Thursday, February 19, 2009

Theology Worksheet (CL)

This is the first of our worksheets in theology. Due to my incredible skills in "never putting off till tomorrow what can be avoided entirely," I was up till four writing this, when it was due at seven thirty. Yet, I got a Cum Laude (second highest possible grade), so I am resolved on two points (so if the first break, the other will hold, but if both break, my britches fall down). First, if you can't tie a knot, tie a lot: I just kept talking and hitting the questions from every conceivable angle, and some of my points were apparently good. Second: I make more sense when my brain stops trying to edit what I'm saying.

Here you are. Reader beware.

J. Broussard
Theology Worksheet #1
Assignment #2: Mt. 26-27
Due: 2.12.09

I. 1. What is the source of the quotation in Matthew 26:31?2. What is the passage referring to in its original context? 3. How is that context relevant to Matthew’s gospel? 4. How does it fit into Matthew’s over-all story line?

II. 2. What is the source of the quotation in Matthew 27:9-10? What did the passage refer to in its original context? How does it fit into this context in Matthew’s gospel? How does it fit into the overall storyline of Matthew’s gospel?

III. 3. What is the source for the quotation in Matthew 27:43, 46? What do these passages refer to in their original contexts? How is Matthew using them?

I. 1. The source for Matthew 26:31 is Zechariah 13:7. 2. The original context is rather surprising. It is the last burden given to Zechariah, and therefore the last theme of his book, and is in a series of blessings that will take place “in that day”: God will remove all idols, there will be no false prophets or unclean spirits, God will provide cleansing for the uncleanness of Jerusalem and the house of David, etc. The surprising things are these: first, the previous list is not quite accurate: there will be no prophet, false prophet is never specified, and second, it is the Lord that does the striking of the shepherd.

In the first case, the prophet is assumed to be false: he “speaks lies” and does not put on a rough garment “to deceive,” he shall deny that he is a prophet and claim rather to be a “husbandman,” for, “for man taught me to keep cattle from my youth.”

The use of “husbandman” here is very interesting: in its seven occurrences in Scripture, it is (aside from this use) a farming term (Gen. 9:20, Jer. 51:23, Amos 5:16, John 15:1, 2 Timothy 2:6, James 5:7). In fact, one of the uses actually puts the husbandmen and the one raising cattle side by side: Jer. 51:23: “I will also break in pieces with thee the shepherd and his flock; and with thee will I break in pieces the husbandman and his yoke of oxen; and with thee will I break in pieces captains and rulers.” There is then one indefinite use of husbandman found in Amos, where he is called on to mourn, but what makes him a husbandman is not mentioned. So, the only case that we have of someone being a husbandman because he tends cattle instead of a vineyard or a field is right here.

The people of God are both equated to being a vineyard and sheep, so the reference is not essential, but it is very surprising that the meaning of a word is changed or re-interpreted in this one verse alone out of Scripture. Later in this passage, the shepherd is mentioned, so why is the person here a husbandman because he tends cattle, and later a shepherd because he tends sheep? Sheep are a subset of cattle, but it would be hard to argue that a shepherd is a subset of husbandman when every other case of husbandman is farming. Cain would have been a husbandman, Abel a farmer. To be honest, I have no idea why the terms and vocations appear to be switched here. It wouldn’t just be a slip of the tongue on the part of the prophet (that would be comparable to claiming to be a carpenter because you were taught from your youth how to milk cows), and it does seem to have some importance or relevance that is utterly beyond my grasp.

But continuing on the lack of prophets: they are driven out right alongside false spirits (verse 2); they are killed by their own parents (verse 3); they are ashamed to be prophets (verse 4), and will attempt to avoid the “charge” as if it were a crime rather than an honor.

Also, the prophet appears to be a foreshadowing of Christ due to the wounding of the hands in verse five, which is very odd indeed: portraying Christ as a false prophet as well as the fountain in which the sins of Jerusalem and the people of David have their sins removed within four verses of each other? The former would be odd enough.

The second oddity was the fact that it is God that does the striking. The verse marks the segue from the blessings to the destruction of all but a remnant, in this case one third (in a passage about the death of a member of the Trinity that’s not too surprising) as opposed to Isaiah’s tenth, which will be tried by fire as if it were silver or gold, and the remnant will eventually return.

The passage has the shepherd being struck so that the sheep will be scattered in a way reminiscent of binding the strongman before plundering his house: God wants to turn His hand against the little ones, so He first strikes the (His) shepherd and scatters the sheep. This is not necessary from the structure, but it is implied. The strangeness of two members of the Trinity working at what appear to be opposite goals is very stark and very unusual: a far cry from “if you have seen me you have seen the Father” is this “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man [that is] my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.” However, with the end in mind, this does appear to be consistent: God protects Israel both in the letter and in the Spirit of the law.

3. So the overall context of the passage quoted is that of the judgment upon Israel and the removal of her protection (the shepherd) so that the sheep might be scattered. Ironically enough, this passage (which is so apt to the coming state of Israel just a few decades after this time) is quoted in application to Christ and the disciples.

Matthew is telling the story of the transfer of the Kingdom of God from Israel to Christ and all who would follow Him: Israel is changing into a New Israel. Depending on exactly when you place that change, this passage could have several meanings. For example, if that transfer has not yet taken place, then the reference is limited to the disciples running off at this precise moment (as the simplest reading gives, which is no less accurate for being simple), or to Israel being the nation that God raises up against…. Well, against Israel. Israel strikes her own Shepherd, and let the scattering begin. But if the transfer has already taken place, then the Shepherd is struck and the New Israel scatters and then returns after the resurrection. Or, from a bird’s eye view historically, we simply see the death, burial and resurrection of Christ leading into the sheep scattering to all nations and making new sheep in all nations, but I generally like to avoid fitting verses into my theology with a sledgehammer, so I’ll stick with the first and second views both being accurate, and the third view being true, but not defensible from this passage alone.

A very interesting point that merits further study would be looking at Israel as the shepherd of the New Israel, though there are obvious and massive limitations to this application, the first and foremost being that of the shepherd trying to kill the sheep for a century or two. But I think that there is still merit to be found in it.

4. Within the overall story line, this falls very near the end. The shepherd being struck is the first of two tremendous crescendos, the second of which lasts from the resurrection to the ascension and adds a twist that was unforeseeable to those within that chapter of the story.

II.1. The allusion is to Jeremiah 18:1-4 19:1-3 but more distinctly to Zechariah 11:12,13. Despite the fact that the text does quote Jeremiah as the source, I will be primarily using Zechariah, as I believe that his reference is the one that is intended, though the similarity between the two texts is great enough that the difference will end up being, in many respects, negligible.
Also, I believe that Zechariah may well have been familiar with Jeremiah’s account of buying the field (Jer. 18-19), and I think that he would have linked his prophecy with that of Jeremiah in his own mind, especially by the language of the siege. There are not all that many places that condemn people to cannibalism, so if Zechariah was at all familiar with Scripture, I think it very probable that he would have had Jeremiah in mind.

2. The original context was Zechariah playing the part of a shepherd and receiving his payment. The chapter is quite complex (he both feeds and is paid by “the poor of the flock”) and seems that it would lend itself to various interpretations, but I believe this to be the most straightforward of them.

Zechariah begins tending to a flock of sheep, and then declares that he will cease to feed them: “ I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another.” Obviously sheep do not eat each other, so the analogy is very apparent, and appears to refer to one siege or another, but a particularly violent one in which a city is reduced to cannibalism.

He then breaks covenant (Beauty), and states that “it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it [was] the word of the LORD.” There appears to have been an event that vindicated him in his prophetic utterance, but what it was is not made clear. He then requests that if his employers see fit, that they pay him, but if they do not, don’t. They pay him thirty pieces of silver that he in turn “casts to the potter.”

He then declares that the brotherhood between Israel and Judah is broken, and the Lord declares that “I will raise up a shepherd in the land, [which] shall not visit those that be cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that that is broken, nor feed that that standeth still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces.” After this declaration, God condemns the “idol shepherd that leaveth the flock,” stating that the sword will be upon his arm an his right eye, that his arm shall be dried up (withered) and his eye utterly darkened (so he will lose his strength and sight).

3. This context is really quite horrifying, and its horror is only accented by its accuracy. It is quoted just before Matthew’s account of the trial of Christ, which culminates in the sickening “His blood be on us and our children.” As Christ is being led away to Pontius Pilate, Matthew finishes the story of Judas returning the money to the faithless shepherd (chief priests) that had condemned the flock. The apathy of each account reflects the other: Zechariah’s “that that dieth, let it die” chillingly echoed by the priests’ “What is that to us? See thou to that.” Then the faithless shepherds buy the potter’s field (to bury strangers in), completely oblivious in their calm and reasoned folly (more Hellenistic than anything they fought against) to the connections between themselves and Zechariah’s shepherd, and missing out entirely on the dual accounts of Zechariah and Jeremiah acting as two witnesses that testify against them to their death.

Each account is fulfilled, and the siege followed soon after. The father’s words “on us and our children” condemned their sons to eat each other as the dying ox of the Old Covenant strained to pull the weight of the cart it was never meant to pull—the shade trying to pull the flesh; man straining to accomplish what the God-Man had just completed.

4. In the overall story, it is the middle: the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. In Matthew, it is again toward the end: it is the reason for the judgment that falls on Israel in the next generation. The final betrayal of Christ effectively ends the story of Israel: they are no longer those that prevail with God, but those that have nailed God to a tree. They are Israel in nothing but name, and in their desperation to grasp their birthright, they lose it irrevocably.

The account of the chief priests is probably the clearest sign of where exactly Israel was on their path to utter depravity. The priests, having just managed to set in motion the death of God, debate what to do with their unexpected refund. It was, after all, the price of blood, they say, so it isn’t lawful to be used on the temple. This while the One that sat on the mercy seat is being led out to hang on a tree overlooking their temple, their golden god. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. How much longer could such a people be allowed to endure? For Matthew, who makes this story so understated and horrifying, this seems to be one of the final blows against Israel, as the vast majority of the rest of the story is told from the perspective of the Romans or the disciples; the Jews never enter it in any significant way again. They have obviated themselves, and Matthew moves on to tell us the remainder of Christ’s life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, as well as to pass on the final instructions that He left us with.

III. 1. These are both taken from Psalm 22, though recited in reverse order.

2-3. In the original context, they are quotations from a Psalm of absolute despair, of the kind that would get someone institutionalized today. It is full of pleas and complaints, of asking where God is, and why He isn’t saving His servant. It is, oddly enough, one of the Psalms in which David doesn’t proclaim his innocence, though he does call upon the earth to praise the Lord, as well as promising to do so himself.

The imagery was, for David, symbolic: his bones were not literally out of joint, nor his hands pierced, though he felt as if they were, and with great cause. We don’t know who played the part of the bulls of bashan or the dogs in the case of David, but with Christ, it was the Jews and Romans. This would be particularly detestable for the Jews, as the dogs are unclean, as are the lions, and, according to most myths, unicorns would be as well.

However, the particularly astonishing part is the fact that this Psalm was actually quoted: “He trusted in God, let God save him, if He will have him.” It seems that this would have been quoted by the Jews (as the Romans didn’t much care for “God” in the singular), and as the quote is verbatim. It still is odd—it would be like someone volunteering to play the part of the Japanese for the “Battle” of Nagasaki: how is that going to turn out okay? Why would a Jew be quoting from the part of a villain in the Psalms? Of course, the quotes are probably not as clean-cut as when Matthew delivers them to us, and I’m sure that we do the same thing on a fairly regular basis.

For Matthew, these verses serve to further vindicate Christ and condemn the Jews. He places Christ in the middle of a Psalm that was written about Him, and all the Jews would have noticed this placement. As they viewed Christ to be a blasphemer, this would be particularly unforgivable to them, as well as being typecast as dogs. The problem to them would be how accurate it had been: crucifixion being described so perfectly by one who had never seen it, as well as the quotations, the casting of lots for the clothing, the gall to drink and, of course, the resurrection on the third day, which is a particularly aggravating detail.

Matthew seems particularly conscious of the need to vindicate Christ in these chapters: he is the only one of the gospel writers that mentions all of the miracles that accompanied the death of Christ, as well as the conversion of the centurion. It could be that, as Matthew was the first to write his gospel, and was writing to Jews, that he was more conscious of the stigma associated with the death of a blasphemer, and went out of his way to show that Christ was vindicated by the miracles and signs. This would explain why he extends the verse “And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared to many.” I have already demonstrated a few instances of Matthew’s being concerned with the number of witnesses, and he here seems to be doing the same. John, I believe, takes something from this in his first epistle: “That which our eyes have seen and our hands handled…”

Beyond this, Matthew would of course be still somewhat amazed, and his recitation of events bears similarity to the type of narrative that a person will give when in shock. We all too often have difficulty speaking to someone that doesn’t believe in miracles, and this after two thousand years of testimony to back us up; how much more he, when he was writing of events that were this staggering, this earth-shaking, and no one else had written of them?

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