I found this interesting. I am currently researching substitution (hint, I don’t think Jesus was classically substituted in Galatians) for my dissertation. These passages all connect for me.
The translations are from the REB.
The Lord said to Moses: When you take a census of the Israelites, each man is to give a ransom for his life to the Lord,* to avert plague among them during the registration. As each man crosses over to those already counted he must give half a shekel by the sacred standard at the rate of twenty gerahs to the shekel, as a contribution levied for the Lord. Everyone aged twenty or more who has crossed over to those already counted will give a contribution for the Lord. The rich man will give no more than the half-shekel, and the poor man no less, when you give the contribution for the Lord to make expiation for your lives. The money received from the Israelites for expiation you are to apply to the service of the Tent of Meeting. The expiation for your lives is to be a reminder of the Israelites before the Lord. – Exodus 30.11-16.
Yet if an angel, one of a thousand, stands by him,
a mediator between him and God,
to expound God’s righteousness to man
and to secure mortal man his due;*
if he speaks on behalf of him and says,
‘Reprieve* him from going down to the pit;
I have the price of his release’:
then his body will grow sturdier* than it was in his youth;
he will return to the days of his prime. – Job 33.23-25
He levied a contribution from each man, and sent to Jerusalem the total of two thousand silver drachmas to provide a sin-offering*—a fit and proper act in which he took due account of the resurrection. Had he not been expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and senseless to pray for the dead; but since he had in view the splendid reward reserved for those who die a godly death, his purpose was holy and devout. That was why he offered the atoning sacrifice, to free the dead from their sin. – 2 Macc 12.43-45.
This does not mean I believe we can buy our way into heaven; but at the very least we can two things.
a “biblical” model for pre-Reformation indulgences.
In Sunday School we are discussing Christianity by century. Right now, we are at the 10th century, about the time scholasticism is firmly taking root in the West. With this enlightenment comes the manifestation of indulgences and the like.
So, it got me to thinking. First, keep in mind the usual Protestant view of indulgence may not be the correct one. Second, when I say “biblical” I do not usually mean it is directly found in Scripture. Christian doctrine is more often than not drawn from Scripture rather than capitalizing of direct words of Scripture. Of course, “biblical” is something still undefined. For instance, what canon do you use? If you are a Catholic and use books not found in the Protestant canon, is this considered biblical?
In the 12th chapter of 2 Maccabees, Judah seeks to turn away the temporal sins that may lay with the fallen. He does several things.
On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Macc 12.39-42, RSVCE)
He prayed, acting as a mediator and took up a collection for an offering by the priests at the Temple. He sought to turn away the temporal sin of those already redeemed. In Scripture (depending upon your limitation) we find something of an allowance for indulgences do we not? No wonder Luther worked feverishly to rid his canon of this book. It said something he didn’t like.
This is supposed to be a tad bit ironic and/or humorous while allowing me to add something else to the category. It is something I want to keep a record of, and not necessarily something I’m going to expound upon right now. #holla
But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. (John 19.34 NASB)
In John 6.50-8, Jesus plainly declares the wine his blood.
Notice that the other accounts do not include the spear.
Now, read 2 Maccabees
For, just as it is disagreeable to drink wine by itself or water by itself, whereas the mixing of the two produces a pleasant and delightful taste, so too variety of style in a literary work charms the ear of the reader. Let this, then, be my final word. (2 Maccabees 15.39 REB)
Maybe John really was a forerunner of Rudy Bultmann and tried to take the myth out of it. I dunno… maybe John really was a theological liberal and tried to mix a little water with communion’s wine.
This is a repost, as are the other ones from Hanukkah. This one has been amended, however, to reflect my stances now. I’ve noticed a lot of changes that I had to redo – and no biggie. More than anything, I’ve come to be okay with my acceptance of First Maccabees. I was born this way.
While reading Thomas Cahills’s Desire of the Everlasting Hills, I took great thought from his section on the oppression of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes. Too many times, more conservative believers simply take the canon handed to them and accept it, forgetting that if it was up to Luther, we would have discarded Hebrews, James, and Revelation as well. I have attempted to give the books a fair shake and along with Wisdom and Sirach, I thoroughly enjoy the Maccabees. To me, they were a wealth of historical value (while Wisdom is theological), but upon reading Cahill’s use and treatment, it seems that Maccabees might do well to serve some eschatological needs as well, among something else.
In 1st Maccabees, we read,
After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated Darius, king of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. He gathered a very strong army and ruled over countries, nations, and princes, and they became tributary to him. After this he fell sick and perceived that he was dying. So he summoned his most honored officers, who had been brought up with him from youth, and divided his kingdom among them while he was still alive. And after Alexander had reigned twelve years, he died. Then his officers began to rule, each in his own place. They all put on crowns after his death, and so did their sons after them for many years; and they caused many evils on the earth. (1Ma 1:1-9 RSVA)
We know the story of Antiochus, whom Daniel prophesied concerning and we also know that some 200 years later, it was still in the mind of the Jews whom the Lord spoke, saying,
“So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), (Mat 24:15 RSV)
In referring to the Prophet Daniel, who said,
And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Dan 9:27 ESV)
(The Septuagint reads ‘βδέλυγμα τῶν ἐρημώσεων’.)
I do not intend on getting into eschatology and the Gospels, but I will note that in general, when you are studying Daniel and the Gospels, a first connect is made through 1st Maccabees, as well as other books, of course. Moving on, when Antoichus established his kingdom, like a good Greek king, he went about trying to ensure a populace that was united, right down to the religion. He sought to have one people with one culture. Thus he built the ancient gymnasium on request of some of the Jews.
And some of the people eagerly went to the king. He authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil. (1Ma 1:13-15 RSVA)
Once Antiochus had begun to subdue the Jews with Greek hedonism, he left to invade Egpyt. Once that war was won, he returned to complete his task against Jerusalem,
After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred and forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures which he found. Taking them all, he departed to his own land. He committed deeds of murder, and spoke with great arrogance.
(1Ma 1:20-24 RSVA)
Some the Jews, wishing to fit in, trusted in the flesh, and thus sold the birthright of Israel. Of course, it is interesting that in later chapters and the sequel, even these Jews would be treated as part of the Covenant. The Greeks, and later Romans, desired a very public and diluted religious worship. For them, it was a civil religion. They cared very little who you worshiped because all was the same. Zeus, Jupiter, Baal. The same god of gods for the Greeks. When the Jews stood against Antiochus, it was because of their God. When the Christians stood, it was because of their God. Had they succumbed to the idea that each can have his own god, because they are all the same, then Judaism and Christianity would have ceased to exist. We see that Israel suffered because of the attempt to melt Judaism into Greek Paganism.
Israel mourned deeply in every community, rulers and elders groaned, maidens and young men became faint, the beauty of women faded. Every bridegroom took up the lament; she who sat in the bridal chamber was mourning. Even the land shook for its inhabitants, and all the house of Jacob was clothed with shame. (1Ma 1:25-28 RSV)
What other cultures had experienced had now been bestowed up the Jews and the land of Israel. Israel, whom the promise of the return of an eternal Davidic King had been given was now faced with destruction of everything that had kept it separate. They hadn’t had a king in so very long, at least a Jewish one, and now, their identify was eroding away. Sometimes, we fear that it is happening around us, although, I believe that there are times that our need for persecution overwhelms us and creates monsters under our bed. Look at the reactions against the globalization of money or markets, but the globalization of culture – music, dress, literature, media – and religion. These things are what people fear as taking away our individualism, our freedom, and turns the minds of some to looking for the end of all things.
Refer back to verse 9 where the evils were multiplied upon the face the earth. In each generation where society is facing a calamity or impending doom, rather, what some might call a paradigm shift, people begin to look for the apocalyptic. Evils abound everywhere, and sometimes, these evils are very real. This is why we find this imagery so frequently used in the ‘Revelations’ and Apocalypses of the times. It is why we read 1st Maccabees in the light of Daniel and Revelation in the light of both of these books.
And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months; it opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation, (Rev 13:5-7 RSV)
Like Antiochus, the False Prophet of John’s vision will raise his voice against God and all those that dwell heaven. He will, again like the ancient ruler, make war with the saints and beyond the little root, he will begin to overcome the saints. The False Prophet will not prevail against the Church Triumphant, and will not win on the eternal scene, thus we are constantly cautioned not to place our faith or hope in the things of this world, but always keep looking up. The power and wickedness of this False Prophet is not limited to the Saints, but also over the entire earth, just as Antiochus sought.
Returning to Maccabees, we read that when Antiochus invaded Jerusalem,
Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. And they took captive the women and children, and seized the cattle. Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. And they stationed there a sinful people, lawless men. These strengthened their position; they stored up arms and food, and collecting the spoils of Jerusalem they stored them there, and became a great snare.
It became an ambush against the sanctuary, an evil adversary of Israel continually. On every side of the sanctuary they shed innocent blood; they even defiled the sanctuary. Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled; she became a dwelling of strangers; she became strange to her offspring, and her children forsook her. Her sanctuary became desolate as a desert; her feasts were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into a reproach, her honor into contempt. Her dishonor now grew as great as her glory; her exaltation was turned into mourning. (1Ma 1:30-40 RSV)
What a graphic picture this writer has detailed for us. We can see Jerusalem lain waste, with nothing of her former glory to be seen, so much so that people fled her (for more of this, see the Psalms of Solomon). The same can be said for Alexander’s march to the ends of the earth where he destroyed city and city in his own name and the name of his kingdom. Antiochus was ruthless and brutal against those that opposed him. The Jews had sought to ally themselves with the little emperor, but in the end, it became apparent that no amount of half measures would soft him to their position; he wanted Judaism to cease.
Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that each should give up his customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and feasts, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they should forget the law and change all the ordinances. (1Ma 1:41-49 RSV)
What a terrible thought to have so many of Israel turn and consent to his religion, and yet it did nothing to stop the onslaught against the Jewish people.
“And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.” In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. And he appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the cities of Judah to offer sacrifice, city by city. Many of the people, every one who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.
Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege upon the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding cities of Judah, and burned incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law which they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Where the book of the covenant was found in the possession of any one, or if any one adhered to the law, the decree of the king condemned him to death. They kept using violence against Israel, against those found month after month in the cities. And on the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar which was upon the altar of burnt offering. According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks. But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. And very great wrath came upon Israel. (1Ma 1:50-64 RSV)
The striking picture of this is that what had so long strangled the world, from the time of Alexander, that is the forced culturalization and the wars the followed, had finally hit Jerusalem. While other cultures were allowed to mesh into the paganism of ancient Greece, Judaism could not. The God of Judaism had long ago leveled the charge against paganism and multiculturalism when He had declared that He was alone God and that He would have no other god before Him. Further as Philo others of the time noted, the Law was about separation. It wasn’t about superiority, but about marking themselves out to worship only one God and because of this, their was a response to that God which was needed. He had demanded that the place where He would place His name would not be shared with any others and that the sanctuary must be kept holy. If the Jews were to remain Jews, they could not give up their God, not even under duress and grief. They would have to withstand what the world have caved into so many times. They had become aware only recently of what monotheism actually required, and it seems, they were taking a stand for it.
This was a terrible time for Israel, one in which the very Temple had been made unholy. Traditions, myths and beliefs were thrown into disarray. Nothing was sacred and everything profane. Even their fellow kinsmen had started to become Greek. Yet, in the end, God had a miracle in the oil for those who remained faithful.And this is why the miracle of Hanukkah is so very important. Because it is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The wrath of God was abated for a season, the Temple cleansed, and the Covenant saved. The People of God became the People of God which we know of in the New Testament.We miss this when we throw out these books so easily.
We are facing a time of anxiety and confusion. Everywhere we look we are met with forced retirement of our standards and doctrines. In what quarters is the Gospel lifted up, not as a weapon, but as the Good News? The Church is not a heritage or a tradition, but a divine institution given by God to humanity for a very particular mission. It is a Trust, and yet, like many before and after us, we treat our Trust as something to be placed on the back corner when confronted with resistance.
We are not immune from these very things which others have faced before us, so, let us read our books which others discard. Let us stand and gain from Mattathias, father of Judas Maccabeus, who said,
“Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.” (1Ma 2:19-22 RSV)
But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas, “How can we, few as we are, fight against so great and strong a multitude? And we are faint, for we have eaten nothing today.”
Judas replied, “It is easy for many to be hemmed in by few, for in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between saving by many or by few. It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. They come against us in great pride and lawlessness to destroy us and our wives and our children, and to despoil us; but we fight for our lives and our laws. He himself will crush them before us; as for you, do not be afraid of them.” (1Ma 3:17-22 RSV)
Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and furnished them with doors. There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was removed. Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev. (1 Maccabees 4:52-59 RSVA)
Christ took this time (not to celebrate His birth, mind you) to attend the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem that year, and while spoke of His divinity,
It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (Joh 10:22-30 NLT)
It was here at the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, which Christ faced the question – are you Christ? Are the Messiah that would restore Israel to her Kingdom? It was no doubt on the minds of the Jews in attendance (and perhaps some of the Romans) as it was the celebration which celebrated a restored sovereignty – but not complete because it was not David’s line that sat upon the throne – to Israel and a restoration of the Temple to the Holy One of Israel.
Early in the morning, as the congregation gather to hear the Reader, they would hear
Then this message came to me from the LORD:
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.
“For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. (Eze 34:1-11 NLT)
Just prior to this account, two “illustrations” (10:6) of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (10:1-5 and 10:7-10) were given and then the Lord’s interpretation of these parables (10:11-18) The Jewish reader would immediately pick up the messianic connotation of this discourse. The Davidic Messiah would be a Shepherd and here was Christ claiming to be the Good Shepard – on Hanukkah no less. The questions posed to Christ by the Jewish leaders reflected the expectation that was running high in Palestine during that time of the year – they were waiting for the Messiah.
In looking for another Judah Maccabeus – one which would take away again the reproach of the Gentiles (Rome) – they missed Jesus Christ would would take away the sins of the world which is the separation between God and all of humanity. It is at Hanukkah that Christians can find Christ as well – in that He is the Good Shepherd that has taken away the sins of the world. Truly, if there is a holiday in which to celebrate Christ during this time of the year, it is this one.
Kenneth Kitchen, however, protests that this is not how things worked. The prominent Egyptologist and evangelical Christian, when responding to the charge that the flood narrative (Gen 9) should be read as “myth” or “proto-history” like the other flood-narratives from other cultures, answered:
The ancient Near East did not historicize myth (i.e. read it as imaginary “history”). In fact, exactly the reverse is true—there was, rather, a trend to “mythologize” history, to celebrate actual historical events and people in mythological terms.
In other words, the evidence is that Near Eastern “myths” did not evolve over time into historical accounts, but rather historical events tended to evolve over time into more mythological stories. Kitchen’s argument is that, if you read Genesis 2-11 in light of how ancient Near Eastern literature worked, you would conclude, if anything, that Genesis 2-11 were “high” accounts, with much compression and figurative language, of events that actually happened. In summary, it looks like a responsible way of reading the text is to interpret Genesis 2-3 as the account of an historical event that really happened.
He goes on to speak about the use of Adam in Paul’s writings, specifically, Romans 5. He is correct, that for the bible to retain the authority traditionally assigned to it, that we must allow the authors to retain their authority of interpretation:
When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of biblical authority.
But, again, what if we are applying to Paul the strict literalism of a physically identifiable pair when his rhetoric may in fact imply something different? Do we continue to force Paul to abide by our understanding of him, or allow that we may not completely understand him? Paul calls Adam a tupos,
That particular word is used in the Maccabean books to represent a pattern or an example (3 Maccabees 3:30; 4 Maccabees 6.19). Why then would a pattern need to be ‘real’ any more than some of the opponents in Galatians and the letters of Ignatius need to be? What? You say you don’t know rhetoric or the criticism in this field being used to reach into the mind of Paul who was arguably, the greatest rhetorician of his day? What if Paul was using the story of Adam as a pattern or an example? Does a physical identifiable pair, etched forever in history, need to have actually existed for Paul to have used it to show to the Jewish readers the pattern fulfilled by Christ?
Paul was using history, of that I am assured of; however, he doesn’t need to be a literalist in the modern sense.
Last night during our small group study on the Book of Revelation, the leader who happens to be the pastor of the congregation, said something that caught my attention. He mentioned the use of palm branches in Revelation 7.9 and the use of the palm as a symbol of Jewish nationalism during the Maccabean period. Both of these subjects – Revelation and Intertestamental literature – interest me to the point of being an obsession.
The seventh chapter of Revelation occurs as an interlude between the sixth seal and the opening of the seventh seal which contains silence and the seven trumpeters. In this interlude, after the great destruction brought on by the sixth seal, John is allowed to see the victorious people of God during the peace that God had proscribed (Pax Romana?) for the earth in preparation for the final assault. During this heavenly scene, John heard a number of the sealed of Israel, but didn’t see them. This list which was given has been argued over as it excludes two of the tribes and gives Levi an inheritance. However, while John only heard the number of Israelites which were to be sealed, he saw a great numberless multitude from the Gentile nations. I have to wonder if this places John in a more Gentile community than previously thought, seeing that he heard a number and must proceed with that on faith, but for the Gentiles, he was able to see the countless souls saved. It is verse nine, however, which catches my attention:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; (Rev 7:9 NASB)
If we were to read Revelation 7.9-10 intertextually with Psalm 118 (an important Psalm for the New Testament authors), we note a few similarities, at the very least in the adoration of YHWH. While I don’t want to fully explore the use of Psalm 118 and Revelation 7 at the moment, I will note that during tribulation/affliction (Psalm 118.5; Rev 6.12-17) the Psalmist and John were both brought into a broad space (spaciousness, NETS) and given a time of rest. While Psalm 118.10-14 seems counter to that of Revelation 7.9-10, we see in this section the union of nations which surround the divine speaker. I note in Psalm 18, the nations are imagined as bees and a blaze of fire, perhaps symbolizing a noisy number. An important connection at the end of Psalm 118.26-28 is also to be found in Revelation 7.9-10 in that we see palm branches being used as a celebratory offering to the King and in the latter’s case, the Lamb as well (but notice that the Lamb in Revelation is still not on the throne). In Revelation 7.10, they complete the Psalmist’s instructions in Psalm 118.28-29.
Returning to the palm branches however, we find a connection made between them and the Jewish nationalism in the Maccabean period (as well as the entry of Christ into Jerusalem on the even of his Passion). When the Maccabean army recaptured Jerusalem, they celebrated with branches of the palm tree:
Those who were in the citadel at Jerusalem were prevented from going in and out to buy and sell in the country. So they were very hungry, and many of them perished from famine. Then they cried to Simon to make peace with them, and he did so. But he expelled them from there and cleansed the citadel from its pollutions. On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel. Simon decreed that every year they should celebrate this day with rejoicing. He strengthened the fortifications of the temple hill alongside the citadel, and he and his men lived there. (1Ma 13:49-52 NRS)
And later, when they rededicated the Temple,
Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; they tore down the altars that had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they offered incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence. When they had done this, they fell prostrate and implored the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Chislev. They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the festival of booths, remembering how not long before, during the festival of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year. (2Ma 10:1-8 NRS)
Notice the direct, and maybe purposed, symbolism between this dedication and ritual acts proscribed in Psalm 118.26-29. (This might be paralled to Tobit‘s purposed fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy:
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psa 118:26-1 NRSV)
There is a lot of intertextual thought between Revelation, the Maccabean books and John’s Apocalypse, but not enough space to explore it here. However, I believe that John is pointing to Psalm 118 here with the political overtones of Jewish nationalism. He heard the number of the Israelites but saw the multitude of Gentiles saved.
From here, however, I want to explore the shared imagery between Revelation 7 and the 17th Psalm of Solomon, although not specifically dealing with palm branches.
In Pss 17.26-29, the Messiah is seen gathering together the Holy People and judging the tribes (v26). Compare that to the tribes in Revelation 7 wherein they are given a border (compare Pss 17.28). However, in verse 29, the Messiah is said to now judge the peoples (tribes) and the nations (Gentiles). The pattern is followed in laying out the victorious in Revelation 7 with the number of the tribes heard first and the Gentiles seen later. Interesting enough, Pss 7.30-34 unites Revelation 7 and 21 where the New Jerusalem is the center of the new world (order). Note, then, Pss 17.35-36 and Revelation 19.5:
For he shall strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever;
He shall bless the people of the Lord in wisdom with joy.
And he himself shall be pure from sin so that he may rule a great people, that he may rebuke rules and remove sinners by the strength of his word (Pss 17.35-36 NETS)
From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. (Rev 19:15 NASB)
Drawing this back to Revelation 7, we see in Rev 7.15-16 the promised care of the victorious people of God being cared for by the Lamb/Messiah. However, note the specific connection between Revelation 7.17 and Pss 17.40:
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd (ποιμανεῖ ), and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:17 NRS)
He shall be strong in his works and mighty in the fear of God, shepherding (ποιμαίνων) the flock of the Lord faithfully and righteously, and he shall not let any among them become weak in their pasture. (Pss 17.40 NETS)
John follows the pattern of the Psalms of Solomon and Psalm 118. Always, the Jewish peoples are first. Second, the Nations. Reading Revelation 7 next to Psalm 118, we find several connections, namely, that both authors see themselves in that moment of spaciousness between tribulations. Further, both are calling for judgment and justice. The Solomonic Psalmist, as opposed to the Davidic Psalmist sees that the nations, the Gentiles, will be ruled by the King (Ps)/Messiah (Pss)/Lamb (Rev). Existent as well is the political symbol of Jewish nationalism as an opposition to the Roman rule and the symbol of ritual sacrifice/dedication which we see developed in the Maccabean books – the palm branches. Reading Paul, I do not believe that he saw that the Messianic believers were any less Jewish, but more so. Perhaps John is picking this up as he draws both Jews and Gentiles under the rule of the Lamb.