Thursday, October 1, 2015

Joel chapter 3 (Hebrew)

The short third chapter in Hebrew (the last five verses of chapter 2 in English editions) is a critical passage for understanding what gives in both Old and New Testament.

Joel
3
וְהָיָ֣ה אַֽחֲרֵי־כֵ֗ן אֶשְׁפּ֤וֹךְ אֶת־רוּחִי֙ עַל־כָּל־בָּשָׂ֔ר וְנִבְּא֖וּ בְּנֵיכֶ֣ם וּבְנֽוֹתֵיכֶ֑ם
זִקְנֵיכֶם֙ חֲלֹמ֣וֹת יַחֲלֹמ֔וּן בַּח֣וּרֵיכֶ֔ם חֶזְיֹנ֖וֹת יִרְאֽוּ
1
And it will happen after such that I will pour out my spirit over all flesh and your sons and your daughters will prophesy.
Your elders will dream dreams. Your chosen will see visions.
וְגַ֥ם עַל־הָֽעֲבָדִ֖ים וְעַל־הַשְּׁפָח֑וֹת
בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֔מָּה אֶשְׁפּ֖וֹךְ אֶת־רוּחִֽי
2
And even over servants and over handmaids
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
וְנָֽתַתִּי֙ מֽוֹפְתִ֔ים בַּשָּׁמַ֖יִם וּבָאָ֑רֶץ
דָּ֣ם וָאֵ֔שׁ וְתִֽימֲר֖וֹת עָשָֽׁן
3
And I will give miracles in the heavens and on the earth
blood and fire and spreading fronds of smoke.
הַשֶּׁ֙מֶשׁ֙ יֵהָפֵ֣ךְ לְחֹ֔שֶׁךְ וְהַיָּרֵ֖חַ לְדָ֑ם
לִפְנֵ֗י בּ֚וֹא י֣וֹם יְהוָ֔ה הַגָּד֖וֹל וְהַנּוֹרָֽא
4
The sun will be changed to darkness and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and fearful day of Yahweh.
וְהָיָ֗ה כֹּ֧ל אֲשֶׁר־יִקְרָ֛א בְּשֵׁ֥ם יְהוָ֖ה יִמָּלֵ֑ט
כִּ֠י בְּהַר־צִיּ֨וֹן וּבִירוּשָׁלִַ֜ם תִּֽהְיֶ֣ה פְלֵיטָ֗ה כַּֽאֲשֶׁר֙ אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה וּבַ֨שְּׂרִידִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה קֹרֵֽא
5
And it will happen that all who call in the name of Yahweh will escape,
for on the hill of Zion and in Jerusalem will be security as Yahweh promised and on the survivors whom Yahweh calls.

We have been treated to a fearful sight in chapter 1 with locusts devouring the land. We have seen that the image of these is not a natural plague of insects, but a war of powers among nations and tribes, just as it is today. What are our locusts in the last 70 years since the end of the second world war?

How about - sexual abuse, petro-dollars, xenophopia, and terrorism. They fit the destruction of the land quite well whether the land is our corporate body, our individual bodies, or our earth and its eco-systems. Each of these locusts exposes our sin and its consequences - though we are often blind when it comes to seeing consequences. (I recall many years ago using this passage in a pastoral form for someone who had been convicted. I hope it remained helpful to him.)

Abuse shows that men particularly must have control over their desires, for most offenders are men. This problem is not peculiar to the West. It is pervasive in all cultures, Christian, Islamic, primitive, modern, Catholic, Protestant, and lest I leave anyone out, Southern, Northern, Eastern or Western. Sexual desire is a significant power. And don't just consider your favorite enemy in this context. Consider also the maturing of this falsification of love that is present in the pornography business and the enslavement of young women worldwide, some of which is even supported in the cultures that permit polygamy. What power is stronger than such desire that it might give each and all self-control? (Here I have my concerns about how to read some parts of the Bible like Job's confession, or Qohelet's chapter 7. I can forgive Job for his time but not the preacher who in this case is guilty of projection. I have similar concerns about Proverbs. In both Qohelet and Proverbs, one must allow for the man to figure out that the object of his desire is not the problem. This is an issue for all religious and moral people so called.)

Petro-dollars, and all other dollars where the dollar is worshiped, are not the economy. Economy comes from a word meaning household. It is good when all are contributing to the work of the family. The bottom line does not save us. Money too is a great power. Combined with the fear of the other tribe, the xenophobia we see in extreme political parties, the tribalism of current culture or ancient history, these powers produce war and refugees in plenty. Marshaled against them are the aid organizations and financial safety net policies of what used to be progressive countries like Canada. Yes, I am showing my stripes. I do not want to be ruled by unelected members of the PMO or any other boardroom or executive office of government or business, because I know that the desire for profit or a bigger top line or bottom line is not the problem in the boardroom. Revenue and profit are essential. It is price-gouging and exploitation that are not essential and they are the problem in business. And in government the response to that problem has to be regulation, not caving in to the various lobby groups. What power will control our tendency to greed and self-protection?

The two prior locusts give rise to fear and fear gives rise to terror. The spreading disarray today in the countries of northern Africa has a long history, barely kept in check by governments of strongmen put in place in the last 100 years by the vague interests of the Western powers. But just as the moral regimen of a religion will not work (as Egypt has demonstrated in the last year), so also the imposition of the free market or enforced financial equality will not work.

Nationalism (an extreme form of tribalism), economics, and morality will not save us from themselves by their own imposed control. A different spirit is required, a spirit that does not impose solutions. (What an idea! How does a power work that does not impose itself?)

So Joel moves to his result, with allusion as in other prophets to the key verse of Exodus 34:6 around which the Psalms are constructed:
And Yahweh, passed over before him[Moses], and he [Yahweh vs5] called, Yahweh, Yahweh, a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in mercy and truth.
(The music in the allusion in Joel 2 is different from the original verse which is low key. Both Jonah 4:2 and Joel 2:13 have a higher reciting note for their version.)

God is merciful. Koran and Tanach (Old Testament) agree here. You didn't want me to say that, perhaps. And children know what to take and what to leave from the right and wrong of it all. In this way we should become as children. Mercy likewise permeates the New Testament though you might not guess that from some of its followers. Why then are we not merciful? Is it that we haven't quite got it yet?

The New Testament cites Joel in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:17-18) at the time of Pentecost. A host of images collide or coalesce here depending on your viewpoint. The harmonious working of society is a desire of all cultures. How does the Spirit that has been poured out according to the New Testament, work when it comes to the temporal governance of our shared humanity?

We must have a focused leadership so I ask myself, How would I know when I see a good leader? I would suggest that I would know a good leader when I don't see only that person as spokesperson for the party. The good leader is more invisible than visible. In the wake of such a leader, I want to see a host of competent people who can speak well in public about government policy, the rationale behind it, and the effects it is intended to have. In Canada, both scientists and parliamentarians have been muzzled by the executive office. They have been given media lines if they are allowed to speak at all. I have seen credible opposition, but now the opposition 'leaders' are at each others throats as if ad hominem is an argument.

I write this here in my context to avoid myself using angry names for the leader whose policies I have come to distrust. I can easily fall into the error I despise. We must avoid becoming the monster than we criticize.

The leadership model in the Psalms is one of the servant. The monarchy does not work (see Psalm 89 and all the other laments). The servant pours out his life for the life of the people. The image of libation is used for the anointed king of Psalm 2. The cost of leadership is evident from Psalm 69. And the central Psalm 75 gives us the image of drinking a cup to the dregs. In Psalm 75, the wicked drink. In Psalm 116, it is the servant who bears the cup. It is true that this also is the message of the New Testament, but one doesn't have to be Christian to recognize the cost of governing humans. Anyone who raises a family will know.

What will the final chapter of Joel tell us - anything about these things? If it promises healing and reconciliation, abundance, how will we manage? Just wait for it: harlotry, mammon, exploitation, the shedding of innocent blood. It is all there. And if a locust is not a locust, we will have to ask, what then is Zion, Judah, and Jerusalem, and the holiness to which all are called?

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