Covenant is obviously a very key central biblical concept. Our intent is however specific and limited for our gathering.
My intention is to try digging into the deep core pulse of the covenant reality in the God-Israel relationship and its working out or otherwise of its vocational existence.
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While the paper’s focus is not on the challenges and crisis of the Anglican Communion, it is inevitable some reflections and comments would be made to it, with particular reference to the vocation of the Global South as our evolved existence since 1994 has defined it, and now in its fellowship with the wider orthodox family in the Communion.
1. The Anguish Plea of the Seemingly Abandoned One?
“Oh that you wouldrendthe heavens and come down ...... to makeyour name known to your adversaries and that the nations might tremble at your presence. When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you ... But now, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are the work of your hand. Be not so terribly anger, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord? Will you keep silent (see 62.1,6; 64.12; 65.6), and afflict us so terribly?” (Isa 64.1ff.,8-12; on “rend” and “opened” see Ex 19.10f.,18; Ezek 1.1; cf Mk 1.10,15.38; Mt.27.81; Lk 23.45; but Jn 1.9-18,3.13,16-21).
In fact, earlier in the passage, the sensing of “distancing” of Yahweh in their plight was already felt and building up to a crescendo of questionings (63.11,15,17not dissimilar in the various Lament Psalms.
“Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock?Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit,... Look down from heaven and see ... Where are your zeal and your might? O Lord, why do you make uswander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not? Return ......” (Isa 63.15-19; cf Gen 11.5; Ex 19.10f.,18; Ps 2.5.)
Very rarely if ever such an anguished cry, plea and petition as uttered, has pierced even a prophet of Yahweh, and historically those of priestly and prophetic heart, for God to act timely and decisively in the situation. In the context of the final chapters of the prophet Isaiah, the existing realities were obviously quite unacceptable for Israel, whom Yahweh had in their foundational history not only redeemed from Egypt and consistently so in critical historical and spiritual crisis after crisis until ......
This is more poignantly so when Israel was given all the comforting encouragement of restoration earlier in Isa 37.30-32; 40.1-11; 51.1--[52.13-53.12]--55.13; 60.1-62.12; 63.7-14. And still the unrestrained anguish plea uttered above. If this cry was of Israel, what more of us Anglicans today!
Why then was it necessary? What would Yahweh do about it? In fact, could He be able to do anything at all?
At the very core of all these, the basis and right of plea of Israel and their expected response of Yahweh, is really the covenantal relationship of mutual faithful commitment, albeit unequal of different categories altogether, between Yahweh and Israel since Sinai. But when it comes to the covenantal obligations of each party, the righteousness of its exercise and fulfillment is no less obligatory of each in its own discharge. [See Exodus Chs 19-24 and 32-34 (esp 19.4-6; 33.12-34.28) and Deut Chs 4-12, 29.]
2. Was Yahweh Negligent and Oblivious of His Covenantal Duty?
It is natural for Israel at all times to complain, knowingly or unknowingly, to even accuse Yahweh “in court” of oblivious negligence to deliver and provide according to their wish and plight. Isa 40.27, 41.21, 43,26; 50.1 (see the controversies in 1.18; 41.21-24,29; 44.9-20; 46.1-2,5-7; 47.1-15; 58.3ab). Israel’s “complaint” against Yahweh for not living up to His covenantal obligations are poetically enshrined in the Psalter, see Ps 10.1,4,11; 89.46-51). Their covenantal rights to be specially provided for and protected are at stake! Yahweh is in the docks! (cf. Rom 3.11, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins” 11.27 and vv 34ff.)
But let us also hear from the other side of heaven, Yahweh’s side of the divide!
a. Because No One Could be found!
“Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, ‘He is right’? There was none who declared it, nonewho proclaimed, none who heard our words. I was the first to say to Zion, ‘Behold, here they are!’ and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news. But when I look there is no one; among these there is no counselor who, when I ask, gives an answer.” (Isa 41.26-28)
** The 1st &2nd Servant Songs (42.1-4,6-9; 49.1-4,5-8), order ofCovenant to the People first and then only Light to the Nations (see also 9.1, esp 58.6-10, 61.1-3,6-8).
“Thus says the Lord: ‘where is your mother’s certificate of divorce ..... ? ...... why, when I came, was there no man; why, when I called, was there no one to answer? (50.2)
** Tthe 3rd Servant Song (50.4-9): taught tongue(word/truth) to sustain and awaken ears to hear (v.10f. on ‘ light).
“Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord ...... There is none to guide her, ... there is none to take her by the hand .......” (51.18)
** The4th Servant Song (52.13-53.12): Yahweh’s answer to the situation of “No One”.
“The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands ... And it shall be said, ‘Build up, build up, prepare the way (40.2 and John the Baptist), remove every obstruction from my people’s way. For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits the eternity, whose name is Holy. I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite heart and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite ... creating the fruit of the lips, Peace, peace, to the far and to the near ...” (57.1,14-15,19; see also 66.2 & Mt 11.29; Ps 51.17).
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened (Yahweh’s own zeal will accomplished 9.7d, 48.11,55.10f.,60.22b,63.5)... but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and you sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. ......No one enters suit justly, no one goes to law honestly ...... The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace. Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope forlight, and behold darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. ...... The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; thenhis own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head ...... So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; ...... And a Redeemer will come to Zion ...... And as for me, this is my covenant with them ...... My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring ....... from this time forth and forevermore.” (59.1f.,4,8f.,15b-17,20-21; cf Eph 6.14-20).
The “eschatological New Thing” and the Future Glory of Israel:- Restored and Deepened Covenantal Vocation of the Spirit-led Servant of Yahweh (Chapters 60-62).
“Why is your apparel red. ... ‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me ... For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me. .....” (63.2-5)
“When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. ..... There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us ......” (64.3f.,7).
“I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I’ (cf.6.8) to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, ...... Behold, it is written before me, ‘I will not keep silent, I will repay; ... because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not listen ...” (65.1-2,6,12).
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? ...... But this is the one to whom I will look; he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (66.1-2)
[On “No One” see Ps 14.1-3 // 53.1-6; Ps 36.3,9f.; Jer 4.22-26, 5.1; Ezek 34 esp v.5; Mic 7.1-2,7; Rom 3.11, 11.34-36)
b. Where was or What Happened to Servant Israel – Covenanting Partner?
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? ... Here am I! (cf 65.1c , Rom 10.20) Send me. ... Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’ Then I said, ‘How long, O Lord?’ ......” (Isa 6.8-13).
“Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated on, or blind as the servant of the Lord? He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear. ... who among you will give ear to this, will attend and listen for the time to come?” (Isa 42.18-20,23).
“Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! ...... Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa 43.8,18-19).
“You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce you new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’ You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. ... and that from before birth you were called a rebel(see 50.5, 63.10)” (Isa 48.6-8),
3. Then Would Yahweh Do Anything?
a. Yahweh’s Own Zeal through His Servant as Covenant and Light (Isa 42.1-9;
49.1-8; 50.4-9; 52.12-53.12)
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God, speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended. ...... In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. ..... And the glory of our God shall be revealed. ....... Get up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news, lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news, lift it up, fear not (see 52.7-8); ...... He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms ...... Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? ....... Lift up your eyes on high and see ...... Have you not known? Have you not heard? ...... He does not grow faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. ... ” (Isa 40.1-5,9-11,21,26,28).
“Behold, my servant (see 42.19), who I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights! I have put my Spirit (see Isa 11.2,32.15,42.1,44.3,48.16,59.21,61.1,63.11) upon him, he will bring for the justice to the nations. ... I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness ... I will give as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind .... and I will lead the blind ... I will turn the darkness before them into light. The rough places into level ground.” (Isa 42.1,6-7.16; cf Mt.5.13-20; Lk 4.18f ).
“The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hands he hid me; ... and he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified. ... It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel. I will make you as a light for the nations, ... Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers. ...... I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, ... Behold, I will life up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples.” (Isa 49.1-3,6-8; see also 51.4).
“The Lord has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary (40.28,30-31,43.22ff.,59.4). Morning by morning he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord has opened my ear and I was not rebellious (48.8,63.10). ... who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” (Isa 50.4-5,10. cf. the authoritative teaching ministry of Jesus.).
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ (cf. Rom 10.14-17) The voice of your watchmen – they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. ....... The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. ...... Behold, my servant shall act wisely, he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind -- ...... for that which has not be told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? ....... he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him .... He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isa 52. 7-8,10,13-15; 53.1-3).
b. Yahweh’s Anointed in Covenanting Living and Shining Forth Light
“Is this not the fast that I choose; to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share you bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh. Then shall your light break forth like the dawn ... your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.(6.8)’ ... If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness, and your gloom be as the noonday.” (Isa 58.6-10; see Sermon on the Mount esp Mt 6.1-18 and 25.31-40).
“Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. ... and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising. ... The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give the light, but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light and your days of mourning shall be ended.... I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it.” (Isa 60.1,19-20, cf Mt 5.16; Jn 15.8; 1 Pet 2.12; Revd 21.22-26, 22.5).
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all those who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion -- ... but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God. ... for I the Lord love justice, ... and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. (Isa 61.1-3,6,8. cf Lk 4.18-19; see also Deut 24.10.13-22; 26.11; Ps 146.5-9).
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent (see 65.6), and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet ... and you shall be called by a new name ... On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent.(see Acts 4.19f.,5.29,42) You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest, until he establishes Jerusalem, and makes it a praise in the earth. ... Go through, go through the gates; prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones; lift up a signal over the peoples. ... Behold your salvation comes; ... And they shall be called the Holy People, The Redeemer of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not forsaken.” (Isa 62.1-2,6-7,10-12).
“But they rebelled (48.8,50.5) and grieved his Holy Spirit; ... Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of the flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit (see 33.15,44.3 and esp in Gospel of John), who causes his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses ...... Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? ... For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. ...... But now, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. ...... I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation that was not called by my name. ...... Behold, it is written before me: ‘I will not keep silent ...” (Isa 63.10-12,15-16; 64.8; 65.6)
Summarizing the above observations, and to fast forward, it quite clearly show up that the people of God has a “lost vocation” to be “covenant for the people” and “light for the nations”. On the other hand, we see instead so graciously a covenantal (“steadfast love”) commitment and divine vocation to effect renewal, restoration, recalling and re-commission of the “lost” vocation, only now it has to be done in a fundamentally “new” way as the original ‘servant” has totally discredited itself because it is “blind and deaf”. The ‘vocation is now possible only in a much deeper sense where even the people of God, Israel, has to face up to -- the fundamental issue of sin and rebellion in rejection of Yahweh and the embrace of new gods/idols of the land.
In place of the old Israel, the Servant of Yahweh as portrayed in Isaiah gives us a deep insight into the divine heart and mind. The deep issue of the heart is most fundamentally expounded in the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel in their discourses of a “new” Covenant and era, given by Yahweh through the enabling workings of the Spirit of Yahweh for a new heart and will (Jer 31; Ezek 36; see Heb Chs 8-10). Even with the Exilic judgment and refinements and the Return, Israel was still far from responding to live out this “re-new” relationship vocationally to be the covenant to the people and light to the nations. In fact, one could argue that it became more impossible as they were increasingly caught up in trying to live and survive, both internally and externally, in the then socio-cultural-politics matrixes of their times under foreign reign. It continues to wait for the 1st fruit and fulfillment. The “good news”, however, is that even inherent in the weaknesses and failures of Israel in its strive to understand and live out its vocational calling as “dual” citizens in the world and of heaven, there are glimpses of Yahweh’s own workings to bring about a fundamental response through total obedience and commitment of the “Servant” of Yahweh. Israel and the world was “waiting” for this “covenant” for the peoples, and “light” for the nations. It was never fully fulfilled despite many false starts and “sighting”.
4. “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am Well Pleased!”
Would the anguished plea of Isa 64.1 be addressed? If so, what gives confidence? (cf. Ex 2.23-25; Ps 89.46-,49).
Would it again be “no one” to be found?
Even if found, would he still be “blind” and “deaf” and of no useful service at all, in fact be removed and passed over? (Mt 21.33-41,43; Jn 21.43).
Would this someone able to meet the demands of total commitment and obedient thereby qualifying as the Servant? What does obedience in this regard eventually entailed?
It is very instructive against the above observations and questions that the various significant marker points or stations in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ show deep echoes and resonances of the Isaianic Servant of Yahweh. How so?
Jesus fulfils by living out the salvific response of the Father as the Servant of Yahweh:
a). Ministry and appearance of John the Baptist, forerunner of Jesus. (Mk 1.1-8; Mt 3.12; Lk 3.1-20).
b) “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light , and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heave is at hand.” (Mt 4.16f).
c). “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house (business)?” ... and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man. (Lk.2.49,52).
d) “And when he (Jesus) came out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening (schizo to split, divide. cf. Isa 64.1) and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, you are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Mk 1.10-11; Mt 3.16-17; Lk 3.21-22).
d.i) “... when he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. ... The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1.29,36; see Isa 53.7).
e). The Temptation of Jesus:- an obedient Son of God to the word of God in living life, doing things, understanding issues, responding in manner befitting and upholding the honour of Son of God. (Mt 4.1-16; Mk. 4.1-9; Lk 4.1-9).
f). Reading from prophet Isaiah in synagogue on a sabbath immediately after the Temptation episode. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, ...” (Lk 4.16-22 // Isa 61.1-3,6).
g) “You are the salt (covenantcf. Lev 2.13; Ezek 43.24; Col 4.6) of the earth ...... You are the light of the world. ....... In the same way, let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5.13-16).
h). The Transfiguration of Jesus:- “And a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.’’ (Mt 17.5; Mk. 9.7; Lk 9.35)
i). “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ... And the curtain of the temple was torn (schizo) in two from top to bottom” (Mk. 15.38; Mt5 27.51; Lk 23.45).
j) “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this, he breathed his last. (Lk 23.46-47)
Very instructively there are no direct accounts of the baptism of Jesus or curtain-rending description in the Gospel of John. Seeing and Hearing and Knowing are the most often misunderstood faculties in John, the problems of the Israel-Servant who is blind, deaf and do not perceive nor understand. But in fact, the divine dimension has already broke in and working out but not understand until after the Cross. In Jesus, he is the meeting point between God and man, heave and earth. He is God already breaking into history and humanity. In the rolling out of the Christ story in the Gospels, we see this eventually at/on the Cross (Jn Chs 13-17, see17.24).
“The true light (to see), which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world ... He came to his own ....And the Word (to hear) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ... and from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law came through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (Jn 1.9-11,14-18). John speaks most about Light and Word (see 8.2,31-32).
For this, Jesus brought most if not all -- the Isaianic concerns above of spiritually and humanly alive, obedience and faithfulness in covenantal life and witness, and the issue of sin -- to bear in the Epistle to the Hebrews:- Jesus the High Priest of a more Excellent and New Covenant and the Fulfillment of it by Obedience to do the Father’s will and not by ritualistic sacrifices. (Heb 8.6-13; 10.5-10,19-26; 12.18-29; 13.20-21. See also Jn 4.34, 5.19, 30).
How then to recover the vocation life of being “covenant for the people, and light for the nations”, in the first instance it has to begin with a life lived to God in covenantal love and obedience. How then would or should our path be taken, road be journeyed? As Paul says, “Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6.17. See Paul also in 1Cor 1.10,18-2.5. 2Cor 11.21-30, 12.1,5-10. Phil 3.3-11.
April 20th, 2010
4th Anglican Global South to South Encounter
St Andrew’s Cathedral, Singapore