm you and your offspring with severe and lasting extraordinary afflictions and grievous and lasting maladies. He will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were in dread. They shall cling to you. Every other malady and affliction, even though not recorded in the book of this law, Yahweh will inflict on you until you are destroyed.”

The word of God is written and recorded in this book of laws. This appears to be a clear reference to a book, perhaps this book of Deuteronomy, itself. Any failure to follow it will lead to sickness of various kinds, somewhat reminiscent of the plagues of Egypt.

“Although once you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey Yahweh your God. Just as Yahweh took delight in making you prosperous and numerous, so Yahweh will take delight in bringing you to ruin and destruction. You shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to possess. Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other. There you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. Among these nations you shall find no ease, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There Yahweh will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and a languishing spirit. Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread, with no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ At evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ You say this because of the dread that your heart shall feel and the sights that your eyes shall see. Yahweh will bring you back in ships to Egypt, by a route that I promised you would never see again. There you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”

Yahweh delights in making you numerous and tearing you down. Bad things are going to happen to you. You will end up all over the place, dreading both day and night. In fact, the worst of all is being sent back to Egypt as a slave which no one wants.