Isaiah 62:1-7, 10-12; Ps 18:2-11, 16-19; 2 Corinthians 6:2-10; Matthew 3:1-6, 11-17
Isaiah 62:1-7, 10-12
For the sake of Zion I will not keep silent,
and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not keep still,
until her vindication shines out like blazing light,
and her salvation like a flaming torch.
The nations shall see your vindication, daughter,
and all the monarch your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Living God will grant.
You, daughter, shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of God Most High,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
Daughter, no more shall you be called Forsaken,
and no more shall your land be called Devastated;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land, Married;
for the Faithful God delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin girl,
so shall your builder marry you daughter,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
Upon your walls, daughter Jerusalem,
I have posted sentinels;
all the day and all the night,
they shall never be silent.
You who remind the God Who Sees,
take no rest for yourselves,
and give God no rest
until God establishes Jerusalem
and makes it renowned throughout the earth.
Go through, go through the gates!
Prepare the way for the people!
Build up, build up the highway;
throw away the loose stones,
lift up a banner over the peoples.
Look! The God Who Saves has made it heard
to the end of the earth:
Say to daughter Zion,
“See, your salvation comes;
bringing reward and recompense first.”
They shall call them, “The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the God Who Saves”;
and you, daughter, shall be called, “Sought out, A City Not Forsaken.”
Psalm 18:2-11, 16-19
The Rock Who Gave Us Birth is my rock,
and my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Holy One, may she be praised,
and from my enemies I shall be saved.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the rivers of wickedness assailed me.
The snares of Sheol encircled me;
the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon She Who Hears;
to my God I cried for help.
From her temple she heard my voice,
and my cry came before her, to her ears.
Then the earth shuddered and quaked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and were shaken because of her anger.
Smoke went up from her nostrils,
and consuming fire from her mouth;
burning coals blazed forth from her.
She spread out the heavens, and descended;
thick darkness was under her feet.
She mounted up on a cherub, and flew;
she soared upon the wings of the wind.
She makes darkness her veil around her,
her canopy dark waters and thick clouds.
She reached down from on high, she took me;
she drew me out of the multitude of water.
She delivered me from my strong enemy,
and from those who hate me;
for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity;
yet the Sheltering God was my support.
She brought me out into a broad place;
she delivered me, because she delights in me.
2 Corinthians 6:2-10
God says “At an acceptable time have I hearkened to you, and on the day of salvation have I helped you.” Look! Now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! In no way, none, are we giving cause for offense, so there will be no reproach against ministry. Rather, in every way have we commended ourselves as servants of God: through much endurance, in tribulations, in distress, in calamities, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in sleepless nights, in hunger; in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in holiness of spirit, in love without pretense, in truthful speech, and in the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; amid honour and dishonour, amid slander and renown; as deceitful and yet genuine; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and look! We are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Matthew 3:1-6, 11-17
In those days John the Baptizer appeared preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the realm of the heavens is near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one cries out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Most High, make God’s paths straight.”
Now John had for his clothing camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the women and men of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and the whole region of the Jordan, and they were baptized in the river Jordan by him, confessing their sins.
“Indeed, I baptize you with water for repentance, but after me is coming one more powerful than I; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John forbade him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, yet yo come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it go now; for this way is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John let it go. Now when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God, she descended like a dove and came upon him. And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The use of “daughter” in Isaiah 62 makes the divine address to a feminine subject, Zion, in verses 1-6 accessible to English readers as it is to those who read in Hebrew. The end of verse 6 addresses the people, or some among them, as a collective.
The poetry ov verse 4 is impossible to replicate in English; note the four assonant three-syllable words: Azuvah, Shamamah, Hephzibah, and Be’ulah (not Beu-lah) and the corresponding lack of rhyme or rhythm in their translations; “Forsaken”, “Devastated”, “My Delight is in Her”, and “Married”. The pattern recurs in verse 12 with D’rushah and Ir Lo Ne’etzavah: “Sought Out” and “A City Not Forsaken”.
The verb “marry” in Isaiah 62:4-5 is ba’al, which also means lord/master as a noun. (It may be familiar as the divine title for the god Ba’al, whose proper name, Haddu, is not generally used.) While the verb suggests a very hierarchical understanding of marriage, it is rarely used in the canon (five time for humans and in eleven divine metaphors). Sentinels, as in Isaiah 62:6, are often synonymous with prophets. Verse 10 uses the verb for stoning people for clearing the road. In verse 11 it appears the ends of the earth speak to Daughter Zion as the command to speak to her is plural.
In Psalm 18:2 I draw the divine name from Deuteronomy 32:18, “You neglected the Rock that gave birth to you, you forgot the God who writhed in birth-labor for you.” Verse 3 of the psalm has the passive “be praised” without supporting grammar. Other translators have added “worthy to be praised.” Some translations render verse 3 in the future, see NRSV and KJV; however, the introduction makes clear David is reflecting on his past deliverance. The imperfect here is more present, i.e., because of God’s faithfulness, whenever I call n God as before, I shall be saved.
Second Corinthians 6:2 quotes Isaiah 49:8.
Matthew 3:3 is famously muddled. Hebrew says: A voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare …” LXX and NT have: A voice cries in the wilderness: “Prepare …” The “people” coming to be baptized in Matthew 3:5 were women and men. It may be a useful exercise to make all of the human plurals explicitly women and men in study and teaching to note how often women are present but buried i the text. “Let it go”, in Matthew 3:15 is to release an obligation, including divorce, or here, an objection.
These Epiphany readings focus on salvation, God’s history of delivering her people and God’s plan of salvation incarnate in Jesus. In Isaiah 62 post destruction Jerusalem will be rejoiced over as though she were a virgin bride; she, her land, will be married. Remembering that these metaphors are drawn fom the experiences of women, this text offers a way to talk about life after trauma, including rape and other dehumanizing acts. Jerusalem’s vindication can be read as the vanquishing of shame given her capture and ravishment deliberately invoke the rhetoric of rape. Those addressing the historic context might take note of the reluctance to address the violations of Israel’s/Jerusalem’s women and contemporary reluctance to address sexual violence even with the recent advances of the #MeToo movement.
The occasion of Psalm 18 is David’s escape from Saul; that introduction takes up the first verse in Hebrew. The psalm proper begins with “He said”, often included with the introductory verse. David’s “love” in what is now verse 1, as Christian translations number the psalms, is racham, mother-love, love that is rooted in the womb, perhaps read it as gesturing toward a reciprocal love that originates deep within.
The Epistle rests on the foundation of God’s acts of deliverance. It is a chastened affirmation, held through times of tribulation as well as times of celebration. The (invisible) women and men for whom the writer speaks bear witness to the promise of God, even at the cost of their lives, as did John the Baptizer.
The children of Abraham in Matthew 3:9 include the children of Hagar, Sarah, Keturah, and perhaps other women. This family saga can be an opportunity to talk about the disparities between these matriarchs, the complexity of families, especially blended ones, favouritism and rejection, or the many peoples of the One God. The families of the patriarch were built through forced impregnation of enslaved women. Against this background, the ability of women to choose baptism and discipleship matters.