Posted by: mattcolvin | January 6, 2017

Dalman on the Thief on the Cross

Gustaf Dalman was a scholar of Aramaic and rabbinic Judaism who was instrumental in recovering the Jewish background of the New Testament. I particularly appreciated these remarks from his Jesus-Yeshua: Studies in the Gospels (1929), p. 197-199. 

“Jesus was mocked not only by those who passed by the Cross, but also by one who was crucified with Him. Mockery of this kind once resulted in a person being punished for an action which he had not committed. He mocked a robber who was standing before the judge (kām lēh gāhēkh kol kebālēh, literally: ‘he stood mocking’; Lk. 23:10: ‘they stood accusing’; verse 35: ‘He stood beholding’), and when the robber was asked: Who was with thee? he pointed in revenge to the mocker as his fellow in the crime: ‘that mocker was with me’ (āhān degāhēkh hū ‘immī). How different is the fellowship which our Lord promised to the robber who did not join the others in their mockery.

This robber said: 

‘My Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy reign!’ (Lk. 23:42)

Aramaic: mārī, anhar lī kidētētē bemalkhūtākh.

“It is impossible to address a person in Aramaic with mār (‘Lord’) alone. Κύριε without a pronoun is a Grecism as is πάτερ without a pronoun (Lk. 18:12, 18; ο πατήρ Mt. 11:26; τέκνον (for υἱέ) Mt. 11:2; Mk. 2:5; Lk. 2:48; 15:31; θύγατερ (θυγάτηρ) Mt. 11:2; Mk. 5:34; Lk. 8:48; ἀδελφέ Acts 9:17; φίλε Lk. 11:5; 14:10; ἑταῖρε Mt. 20:13; 22:12; 26:50). In Aramaic the only possible equivalents (which are also used in the Peshito) are abbā, berī, berattī, ahī, habrī, while the Pal. Evang. often translates literally. For ‘remember’ the Galilean expression is anhar; cf. anā manhar lēh: ‘I think of him’, ‘I remember him’. But neither is the root dekhar impossible. Onkelos and Targum Yer. I have in Gen. 40:14 tidkerinnani (the better reading is probably, according to verse 23, the Itpeel tiddakherinnani). The imperative would then be iddakherinnani, ‘remember thou me’. ὅταν can be rendered by kide or ēmat de. 

“Concerning bemalkhūtākh, the Aramaic form makes it probable that here, as in Mt. 16:28, it refers not to the domain into which Jesus will return but rather to the royal power which at present He does not possess and which will later make it possible for Him to plead for others. Bemalkhūtākh would in that case mean the same as ‘being King’ (Words of Jesus, 133). Moreover, he took it for granted that Jesus will not be just a King of the Jews, as others were before Him, for in that case He would not be able to help a criminal once he had been executed. What he meant was that Jesus would ‘come’ as the God-Anointed One in the full sense if the word, i.e. appear from the invisible sphere. The often-heard question, ‘When cometh the Messiah? (ēmat ātē meshīach — p. Ket. 35a) will then be answered, and the future for which a dying Rabbi wished to be in readiness, when he said in ātē meshīcha wa‘anā me’attad (‘when the Messiah cometh, in order that I may be prepared’), become an actuality. But His kingship must, like God’s, extend to the living and the dead, and He must be able to show forth mercy. For the ‘robber’ asks for an act of grace, which cannot be fulfilled in this life; he does not base this on the Jewish conception that the experience of an earthly punishment gives one a claim to be absolved from the state of punishment in the world beyond. When a criminal prays on the way to the place of execution, ‘May my death be a propitiation for all my transgressions,’ his confession is supposed to bring him forgiveness (Sanh. vi.2), as it did to Achor, to whom Joshua (according to Joshua 7:25) said before the stoning ‘Today thou art ‘akhor (turbid), but thou art not ‘akhor in the future world’. (p. Sanh. 23b; b. Sanh. 44b) The ‘robber’ wishes to see with his own eyes the kingship of Jesus, as it is promised (Isa. 53:9, Targum) to the wicked whose souls God has purified, that they shall behold ‘the kingship of their Messiah’ (malkhūt meshīchahōn). It was only his companionship on the Cross that gave him the temerity to put forward this bold petition; as Joseph’s companionship with Pharaoh’s butler in prison gave him courage (Gen. 40:14). Consequently, it was not works, but faith in the future glory of the One who was being crucified with him, that underlaid his petition.”

Posted by: mattcolvin | December 15, 2016

Never Seen a Pelican



Here’s a page of Greek text inscribed by Ange Vergéce, Renaissance era (1505-1569) calligrapher and scribe from Crete, in his edition of Byzantine court poet Manuel Philes’ De Animalium Proprietate. The illustrations are by Vergéce’s daughter.

It is evident that the daughter, at least, had never seen a pelican. Note the beak, the neck, and the label in red ink above.

(Claude Garamond used Vergéce’s handwriting as the basis for his famous Grecs du Roi typeface, which was used by Robert Estienne to print many of classics, as well as the first New Testament with verse numbers.)

Joshua Gibbs has a post on the Christian symbolism of the pelican, which medieval bestiaries such as Philes’ book misunderstood as stabbing its own breast, and feeding its young with its blood.

Posted by: mattcolvin | December 14, 2016

Artificial Orphans and the Death of Natural Rights


I recently read a discussion in which someone advocated abolishing last names and referring to people by their given names only:


“This ‘family name’ thing is such an old, conservative thing… it sounds like we’re in the XIX century. People are single individuals and for that exact reason they receive an unique name.”


What admirable logical consistency!


In the old system, we are all born into relationship. We all derive our identities in large part from our parents. Until recently, every human being on this earth was conceived by a relationship between a father and a mother. To be sure, there are horrible exceptions – a child conceived by rape, or the death of one or both parents in the child’s youth, or an abusive parent who does not love the child – but these are just that: exceptions. And they prove the rule: the reason why parental abuse of a child, or abandonment of a child, is so horrible is precisely that it violates the natural relationship that requires love on the basis of biological connection. Likewise, adoption and foster parenthood may be beautiful, but they are beautiful precisely because they are an attempt to supply the love and care and relatedness that a child has lost through some tragedy. Ordinarily, a child has a natural right to expect love and care from a mother and father, and this expectation is founded on the fact that the child was conceived in an act of love, and derives his or her material being from the mother and father. The child is a gift of God, not a product or attainment of the parents’ will. Parent-child relationship is based on this givenness rather than on choice.


In contrast to this, the sexual revolution has now triumphantly severed sex from procreation and made coitus a sterile act. It has also promoted surrogate pregnancy and the artificial (i.e. planned) orphanhood inflicted by homosexual marriage, in which a child is deliberately made to have no relationship or even knowledge of one or both of its biological parents.


Part of the consequence of this revolution is that personal identity is no longer a natural fact, but a construct of society and especially of the State, which enforces and validates the contractually-constituted “parenthood” of homosexuals, and nullifies the biological parenthood of sperm donors and surrogate mothers (wombs for hire). The result is not merely that families can look radically different, but that all of us have “lost consideration as natural persons in contemplation of law”, as my friend Mark Butler put it. There are no “natural rights” now, but only a Platonic system where rights – including the right to love and care from parents – are bestowed upon us by the State. Even if you happen to be raised by your biological parents, your relationship to them is only dignified with respect under the law when the State allows it, and social stigma does not permit us to speak of a natural family as in any way superior or more normal than a contractually-established family. Thus, biological parents are only parents because the State allows it — and the State may allow something else instead.

Accordingly, under Ontario’s eerily Orwellian-named “All Families are Equal Act”, even the words “mother” and “father” have been abolished from government documents, as being antithetical to the State’s usurpation of nature. The words “mother” and “father” bespeak the biological realities that underlie natural parent-child relationships. Since the sexual revolutionaries’ aim is to replace that natural basis with an artificial and legal one established by the State, these words must be abolished in favor of “parent”. And since the sexual revolutionaries pretend that the biological fruitfulness of sex is irrelevant, there can be no reason for a duality of parents (one father and one mother, as in nature). Accordingly, Ontario allows any four persons to be listed as “parents” on the birth certificate of a child. (It is a marvel that they still allow it to be called a “birth” certificate! Is that term not demeaning to the parental relationship of parents who had nothing to do with the child’s conception and birth?)


Since this is the current system, we should indeed abandon family names. Better, we should be assigned names by the government, since it is the source of our personhood and rights.


As my interlocutor at the beginning of this article said, it’s only conservatives who believe in God-given rights. Consider how the 19th century Dutch historian Groen Van Prinsterer put it in his lectures on the French Revolution:


“Just as all truth is ultimately supported by the truth that is from God, so the common foundation of all rights and duties lies in the sovereignty of God. When that Sovereignty is denied, what becomes of the fountain of authority, of law, of every sacred and dutiful relation in state, society, and family? What sanction remains for the distinctions of rank and station in life? What reason can there be that I obey and another commands, that the one is needy, the other rich? All this is based only on custom, routine, abuse, injustice, oppression. There can be, despite all social diversities, no real differences among men. Eliminate God, and it can no longer be denied that all men are, in the revolutionary sense of the words, free and equal. State and society must disintegrate, dissolving into a collection of isolated human beings, of individuals — a term of the Revolution’s naively expressive of its all-destructive character. Henceforward the state is conceived as a multitude of indivisible particles, of atoms.” (Revolution and Unbelief, lecture IX)


We are now living in the political consequences of the French Revolutionary conception of equality and liberty: we are all individuals. Which is to say, we are all orphans now.

Posted by: mattcolvin | November 24, 2016

Jeopardy for Colvin Kids


I wrote this Jeopardy game for our kids. The categories are various Bible topics and books and places which they know well. If you’re from Davao City and know the Bible, Rick Riordan books, and especially Calvin and Hobbes, you might enjoy this game.
Read More…

Posted by: mattcolvin | November 2, 2016

Communion for Brats

Several years ago, I wrote a letter to the magazine Credenda/Agenda. My friend John Barach recently reminded me of it, and I thought it was probably worth putting it on this blog instead of leaving it in the Credenda archives. Here it is:

Dear Editor,

One thing still bugs me about the latest Credenda [C/A, 18.1]: all the kids described in the magazine— Nathan Wilson’s son, little Calvin Hurt, Grace Evans—are precocious, bright, cute little things whose charming expressions of their paedofaith are so winsome that they would probably inflict a nagging voice of self-doubt on the mind of any pastor who denied them the Supper. And that, of course, is why they were mentioned in the magazine.
We are in danger of giving people the impression that we give kids the Supper because they are precocious in their expressions of faith. No matter how far you lower the bar, unless the only requirement for coming to the Table is baptism, the focus is still on the achievements of the person coming to the table. Is this supposed to challenge credocommunionists?
The Supper isn’t something we can achieve. The whole Presbyterian tradition of being admitted to the Table by the elders is false—whether the test involves memorizing the Larger Catechism or just nodding your head when asked if you love Jesus.
No one wants to write about giving the Supper to unloveable, bratty little two-year-olds who habitually squirm and kick and fuss in church; who have to be coaxed, cajoled or even spanked into answering any catechism questions; who are liable to wad the bread up into a little ball, or throw it on the floor, or spill the wine out of its dinky medicine cup; who don’t have a pious bone in their bodies—kids, in short, who are everything that the credocommunionist thinks ought to be barred from the Supper. These are the kids that pose a challenge to our credocommunionist brothers. To give these kids the supper, one has to change one’s doctrine, not just lower one’s standards.

If we are to be real paedocommunionists, and not just low-bar credocommunionists like Virgil Hurt, then we must advocate for the terrible tots too. By all means, take them out of the service when they are misbehaving. But do not take it upon yourselves to admit them to the Table. God has already admitted them by giving them to Christian parents and baptizing them. It is no pastor’s job to examine them at all.
Pastors must come to realize that they do not have the right, let alone the duty, of examining the infants of believers to admit them to the Supper, anymore than they have the right to refuse to baptize the infants of believers.
If we only confront such pastors with lots of cute communing babies — like so many Hallmark cards or advertisements for Pampers — then we are not challenging them at the crux of the issue: it is about their wrongful usurpation of power and unbiblical judgment of others, not about the precociousness of any toddlers.
 Yours for paedocommunion in the churches,

Matt Colvin 

Cincinnati, OH

Posted by: mattcolvin | October 24, 2016

Questions on PFG 11.1-5

Questions on Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 11.1-5:
1. Notice the deeply Jewish phrasing of the Prayer of Humble Access from the BCP as Wright, perhaps because he’s an Anglican and has heard it so many times, uses BCP phrasing in his translation of Daniel 9. (Footnote 50)

2. What is the correct understanding of the phrase “the righteousness of God”? How does this differ from medieval and Reformation era uses of that same phrase? (Footnote 55)

3. (footnote 305) Why can we not keep Aristotelian virtue ethics?

4. What is the relation of eschatology to Christian ethics? Relate this to 2 Timothy 2:17-8. Think about how we can make this work in our pastoral care and exhortation. (310-312)

5. Why is self-control such a central virtue? How does it relate to anger and sexual immorality? In turn, how do angry speech/behavior and sexual immorality relate to eschatology and the church? What applications might this have for our day? (Footnotes 312-313)

6. What is the relation between Christ’s death on the cross and Christian ethics, in the letters of Paul? Is it a pattern for us? Is it somehow causative of our ability to please God?

7. In the paragraph with footnotes 350-354, Wright has some remarkably beautiful thoughts about how “salvation” is shaped differently in every Christian’s particular life. Give some time to discussing this paragraph.

8. How does Galatians 6.16 encapsulate Paul’s redefinition of Israel? (Footnote 426-440) How has Israel changed through Christ? What are her distinguishing characteristics now?

Posted by: mattcolvin | October 24, 2016

Questions on PFG 10

My questions on Paul and the Faithfulness of God, chapter 10, were written after we left the States. That also means that I had no access to my physical copy of Wright’s book, and thus, I had to refer to pages by footnote numbers rather than page numbers. (Footnote numbers are consistent between the paper book and e-book.)

  1. What Biblical warrant is there in the OT (especially in 2 Samuel) for the “incorporative” idea of the messiah that Wright claims was operative in 2nd Temple Judaism?
  2. What word should we supply, according to Wright, in order to rightly understand Galatians 3:19’s statement that “now the mediator is not of the one _______, but God is one”?
  3. Talk out how Paul makes these logical moves: from monotheism, to eschatological monotheism, to a unified eschatological Israel, to the temporariness of the Torah.
  4. What is the flip side of the temporariness of the Torah? Answer: the permanence of ______________ as a marker of membership in the people of God. 
  5. In Romans 5:17, how does Wright think we should understand “one man’s obedience”? How is this different from how both Roman Catholicism and modern Reformed thinkers understand it? Obedience to what?
  6. What does Wright say Romans 5:20’s phrase “so that the trespass might be filled out to its fullest extent” means? (Also his understanding of Rom. 7:13) How is this related to the fact that Jesus came as a Jew? How does it result in a “scandal of particularity”? How does it relate to the purpose of the covenant with Abraham?
  7. Wright says that “To say it once more: the division between ‘juristic’ and ‘participationist’ analyses of Paul’s soteriology is based on a failure to understand his underlying ‘covenantal’ thought.” (Same page as footnote 347) If this is correct, then we as pastors need to be able to explain how the juristic (or forensic) aspects of justification fit with our “participation” in the Messiah, and how this all works through the very historical covenant, coming to its climax in Jesus. So, go around the table and articulate how this fits together, and how it is to be preached and taught in our churches.
  8. What is the purpose of election, in the story of Abraham? (Page with footnotes 356 and 357) How often do we talk about the purpose of election? How does talking about election as having a purpose change the way the doctrine of election works in our theology?
  9. What does Wright understand by “theosis”? (footnote 694 and 700) How is it connected to the Holy Spirit? And to the temple?
  10. How does Wright understand Romans 1:7’s address of the church in Rome as “called to be saints”? (Footnote 713)
  11. What does Wright think is the relationship between “initial justification” and “final justification” and “a complete life lived”?
  12. What’s the difference between seeing Torah as “a set of commands” and seeing it as a narrative? (Footnote 730)
Posted by: mattcolvin | October 24, 2016

Questions on PFG 9

Here are questions on PFG 9:

Questions on ch. 9

1. What was Jewish monotheism, polemically speaking? What was it directed against? What was it not concerned with?

2. What point about Jesus did Paul never have to argue or try to prove against his Jewish opponents?

3. How does the story of Israel provide Paul with the means for recognizing Jesus as included in the identity of Israel’s God? How does this work differently than the 19th century way of framing the question of how high Christology developed? Which is more plausible?

4. Do you agree with Wright’s claim that theology itself takes the place of boundary-marking praxis (kosher, sabbath, circumcision) in bearing the weight of defining the people of God in Paul’s thinking?

5. (Talk the group through 1 Cor 8, Philippians 2, and Colossians 1 so that they will be able to unpack the divine identity christology and the OT allusions.)

6. How has Paul changed the Shema?

7. What are the main ways Paul includes the Holy Spirit within the identity of Israel’s God?

8. How tightly enmeshed, how inextricable, are Jesus and the Spirit, in Paul’s doxological and hymnic statements? How has Paul woven them in?

9. Why is the problem of evil more acute for Jewish monotheism than for other religions? How is Judaism’s answer different?

10. What do you think of Wright’s opening and closing comparison of Paul and Akiba, dying for Jewish monotheism, but of radically different varieties?

Posted by: mattcolvin | October 24, 2016

Discussion Questions on PFG 1

Above: Another pastor takes delivery of Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

The Cincinnati/Dayton REC clergy, together with two friendly priests from TEC and the APA, have been studying N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

Here are the questions on chapter 1:

1. What did you think of Paul’s reading of Philemon? Any comments on objections? Appreciation for it?

2. What is the role of theology – of beliefs about God, Israel, and Jesus – in explaining why Paul urges Philemon to do certain things?

3. How does Paul in Philemon go further with “imputation” than Reformed theologians who insist that it is the core of the doctrine of justification? How might we do the same?

4. What does Wright think has gone wrong in Pauline studies in the past, especially with F. C. Baur’s history-of-religions approach?

5. What is the three-fold test of any interpretation (or of an exegetical “hypothesis”, as Wright calls it)?

6. What do you think of Wright’s opinions on the authorship of the Pauline epistles?

7. What is the role of history in Biblical scholarship? What effect does it have on interpretation?

8. What is the central thesis of Wright’s book, as stated in this opening chapter? How does it differ from other approaches to Paul that you have seen?

9. What benefits can you see to the church if we approach Paul in the way Wright recommends?

Posted by: mattcolvin | October 24, 2016

Sermon Notes on Joel 2

These are notes for a sermon I preached at Holy Trinity REC in Houston. The text is Joel 2, and the title is “An Army of Bugs”:

  •  “The Day of YHWH is coming”: judgment within history, not just at the end. 
  • God’s most common means of chastisement is military disaster, as described in Dt. 28:47-68. (Read it.) There follows a description of the horrors of conquest and siege warfare, resulting in cannibalism. And God did indeed bring foreign invaders to punish Israel at various times in their history. But here in Joel 2, the army marching to invade Israel turns out to be even more frightening because it is not human.
  • 2:2 – the lowering clouds threaten, but the symbolic threat turns out to be a literal threat: clouds turn out to be locusts. I have discussed the lexicography here
  • They are actual bugs sent by God to punish Israel. God cares more about Israel than about the rest of humanity. In the book of Jonah, we see him send Jonah to Nineveh because He cares about the 200,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left. But how many things does he send to focus on Jonah and ultimately change his attitude? Sea, winds, rain, Sun, a fish, a vine, a worm. God cares about His people and he focuses His created works upon them for their conversion. We’ll come back to Jonah later. 
  • This plague of locusts is a fulfillment of Deuteronomy’s threat that “the Lord will strike you with all the plagues of Egypt”, and especially 28:42’s threat that “locusts shall consume all your trees and the produce of your land.” 
  • Joel 2 calls these locusts “a people great and strong”. Some church fathers say that this means they aren’t really locusts, but a foreign army like locusts. But it’s pretty clear that they are real locusts. Their location moves across the country as a storm front on a weather map; a boundary between green and bare: the garden of Eden before them, a desert behind. But the way they are described reads like something out of a Stephen King novel. 
  • The science fiction author Arthur Machen wrote a classic story called The Terror. It opens with a series of puzzling deaths, apparent murders and freak accidents: airplane pilots downed by flocks of birds clogging their propellers; men trampled by sheep and gored by oxen; children suffocated by swarms of moths that appear as a cloud rising from the forest. The premise of The Terror is that God has somehow temporarily removed from every animal the fear of Man that had been put upon them by the Lord after Noah’s flood in Genesis 9:2. Joel 2’s locusts are intended to evoke similarly terrifying emotions. 
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book On the Banks of Plum Creek describes the inexorable march of migrating grasshoppers:

    “Caroline!” he said. “Here’s a strange thing. Come look!” All across the dooryard the grasshoppers were walking shoulder to shoulder and end to end, so crowded that the ground seemed to be moving. Not a single one hopped. Not one turned its head. As fast as they could go, they were all walking west.Ma stood beside Pa, looking. Mary asked, “Oh, Pa, what does it mean?” and Pa said, “I don’t know.” He shaded his eyes and looked far to west and east. “It’s the same, as far as the eye can see. The whole ground is crawling, crawling west.” Ma whispered, “Oh, if they would all go away!”

  •  Insects are wondrously made, but there is something creepy about them too. Owen Barfield summer it up: “The trouble about insects is that they are like French locomotives – they have all the works on the outside.” And that’s part of the terror of God’s arthropod army in Joel 2: they are the original robots – non-human, automated, operating in fearful synchrony and with no apparent will to be reasoned with or pleaded to. They are inexorable. Even to this day, if a movie director wants to make an army less sympathetic, he makes them more like insects. The faceless storm troopers of StarWars are clad in exoskeletons like insects. 
  • The locust army is without any of the weaknesses of humans on the march. Their synchrony is perfect: “every one marches in formation, and they do not break ranks.”(2:7) Compare my oft-repeated classroom demonstration of Greek hoplite warfare: break the shield wall or turn the end of the phalanx, and the fornation breaks down. Not so the locusts: “though they lunge between the weapons, they are not cut down.” (2:8) Walls and ramparts are no defense: “they run on the wall; they climb into the houses; they enter at the Windows like a thief.”(2:9) 
  • The overall effect is to make the reader more afraid of bugs than he would be of enemy soldiers. The people’s expected reaction is actually shown in the passage (2:6): “Before them the people writhe in pain; all faces are drained of color.”
  • So great is the terror that it is described in the cosmic imagery of the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars (2:10). These are the powers that had been set to rule the day and night, to govern times and seasons; they are the authorities set over the original creation, and their glory is bodied forth visibly as light. But now they are completely overshadowed by the Day of the Lord. “For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; Who can endure it?”

II. Turn to Me

  • The horror of the locusts is revealed and described so luridly because God has a purpose for it: to frighten Israel into repentance:”Now, therefore, says the Lord, Turn to me with all your heart…”(2:12) This repentance is to be expressed with the usual Biblical gestures and rituals: fasting, weeping, and mourning. God’s people abase themselves and show contrition. They turn away from their sin. But it is also a turning toward God. 
  • This language of “turning to” God of course denotes repentance, but I wonder if perhaps we can get more out of with by considering it within the divine “marriage” of YHWH and Israel. Secular marriage expert John Gottman speaks of spouses “turning away, turning against, and turning toward”, where the former two responses are bad news for a marriage, while “turning toward” your spouse is what will preserve or save a marriage. YHWH is the husband of Israel; Israel is God’s wife. He urged her to turn toward Him, shuvu adhay.
  • And why? “For He is gracious merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.” (2:13)
  • We cannot help recalling the words of Heinrich Heine: “Dieu me pardonnera; c’est son metier.” Yes, this is presumptuous, but it is also true. Exodus 34:6-7 (read it) is “God’s business card”. And it basically says that God is a professional forgiver. Our Anglican Prayer of Humble Access puts it well: “thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.”(Property=distinctive attribute.)
  • Not everyone is happy about God’s business card. In Jonah 4:1-4, Jonah hates it. He kvetches about God’s forgiving character in a blasphemous parody of Exodus 34:6-7 that would be comical if it weren’t so sad. 
  • Notice the king of Nineveh’s decree and its rhetorical question: “Who can tell if God will turn and relent and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (Correct our usual English understanding of “Who knows…?” – Esther 4:14, 1 Cor. 7:16.) Back in Joel 2, we can now understand properly 2:14’s rhetorical question. “Who knows if He will turn and relent…?” In Hebrew idiom, the question implies that He probably will; after all, it is His property to have mercy.
  • Israel’s repentance is described in Joel 2:15-16, but with imperatives: a series of staccato commands urging the response of national repentance. Like Nineveh, which repented in sackcloth and ashes from the king on his throne down to the beasts of burden, Israel’s repentance is total, from old men down to babies, encompassing every sex, age, status, and station of life.  
  • Just as Moses insisted that Pharaoh could not just let the men of Israel go out of Egypt, but said to Pharaoh, “We will go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast to the Lord.” (Ex. 10:9), so in Joel, the repentance is total, involving everyone, even those who because of age or extreme youth would not have been usual participants in temple worship. Even the bride and bridegroom, who are the last people you would expect to engage in mourning, leave the bedchamber where they would have enjoyed their wedding night, and trade their nuptial raiment for sackcloth. 
  • They are engaged in pleading the covenant, a God-and-Israel business. So we also repent corporately, and not just through representatives. The covenant was a means by which God was able to dwell with Israel. This involved a continual disinfectant process to deal with Israel’s sin, and that meant sacrifice. Thus, the priests are told to weep “between the porch and the altar” – the usual space they would have traveled on their way to sprinkle blood from the sacrifices before the veil of the holy of holies. 
  • Utterly absent here is any sense of entitlement: no pleading of Israel’s merits or good works; nothing but the covenant, God’s love for His people.
  • “Spare Your people, O LORD, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. “Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” The plea is like that of Psalm 115:1-2: “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, “So where is their God?”” It is a plea for God to be concerned about His reputation. 
  • Or again, it is an echo of Deuteronomy 9, when Moses recounts how he pleaded with God for Israel after their rebellions; how the Lord told Moses that He would destroy Israel and make a new people from Moses himself. Note the pleading, how it is the same as in Joel 2: “Therefore I prayed to the LORD, and said: ‘O Lord GOD, do not destroy Your people and Your inheritance whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” – so it is in order not to waste the effort of the Exodus. “Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;” – not their merits or good deeds, but the fact that you made a covenant with them. “do not look on the stubbornness of this people, or on their wickedness or their sin,” – if you do hat, you will find plenty of reasons to destroy them — “lest the land from which You brought us should say, “Because the LORD was not able to bring them to the land which He promised them, and because He hated them, He has brought them out to kill them in the wilderness.” Yet they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out by Your mighty power and by Your outstretched arm.’” (Deuteronomy‬ ‭9:26-29‬)
  • This is how we too approach God today: we do it corporately, together; we rend our hearts, not our garments; and we plead the covenant, and the blood of the sacrifice by which we were redeemed; we plead with God for His name’s sake, and that His name not be blasphemed, slandered, among the nations. It’s in our prayers in the BCP: “O Lord, save thy people. // And bless thine inheritance.” And in the Penitential Office (REC BCP, p. 51): Minister. O Lord, save thy servants; Answer. That put their trust in thee. Minister. Send unto them help from above. Answer. And evermore mightily defend them. Minister. Help us, O God our Saviour. Answer. And for the glory of thy Name deliver us; be merciful to us sinners, for thy Name’s sake.
  • Or again, p. 52 in the REC BCP: “TURN thou us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned. Be favourable, O Lord, Be favourable to thy people, Who turn to thee in weeping, fasting, and praying. For thou art a merciful God, full of compassion, long-suffering, and of great pity. Thou sparest when we deserve punishment, And in thy wrath thinkest upon mercy. Spare thy people, good Lord, spare them, And let not thine heritage be brought to confusion. Hear us, O Lord, for thy mercy is great, And after the multitude of thy mercies look upon us; Through the merits and mediation of thy blessed Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

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