Saturday, January 11, 2020

Archim. Jack (Khalil): "The Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness"

Arabic original here.

"The Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness"

The four evangelists agree that John the Baptist was the voice crying out prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah (40:3). According to the Apostles Matthew and John, the Baptist himself was the one who announced that Isaiah's prophecy was being fulfilled.

The prophecy appears in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 40, which announces the consolation of Jerusalem. Its context is very important for understanding the message that the Baptist wanted to deliver by declaring that the prophecy was being fulfilled. The Prophet Isaiah had previously informed the King Hezekiah that his people would be taken captive to Babel and enslaved there (39:6-7). After that, he announced God's visitation to Jerusalem and His pardon of its sins (40:2) and His coming there to save it (40:5, 9-10).

He told of the voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord (40:3). The Baptist's indicating the fulfillment of this prophecy is in harmony with the main idea of the message that he brought, that he was at the forefront of God who had drawn near to "save His people from their sins." The Baptist's indicating the prophecy about the voice crying out in the desert bears his declaration to Jerusalem and to all the nations over the generations, that God has visited His people and stretched out His hand to point with His finger to show us Jesus, the Lord of Glory, saying "Behold your God" (40:9).

As for the main idea of the prophecy about the voice crying out, it must be pointed out that that the reading of the Masoretic text differs from the translation of the Septuagint, the reading on which the four evangelists relied. According to the Septuagint, the phrase "in the desert" grammatically modifies the word "voice", so the sentence is "a voice crying out in the desert," while in the Masoretic text the phrase belongs to the main clause. That is, "in the desert prepare the path of the Lord."

Whatever the case may be, it is established that what the Prophet Isaiah prophesied about the coming of our God to His people has been fulfilled. Wherever the term "wilderness" may be in the formulation of the phrase, its theological meaning remains undistorted, just as the Prophet Isaiah intended.

What, then, is the meaning of the "wilderness" emphasized by the Prophet Isaiah?

In order to answer this question, we must remember that it was in the desert that the covenant between God and His people was established. It became God's promise to them and they learned to live according to the covenant's law.

The life of the wilderness made its impression on the Jews' spiritual experience. For this reason, the desert transcended its geographical definition to take on a theological meaning. It is the way of life of the covenant between God and His people. It is the emptying in which man finds no help apart from God.

He ate from the provision that God gave him, drinking His water and warming himself from His heat. The experience of the wilderness is summarized in the Holy Bible by liberation from cares, abandonment of all human guarantees, absolute reliance on God and remaining in His presence.

When the Baptist said that he was the voice crying out in the wilderness, he was addressing to us the announcement that the fullness of time had come and that "He who sits above the circle of the earth and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in," (40:22), God the Word, who created everything, had become incarnate and come to dwell among us.

In the wilderness, John cried out to remind us that we attain knowledge of God when we rely on Him alone and nothing else and that we are made holy by His blessings when we are freed from earthly cares and live before Him according to His Gospel.

Archimandrite Jack (Khalil)
Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology

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