Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Penultimate Redemption

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins,
They will raise up the former devastations;
And they will repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations.
Strangers will stand and pasture your flocks,
And foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers.
But you will be called the priests of the LORD;
You will be spoken of as ministers of our God.
You will eat the wealth of nations,
And in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame you will have a double portion,
And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion.
Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land,
Everlasting joy will be theirs.
            -An Ancient Hebrew Prophecy, AKA Isaiah 61:1-7

To my great lord Yakov, the redeemer of the forsaken:

Yes, I have heard of your fame!  Yakov is now praised most highly among the former captives of Judah!  For he took his considerable wealth and delivered great numbers of Judeans—possibly up to a thousand!—to return to the homeland.  How wonderful is the name of Yakov, how magnificent and merciful he is!  How your name will be remembered in this generation!  I am sure that many of the men whom you supported for the return will feel deeply in your debt!  These same men will build whole towns in your name and pay you taxes gladly for the joy you gave to their lives!  You granted them their home, a place for their families, and you will be their voice in the new order under governor Zerubbabel.18  Glory to the name of Yakov!

            I have heard this from my close friend, Yohann, who was redeemed from his prison by his cousins, who gathered together to pay his debt to Shad.  Of course, you know this, for this letter has been handed to you by none other than Yohann himself, to grant you these words of praise you so rightly deserve. 

            Have you heard of the prophet Isaiah?  Not the Isaiah of Hezekiah the Great, but of the Isaiah that spoke right here in Babylon for years?  I just received a prophecy from him.  It is a declaration of redemption, even as Cyrus offered you.  This declaration is for me and my kind.  Cyrus offered freedom to the Jews, but not to the prisoners.  He offered release to the wealthy, not the afflicted or oppressed. 

All men only see those one step below them.  Should a master free the slave?  No, but only the servant who can almost reach his standing.  Can a Pharaoh release a cat from debt?  No, but only his priests. Should a king release the poor?  Of course not, for he does not even see them.  The king does not eat with the poor, the counselors of the rich do not fellowship with the servants.  Like serves like, and all the rest are on their own.  Even so, Cyrus released from captivity only those who could afford to be released.  Many like me, educated sons of the great of Judah, are left behind, for we do not have the means to be delivered out of exile.

But Yahweh, the God of heavens, the Lord of all lords is not like men.  He sits with the needy and hears the cries of the afflicted.  He promises to deliver the prisoner, not the wealthy.  He saves the poor from slavery, not the oppressor. 

You may think of yourself, Yakov, as the builder of broken walls, the restorer of the lost land.19  And so may you be, according to the promise of Cyrus.  But the promise of Yahweh belongs to me.  To me, says the King of kings, belongs the title “Rebuilder.”  You may see me as insignificant, swept away of no standing in God’s people.  But that is not for you to determine, is it, Backstabber?20

Yudah’s family discovered more of our situation as we sat, mourning in prison.  They found that Shad was actually in your pay, the Babylonian front to your scheme, dear Yakov.  You had already heard of Cyrus’ plan long before the rest of us, did you not?  So, quickly, you plotted our demise, having your servant seed blighted crops into my own.  You yourself were Yudah’s partner who stole the goods from him.  And you stopped up Yohann’s irrigation so his crops choked.  All this, so you could buy up the whole of the land of the refugees before it emptied out.  Then, you divided it up and sold it to the Babylonians as prepared land, which they bought at a low rate, but you sold at a great profit.  Ah, Yakov, how you are aptly named after our forefather.  You are not an Israelite at all, for you wrestle not with God, but you are the Deceiver, who takes away that which belongs to his brother.

But Yudah’s and Yohann’s family, after hearing this tale, had mercy on us.  As this story was passed from village to village, they collected monies and gems from those not as unlucky as we, to release us from our captivity.  Yahweh’s word is already fulfilled.  Yes, I still sit in prison at the writing of this letter, but my release is at hand.  The Most High be praised for His deliverance!

I can see you sitting in your large tent as you read this letter, Yohann standing before you.  He smiles as he hands it to you.  He sees my wife, sitting next to you, your latest possession gathered to yourself.   Is this why you made sure I was destroyed, even after I pleaded for your mercy?  To keep my wife for yourself, a part of your harem?   Yet, this is your prideful mistake, the seed of your ruin. For now, I have no family, no land, nothing to keep me in Babylon.  You need have no fear of Yohann, turning away from you to leave.  He holds no knife to murder you, to take out our vengeance against you.  Vengeance belongs not to the poor.  We have no such power.

So, as Yohann runs away from your tent, fearing your order to your guards to kill him, I am now in Jerusalem, standing before governor Zerubbabel.  I hand him another letter of my writing.  A letter speaking of your treachery in the land of our refuge.  I hand it to him now, as you finish this letter.

Perhaps you will have the fortune of the wicked.  Perhaps Zerubbabel will see your theft as a small thing that happened in a land far away.  At the very least, the governor will watch himself when you are near.  After my audience with the governor, however, I will walk to the dedicated altar.  There, I will bow before the King of heavens who has delivered me.  I will give Him the praise rightly obtained for delivering me from my captivity.  And I will hand you into His hands.  May He judge between you and me.  I hope to never see you, adversary.  But you will stand before the Most High, and you rightly should be trembling before the altar.21  For I shall be a witness against you in the Court.

Until we meet again,

18. Zerubbabel was the leader of the first caravan of refugees returning to Judah, and the governor of Judah under Cyprus.  Zerubbabel was a descendant of David, one of the potential kings of Judah.

19. These titles were appointed to those who established the land after its destruction. But Isaiah says that these titles truly belong to those who help the poor, establishing justice for the weakest. Isaiah 58:6-12.

20. Yakov is the name “Jacob” which literally means “ankle grabber” the equivalent of our term, “backstabber.”  See Genesis 25:26, 27:34-36.

21. Thus Jesus’ warning to make peace with one’s adversary before going before the altar of God.  This is based on Exodus 22:21-27, where it is declared that if there is no justice for the poor on earth, then Yahweh will take vengeance out against the oppressor for the sake of the poor.  Matthew 5:23-26.

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