Week 15

6 - 12 July
Psalms 72 - 75, Isaiah 10.33 - 39.8, Colossians, Ephesians, Proverbs 17

6 July
Isaiah 10.33 - 14.21Col 1
7 July
Isaiah 14.22 - 19.25Col 2.1 - 3.11
8 July
Isaiah 20.1 - 24.13Col 3.12 - 4.18
9 July
Isaiah 24.14 - 28.13Eph 1
10 July
Isaiah 28.14 - 30.33Eph 2 - 3
11 July
Ps 74.11-22Isaiah 31.1 - 35.10 Eph 4.1 - 5.20
12 July
Isaiah 36.1 - 39.8Eph 5.21 - 6.24


Psalm 72 is a prayer for the king, asking that God's reign will come about through that of the king. This presupposes an ideal ruler, who will bring about justice, prosperity and long life, and who will defeat all enemies.  It was probably composed for the coronation of a new king in Jerusalem.
Psalm 73 is a classic of prayer and contemplation.  The final verses are picked up in the hymn 'Be thou my vision'.  God's goodness is not to be found in the apparent success of the wicked, nor is the suffering of the pure in heart evidence that God is not good, for a life that is good is one that is near to God, and one that is far from God is actually the greatest misery.
Psalm 74 is a corporate prayer for help, perhaps used in worship after the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians.  The recital of God's saving deeds has become myth, not meaning that it is untrue, but that actual events are now seen in a cosmic way, as part of God's dealings with his people.
Psalm 75 emphasises that human boasting is sheer arrogance before God, who is sovereign over all creation and is judge of all.  'Horn' is a way of speaking about power - those who lift up their horn on high are those who are boastful and arrogant.

Reading the prophets

We should not assume that the way books are written now, and the way history is recorded, is how it always was.  The prophets of the Old Testament date from a time over 2,500 years ago, and times have changed!
This means that just because a book is labelled 'Isaiah' does not mean that one person, called Isaiah, sat down and wrote the whole thing.  Prophets received, interpreted and delivered the word of the Lord to the people.  We have no idea, actually, who wrote down what they said, and what happened, nor do we know when this happened.  The word of the Lord belonged to the Lord, not to the person who wrote it, nor to the people who heard it.  It was interpreted at the time it was spoken, and at many times thereafter, in the light of what was happening.
The books of the prophets we read now contain many layers, some written down at the time, some written down later, some containing early interpretation, some containing later interpretation.

Highlights of Isaiah 1 - 12

Chapter 6 contains one of the most famous and important call narratives in the Bible.  The account of Isaiah's commissioning by God is significant for reading the book of Isaiah, but also for many people since, not least us.
His recognition of his own unworthiness in the face of God's overwhelming holiness and otherness, and God's actions in making him holy enough to stand before him, should act as a counter to any tendency to make God too familiar, too domesticated.  His lips are cleansed with a live coal.  He is commissioned to declare judgement which only a tenth survive, and then further sifting of that tenth, until only a holy seed remains.
An important question in these early chapters is 'Who is Emmanuel?'  For us, it is obvious that Isaiah is anticipating Jesus.  But who did people in the 8 centuries before Christ's birth think it meant?  Assyria would gradually ravage God's vineyard, Israel, but when Ahaz was replaced with Immanuel, the ideal king, Assyria would be stopped, and a new Israel would arise.

Highlights of Isaiah 13 - 27

Nations, including Israel, will incur God's judgement.  In chapters 13, and 24-27, the scale of this judgement is cosmic, with the whole earth affected.  Why?  Because of human pride and arrogance, shown in reliance on military might.  Even relatively good kings, like Hezekiah and Josiah, can only hold judgement at bay in their own lifetimes.
In these framing chapters, 13-14 and 24-27, the agent of God's destruction is Babylon (the Babylonians are also called Chaldeans), so include reflection from a later time than when Isaiah, son of Amoz, was active.
Just as, in earlier chapters, Assyria was seen as God's instrument, so too is Babylon.  This was not because their gods were stronger than Israel's God, but because he is Lord not just of Israel, but of all the nations.  But because the judgement brought about by the Babylonians is so all-encompassing that the whole earth is affected, they too are subject to God's judgement against all who rely on military might and political manoeuvring rather than on God.
What is new in Isaiah's prophecy is God's position.  No longer is he chief among the gods.  He is God of all the nations, the one sovereign Lord of all the earth.  This is not some universalism, in which all the gods are regarded equally, but an acknowledgement that other nations will realise the error of their ways and worship Israel's God.

Highlights of Isaiah 28 - 39

Chapters 28-33 contain 'woe' oracles.  Israel is infected with faithlessness and foolishness, and disaster is at hand.  But there will be a king who stands apart from this, and those who have waited for righteousness and justice will see the king in his beauty.  Zion will be delivered in the end.
This king stands in complete contrast to Ahaz and those who followed him.  Hezekiah is one such king, who witnesses to the validity of the word of God - in his faith in God is hope for Zion.  
Where before the eyes of the people have been closed, and their ears stopped, there will be people whose eyes and ears are open.


The letter may have been written by Paul himself, or it may have been written by someone else, writing in his name.  Colossae was in what is now Turkey, in which indigenous people lived alongside Greek settlers, plus Jews from Mesopotamia and Babylon.  It would have been a diverse, cosmopolitan city with a variety of religious traditions to choose from.  That may be one reason why this letter was written, as the new church there threatened to become lost in all this.  
The letter counters a mix of Jewish and Hellenistic (Greek) religious philosophies and mysticism, together with nature worship, astrological speculation and wisdom teaching.  In particular, it was written to demonstrate the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and to clarify his status as both fully human and yet one in whom God himself was embodied.
Colossians shows Jesus Christ as the answer to questions of ultimate significance.  Because of that, he is the reason why our human lives have significance and meaning.  In him, we see the character of God.  In him, we know the potential of human life.  
For Paul, theology was not an intellectual game, but a matter of life and death.  What God did in Christ is more important than anything else, and it mattered that Christians should live in that knowledge, showing their faith in the way that they live their lives.  Christians are free from human rules and methods of trying to access God, because in Christ there is freedom to be truly human through being part of the body of Christ.


Ephesians does not read like a letter to a particular church by someone who knew it well.  The accepted conclusion is that it was written as an encyclical which was sent to several churches in the Roman Province of Asia (modern Turkey), which probably included Ephesus.  Its style is more that of a homily than a pastoral letter.  Who wrote it?  It is reasonably certain that it wasn't the apostle Paul, although it may well have been someone in his immediate circle, possibly by collecting together writings by Paul after his death.
The purpose of Ephesians is to show what the church is like, and what Christian life is like, for converts.  It calls for a high standard of morality in personal and social life.  It may have been that Gentile converts were less familiar with a strict moral code than earlier Jewish Christians, who had been used to keeping the Jewish law.  
Christ is the head of the church, and its Lord, requiring service and obedience.  Christ and his church are one, using the metaphor of the head of the body and so inseparable and interdependent.  The Christian becomes part of the body through baptism, which calls him or her into a new life of holiness.  It is through the church that God will bring about his new creation, which is neither Jewish nor Greek.

Proverbs 17

This chapter focuses on proper family relationships, and on the needs of justice.

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