Thursday, 27 December 2007

December 27th

After the Williams family visit ended yesterday, what have we been up to?

Unfortunately K has been ill (heavy cold) so that has curtailed activity somewhat, but there has been plenty of washing up, laundry, wiping surfaces and tidying!

We are reading The Purpose-Driven Life together, aiming for a chapter a day for 40 days. We read chapter 2 today and are thus on course for victory. The opening chapters, "It all starts with God" and "You are not an accident" were much better than we expected. The great variety of reviews on, as usual, reveal more about the reviewers than the book...

We are also reading Peter Leithart's A House For My Name, a guide to the Old Testament. It is typical Leithart - fascinating, entertaining, provocative - with clear affinities to James Jordan. A feast of biblical theology and theme-ology with wonderful discussion questions that open up new avenues of thought. In a few places he does not substantiate his story enough, but this book is truly superb. (Rev Cannata's review on says what I wanted to say, better!) Today we discussed the topography of the pre-fall world and how this plays out in the story of Scripture...

After bashing through some Dichterliebe and arias by Britten, Vaughan Williams, Mascagni and Gluck with LDW, "mega baritone", the three Williams boys went to see I Am Legend, in which Will Smith saves what's left of the world from a virus that's made everyone go 28 days later. Like The Purpose-Driven Life, it was better than I thought it would be. Unlike The Purpose-Driven Life it hasn't given me much useful teaching for spiritual living, other than the usual heroic self-sacrifice theme in a human hubris scenario (oh, and barricading your house against crazed albino killers isn't a long-term strategy).

Some idle time on the internet, reading the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, stumbling on an interesting thoughtful Charismatic's blog (see especially his post on innerrancy) and playing through some old games on in preparation for meeting Charles tomorrow. I have lost my last 10 or so games against him (all correspondence) so I have to trust to my patter and other forms of psychological warfare for our over-the-board clashes!

Purpose-Driven Aphorism of the Day

While there are illegitimate parents, there are no illegitimate children.

Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life: what on earth am I here for? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), p.23.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

in conversation with Philip Pullman

Some deep and intelligent discussion from Tony Watkins (of Damaris) and Philip Pullman, famous author and apologist for atheism. Start reading this is you have some time spare and value using your brain!

One day I might even get round to reading the infamous trilogy.

Monday, 24 December 2007


The leaders and the clergy preach up peace
For profit; but they’re willing to preach war
For similar returns. Elites deplore
The sins of weaker, poorer breeds. They fleece
The sheep they should protect; and to increase
Returns, they welcome bribes, solicit more
Rich perquisites, prophetically roar
The message of the times, and grow obese.
When contradicted by the Word, they brook
No opposition. Counting fools and wise,
No longer bound by knowledge of the book
Each one does what is right in his own eyes.
The bottom line transcends the truth; and greed
Becomes the dominating clergy creed.

D.A. Carson, Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994)

reading the "debates"

between various commentators who left a little message at the bottom of this related article lambasting the contraception industry has left the usual nasty taste in the mouth. Certainly the libertarians have come out of the woodwork to attack any pro-family or pro-self-control stance.

Perhaps more profoundly, however, this debate shows the logical conclusion of the rejection of God. We end up with not merely the hidden practice but the public celebration of the idolatry of self and of short-term gratification. Without a robust biblical ethic many of the voices calling for liberalisation are strong ones. In fact, so are the voices calling for Victorian morality and all the bad stuff that entailed. And so are those who argue for a strange mix of freedom and authoritarianism (such as Polly Toynbee's calls to chop the family and replace it with the state and the leftist elite) because the moral basis for making any arguments has collapsed. The whole debate must eventually reduce to 'might makes right'.

Is that too pessimistic?

why are they all in the Guardian?

To be fair, it's not all the Guardian's fault. It is the newspaper that most resembles a newspaper (not that the competition is all that spectacular). But this story was quite foolish. Please read it...

Doctors call for free condoms in pubs and taxis to protect against sexual diseases (18 Dec)

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Something to clear up first. The headline is misleading, since the good Prof said "it might make more sense to give condoms away in pubs, clubs and taxis". This was apparently a suggestion of "doctors", though only one doctor is quoted making this suggestion.

The idea that giving a binge drinker a condom at the point at which s/he is drunk is the answer to the problem of STDs and unwanted pregnancies is, frankly, ridiculous. How many inebriated people who are prepared to sleep with near strangers are going to (a) be in a position to remember that they have this condom, (b) remember how to use it and (c) actually put that into practice?

"Oh, here's a free condom. That gives you a couple of quid extra to spend on booze now you don't have to bother to use your brain and visit that vending machine in the toilets". Nice.

Do these fools really think that lack of access to contraceptive devices (which don't protect against all STDs anyway) is the problem? At least someone was willing to suggest that excessive alcohol consumption might be the problem (Linda Tucker, co-author of the report). But what about the cultural dissociation of sex from marriage?

What a silly question.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

there are plenty of fools here in the UK

Yesterday's Guardian Weekend magazine carried an extract from Somewhere Towards the End, the memoirs of Diana Athill (who?).

"There are some things, sexual infidelities among them, that do no harm if they remain unknown - or, for that matter, are known and accepted. I have only to ask myself which I would choose, if forced to do so, between the extreme of belief that a whole family' honour is stained by an unfaithful wife unless she's killed, and the attitude often attributed to the French, that however far from admirable sexual infidelity is, it is perfectly acceptable if conducted properly. Vive la France!"

I wonder, are there any positions in between those two extremes?

Furthermore, what kind of culture finds X "perfectly acceptable" when X is "far from admirable". Certainly not one I would be happy to choose!

And while I'm here, the frame of reference for doing no harm (first sentence) is underspecified. Maybe it's true that person B is not harmed appreciably (in their own opinion) by an unknown infidelity on the part of their partner, person A. But what of the harm to A? And doesn't deceit harm a relationship, just a teeny bit...? The complex dynamics of relationships and morality are clearly not what Athill is interested in. "Loyalty is not a favourite virtue of mine", she quips, revealingly close to mentioning an act of infidelity against her that clearly caused her plenty of pain. Building a philosophy of life on wound-licking with fingers in ears doesn't seem sensible.

heat and light

have been generated over the past few days after a Turkish concert pianist and composer, Fazil Say, said something unguarded about Islamism and culture in his home country. The story is written up here (Turkish Daily News) in a way that is broadly sympathetic to Say, and vaguely unsympathetic to "Islamists".

Heat comes because Turks are sensitive to negative comments about their home. This is very understandable, though as a Brit, difficult to appreciate.

It is perhaps not entirely to the credit of the UK that if a prominent artist made some rude comments about these shores and a plan to emigrate s/he would be ignored on the grounds that people can say what they like and no one really knows what Britain is about anyway...

Light has been shed on the political divisions in Turkish society between secularisers and moderate Islamists (who are of course 'secularist' in at least one sense). This collection of opinions in Zaman, a pro-AKP paper very sympathetic to Islam, is revealing. Not least, the ultimate value accorded to country in one's self-identity (e.g. He expressed that one cannot abandon his country, “no matter what” and "What does ‘leaving’ mean when Turkey is the most important thing we have?"). Some might call that idolatry.

You can't read too much into these off-the-cuff statements to an off-the-cuff statement, but this other comment by pianist Burçin Büke is plain silly - What’s more important, you don’t have the right to mix music with politics. (a) What do rights have to do with it? and (b) music is already inescapably political. [It wasn't as if Say was mixing "music" and specific party politics.] I guess Mr Büke knows nothing of Nazism and culture, Stalinism and culture, Maoism and culture, conservative politicians in most countries who complain about the effect of various popular musics on the young...

Of course, Say's complaints can easily be interpreted as the whining of the secularist elite that does what it wants while suppressing various types of Islamic (and other) expression, as this Zaman columnist points out.

The heat and light are important for a foreign observer like me, not so much so that I can presume to take sides, but so that I can understand a little more of the tensions in self-definition, in aspirations, in lifestyle, in attitudes to expression that are revealed.

of the making of blogs

there is no end. These pages have even spawned a support industry - a word document on my computer with planned posts. That's ridiculous, in my opinion. Also, "I'll have to blog that" keeps coming out of my mouth. Rarely do the intentions actually translate onto the page, which is probably not such a bad thing, but why am I reorienting my thoughts around this vehicle for drivel!?

Since Christmas is coming, expect the release of posts on Turkey.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Gender thoughts

Having done rather a lot of reading about this over the past year, and produced a 16,000 word essay on the subject, it was nice to be able to pass on some of those benefits to an undergraduate friend of a friend the other week. I don't need an invitation to pontificate, but when I get one...!

These thoughts come without my Christian perspective - I merely describe the debate with a few pointers in a deliberately neutral way. If I get round to it, I might post some explicitly Christian and theological reflections on the debate. For now, a weeny annotated bibliography will do.

Hi there,

If you want something really radical to read, you should try Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics And the Construction of Sexuality (New York: Basic Books, 2000). She argues that to a large extent the category of 'sex' itself is shaped by ideas about gender. Something similar is also argued in very convoluted postmodern language by Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London: Routledge, 1990), but the Fausto-Sterling is more rewarding - she is a scientist rather than a cultural/literary critic.

So, to ask 'are sex and gender different?' is actually already to be asking a loaded question. Psychologists (see the chapters by Money and Maccoby in Reinisch et al, eds, Masculinity and Femininity: Basic Perspectives (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987) will discuss the question from a slightly different angle.

Regarding a nature-nurture discussion, Anne Moir & David Jessel, Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women (London: Michael Joseph, 1989) gives an argument about 'essential difference', so that you have the other side of the picture from the recent feminist works (like Fausto-Sterling, above, and Barnett & Rivers, below). Also browsing Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference: men, women and the extreme male brain (London: Allen Lane, 2003) gives a good insight into the arguments of evolutionary psychologists. The work of Lionel Tiger is also interesting - see his chapter in Reinisch (1987), above, for pointers...

Regarding the effects that concepts of gender have, there is some good evidence in Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers, Same difference: how gender myths are hurting our relationships, our children, and our jobs (New York: BasicBooks, 2004).

Most of these authors tend to overstate their case in one way or another. Having read rather a lot of essentially similar works it's pretty clear to me that biology and culture both play a significant role! The final chapter of Lesley Rogers, Sexing the Brain (New York, 2001) has some useful thoughts on this, and the whole book is a good read.

I think your question about equality being 'measured by power, money and politics' is very important. This is certainly a major plank of the feminist movement, but I am not convinced it's the best way to go about things. To keep it simple, the liberal, modernist conception of the person as an autonomous quasi-spiritual ethical blob (think Kant) does not do justice to the fact that people are different not least because of bodily differences. So, a project that tries to flatten this out and make all adult humans exactly the same is not going to work terribly well. For an interesting feminist meditation on this that is open to the idea of difference, see Selma Sevenhuijsen, Citizenship and the Ethics of Care: Feminist Considerations on Justice, Morality and Politics (Routledge: London, 1998).

Hope that helps…

Peer review - pros and cons

Thinking about science for a moment, as you do...

Here's a very interesting paper, by a man with some very odd ideas.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

weak neck syndrome

Some of my mis-spent youth was spent entering competitive classes at local music festivals (aka competitions). Many of my fellow entrants went to a specialist music school down the road in Wells, where they were apparently taught how to wobble and sway at the keyboard. This used to annoy me, a precocious advocate of the ramrod principle of piano-playing.

Nowadays I can sway for England. (Good thing self-consciousness is not in my vocabulary.) And why not!? A Zambian friend recently attended her first Western Art Music concert in Cambridge and was shocked and perplexed to find the audience still and quiet throughout. Whenever I listen to music at home (which is quite a lot of the time) I am always singing along, doing a little dance, waving about the place, you name it. To Sibelius and Brahms no less than Piazzolla or Ravel. Visitors may view this spectacle for a small fee, if they can stand it...

Despite his fondness for the word gnostics, Peter Leithart has hit something here about (classical) music and movement.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

further to my final paragraph below/above

here's an entertaining review of the aforementioned film.

Of course the review is not completely fair - but it's funny!

The Roman Catholic Church

How very presumptuous of this small, generally ignorant Protestant to attempt a post on the sprawling mass that is the Roman Catholic Church. So, I shan't. But I do want to draw your attention to one of the many crises, potential scandals, bubbling arguments and frankly bizarre episodes in its local and corporate life and insider commentary on that.

In other words, take a look at this mess.

The Rape of the Soul - a documentary made by a devout Catholic claiming to expose hidden, embedded images of a highly dubious nature in lots of (Catholic) religious art, old and new.

When I've finished watching it, I may comment further on its contents.

The release and promotion of the film has apparently caused some people to lose their jobs in the Archdiocese of Toronto. It seems to have exposed the tensions between traditionalists and conciliarists (those who think Vatican II was and was not a good idea, to put it crudely) which can be seen between the lines and sometimes in the lines of this discussion thread.

Remarkably, some people in this discussion thread who believe that the film is basically rubbish claim that it must be a fundamentalist [read, "Protestants we don't like"] plot to discredit the church. Having heard him and read his own contributions to a favourable review and interview, I seriously doubt whether Michael A. Calace (producer, writer, director...) is a Protestant!

Following up a few leads on this film has opened my eyes to yet more of the diversity that exists among professing Christians, has reminded me that in the eyes of the conservatives in the 'historic' churches [for want of a better term] I am probably not going to heaven (a funny feeling for a pretty conservative, exclusivist, evangelical Protestant, let me tell you), and made me think again about art and what it has to do with anything.

If you have a spare couple of hours, the film is... probably not worth watching, if I'm honest. Although it has undoubted qualities (as well as some poor structuring, lots of rambling, tacky music, leaps of logic, and worse), taught me a few things and has sparked off interesting thoughts, it is questionable as to whether evangelicals need to be exposed to discussions of possible obscen1ty in art that is not part of their tradition or worship.

The very frail elderly

Rock Baptist church sends in groups of volunteers to run little services and chat to the residents at two nearby nursing homes. The one that Kate and I visit is very much the last stop for most people there. Most residents are unable to walk, some are almost totally physically incapacitated, many are experiencing serious mental difficulties, whether that's memory loss, confusion, dementia, or apparent inability to communicate verbally.

On Sunday we learned of the death of another of the ladies who had been coming along to the services. There are in fact a mere handful of people left from when we started visiting this home in 2005.

There are a great many things that trouble me about this method of 'caring' for the elderly in our society. Too many to discuss coherently here. There is a great deal that is very upsetting, unpleasant and ennervating about the place.

I often wonder what good we accomplish there in our 2-weekly visits.

However, there are encouragements - moments of actually connecting with some of the residents, and occasions when we do see that we have brought them some joy. Touch is important, and so is the simple giving of time and attention to people starved of both. Little things like getting a certain cheese for a resident. And we are able to sing with them, and tell them of the hope found in Christ. Remarkably, while I almost never look forward to going, I am usually sad to leave once I've got there.

There was also a lot of encouragement at a recent conference held in London about ministry among the elderly. Quite a few of us (aged from 28 to 70!) from Rock went down for the day. Shame that so few young people attended, but wonderful that so many (older) people were there.

teddy bear madness

Nice to know it's not all madness.
Well done the Muslims of Canada.
The real question is, where do all these Sudanese Muslims find the time to march about a soft toy?
Perhaps some time spent in quiet reflection or acts of mercy to the poor might be time better spent.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Genesis 4 and interpretation

Commentators on texts differ. That's not my most original insight, it has to be said. But why they differ is often quite interesting. Particularly so when there doesn't seem to be an obvious, or even hidden, reason. Neither theological persuasion, relative immersion in the Documentary hypothesis, publishing house style or anything else seem adequate to explain why A chooses a and B chooses b in the following examples of commentary on Genesis 4. Nor why A chooses b' and B chooses a' (where a and b are the interpretations I find more convincing in each case...!)

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Eve's words in verse 1 are heard by Ross (1988: 156) as expressing hope and faith in God's ongoing provision, but Waltke (2003: 96) claims that they reveal an underlying poor theology of divine sovereignty that borders on the synergistic. Ross gives his most generous nod to the first clause, while Waltke focuses on the second.

The brothers' career choices are considered fairly immaterial by Waltke (2003:97), but Ross claims that there is the barest hint in the text that Cain's closer connection with the soil and with plants puts him more dangerously close to the substance (fruit of a tree) that was the formal cause of the expulsion from Eden (188:156).

Ross and Waltke agree that the material offerings in themselves were equivalent: Ross does not even really address the issue of plant vs. meat, moving straight to the clear problem in Cain's heart, though Waltke takes the time to acknowledge that Gerhard von Rad suggests that "the sacrifice of blood was more pleasing to Yahweh". Against both Ross and Waltke, there is the colourful James Jordan, who argues forcefully (1985:159) that the principle of substitution had been articulated by Yahweh already (the provision of animal-skin coverings at the expulsion) and that Cain should have raised or purchased a lamb for the purpose of this offering.

This third point does appear to have more theological stuff packed into it - it's a question of how tightly and richly you want to weave your biblical theology. But on the first two differences of opinion I am at a loss to explain the reasons for the choices made.

James Jordan, Judges: God's War Against Humanism (Tyler, TX: Geneva Min., 1985).
Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988).
Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).

Thursday, 13 December 2007

African Americans and religion in British America

As Eliga H. Gould (‘The Christianizing of British America’, in Norman Etherington, ed., Missions and Empire [Oxford: OUP, 2005]) summarizes it, Atlantic slavery violated and uprooted Africans, but it also distorted and broke the shapes and powers of many socials frameworks and traditions. While there were places in the Colonies in which blacks were able to replicate some traditional social groupings, ceremonies, titles, etc., which contributed to some of the acts of slave resistance (New York 1712, Antigua 1736, “Maroon War” in Jamaica 1665-1739), in general the systems qua systems were destroyed.

Compounding the tragedy of enslavement with a further gospel tragedy…

‘Despite the possibilities for evangelization, Protestant religious leaders and slave owners responded ambivalently to this crisis. In part, this reluctance to proselytize reflected the assumption that ‘slavery was unlawfull for any Christian – as the SPG’s [Society for the Propagation of the Gospel] Anthony Gavin wrote in 1738 – and that slaves who converted automatically became free. Although colonial legislatures passed laws barring faith-based manumissions from the mid-seventeenth century onward, the association of salvation with freedom continued to worry slaveholders, a group that included George Whitfield and the SPG . Not surprisingly, there were few Christian slaves on the SPG’s own estate on Barbados.’ (Gould, pp.33-34)

Further ironies in this practice and discussion of slavery by white evangelical and conservative Christians revealed themselves over time…

‘Two developments helped to produce an upsurge in slave Christianisation starting in Virginia during the 1740s and proceedings several decades later in South Carolina and the West Indies. The first was the SPG’s repudiation of Christian liberty for the doctrine that slaves owed their masters ‘absolute obedience’. As Thomas Bacon observed during the 1740s, slaves were obligated to do whatever their owners command as if they ‘did it for God himself’. Although not all Anglicans accepted this harsh principle, the SPG emphasis on slave obedience set the dominant tone both for its own clergy and the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians who inundated the region from the eighteenth century's middle decades. Despite their emphasis on a spiritual equality of all humanity, even Moravians preached submission of the Christian slaves who worked on their settlements in North Carolina. Consequently, slave conversion came to seem much less threatening to colonial planters. Only in the West Indies and only at the century's end these evangelicals become an abolitionist phalanx. Yet on the eve of slavery’s abolition, the humanitarianism of evangelicals like William Knibb of Jamaica and Antigua's Anne and Elizabeth Hart remained suspect in the eyes of many Protestants, including evangelical missionary societies in Britain and the islands’ Anglican clergy.’ (Gould, pp.34-35)

On the plus side, African Americans and whites did worship together in the early 19th century, particularly in the Methodist and Baptist congregations. This slowed the growth of distinctive Black churches and had effects on the powerful, too…

‘...according to Mechal Sobel, African death rituals and reverence for ancestors even influenced white religion, encouraging Southern Baptists and Methodists to reconceptualise Heaven is a place of reunion ‘with those we love’ and to make deathbeds into scenes of ecstatic happiness and joy.’ (Gould, p.35)

Fascinating. Not least because I feel the influence of those ideas on my theology of deathbeds and heaven (or, more properly, the intermediate state and the New Creation!) More reading to be done here –

– starting with Catherine Hall, ‘William Knibb and the Constitution of the New Black Subject’, in Martin Daunton and Rick Halpern, eds, Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous People 1600-1850 (Philadelphia, 1999)…

Vive les amateurs!

The audience was the same size as the orchestra, the piano was a very creaky centenarian Steinway, but St Luke's, Victoria Road was the occasion of a very special concert this evening (and the venue for a packed tea made by Mrs W, who was off at her school Xmas dinner) given by the Cambridge Sinfonietta under Peter Britton.

Berlioz, Overture to "Benvenuto Cellini"
I noticed that the cymbal-player looked like my Dad did in the 70s. His shoulder-length Jesus hair got wafted each time he crashed the cymbals, leading to a gradual build up of styled stray hair that resembled the result of a short van der Graf generator demonstration.

Saint-Saens, Piano Concerto No. 2
Very spirited performance from a cool soloist who normally plays violin with this band. He looked a bit like a banker. This brought back memories of when I managed the first movement of this concerto with the King Edward's School (Bath, the VI, of course) orchestra back in the mid-90s...

Walton, Viola Concerto
And as Patrick said of the violist, "Penelope Veryard? You don't want to mess with her." (say it out loud...) At the end of the first movement, a car went past in A minor, just as the final double-stopped tonic chord faded away... Polished and juicy - and until tonight I have never really enjoyed that work, worthy though I knew it to be.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Beef is back

in Bovril!

After several years in which the small print betrayed that there was no beef in Bovril, it is now back. Thank you Unilever.

Not that I noticed the change in taste, but once one of the many Mrs Williamses (sister-in-law in this case) had pointed it out to me, things were not right for months...

Please note that Bovril is not to be used as a drink - it tastes like nasty fake soup. Instead, spread it like a superior Marmite, sparingly but not stingily. Especially good with mild cheeses and on crumpets.

Isaiah 8

(1-4) narrative
(1-2) the LORD commands Isaiah reagarding a tablet, a name and reliable witnesses
(3) narrative of conception and birth of Isaiah’s son
(4) the LORD tells of imminent judgement on Syria and Israel, related to this son’s name

(5-10) prophecy of near-destruction of Judah
(5-8) Judah trusts in Syria and Israel, so a river is coming
(9-10) addressed to Judah as an epilogue of hope? Or to a remnant? Or by a remnant?

(11-22) narrative and prophecy mixed

The LORD speaks and Isaiah also speaks to his disciples (16-18, “biographical note”). The focus is on how God is to be trusted, so don’t listen to the whisperings and occult dealings around you.

(6) Rejoicing over: in the sense that Ahaz’s folly in linking himself with Assyria might have appeared to be a cause for rejoicing as Samaria and Damascus fell. But Assyria did not stop there, and in the reign of Ahaz’s own son (Hezekiah) the cruel empire turned its devastating attention to Judah (look at the understated way this horror is narrated in Isaiah 36ff.).

Isaiah’s children, and even Isaiah himself are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts (18), that’s why they are to have funny names. But of course, the names are not ‘funny’, they are both terrible and wonderful. Maher-shalal-hashbaz is all about imminent destruction, and Immanuel (see discussion of Isaiah 7) is all about God’s presence with the faithful. This child Immanuel is alluded to (vv. 8d, 10d) just before and at the end of the mysterious epilogue to the destruction (verses 9-10).

The reason why this is a little mysterious is that vv.5-8 are talking about Judah, and the thrust of the passage is ‘you have trusted in Assyrian men , and they will betray you once they have destroyed your other enemies’. So, why is Judah called ‘O Immanuel’ (God-with-us) at the end of verse 8, a title that seems to speak not of judgement but protection? And who are the peoples and far countries who are taking counsel in verses 9 and 10? Why this change of tone? – such that the Immanuel of v.10b is clearly a positive invocation of the name…

Recall chapter 7, in which the sign of the child Immanuel is a sign first of judgement on Syria and Israel (7:16) and then on Judah herself (7:17). The name of the child is, proximately, a rebuke to Ahaz and his cronies, a reminder of their failure to trust that God was indeed with them. But the actual meaning of the name is that God is with us. With whom? With at least some of the people of Judah – perhaps a ‘remnant’, whose existence is hinted at in the name of another of Isaiah’s sons, Shear-Jashub (a remnant shall return) whom we met in chapter 7 before the arrival of Immanuel.

We will of course hear a lot more about this remnant in chapter 10, but my concern is with what we know so far…

So, Immanuel is all about the remnant, and this is how the prophecies can both threaten and comfort Judah at the same time. And of course, the remnant is in some ways a type of the whole [faithful, if only] nation, so this shifting ‘us’/‘people’/etc. is not linguistic equivocation but rich theology.

Thus, verses 9 and 10 seem to be the words of the remnant as they speak to the nations – Israel, Syria, Assyria and even to apostate Judah (Ahaz’s administration and the sinful nation as a whole, since v.17 says that God is hiding his face from the [whole] house of Jacob) about successive waves of physical calamity: “Do your worst militarily. God is with us!”

(12) so-called conspiracy: Aram and Samaria plotting against Judah. God’s message is clear – as it happens you don’t need to worry about these trifling kings, you need to worry about me (HOLY and the rest of verse 13) and about judgement coming on both houses of Israel (14-15).

(14-15) are terrifying in the Hebrew [see Grogan in Expositor’s Bible Commentary]: just seven words, five concatenating verbs, four of which alliterate.

(16-18) the biographical note from the prophet himself, to underscore the importance of this testimony, a testimony that contradicts all the chatter of the politicians and their plots and manoueverings. (19-22) yet more on the importance of that testimony, in combination with God’s instruction [=the Law?] as people are surrounded by the temptation to look for wisdom from occult sources, something not unheard of today.

In fact, speaking in accord with this testimony turns out to be the litmus test (20b): either you curse God angrily in darkness, or you enjoy light and relief from distress (9:1)…

Isaiah 9a

In the spirit of shuffling the order around... This discussion between me and Gordon was about 8:19-9:7

(8:19-22) Enquire of the LORD, not of the dead, which will lead to stumbling in darkness and distress
(9:1) distress and gloom will end for some, and God will honour Galilee of the Gentiles
(9:2-7) poetic promise
(2-5) scenes of joy: darkness to light, harvest, victory, destruction of yoke and even of weapons.
(5-6) a child is born who will reign forever, over everything, named with divine names; ‘the zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this’.

What is the connection between the end of chapter 8 (warning against mediums and spiritists) and the incredible prophecy at the start of chapter 9? Linguistic and thematic.

present problems (8:19-22) = darkness (22)
darkness (9:1-2) – will not be for all because of coming light (1-7)

Darkness and lack of spiritual guidance link the passages. But does history link them? What does the Messianic hope of 9:1-8 have to tell the people of Isaiah’s community, the remnant (8:18)? Alec Motyer says that the remnant are presently sustained by future hope (idiomatic use of the prophetic past tense throughout the passage) that is certain. The darkness was fulfiled very soon – apostate Jews did turn to mediums and spiritists (8:19) and Zebulum and Naphtali (9:1) were the first regions to fall to Assyria. So the take-home question is, what reading of our experiece are we going to live by? – we can sink into gloom or we can live in hope, sustained by trust in the word of God.

Hope is part of the constitution of the here and now (Motyer).
Think about Heb 11:1, and ‘faith is the substance of what is hoped for’ (R.C. Sproul on a Ligonier video) – which I have glossed as ‘the bringing to present manifestation that which will be fully realised in future reality’. That’s what faith does – it makes real by action now a taste of what God has promised. At a simple level, the child trusts its mother’s “Everything’s going to be alright” by calming down at those words, and acting as though everything is OK (thereby assenting, “Oh, it is OK for me, whatever’s going on outside and whatever I think I lack”) even if that state of affairs takes an hour or so to prove.

So the remnant around Isaiah get some joy through this hope and their faith in God’s promises. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist gets more joy (Luke 1:68-79) and even alludes to this prophecy of Isaiah. We get more joy post-resurrection, post-Pentecost… It’s all moving on the continuum towards the New Creation.

Who is the child of vv.6-7?
Unlike the children of chapter 7, this child is not a Jewish boy of Isaiah’s day; it is not Hezekiah, son of king Ahaz…
• Hezekiah is already a teenager at this point
• it was in Hezekiah’s reign that the darkness would most dramatically fall
• his kingdom was far from everlasting, etc.

What will happen around him?
(1) honour Galilee of the Gentiles – the only time a prophet refers to the place like this, hinting of the future unity between Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ (Ephesians 2).
(3) you have enlarged the nation – great news for a small, pressed remnant
(7) universal government from David’s throne – picking up the current mess. The Northern kingdom is spiritually dead and on the brink of military disaster [‘despite the magnificent defensive action of the prophets’, AMGD] and the perimeter of David’s throne seems to be shrinking rather rapidly. Set this perimeter in the wider biblical context, and we see the sanctuary from which to transform the world:

Eden – Israel (waxes, wanes, remnant holds it together) – Jesus (holy seed)

The sanctuary theme thus narrows to one man [in Isaiah 9 we are in the midst of the narrowing and get a foretaste of the one man], who is the temple, who is the presence of God, who is the representative of God, who does bring salvation, joy, light and honour to his people!

This prophecy signals a new tone in the book. Less judgement against Judah now until chapter 21.

Random thought
How does this all fit with Tim Chester’s exciting new millennial typology? What do these strands in the early chapters of Isaiah have to say about this?

And can we demonstrate (not just nod our assent, tempting though that might be) how to fit the various eschatological writings of the church over the years into this typology?