Didache

The apocalyptic XVIth chapter of the Didache – Part six

The apocalyptic XVIth chapter of the Didache – Part six

Didache XVI:(6b-)7 

(6b) …and thirdly the rising of the moribund, (7) but not all of them, but as it was said, ‘The Lord shall come and all his holy ones with him.’

The day of the Lord

The ‘day of the Lord’ concept is a key concept in Jewish thought of the Second Temple period. In an undefined but imminent future God will sentence the evil generation that now inhabits the world and He will intervene in world history to crush all enemies of the Jews and all evildoers. Then He will install (anoint) His messiah to lead his chosen people into a golden future, with the former oppressors of the Jews and the whole world under his yoke.

One of these ‘day of the Lord’ texts is the Old Testament book of Zachariah chapter 14, and this text is connected with Didache XVI through the quote in verse 7 ‘The Lord shall come and all his holy ones with him.’ The last sentence of the earlier Zechariah 14:5 goes as follows: ‘The Lord my God shall come and all his holy ones with him.’ This verse is clearly the basis of Didache XVI:7.

Zechariah 14 is a special elaboration of this ‘day of the Lord’ concept, as it places this joyful day at the end of a catastrophic war, the war against the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE.

Zechariah 14 starts as follows:

(1) Behold, a day of the Lord is coming, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in the midst of you. (2) For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the woman ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. (3) Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.

The following passage on the splitting of the Mount of Olives in verse 5 ends with ‘Then the Lord my God will come and all the holy ones with him’, and verse 9 goes like this: ‘And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.’

So the lost war, catastrophic as it might have been, does not settle history. At its ending God intervenes and history will take a turn in favor of the Jews, so that finally they will be victorious and reign the whole world.

I believe the quote from Zechariah is placed determinedly in Didache XVI. As in Zechariah the Lord intervenes at the end of a catastrophic war, the same does happen in the Didache. The fiery trial and the signs of reality are veiled descriptions of the war against the new Babylonians, the Romans.

During the war the defenders of Jerusalem were eagerly watching for God’s intervention in their favor, but the military situation continually worsened, up to the destruction of the national sanctuary and total defeat. Was this God’s intervention? Had God left his chosen people so totally that there was nothing but this total humiliation? Or did in that days happen something which kindled the hope of the defeated? Did they descry a sign that God had not totally abandoned them, and that a beginning was made in the reversal of their utterly deplorable situation?