Saturday, 25 June 2011

Isaiah makes his main message in the story of Hezekiah

In BSF last week we have been studying the central chapters (36-39) of the Book of Isaiah, which tell the story of Hezekiah, king of Jerusalem. In 36-37, God saves Hezekiah and Jerusalem from the Assyrian king Sennacherib, and his army. In 38, God saves King Hezekiah fro a deadly illness, granting him 15 more years of life. In 39, Babylon sends ambassadors to Hezekiah, and he shows them all his treasures before Isaiah warns him that within a few generations, his own descendants will be taken along with the palace and temple treasures to Babylon as spoils of war.

This week I have also been thinking and reading about the rhetorical technique of chiasmus, which according to Corbett & Connors' Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (p394-5) is the "reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses. ... it does not involve a repetition of words."
In many Biblical and other ancient writings, chiasmus is used in an expanded form called chiastic structure. A chiastic structure was used to draw attention to the main idea of a passage. Idea or Event A is paralleled by Idea/Event A'. Idea/Event B is paralleled by Idea/Event B'. C is the critical event. The ideas/events occur in the passage in a sequence of steps leading up to and down from the main one: A B C B' A'. Or a longer, more detailed chiastic structure might be outlined in this way: A B C D E D' C' B' A' etc. Thus this pattern forms a symmetrical text. A chiastic structure may also be described as a Ring Composition.
In a Ring composition, the chiastic structure is developed in such a way that "it is a construction of parallelisms that must open a theme, develop it, and round it off by bringing it back to the beginning. ... the meaning is located in the middle." (Mary Douglas, 2007, Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition, x.) Interestingly, John Granger argues in his book Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle that JK Rowling's works follow this ancient practice of organising writing with the main message in the middle.

Over breakfast just now, these two trains of thought came together as I read my BSF notes. If Isaiah is written as a ring composition, with a chiastic structure, then this explains why my BSF notes say, "Chapters 36-39 link chapters 1-35 with 40-66. ... The events of chapters 38-39 seem to precede the events in 36-37. However, the outline of Isaiah's book reflects the decline of Assyria and the rise of Babylon as the new enemy." I haven't looked over all of Isaiah, so I can't say for sure that it is a ring composition. But I can see evidence of chiastic structure in the chapters at the centre of the book, and it has drawn my attention:

A 1-35 Judgement to come; also deliverance
B 36 Envoys from Assyria

C 37 God protects Jerusalem from Assyria
C' 38 God protects Hezekiah from death

B' 39 Envoys from Babylon
A' 40-66 Deliverance to come; also judgement

The main or middle message (C,C') is thus that God will save his people; both corporately and individually.

Considering chapter 37 more closely, I can see that there is a chiastic structure there as well:

A 37:1 Hezekiah mourning in the temple
B 37:2-4 Hezekiah asks Isaiah to intercede with God for deliverance
C 37:5-7 Isaiah tells Hezekiah the commander will leave Jerusalem
D 37:8 The commander withdraws, Jerusalem has relief
E 37:9-13 Sennacherib predicts Jerusalem's fall, pridefully
F 37:14 Hesekiah presents Sennacherib's letter to the LORD
G 37:15-16 Hezekiah prays to the LORD, praising Him
H 37:17 Hezekiah reports Sennacherib's insult to the Living God

I 37:18-19 The other nations fell because their gods were worthless, false gods

H' 37:20a Hezekiah asks the LORD to deliver them from Sennacherib
G' 37:20b Hezekiah prays to the LORD, seeking that He be praised
F' 37:21 Isaiah presents the LORD's response to Hezekiah's prayer
E' 37:22-29 Isaiah prophesies Sennacherib's fall, as punishment for his pride
D' 37:30-32 Isaiah prophesies relief for Jerusalem
C' 37:33-35 Isaiah tells Hezekiah the king will leave Jerusalem
B' 37:36-37 God delivers His people
A' 37:38 Sennacherib killed in his temple

The main/middle message (I) of chapter 37 is that all other gods are all false, they cannot save. Only the One True God deserves praise.

And Chapter 38 breaks down to anther chiastic structure:

A 38:1 Hezekiah becomes ill and (through Isaiah) Hezekiah learns he will die
B 38:2-3 Hezekiah prays to God, praising his own faithfulness
C 38:4-6 God will grant Hezekiah life
D 38:7-8 God promises to give Hezekiah a sign, and He does so
E 38:9-14a Hezekiah describes the anguish of his illness

F 38:14b-15a "O Lord, come to my aid! But what can I say?"
F' 38:15b "He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this."

E' 38:15c-16 Hezekiah describes the blessings of his recovery
D' 38:17 Hezekiah prays to God, praising God's love and salvation from sin
C' 38:18 Hezekiah considers the fate of death
B' 38:19-20 Hezekiah prays to God, praising His salvation
A' 38:21-22 The method of God granting health to Hezekiah (through Isaiah) is described

The main message (F,F') of chapter 38 is thus that When we call out to God for help He Himself will save us.

The point of all this chiastic analysis:

God saves His people corporately (the Church) and God saves His people individually (as Christians).
Are you joined to God's people, the Church, gathering with, growing with and loving His people in a local church?
Are you saved?

No other god can save.
Are you relying on something or someone other than the One True God to save you?

God saves His people when they cry out to Him for help.
Have you cried out to God to save you from your sins?
Have you cried out to God to help you with your current struggle or stress?
How has the LORD answered you and saved you?

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Sam Sneezed:

"Bless myself!"

Bed Time Read Aloud

Jeff has finished reading The Hobbit, so we were faced with the decision of what to read next. Rather fortuitously, I accidentally wandered into a bookstore with Samuel yesterday, and found The Great Big Enormous Book of Tashi. And bought it. And brought it home.

Anna has read a few Tashi stories as take-home readers from school, but I wasn't sure if Joshua would be very interested. The Great Big Enormous Book has 988 pages, which by anyone's measure is a little intimidating. Not Joshua and Anna's apparently. Currently, the bookmark rests at page 279, and that's only because Joshua was forced to put the book down to eat his dinner.

And the even better news is this: Joshua and Anna have agreed to take turns taking over the After Dinner Read Aloud session. This evening Joshua read the first Tashi aloud to Anna, Abigail, Samuel and I. He was marvellous!