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Q&A on October Readings

Note: The questions alone (with a link to their answers) are listed above the line in the opposite order that they were received, which means the most recent questions are at the top of the page. Below the line, questions and answers are given in the readings' order of the verses that prompted the question.

Q: In Ezekiel 11:1-4, is Ezekiel seeing these things from captivity? On first reading it almost sounds as if he was there. Answer

Q: Hosea 4:14 in the King James says, “themselves” are separated with whores, and my marginal note says “the men themselves”, which is plainer in the text of several other translations. I have wondered through all the descriptions of “fallen women” if notice was ever taken of the idolatry prostitution organized for male “worshippers”! I would venture to guess that most of it was. Answer

Q: Can you give a simple explanation of why God is called “the Ancient of Days” in such places as Daniel 7:9? Answer

Q: Is the kingdom to which Daniel 2:44-45 is referring the Kingdom of Heaven and the rock it is referring to Jesus, or am I totally off-base? Answer

Q: Ezekiel 40-48 goes into quite some detail about a Temple and how the people will worship there and the priests will live and sacrifice there. All of that is just a vision, and none of it was done or intended to be done? Was the vision given to keep the people in exile remembering Jerusalem as it was—or, better, as it was in the days of Solomon’s Temple before the corruption set in? Did the exiles follow the pattern of sacrifice set down here in Ezekiel, even though the Temple they built upon to Jerusalem after the exile was not like the Temple Ezekiel saw? Am I getting “ahead of the story”? Answer

Q: Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity.” Is Ezekiel 18 now changing what was said in an earlier passage (I don’t remember which one) that spoke about the sins of the fathers being suffered on their children and their children’s children? Answer

Q: In Ezekiel 4:10-11, the portions of food and water are described in a weight of “shekels” and a measure of a “hin”. I don’t know these measurements. Do they represent a starvation diet? In other words, is it a very small amount? Answer

Q: I’m trying to sort out the chronology indicated by Ezekiel 1:2, “the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity”. Ezekiel and quite a few Jews were already in Babylon when Jerusalem came under siege. Did the King go with this earlier exile group so that he was not in Jerusalem for its downfall? Answer

Q: In Jeremiah 48:13’s prophecy against Moab, God refers to Moab being ashamed of its false god as Israel was ashamed “of Bethel their confidence” (KJV). Remind me: What was Bethel? I’m guessing a place for worship of idols in Israel. Answer

Q: In the October 1, 2006 Biblog post you said, “As for the greater number of kings and priests mentioned in [Jeremiah] 33:22, we recall that believers co-reign with Christ and are also His priests toward God.” Believers co-reign, but this is more “figuratively” speaking, not really with any “authority” correct? Believers are Christ’s priests toward God? Can you explain that? Why would Christ need priests toward God? Answer

Q: I understand from Jeremiah 41:1-3 that Ishmael may be a prince, but I don’t see what he hoped to accomplish by killing Gedaliah. Was it spite and malice, because Gedaliah was appointed to rule for the Babylonian Empire? Or, was there no “why” to it, but bringing the destruction to Egypt? That destruction might not have involved the Jews, if they had listened to Jeremiah, but Nebuchadnezzar (whose name is not spelled consistently in the KJV and is about as difficult as “Schwarzenegger”!) probably would have gone to Egypt anyway. Answer

Q: On Jeremiah 39:1-2, you said not to miss the fact that the final siege lasted two and one half years. Two months in Zedekiah’s 9th year, plus twelve in his 10th, plus four in his 11th is only eighteen months, one and one half years, or am I missing something? Answer


Q: On Jeremiah 39:1-2, you said not to miss the fact that the final siege lasted two and one half years. Two months in Zedekiah’s 9th year, plus twelve in his 10th, plus four in his 11th is only eighteen months, one and one half years, or am I missing something?
A: You are not missing anything, but at least one of my commentaries is! I’ve never been good with the dating of the kings’ reigns or with the Jewish calendar, so when the first commentary that I usually turn to made the date for the beginning of the siege January 15, 588, made the date for the end of the siege July 18, 586, and said the siege lasted two and one half years, I checked that math and made the post. Upon receipt of the question, I checked my next reference, which had the same modern-calendar dates but said the siege lasted eighteen months. (Another commentary put the end date in July 587 for an eighteen month run; two other commentaries, without converting the dates to our modern calendar, both essentially said the siege lasted eighteen months.) I’m generally at a loss to explain the two sources’ different errors with the calendar dates, and I agree with you that the length of the siege was eighteen months and have now changed that Biblog post accordingly. Back to Top

Q: I understand from Jeremiah 41:1-3 that Ishmael may be a prince, but I don’t see what he hoped to accomplish by killing Gedaliah. Was it spite and malice, because Gedaliah was appointed to rule for the Babylonian Empire? Or, was there no “why” to it, but bringing the destruction to Egypt? That destruction might not have involved the Jews, if they had listened to Jeremiah, but Nebuchadnezzar (whose name is not spelled consistently in the KJV and is about as difficult as “Schwarzenegger”!) probably would have gone to Egypt anyway.
A: Ishmael son of Nethaniah is first mentioned in Jeremiah 40:8 coming to Gedaliah, ostensibly to serve him and presumably taking an oath of loyalty to him. So, when Johanan son of Kareah warns Gedaliah about a possible conspiracy involving Ishmael, Gedaliah doesn’t believe it (Jeremiah 40:13-16). Noble revenge may have been Ishmael’s motive for killing Gedaliah (although Gedaliah didn’t kill the king, the Babylonians he represented did), or he may have resented Gedaliah’s submission to the Babylonians (even though the Lord had commanded submission through Jeremiah, whom Gedaliah befriended), or his pride may not have let him submit to Gedaliah, or Ishmael may have fancied the position for himself, or there may have been some intra-court rivalry, possibly even involving Johanan. Jeremiah 40:14 suggests that the Ammonites, another enemy of Babylon’s, were behind Ishmael’s action (confer Jeremiah 41:10, 15). The king of Ammon may have had personal hostility towards Gedaliah or wanted to possess the country himself; Ishmael and others had supposedly fled Judah to Ammon when the Babylonian army first approached. Ishmael’s rebellion was not only against Gedaliah, the Babylonians’ representative, but also against the Lord, and only God and Ishmael know for sure what Ishmael's motivation was. I’m no expert on tracing out the royal lines of Israel’s kings in the Old Testament, so I don’t know if Ishmael’s grandfather’s royal blood qualifies Ishmael as a “prince”, but it does mean that he should have known better than to act as he did. Gedaliah’s family was well-connected, too: his father was Ahikam who helped Jeremiah while serving Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:24) and even earlier was one of Josiah’s officials (2 Kings 22:12, 14). As for Nebuchadnezzar (whose name is also spelled differently in different places in the Hebrew, probably because it was being transliterated differently from its original language), trying to speculate whether he would still have invaded Egypt, if the Jews had not gone there, is really pointless: they did go there, and he invaded as the rod of God's righteous wrath. Back to Top

Q: In the October 1, 2006 Biblog post you said, “As for the greater number of kings and priests mentioned in [Jeremiah] 33:22, we recall that believers co-reign with Christ and are also His priests toward God.” Believers co-reign, but this is more “figuratively” speaking, not really with any “authority” correct? Believers are Christ’s priests toward God? Can you explain that? Why would Christ need priests toward God?
A: In the context of Jeremiah 33:22, God is reemphasizing His promises to both David and the Levites, the royal and priestly families, in a way that echoes His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see, respectively, Genesis 22:17; 26:4; and 32:12). Not only would the covenant not be broken, but their descendants will increase. Where a dramatic increase of the royal and priestly families could be considered a burden on the rest of the people, we must not forget that the the number of the people will also be increasing dramatically. What God through Jeremiah is primarily indicating is that the promises made to the patriarchs also apply especially to David and the priests so God will always have a kingly and priestly leader, most especially Jesus, to Whom this prophecy most fully and completely points. One commentator rightly points out that this Jeremiah passage is not talking about all of Israel being transformed into the family of David and tribe of Levi, and, while I agree, my mention in the Biblog simply recognizes that other passages do speak of all baptized believers as kings and priests. I am reluctant to say that the co‑reigning with Christ is strictly figurative, as passages such as Matthew 19:28 (and Luke 22:30, where “judging” is equivalent to “ruling”), 2 Timothy 2:12, and Revelation 20:6 don’t necessarily limit the reign to some sort of figurative reign without any authority (and there are also other passages). Revelation 20:6 lists being priests along side of reigning (see also Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and Isaiah 66:21), but we probably think mostly of such famous (or infamous) passages as Exodus 19:6 and 1 Peter 2:5 and 9. Dr. Luther is usually connected with the concept of “the priesthood of all believers”, perhaps better called “the priesthood of the baptized”, but Dr. Luther never meant that concept in such an egalitarian way as to do away with the Office of the Holy Ministry. Rather, believers are God’s priests in that they are holy, offer spiritual sacrifices such as praise and thanksgiving, and pray for their fellow human beings (see such passages as Romans 6:13; 12:1; 15:16; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 4:18; and Hebrews 13:15-16). The priesthood of the baptized is directed towards God (the way the congregation faces in the Divine Service), while the priesthood of the prophet, apostle, evangelist, and teaching shepherd (that is, the priesthood of those in the Office of the Holy Ministry, Ephesians 4:11) is mostly directed toward the believers and the world (the way the pastor faces most of the time in the Divine Service). I’m not saying that what the baptized do has no spillover effect on the world, but the baptized are directing their prayers and offerings to God, while the world just benefits. When visitors come to a church service, what the congregation is doing is not directed towards them, but they still benefit from it. Chiefly in the Divine Service, Christ’s called representatives exercise the authority He entrusted to them for the benefit of His Church, and the people do their part in receiving His gift of forgiveness with a resounding “Amen!” Back to Top

Q: In Jeremiah 48:13’s prophecy against Moab, God refers to Moab being ashamed of its false god as Israel was ashamed “of Bethel their confidence” (KJV). Remind me: What was Bethel? I’m guessing a place for worship of idols in Israel.
A: You most likely guessed correctly. The usual interpretation of Israel being “ashamed of Bethel their confidence” (KJV, ASV, NASB; “when they trusted in Bethel” NIV) is that “ Bethel” refers to the town where one of Jeroboam’s golden calves were placed (1 Kings 12:28-30). You may remember that those calves were set up to keep the then separate people of the northern kingdom from worshipping the true God in Jerusalem and thereby coming back under the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. The official policy of expedient idolatry opened the door to all sorts of pagan practices in Israel’s religious life and eventually the downfall of the kingdom. Neither Moab’s false god nor Israel’s false god was able to protect those who trusted in it, and therefore those who did so came to dishonor. (At least one commentator, however, says that “ Bethel” instead refers to a false god by that name known from archaeological evidence dating to that time and later.) Back to Top

Q: I’m trying to sort out the chronology indicated by Ezekiel 1:2, “the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity”. Ezekiel and quite a few Jews were already in Babylon when Jerusalem came under siege. Did the King go with this earlier exile group so that he was not in Jerusalem for its downfall?
A: Let’s go back a little to faithful Josiah, who had three sons, each of whom ruled over Judah at one time or another. The people selected Josiah’s middle son, Jehoahaz, to succeed his father, but Jehoahaz’s rule lasted only three months. Egypt’s Pharaoh Neco replaced Jehoahaz with his older brother Eliakim, whose name Neco changed to Jehoiakim, apparently because he wanted to show that he could change his name. In the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar collected the most capable men of every city to relocate to Babylon, which “relocation” is sometimes called the “first aspect” of the total captivity. From Jerusalem went, among others, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Nebuchadnezzar was interrupted by his father’s death that took him back to Babylon, and some time after a battle fought to a draw with Neco also sent Nebuchadnezzar from the region to Babylon. When Jehoiakim later rebelled against Babylon, hoping for support from Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar eventually left Babylon for the region. At that time Jehoiakim “died” in Jerusalem (he may have been assassinated), and his 18-year-old son Jehoiachin replaced him on the throne, just in time for Nebuchadnezzar to arrive and take him captive to Babylon in the “second aspect” of the exile, which also included some 10,000 others, among whom were craftsmen, smiths, and a man named Ezekiel, whom God some five years later would call as a prophet. Back in Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar put Mattaniah, Josiah’s third son and Jehoiachin’s uncle, on the throne, changing his name to Zedekiah. Nevertheless, the regard of the people for their king, at least to some extent, stayed with Jehoiachin in exile (thus, the dating of “king Jehoiachin’s captivity”). Zedekiah’s advisors called on him to look to Egypt and other nations for help against Babylon, even as there was a succession in Egypt and a minor rebellion in Bablyon, and eventually Zedekiah did revolt, so he was the at least nominal king in Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians to destroy it and carry off the “third aspect” of the exile. Back to Top

Q: In Ezekiel 4:10-11, the portions of food and water are described in a weight of “shekels” and a measure of a “hin”. I don’t know these measurements. Do they represent a starvation diet? In other words, is it a very small amount?
A: The 20 shekels of food is roughly equivalent to 8-9 ounces, and, since the hin is about 2/3 of a quart, the sixth of a hin is roughly equivalent to less than a pint of water. The wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt make it at least a vegetarian diet and symbolize the meager rations available in a city under siege. (Bread would normally have been made from wheat, but the other grains were used when wheat was lacking.) The 8-9 ounces of grains would make 11-12 ounces of bread, which is said to be half of what a person would need in that warm region for daily support (not that Ezekiel was doing much, of course). The water is similarly described as a meager allowance. Back to Top

Q: In Ezekiel 11:1-4, is Ezekiel seeing these things from captivity? On first reading it almost sounds as if he was there.
A: Ezekiel 11:1-4 appears to be the concluding portion of a vision that began in Ezekiel 8, with Ezekiel first going to the north gate entrance of the inner court (Ezekiel 8:3, 7, 14), to the inner court itself (Ezekiel 8:16), and then to the gate of the Lord’s house that faces east (Ezekiel 11:1, confer 10:19), before the vision comes to an end in Ezekiel 11:24-25. As I read your question, you are asking whether we want to think that Ezekiel was literally transported from captivity in Babylon to the Temple in Jerusalem, whether he was somehow otherwise enabled by God to see something that was actually happening in Jerusalem, or whether the vision God gave him was not actually occurring but strictly symbolic. Ezekiel’s own statements (for example, 8:3’s “in visions of God”) certainly seem to suggest that God gave Ezekiel the revelation in an ecstatic state and did not literally transport Ezekiel to Jerusalem. That Ezekiel is sitting in his house with the elders of Judah present (8:1) seems to be important, for they may be witnesses of a sort to Ezekiel’s receiving the vision, which role they would have a harder time fulfilling if Ezekiel were physically removed from Babylon, where they remained. The other aspect of your question is whether or not what Ezekiel was seeing was actually happening (or perhaps may have happened earlier) or was strictly symbolic. The vision was seemingly intended to reveal to Ezekiel the reasons for the Lord’s judgments against Jerusalem, which judgments Ezekiel had been declaring at the Lord’s direction. Ezekiel “sees” four different abominations, which seem to be symbolic of four different types of idolatry, which probably were not practiced all at one time in the Temple, if they ever were all practiced in the Temple at all. That Ezekiel’s vision sees them being practiced in the Temple may be to drive home that, regardless of where they were being practiced, they were right under the Lord’s eyes. While I am suggesting the vision was ecstatic only and symbolic only, Ezekiel nevertheless saw them as if he were there, and that the vision was ecstatic only and symbolic only is not to diminish in any way the legitimacy of the Lord’s judgment against Jerusalem, just as He legitimately could judge and condemn us for our idolatry if we were not forgiven of all our sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Back to Top

Q: Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity.” Is Ezekiel 18 now changing what was said in an earlier passage (I don’t remember which one) that spoke about the sins of the fathers being suffered on their children and their children’s children?
A: As noted in the Biblog post on Ezekiel 18 (and the one on Jeremiah 31:29), the people had the misperception that they were suffering for the sins of their forefathers and so came up with the saying about the fathers eating sour grapes and thereby setting the children’s teeth on edge. To be sure there are Biblical statements that can be taken to say that children are punished for their parents’ sins (in addition to those mentioned in the Biblog posts, see Exodus 34:7 and Deuteronomy 5:9), but God did not, as it were, change His policy about who dies for whose sin. The reason any individual suffers the pains of hell for eternity is his or her own unbelief. As I noted in the Biblog posts, children of unbelievers are also likely to be unbelievers, so that particular damning sin of the fathers and mothers often becomes the sin of the sons and daughters. The Synodical explanation to the Small Catechism adds, “If the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren also hate God and follow in the evil ways of their parents, then God will during their earthly lives punish them for the sins of their ancestors.” (See #82 on pp.82-83 in the 1943 edition as revised in 1965.) Part of the confusion may stem from the fact that the Hebrew awon is both the misdeed and its guilt or punishment. (I think you must have quoted the NASB of Ezekiel 18:20, for the KJV and ASV say “iniquity” and the NIV says “guilt”.) The key to stopping at least the eternal punishment from coming upon any sinner is repentance, the primary focus of Ezekiel 18, for forgiveness and deliverance are available by faith in Jesus Christ, upon Whom the Lord has laid all our awon (Isaiah 53:6). Back to Top

Q: Ezekiel 40-48 goes into quite some detail about a Temple and how the people will worship there and the priests will live and sacrifice there. All of that is just a vision, and none of it was done or intended to be done? Was the vision given to keep the people in exile remembering Jerusalem as it was—or, better, as it was in the days of Solomon’s Temple before the corruption set in? Did the exiles follow the pattern of sacrifice set down here in Ezekiel, even though the Temple they built upon to Jerusalem after the exile was not like the Temple Ezekiel saw? Am I getting “ahead of the story”?
A: The main purpose of the prophecy in Ezekiel 40-48 seems to be to comfort exiled Israel with promises of the coming Messianic Kingdom but to do so in terms of the civic and religious life with which they would identify. In other words, the vision was not so much to keep the people remembering Jerusalem as it once was but to keep them fixed on how it one day will be. One commentator says, “the vision is … through the filter of the Old Testament” but that its focus is “a ‘sacramental’ manifestation of the basic covenant promise that ‘The Lord is there’”. The Temple built when the exiles returned paled in comparison to that of Solomon, and Herod’s Temple was in some ways grander than Solomon’s, but neither strictly resembled the one Ezekiel saw, nor did their builders intend them to, as far as I know. (Those builders most likely understood Ezekiel’s vision better than today’s “evangelical” millennialists!) The allotment of the land and its given borders, which differ from the allotment and borders of the kingdom before and after the exile, also indicate that the vision is symbolic and not intended to be taken literally. Furthermore, the returned exiles’ Temple and that of Herod were hardly free of corruption and political influence compared to the ideal priesthood and prince Ezekiel describes. Moreover, that the returned exiles would have used this prophetic vision as the new guidelines for worship over the more direct Pentateuch seems unlikely. (That several key sacrifices such as that on the Day of Atonement are omitted from what Ezekiel saw may indicate that full and final redemption has been made, but such details cannot be pressed, for the New Jerusalem revealed to St. John lacks any Temple.) Finally, you are only getting “ahead of the story” insofar as we are still waiting for the full and final realization of all that God has promised, which includes the New Jerusalem, sans Temple, as described in Revelation 21. Back to Top

Q: Is the kingdom to which Daniel 2:44-45 is referring the Kingdom of Heaven and the rock it is referring to Jesus, or am I totally off-base?
A: The Kingdom of Heaven (also called the Kingdom of God) is definitely the fifth kingdom symbolically represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as told in Daniel 2. God’s Kingdom ultimately abolishes all other kingdoms and is itself eternal. The rock that was not cut (or maybe moved) by human hands (implying it was cut or moved by Divine hands) is mentioned both in 2:34-35 and 2:44-45. Some commentators suggest the rock was set in motion and rolled down from Mt. Zion—I guess destroying the statue like a ball striking a bowling pin or something. That specific extrapolation may be going too far, but the connection between the rock and Jesus is not. To be sure, the Bible itself speaks of Christ as a rock (see, for examples, Isaiah 28:16 and 1 Corinthians 10:4). Apparently following Nicholas of Lyra (1270-1349), Dr. Luther explicitly identifies Christ as the rock in connection with these Daniel passages (for example, in 1532 while commenting on Psalm 2:7, see AE 12:36), going so far himself as to suggest the cutting of the rock without human hands relates to the Virgin birth (in 1517-1518 commenting on Hebrews 7:12, see AE 29:191; confer his 1530 Preface to Daniel in AE 35:296). Back to Top

Q: Can you give a simple explanation of why God is called “the Ancient of Days” in such places as Daniel 7:9?
A: Daniel's dream and vision refer to God as “the Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7:9, 13, and 22. I first thought of the expression emphasizing God’s eternal nature, and one source I consulted said, “the Hebrew root includes the ideas of value and eminence”. Those ideas do indeed seem to fit the context. Daniel does not see God in His glory in this case but instead a majestic old man with grey hairs, in some ways different from Daniel’s other visions of God but in other ways similar. The appearance of age, another source adds, is to inspire worship. So, we might think of a venerable old judge, advanced in years, who calls his court to session. Incidentally, the Hebrew word is phonetically written as attiyk, which suggested “antique” to me, which English word is formed on the Latin antiqu, of which I do not know the derivation. Back to Top

Q: Hosea 4:14 in the King James says, “themselves” are separated with whores, and my marginal note says “the men themselves”, which is plainer in the text of several other translations. I have wondered through all the descriptions of “fallen women” if notice was ever taken of the idolatry prostitution organized for male “worshippers”! I would venture to guess that most of it was.
A: Yes, the ASV, NIV, and NASB all add “the men” right into the text, which in this context is certainly defensible since in the second part of the verse the third-person masculine pronoun is used along with third-person masculine verb endings (in contrast to the third-person female ones used in the earlier part of the verse). In the Old Testament as a whole there may well be more explicit mentions of the fallen women and female prostitutes than fallen men and male prostitutes, but those women were obviously falling with someone, and men were obviously providing a market for the female prostitutes. There is mention in at least one place of males prostituting: Exodus 34:16. New Testament texts are perhaps more “gender inclusive” (in a positive use of that “politically correct” term), indicating that married men and women are made impure if either “adulterates” the relationship by including a third party. Of course, we must remember that the more important prostitution and adultery in view in Hosea and elsewhere is that which results from unfaithfulness to God, and we are all guilty of those sins, whether or not we are guilty of the other more-literal prostitution and adultery. And, thank God that through faith in Jesus Christ there is forgiveness for all sins! Back to Top

 


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