The Lord used the other nations as an instrument of judgment against Israel, but they have overstepped. Incapable of payback, the Lord will requite their deeds upon their own heads.
"We are called to do the Lord's will; no less and no more," says Richard Benton, PhD, author of Hosea: A Commentary and of Loving Language: Learning to Hear Your Neighbor. The temptation is to overstep with paybacks, applying strictness or neglect, as we see in the Book of Joel. The Lord used the other nations as an instrument of judgment against Israel, but they have overstepped. Incapable of payback, the Lord will requite their deeds upon their own heads. And that's how we know it's fair, when everyone in every nation stands under the same judgment and mercy of One Lord.
What is Doulos?
The Doulos podcast explores servant leadership in an Orthodox Christian context.
Hollie Benton 0:03
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Our co-host is Fr. Timothy Lowe, former rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. And our guest today, special to me for sure, is Dr. Richard Benton. So hello, and welcome to both of you, Father, Timothy and Rich.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:33
Thank you, Hollie, I'm glad to hear Rich is still special.
Dr. Richard Benton 0:36
It's very good to be here. And I'm happy that I'm still special as well.
Hollie Benton 0:40
So Richard Benton, has a PhD in Hebrew and Old Testament and co-hosts the Bible as Literature Podcast, which is also on the Ephesus School Network. His new book, Loving Language - Learning to Hear Your Neighbor has just been released. And he also has published a commentary on the book of Hosea, and is working on a series of commentaries for the Minor Prophets. So Rich, tell us a little bit about your love of languages and how it connects to your research of the Minor Prophets.
Dr. Richard Benton 1:09
Yeah, thank you, Hollie. Yeah, so I really encourage people to take a look for the book, Loving Language. And it's been a labor of love, although love and labor are both part of it. The focus of the book is the way that we challenge ourselves, to learn languages, to humble ourselves, so that we can listen to and learn from the people around us, especially those who come from other places, and far away with very different experiences. This has always been a part of my love of language. That's where the title comes from. And it really does intersect in a serious way with my study of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, because understanding where the author of Scripture is coming from requires learning his language. By learning that language, then we have the opportunity to understand really what's being said. By spending the time we need to understand the original languages, or by listening to those who are knowledgeable in the original languages, we get nuance and insight into what the scripture is saying. And if we're a Christian, this is the basis of our belief and of our trust in the Lord. And so this is the basic understanding of why Hebrew is an important part for me. But then going into the text of the Hebrew Bible, recognizing that no nation is above another nation, just because you live in the midst of one nation or another nation lives in your midst. Both nations were created by the single God of the heavens and the earth. And so one language is not superior to another language any more than one nation is superior to any other, and that there's one language that's superior to others. And that's Hebrew. So we have to focus on the Hebrew of the Bible in order to understand that. I know Fr. Tim needs me to say that because he says Hebrew, and it's like, well, which Hebrew because we have Israeli Hebrew, which some scholars even called Israelian, and you know, they're even skeptical to call it Hebrew because it differs so much from the Hebrew of the Biblical text. And then looking at the Minor Prophets, it's been another labor of love for me. How do we understand when we hear multiple voices put together in a single scroll? What's the story that then they tell together as the single word of the Lord? And that's the challenge that I really enjoy and that I find very fruitful when studying the Book of the Twelve.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 3:45
Well, Richard, I'm glad to hear you obviously promote the necessity of Hebrew. But you tricked me this time. You connected it to the love of the neighbor and respect to the neighbor, which, you know, hits me twice, which is good, so I need to hit be hit twice. So thank you.
Hollie Benton 3:58
Yes, thank you. Today we're going to focus on the book of Joel. We did an earlier episode on Joel back in January of 2022. We looked at the first chapter which announces the impending doom for the people of Israel. It was painful to hear because Israel had already suffered so much under Babylonian captivity. And then the prophet Joel announces their inevitable demise by a swarm of locusts. It's like adding insult to injury. But then at the end of Joel, and it's a short book, only three chapters long, we will hear about the Lord's judgment against the nations and the final blessing of Judah and Jerusalem. So what does the Lord's judgment have to do about servant leadership? On the one hand, absolutely nothing. If judgment is the Lord's, the Doulos, the servant or slave in the Lord's household, cannot stand in the place of judge. The Lord alone is the final judge. On the other hand, our duties and responsibilities in many capacities from parent to teacher to manager or priest, and all other sorts of roles, require us to exercise a certain level of practical judgment. Words like fairness, restitution, payback, recompense, they come into play for leaders in many different capacities. So we will look to Joel to establish the framework of recompense. So for starters, Rich, can you provide the story arc of Joel and the context for what we will read from chapter three today?
Dr. Richard Benton 5:29
Yeah, so in Joel chapters two and three, since we already talked about chapter one, chapter one is about the plague of locusts and declaring a fast when God Himself has sent the locusts to create a famine. So it's about sanctifying that famine, which means sanctifying a fast and that was chapter one. In chapter two, we have this invasion of an army. And it's a little bit confusing, because sometimes it sounds like it's locusts that are like an army. Sometimes it's an army that's like locusts. So it can be a little bit confusing to the reader as you go through, which I think is deliberate. I think sometimes when we get confused by a biblical text, it's supposed to be confusing to us, so that we have to do more work to really wrap our brains around what it's trying to say. And in Hosea, we already had the kind of double blow against Israel, which is you try to preserve your riches and your agricultural wealth, God says, which I can destroy at any time. And also they try to build up their city walls to defend against foreign enemies and other nations, which God also says he can destroy at any time. And now in chapter two and chapter one of Joel, we have this combination, locust plague and invading army that are hard to distinguish. And I think that this follows very nicely on the kind of threats that were set out in Hosea. So in chapter two, the Lord is saying that he is sending this army of the nations against the people of Israel, specifically in Jerusalem, and so this destruction is going to truly cause the people to suffer. In verse nine of chapter two, "They shall run to and fro in the city. They shall run upon the wall, they shall climb upon the houses, they shall enter in at the windows like a thief." I mean, this is what the enemies are going to be doing, they're going to be invading through every opening of the city, in order to destroy it. Then we get the unfortunate news in verse 11, of chapter two, "And the Lord shall utter his voice before his army, for his camp is very great, for he is strong that executeth His word for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible, and who can abide it." So we know that the Lord is the head of this army of nations, invading the country, invading the city, specifically. But then in chapter three, we learned that there's a judgment against the nations. And so, as you talked about Hollie, the fairness and the other kinds of practicalities, to view the Lord at the head of the nations, that's going to be destroying your city. But it doesn't mean that those who are invading your city are good, because then they're going to be judged. Because are they acting on their own behalf? Or are they acting in obedience? And this is another theme I brought up in Hosea, that human beings actually are very poor at justice, because they tend to skew it in their own favor, whether it's to be too merciful or too violent. It's only the Lord who is just. So that's the setup for chapter three and the judgment against the nations. That the nations are not righteous, simply because they do what the Lord says. But they're going to be judged to see if in fact, they are doing precisely what the Lord says, and no more. This is always the trick.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 8:58
Yeah, I like that last statement, Richard, there's a limit. And so they come into judgment by pushing it too far, is how I understood what you just said.
Hollie Benton 9:06
So let's hear from the prophet Joel chapter three. "What are you to me? O Tyre and Sidon and all the regions of Philistia, are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will requite your deed upon your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold and have carried my treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, removing them far from their own border. But now I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them. And I will requite your deed upon your own head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hands of the sons of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far off, for the Lord has spoken." So this is an uncomfortable passage. We definitely are not hearing about a merciful God who is just turning the other cheek. Requiting their deeds upon their own heads, as described in this passage, sounds pretty brutal. But I am intrigued by this question the Lord asks of Tyre and Sidon. He asks, "Are you paying me back for something?" The question almost seems ludicrous, likely rhetorical to really call out the arrogance and the wrongdoings of these nations. So what is going on with this question?
Dr. Richard Benton 10:26
We see this reversal of the actions of the nations coming on them. You started with verse four, and verse three, "And they have cast lots for my people and have given a boy for a harlot and sold a girl for wine that they might drink." So now that their children are going to be sold to Israel is the reversal of the fortunes. So they go, they invade these nations just like they're supposed to, but then what do they do? They profit from the invasion for themselves, in order to get prostitutes and drinks, okay. This is where we have verse two of chapter three where the Lord calls Israel His heritage. So yes, he is sending the nations against Israel. But that doesn't mean now, since they're invited in that now they can do whatever they want once they're in the place. Like I was in Germany last month, and I was staying at an Airbnb. But just because I was paying for the Airbnb doesn't mean I get to do whatever I want. So when I busted a cup, I had to pay the owner for it because, you know, it's not really my cup. The Lord invited them in, actually the Lord forced them to go in. But now they want to do whatever they want. This is what is the fall of the Tyreans and the Sidonians. They're not going to render anything to the Lord, because what are they going to render? The booty they got from Israel, that belong to the Lord anyway So what are they going to pay back? There's nothing for them to pay back or to make complete. That's the word in Hebrew, which is meshallemim. Meshallemim comes from the root shallem, which means to make whole, but that's also related to the root for shalom, which is peace, or the wholeness. So what are you going to complete? How are you completers? How are you going to recompense, the gomlim? Gamal is another word. What are you going to do to make things complete? You're not going to make things complete. All you can do is follow my will. If you follow my will, we'll be fine. But I'm going to judge you according to what will you are following. Just like I judged the Israelites. We have this beautiful reversal in Leviticus and Numbers, we have the Israelites coming in and kicking out the nations because the nations were disobedient. And then we have the Babylonians come in kicking out the Israelites, because the Israelites were disobedient. And now we have the nations that are being sent, because the Israelites are being disobedient. But now there's going to be a punishment, potentially, a judgment against the nations because they were treating the land as their own. It keeps going back and forth. The Lord is not favoring one nation over the other. If you want to call that fairness, you can. Everyone gets judged. That's what's fair about the whole mechanism.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 13:22
Yeah, I like it that Joel is presenting God as the God of all nations, as you say. And in that judgment, everybody comes under the same rule, the same commandment. It's like falling into temptation, you can be the instrument of God in some sort of activity or call to do something in the biblical sense of that. And then you take it upon yourself to do more, usually in a sinful way, and therefore come under the same judgment that you were just the instrument of judgment. It's a humbling of all people and of all human arrogance, whenever it raises its insidious head.
Dr. Richard Benton 13:55
There's one throne, and there's one judge. And that's how we know it's fair.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 14:01
Dr. Richard Benton 14:02
Because there is not one judge for that nation, another judge for that nation, maybe that judge is lenient. Like I was just talking to someone I know who had to go to court. And he was afraid to go to court because the judge was particularly strict towards his type of offense. But for some reason, he got sick, and they got another judge. And the guy's lawyer said, "Go today to the courthouse. This is the judge that you want, make sure you get this judge." And he got off easy. You know, that's what happens when you have a different judge, depending on the day of the week, right? Or depending on who gets sick. You have one judge who never get sick. He takes one day off a week. But when he takes a day off, there are no cases being heard that day. So the Lord takes off Saturday. Don't bring any cases to him on that day. But no matter what other day you come, it's going to be Him who's going to be adjudicating it.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 14:57
I like your example. That's fantastic, because it's true.
Dr. Richard Benton 15:01
Exactly. And for the nations and for Israel, it is the same judge. If you look at how the Book of the Twelve, the Book of the Minor Prophets, if we look at it as a single book, we see how it's unfolding. This is the chapter where both Israel suffers, and Israel is being taught once again, that there is one judge above the heavens and the earth over all nations. And this is the only leadership that exists. And so any leadership that any human being would have has to match with this. But one thing that any human leader is going to have to grapple with after reading this is that no matter what the human leader does, the human leader is going to fall short, is going to follow their own ego, their own biology, and will fall under judgment. And this is why the mercy is needed. Because without this mercy, we can see what happens. No matter what you are leading, no matter how you're leading, you will overstep and you will be under judgment. And the hope, therefore, is only in the mercy of the single judge.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 16:12
Nicely said, Rich.
Dr. Richard Benton 16:13
Thank you, Father.
Hollie Benton 16:14
Thanks so much, Rich, and thank you, Fr. Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 16:16
Ok. Take care, you two.
Dr. Richard Benton 16:17
Thank you, Father. Good to see you, Father.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai