Archive for the ‘Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48’ Category

Divine Judgment on Judah, Part I   Leave a comment

Above:  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965

Photographer = Warren K. Leffler

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-49864

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART XIV

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Isaiah 22:1-25; 28:1-29:24; 32:1-20

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In 701 B.C.E., during the reign (727/715-698/687 B.C.E.) of King Hezekiah of Judah, King Sennacherib of Assyria (r. 705-681 B.C.E.) besieged Jerusalem.  That invasion of the Kingdom of Judah failed, by the hand of God (2 Kings 18:13-37; 2 Chronicles 32:1-23; Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-25; Isaiah 29:1-8; Isaiah 30:27-33; Isaiah 36:1-37:38).  In that context, widespread rejoicing ensued in Judah.  Isaiah ben Amoz was not impressed.

What is the matter with you now, that you have gone up,

all of you, to the housetops,

you who were full of noise,

tumultuous city,

exultant town?

–Isaiah 22:1-2a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Or maybe the rejoicing occurred because, in the failure of the Philistine-led revolt against the Assyrian Empire during the reign (722-705 B.C.E.) of Assyrian King Sargon II, Assyrian forces bypassed Jerusalem.  King Hezekiah had wisely not joined that uprising.  Yet Judah remained a vassal of the Assyrian Empire.  Either way, rejoicing was premature.  The Assyrian Empire remained a threat, and Judah was still subject to divine punishment for forsaking the covenant.  Judah still ignored the moral demands for righteousness and justice, in violation of the Law of Moses.  And Judah’s leaders bore the heavy load of responsibility for the kingdom’s predicaments.

An editor repurposed Isaiah 28:1-6, originally about the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, applied that passage to the Kingdom of Judah, and used 28:1-6 as the introduction to a condemnation of Judah.  Apart from one word (“Ephraim”), Isaiah 28:1-6 could be about Judah.  The oracle originally meant for Judah (28:7f) accused the ruling class of that kingdom of having made a covenant with death–not God–death.  Destruction would ensue, but it would not be complete.

The same themes repeat in the portions of scripture I grouped together for this post.  Isaiah 32 concludes with another condemnation of widespread, systemic unrighteousness and injustice, and a vision of how the people will benefit from the rule of a just and righteous government.

On April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Church, New York, New York, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke without equivocation against United States participation in the Vietnam War.  He also offered a moral critique of his country.  The United States of America needed to experience a

moral revolution of values,

King argued.  It was a thing-oriented society; the society needed to value people more highly than money and property, King contended.  King was correct.  He had also read the Hebrew prophets carefully.

King was a modern-day prophet.  He was also as unpopular in his day as many Hebrew prophets were in theirs.  The vision of a society standing humbly before God, recognizing its complete dependence on God, and acknowledging mutuality has remained an unfulfilled dream.

On that depressing note, I conclude this journey through First Isaiah.  Thank you, O reader, for joining me.  My next step on my trek through Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, will be the Book of Zephaniah.  I invite you to join me there, too.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BLANDINA AND HER COMPANIONS, THE MARTYRS OF LYONS, 177

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH HOMBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARGARET ELIZABETH SANGSTER, HYMN WRITER, NOVELIST, AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY, BISHOP, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 1075

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The Superscription of the Book of Isaiah   1 comment

Above:  Isaiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART I

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Isaiah 1:1

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The Book of Isaiah contains the works of multiple authors writing over a span of centuries, from circa 742/733 B.C.E. to after 537 B.C.E.  The traditional division of the Book of Isaiah (First Isaiah = chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah = chapters 40-55, and Third Isaiah = chapters 56-66) is overly simplistic.  I follow the division from The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003):

  1. First Isaiah = chapters 1-23, 28-33;
  2. Second Isaiah = chapters 34-35, 40-55;
  3. Third Isaiah = chapters 24-27, 56-66; and
  4. A historical appendix verbatim from 2 Kings 18:13-20:19, except for King Hezekiah’s prayer of thanksgiving (Isaiah 38:9-20) = chapters 36-39.

I wrote about Isaiah 36-39 relatively recently, when blogging through the Second Book of Kings.

Isaiah ben Amoz (First Isaiah) was a resident of Jerusalem.  He, an aristocrat, may have been a priest serving at the Temple.  Isaiah’s name meant “the Lord is salvation.”  First Isaiah did not compose all of Isaiah 1-23, 28-33.  Multiple authors contributed to chapters 1-12 alone, for example.

The superscription names four Kings of Judah:

  1. Azariah/Uzziah (r. 785-733 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23);
  2. Jotham (r. 759-743 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:32-38; 2 Chronicles 27:1-9);
  3. Ahaz (r. 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 16:1-20; 2 Chronicles 28:1-27); and
  4. Hezekiah (r. 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 18:1-20:21; 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33; Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-22 and 49:4).

Placing dates from the period of Uzziah through Hezekiah on the Gregorian Calendar and the B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. scale is notoriously difficult.  If one consults five commentaries and study Bibles, one may find as many estimates of any given important date, such as the year in which King Uzziah died  and Isaiah ben Amoz received his prophetic commission from God (Isaiah 6:1).  I prefer to cite dates from The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), as much as possible.  When I consult study Bibles and commentaries, I find a range of years (742-733 B.C.E.) for the death of King Uzziah.

The royal chronology included at least one co-regency, that of Azariah/Uzziah and Jotham.  The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), in the back, holds that the reigns of Azariah/Uzziah and Ahaz may have overlapped.  Other study Bibles I consult indicate that these two reigns did not overlap.

Anyway, Isaiah ben Amoz (First Isaiah) prophesied during perilous times.  The Assyrian Empire loomed in the distance at the beginning of this prophetic career.  Also at the beginning, tensions with the Kingdom of Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel were prominent.  After Assyria conquered Aram then Israel, that empire posed a greater threat to Judah.  Meanwhile, on the domestic front, economic injustice was increasing.  First Isaiah was a contemporary of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, who prophesied regarding those problems, too.

The Books of Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Isaiah have existed in their current forms since after the Babylonian Exile.  This reality has presented many interpretive difficulties for themselves for years.

So be it.  The subsequent editing of texts to address then-current conditions provides a useful model for interpretation.  Despite the historical-critical methodological difficulties inherent in the final versions of these books–First Isaiah, in this case–they continue to address societies and nation-states in the present day.  I acknowledge the historical reality without any fear of offending God as I ask, in the words of a spiritual mentor of mine from the 1990s:

What is really going on here?

Any historical hiccups which may exist will not stand in the way of answering that question.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN H. W. STUCKENBERG, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND ACADEMIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF MENTHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND ARCHDEACON OF AOSTA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN POND PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAS DENCKE, SILESIAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST; AND SIMON PETER AND JOHANN FRIEDRICH PETER, GERMAN-AMERICAN COMPOSERS, EDUCATORS, MUSICIANS, AND MINISTERS

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCAFEE BROWN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, ACTIVIST, AND ECUMENIST

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The Superscription of the Book of Micah   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Assyrian Empire and Its Neighbors

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING MICAH, PART I

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Micah 1:1

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The prophet was an individual who said No to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism.  He was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected.  His fundamental objective was to reconcile man and God.  Why do the two need reconciliation?  Perhaps it is due to man’s false sense of sovereignty, to his abuse of freedom, to his aggressive, sprawling pride, resenting God’s involvement in history.

–Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, Vol. 1 (1962), xiii

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The superscription of the Book of Micah identifies the prophet as Micah, from Moresheth, a village southwest of Jerusalem.  “Micah” is abbreviated from “Micaiah,” literally, “Who is like Yah[weh]?”  The superscription also specifies the prophet’s mission (to prophecy regarding the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah) and timeframe (during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah).

With a few exceptions (such as in the First Book of the Maccabees, which dated events according to the Hellenistic calendar), when authors of the Old Testament dated events, the usually used relative dating, such as “in the third year of king _____.”  Converting these ancient dates to fit onto the Gregorian calendar and the B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. scale has long proven challenging and with inconsistent results.  Perhaps you, O reader, have noticed that when you have consulted two different study Bibles for when a certain King of Israel or King of Judah reigned, you found two different answers.

For the record, as much as possible, I take dates from The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014).  It tells me that the four listed kings reigned accordingly:

  1. Azariah, a.k.a. Uzziah (785-733 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles 26:1-23;
  2. Jotham (759-743 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:32-38 and 2 Chronicles 27:1-9;
  3. Ahaz (743/735-727/715 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 16:1-20; 2 Chronicles 28:1-27; and Isaiah 7:1-8:15; and
  4. Hezekiah (727/715-698/687 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 18:1-20:21; 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33; Isaiah 36:1-39:8; and Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-22 and 49:4.

Jotham and Azariah/Uzziah had a co-regency.  Did Ahaz and Azariah/Uzziah also have a co-regency?  Trying to answer that question accurately is difficult, given that relative dating for the same monarchs is not always consistent, due to factual contradictions in sources.

Scripture does mention “Micah the Morashite” outside of the Book of Micah.  Jeremiah 26:17-19, in the context of Jeremiah’s trial and death sentence, quotes some Jewish elders recalling Micah as having prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah and not having received the death penalty.  Jeremiah 26:18 quotes Micah 3:12.

The Book of Micah, like the Books of Hosea and Amos before it, has layers of authorship and editing between the original version and the final version, from after the Babylonian Exile.  This reality does not trouble me in the Books of Hosea and Amos.  Neither does it disturb me in the Book of Micah.

The timeframe of the prophetic career of Micah, as established in 1:1, was very difficult.

  1. The Assyrian Empire menaced the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.
  2. The Kingdoms of Israel and Aram had formed an anti-Assyrian alliance.  King Ahaz of Judah refused to join that alliance.  Therefore, during the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.), Israel and Aram waged war on Judah and sought to replace Ahaz with a monarch who would join that alliance.  Ahaz allied himself with the Assyrian Empire, not God.  In 732 B.C.E., the Assyrian Empire seized territory from Aram and Israel and reduced those kingdoms to vassalage.
  3. The Assyrian Empire conquered the (northern) Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E.
  4. The Assyrian Empire conquered the Kingdom of Aram in 720 B.C.E.
  5. In 701, during the reign of King Hezekiah, Assyrian King Sennacherib (r. 705-681 B.C.E.) invaded Judah.
  6. On the domestic front, wealthy landowners were forcing peasant farmers into debt and seizing their land, in violation of the common good and the Law of Moses.  Corruption, injustice, and oppression of Judeans by Judeans was endemic.

The superscription (1:1) refers to “Samaria and Jerusalem,” the capitals of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, respectively.  I mention this because the use of language matters.  If, for example, I write, “x” and have one meaning in mind yet you, O reader, read “x” and have another definition in mind, I have not communicated with you, and you have missed the point.

  1. The Book of Micah, in its final form, generally uses “Israel” in the generic sense–the people of the covenant, not the subjects of any Jewish kingdom.  This explains why, in Micah, Israel continues to exist after the Fall of Samaria (722 B.C.E.).
  2. “Jacob” refers to Judah.  The use of “Jacob” recalls the infamous trickster (Genesis 25:19-34; 27:1-35:37; 37:1-36; 42:29-43:14; 46:1-47:12; 47:28-48:22).  “Jacob,” of course, is also the original name of Israel, after whom the people of Israel took their name.  The use of “Jacob” to refer to Judah indicates the importance of divine promises to the Patriarchs and foreshadows restoration to a state of grace after punishment for sins.

The Book of Micah holds divine judgment and mercy in balance.  Much of the prophecy, in its final, edited form, is doom and gloom.

Yet faith in God does not conclude on a note of despair.  Hope is the last word, then as now.  But the hope which prophetic religion exalts is born of faith in God and in his love of man.

–Harold A. Bosley, in The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 6 (1956), 901

Another detail interests me.  Most English translations begin:

The word of the LORD that came to Micah….”

Focus on “came to,” O reader.  The Hebrew text literally reads:

The word of the LORD that was Micah….

This leads me back to Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel:

The prophet is a person, not a microphone.  He is endowed with a mission, with the power of a word not his own that accounts for his greatness–but also with temperament, concern, character, and individuality.  As there was no resisting the impact of divine inspiration, so at times there was no resisting the vortex of his own temperament.  The word of God reverberated in the voice of man.

The prophet’s task is to convey a divine view, yet as a person he is a point of view.  He speaks from the perspective of God as perceived from the perspective of his own situation.  We must seek to understand not only the views he expounded but also the attitudes he embodied:  his own position, feeling response–not only what he said but also what he lived; the private, the intimate dimension of the word, the subjective side of the message.

–The Prophets, Vol. 1 (1962), viii

The inspiration of scripture included a human element.  The authors and prophets were not secretaries of the Holy Spirit, taking dictation, as in “Put a comma there.”  No, the people thanks to whom we have the Bible put themselves into the book.  They were the message.  They were people, not microphones.

What does the Book of Micah have to proclaim to the world of 2021?  Let us find out.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS SELNECKER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JACKSON KEMPER, EPISCOPAL MISSIONARY BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDITH MARY MELLISH (A.K.A. MOTHER EDITH), FOUNDRESS OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED NAME

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA GARGANI, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS APOSTLES OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF MARY MADELEVA WOLFF, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, POET, SCHOLAR, AND PRESIDENT OF SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE, NOTRE DAME, INDIANA

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The Superscription of the Book of Hosea   3 comments

Above:  A Map of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING HOSEA, PART I

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Hosea 1:1

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This post begins an ambitious program of Bible study and blogging.  I, having recently blogged my way through Daniel, Jonah, and Baruch at this weblog, turn to the other books of the Old Testament classified as prophetic.  In the first stage, I am reading and blogging about Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah, all of them contemporaries prior to the Babylonian Exile.

The prophet Hosea (“rescue”) ben Beeri lived and prophesied in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  According to Hosea 1:1, Hosea prophesied during the reigns of the following monarchs:

  1. Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah (r. 785-733 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles 26;
  2. Jotham of Judah (r. 759-743 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:32-38 and 2 Chronicles 27:1-9;
  3. Ahaz of Judah (r. 743/735-727-715 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 16:1-20, 2 Chronicles 28:1-27, and Isaiah 7:1-8:15;
  4. Hezekiah of Judah (r. 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 18:1-20:21, 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33, Isaiah 38:1-39:8, and Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-22 and 49:14; and
  5. Jeroboam II of Israel (r. 788-747 B.C.E.), see 2 Kings 14:23-29.

The list of kings (with dates taken from The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition, 2014) does not include any Israelite monarchs who succeeded Jeroboam II through the Fall of Samaria (722 B.C.E.) and were contemporary with King Ahaz of Judah and perhaps King Hezekiah of Judah.  Also, this list prioritizes the Kings of Judah.  If one is intellectually honest (as I try to be), the chronological problem is obvious: Ahaz and Hezekiah do not belong on the list of kings in Hosea 1:1. The Book of Hosea contains layers of composition and editing.  Alteration of the original text seems to have begun perhaps as early as prior to the Babylonian Exile, in the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, and continued (probably) as late as the post-Exilic period.  The chronological discrepancy in Hosea 1:1 is a minor matter.  If I were a fundamentalist, it would trouble me, and I would attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.  Karen Armstrong tells us:

…fundamentalism is antihistorical….

A History of God:  The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (1993), xx

The NIV Study Bible (1985) pretends that there is no chronological discrepancy in Hosea 1:1.  But I do not affirm either Biblical literalism or inerrancy, so I acknowledge and ponder the evidence of alteration of the original text of the Book of Hosea.  Besides, salvation does not require willful ignorance or a frontal lobotomy.  Besides, giving short shrift to one’s intellect in the name of piety dishonors the image of God in oneself.

The germane note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014) argues for the editing of the original text of the Book of Hosea during the final, declining period of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah:

From the Israelite perspective, the book is anchored in the last period of strength of the Northern Kingdom; from the Judahite perspective, it is anchored in a period in which Israel moves from a political position of strength to the beginning of its demise in the days of Hezekiah.  This double perspective is no mistake, but a rhetorical clue for the reading of the book.

–1132

Gale A. Yee wrote:

The priority of Judean kings suggests a Judean editing.  The phraseology and structure that this verse shares with other prophetic superscriptions indicates that it was part of a joint redaction of the prophetic books.  This editing probably occurred during or after the Babylonian exile, when the latter prophets can be dated.  Moreover, the phraseology is similar to the editing of 1 and 2 Kings, suggesting a deuteronomistic redaction.  The superscription emphasizes that while the revelation was addressed to a particular prophet at a particular historical time, the book in its later, edited state articulates the revealed message of God.  As God’s word through Hosea spoke to its original audience and to its later Judean audience, it continues to address us today.

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7 (1996), 217

The (united) Kingdom of Israel had divided in 928 B.C.E., early in the reign of King Rehoboam, son of King Solomon.  The Davidic Dynasty, which had ruled the (united) Kingdom of Judah since 1005 B.C.E., governed the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, including the tribes of Judah and Simeon, until the Fall of Jerusalem (587 B.C.E.).  In contrast, dynasties rose and fell in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  King Jeroboam II (reigned 788-747) belonged to the House of Jehu, which had come to power in a bloody revolution in 842 B.C.E.  Jeroboam II presided over a prosperous and militarily strong realm (2 Kings 14:23-29). Yet, just a quarter-century after his death, the former (northern) Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire.  Those twenty-five years were politically tumultuous.

  • King Zechariah succeeded his father, Jeroboam II, in 747 B.C.E., and reigned for about six months (2 Kings 15:8-12)
  • King Shallum ended the House of Jehu, as well as the life and reign of King Zechariah via assassination in 747 B.C.E.  Shallum reigned for about a month (2 Kings 15:13-16).
  • King Menahem (r. 747-737 B.C.E.) came to power by having King Shallum assassinated (2 Kings 15:17-22).
  • King Pekahiah (r. 737-735 B.C.E.), succeeded his father, King Menahem (2 Kings 15:23-26).
  • King Pekah (r. 735-732 B.C.E.) came to power by having King Pekahiah assassinated (2 Kings 15:27-31).
  • King Hoshea (r. 732-722 B.C.E.) came to power by having King Pekah assassinated.  Assyrian King Sargon II (r. 722-705) finished what Shalmaneser V (r. 727-722) had started; Sargon II terminated Hoshea’s reign and the existence of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-23).

A note in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) suggests:

Because Hosea condemned the house of Jehu, it may be that he fled Israel prior to the revolt [of 747 B.C.E.], continuing to speak from Judah.

That is possible.

God, speaking through Hosea, repeatedly warned the people of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel of the terrors they were about to experience and urged them to restore their covenant relationship with God.  They did not renew that covenant relationship, to their detriment.  Perhaps subsequent editors of the original text of the Book of Hosea amplified these themes, with the benefit of hindsight.  But these editors did not invent them.

Repurposing and revising texts was sufficiently commonplace in Biblical times that finding evidence of it had ceased to surprise me.  For example, some of the Psalms originated at one place and in one period yet went through stages of revision, to fit different contexts.

Dr. Yee’s final point provides my jumping-off point for my conclusion for this post:

…[God’s word] continues to address us today.

Here, “God’s word” refers to what God has said and says.  God’s word is as current today as it was last year, a decade ago, a century ago, a thousand years ago, and in antiquity.  God’s word, although ancient, remains fresh.  Are we paying attention?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT GERMANUS I CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE; AND DEFENDER OF ICONS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY OF OSTIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT, CARDINAL, AND LEGATE; AND SAINT DOMINIC OF THE CAUSEWAY, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

THE FEAST OF PAUL MAZAKUTE, FIRST SIOUX EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ROGER SCHÜTZ, FOUNDER OF THE TAIZÉ COMMUNITY

THE FEAST OF SYLVESTER II, BISHOP OF ROME

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“Love Casts Out Fear….” IV   Leave a comment

Above:  King Hezekiah

Image in the Public Domain

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For Christmas Day, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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O God, who hast made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light;

grant, we beseech thee, that as we have known on earth the mysteries of that Light,

we may also come to the fullness of his joys in heaven;

who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 118

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Isaiah 9:2-7 (Anglican and Protestant)/Isaiah 9:1-6 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Psalm 89:1-27 (Protestant and Anglican)/Psalm 89:2-38 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

1 John 4:7-21

Matthew 1:18-25

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On one level, at least, the prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-6/9:2-7 (depending on versification) refers to the birth of the future King Hezekiah of Judah (reigned 727/735-698/687 B.C.E.).  The Bible is generally favorably disposed toward King Hezekiah, of whom one can read further in the following passages:

  1. 2 Kings 16:20;
  2. 2 Kings 18-20;
  3. 2 Chronicles 28:27;
  4. 2 Chronicles 29-32;
  5. Isaiah 36-39;
  6. Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-22; and
  7. Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 49:4.

We read in Ezekiel 34 that Kings of Israel and Judah were, metaphorically, shepherds–mostly abysmal ones.  Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 49:4 lists Hezekiah as one of the three good kings, alongside David and Josiah.

The steadfast love of God is the theme that unites these four readings.  This faithfulness may be evident in the Davidic Dynasty, a particular monarch, Jesus of Nazareth, or an ordinary human being or community of such people.  Such divine fidelity requires a human faithful response.  Grace is free, not cheap.

The epistle reading holds my attention most of all.  I write you, O reader, to read it again.  The text is fairly self-explanatory.  There is no fear in love.  Anyone who professes to love God yet hates a human being lies about loving God.

These are hard words to hear or read.  I can write only for myself; I know the emotion of hatred.  Perhaps you do, too, O reader.  All of us are imperfect; God knows that.  We can, by grace overcome that hatred.  We all sin.  We all stumble.  But we can lead lives defined by love, by grace.

I can think of people who define their lives according to hatred and resentment.  These are individuals who leave chaos and destruction in their wake.  They are pitiable.  They need to repent.  And, according to our reading from 1 John, they do not love God.  May perfect love drive out their fear, for their sake and for ours.

And may perfect love drive out the remaining unreasonable, destructive fear in the lives of the rest of us.  I refer not to proper, cautious fear.  I write during the COVID-19 pandemic.  A certain level of fear is positive and responsible; it leads to behavior that protects everyone.  No, I refer to fear that leads to selfish, destructive decisions.  I refer to fear that defines certain people as expendable, subhuman, deserving of fewer civil rights and civil liberties than the rest of us, et cetera.  I refer to fear that works against the common good and drags everyone down.  I refer to fear to violates the image of God in anyone.  I refer to fear that violates the principle of mutuality, enshrined in the Law of Moses, the teachings of Hebrew prophets, and the ethics of Jesus of Nazareth.

Merry Christmas, O reader!  May the love of God in Christ fill your life and transform you daily more nearly into his likeness.  May you love like Jesus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 1, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHARLES DE FOUCAULD, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF ALBERT BARNES, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, ABOLITIONIONST, AND ALLEGED HERETIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRIOC, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT TUDWAL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF DOUGLASS LETELL RIGHTS, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD TIMOTHY MICKEY, JR., U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP AND LITURGIST

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The Death and Evaluation of King Hezekiah of Judah   4 comments

Above:  King Hezekiah of Judah, by Michelangelo Buonaroti, from the Sistine Chapel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART CIII

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2 Kings 20:20-21

2 Chronicles 32:32-33

Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-22; 49:4

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Except David and Hezekiah and Josiah they all sinned greatly,

for they forsook the law of the Most High;

the kings of Judah came to an end;

for they gave their power to others,

and their glory to a foreign nation,

who set fire to the chosen city of the sanctuary,

and made her streets desolate,

according to the word of Jeremiah.

–Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 49:4-6, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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King Hezekiah of Judah (Reigned 729/715-698/687 B.C.E.)

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The evaluation of King Hezekiah of Judah in Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/Wisdom of Ben Sira is glowing.  That germane passage mentions all the familiar Bible stories about the monarch and notes that 

Hezekiah did what was pleasing to the Lord.

Indeed, had more Kings of Judah been like Hezekiah, the kingdom would have been stronger and lasted longer than it did.  After the death of King Hezekiah, the trajectory of Judah was mostly downhill.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIBRORD, APOSTLE TO THE FRISIANS; AND SAINT BONIFACE, APOSTLE TO THE GERMANS

THE FEAST OF ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN CAWOOD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHRISTIAN FREDERICK HAYER, LUTHERAN MISSIONARY IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND INDIA; BARTHOLOMEAUS ZIEGENBALG, JR., LUTHERAN MISSIONARY TO THE TAMILS; AND LUDWIG NOMMENSEN, LUTHERAN MISSIONARY TO SUMATRA AND APOSTLE TO THE BATAK

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The Death and Evaluation of Elisha   1 comment

Above:  Elisha

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART XCIII

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2 Kings 13:14-21

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It was Elijah who was covered by the whirlwind,

and Elisha was filled with his spirit,

in all his days he did not tremble before any ruler,

and no one brought him into subjection.

Nothing was too hard for him,

and when he was dead his body prophesied.

As in life he did wonders,

so in death his deeds were marvelous.

For all this the people did not repent,

and they were carried away captive from their land

and were scattered over all the earth;

the people were left very few in number,

but with rulers from the House of David.

Some of them did what was pleasing to God,

but others multiplied sins.

–Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:12-16, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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Some translations add two more lines in Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/Wisdom of Ben Sira 48:12.  The New Revised Standard Version (1989), for example, tells us:

He performed twice as many signs,

and marvels with every utterance of his mouth.

The first of those two lines is an interpretation of Elisha having requested and received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit in 2 Kings 2:9-18.  (I have covered that passage already in this series of posts.) 

The discrepancy between two sets of translations results from differing texts, in both Hebrew and Greek.  This is not a new issue in Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/Wisdom of Ben Sira, as one who reads it closely should know.

The agreed-upon text of Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/Wisdom of Ben Sira 48:12-16 is my guide for this post.

  1. Elisha did not suffer fools easily and did not find proud, powerful people impressive.  He had a healthy attitude in these matters.  It helped him confront authority, as a prophet should.
  2. Verse 13 refers to 2 Kings 13:21.
  3. Working wonders (even when dead) was impressive and gave Elisha his bona fides.
  4. Yet collective sins persisted, and future generations paid the price.  Ten tribes became the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

Human nature is a constant factor.  The capacity for obliviousness can shock yet should never surprise.  And sin is both collective and individual.  Only grace can save us from each other and ourselves.  The free will to accept grace and its demands is a gift of grace.  Every road leads to grace, if one drives in the proper lane.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 3, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD HOOKER, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF DANIEL PAYNE, AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOHN WORTHINGTON, BRITISH MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER; JOHN ANTES, U.S. MORAVIAN INSTRUMENT MAKER, COMPOSER, AND MISSIONARY; BENJAMIN HENRY LATROBE, SR., BRITISH MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER; CHRISTIAN IGNATIUS LATROBE AND COMPOSER; JOHANN CHRISTOPHER PYRLAEUS, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND MUSICIAN; AND AUGUSTUS GOTTLIEB SPANGENBERG, MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERRE-FRANÇOIS NÉRON, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR IN VIETNAM, 1860

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The Reign of King Jehoram/Joram of Israel, with the Rebellion of Mesha   1 comment

Above:  King Jehoram/Joram of Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART LXXXII

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2 Kings 3:1-27

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…in all his days [Elisha] did not tremble before any ruler,

and no one brought him into subjection.

–Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:12b, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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King Jehoram/Joram of Israel (Reigned 851-842 B.C.E.)

King Jehoshaphat of Judah (Reigned 870-846 B.C.E.)

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King Jehoram/Joram of Israel received a mostly negative evaluation in 2 Kings 3:1-3.  His father, King Ahab, had ordered the construction of pillars in honor of Baal Peor.  King Jehoram/Joram ordered their destruction.  That was positive.  Nevertheless, Elisha had no use and little time for the King Jehoram/Joram.

The geopolitical situation was as follows:  Israel and Judah were allies.  Their royal families had married into each other.  Israel dominated Moab, the king of which, was Mesha.  Judah dominated Edom.  King Mesha of Moab sought to cease being a vassal of the King of Israel.  King Jehoshaphat of Judah feared that, if King Mesha succeeded, the King of Edom would also rebel.

Mesha’s revolt succeeded.  At first, the Israel-Judah coalition seemed poised to win the conflict.  When Moabites saw the reflection of red sandstone mountains in water, they mistook the sight for pools of blood.  Then the coalition forces attacked.  After Mesha made his firstborn sone and his heir a human sacrifice, the coalition forces lost and retreated.  The Mesha stele has confirmed some of these details.

Mesha assumed that this god Chemosh was angry, hence the subjugation of Moab to Israel since the reign of King Omri.  The King of Moab understood himself to be appeasing this deity.

One interpretation of the story assumes that the wrath of Chemosh against coalition forces drove them out of Moab.  Or maybe the story assumes that that the wrath of YHWH against Israel for violating the prohibition against scorched-earth warfare drove coalition forces out of Moab.  One may legitimately wonder, according to 2 Kings 3:27, whose “great wrath” came upon Israel.

In simple terms, the question is one of monotheism versus monolatry.  Monotheism, of course, affirms the existence of only one deity.  Monolatry accepts that other deities exist yet rejects the worship of them.  The question of whether the original intention of a particular verse in the Hebrew Bible indicated monotheism or monolatry is one a person can trace by comparing commentaries.

I cannot read the mind of the author of 2 Kings 3:27.  I know, however, that strict monotheism in Jewish folk religion (as opposed to priestly orthodoxy) became prominent after the beginning of the Babylonian Exile.  I know that, for a very long time, many Hebrews in ancient Judah and Israel assumed that other peoples had their gods.  I suppose that the author of 2 Kings 3:27 may have thought that Chemosh had power in Moab.

If so, I point to another example of why some ancient perspectives in the Bible should not define my thinking.  On the other hand, if the wrath was that of YHWH, according to the author of 2 Kings 3:27, my previous point does not apply in this case.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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The Assumption and Legacy of Elijah   Leave a comment

Above:  The Assumption of Elijah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART LXXX

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2 Kings 2:1-18

Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:14b-48:12a

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How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wonderous deeds!

And who has the right to boast which you have?

–Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:4, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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Elijah was one of three Biblical characters assumed bodily into Heaven.  The first was Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24).  The third was St. Mary of Nazareth, the Theotokos, the Mother of God, and the Queen of Heaven.

2 Kings 2:1-18 contains elements that may require explanation.  For example:

  1. The mantle (robe or cloak) was the physical means of parting the River Jordan, in an echo of the parting of the Sea of Reeds in Exodus 14.  Elijah resembled Moses in that scene.
  2. The request for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit was the request to become Elijah’s recognized and equipped successor.  According to Deuteronomy 21:17, the eldest son’s portion of the father’s inheritance was double that any of the any sons received.  Elisha asked for the same right as an eldest son, but not regarding property.
  3. Elisha resembled Moses in a second parting of the waters in 2 Kings 2:14.

I detect nostalgic exaggeration in Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/Wisdom of Ben Sira 48:8.  As I recall Biblical stories, God (in 1 Kings 19) ordered Elijah to choose his successor and to anoint the next Kings of Israel and Aram.  1 Kings 19 tells us that Elijah chose Elisha shortly thereafter.  2 Kings 8 and 9 tell me that Elisha anointed the next Kings of Israel and Aram.

Nevertheless, Elijah was one of the most remarkable figures in the Bible.  He became a figure of great importance in messianic expectation.  Elijah also became a symbol of the Hebrew prophetic tradition.  Jesus speaking with Elijah and Moses at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36) testified to the greatness of the prophet.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Evaluation of King Josiah   5 comments

Above:  King Josiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 2 KINGS 22-25, 1 ESDRAS, 2 CHRONICLES 34-36, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAH

PART V

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1 Esdras 1:23-24

Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 49:1-6

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O my God, remember to my credit all that I have done for this people!

–Nehemiah 5:19, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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And the deeds of Josiah were upright in the sight of the Lord, for his heart was full of godliness.  In ancient times the events of his reign have been recorded–concerning those who sinned and acted wickedly toward the Lord beyond any other people or kingdom, and how they grieved the Lord deeply, so that the words of the Lord fell upon Israel.

–1 Esdras 1:23-24, New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That passage from 1 Esdras has no parallel in 2 Chronicles or 2 Kings.

Sirach 49:1-6 heaps more praise upon Josiah.  That passage lauds only three Israelite monarchs–David, Hezekiah, and Josiah.  The rest were wicked, verse 4 tells us.  Sirach 49:1-6 also tells us that Josiah’s name is like “blended incense” and that his memory is precious.  One also reads that Josiah “kept his heart fixed on God” and led a virtuous life during “times of lawlessness.”  Such lawlessness, one reads, led to the Babylonian Exile.

Sirach 49:1-6 comes from a section (Chapters 44-50) in which Ben Sira praises heroes, but not always in chronological order.  The standard English translation of Sirach 44:1 begins,

Let us now praise famous men….

I wonder if the author of Hebrews (definitely not St. Paul the Apostle) had Sirach 44-50 in mind when dictating or writing the roll call of faith in Chapter 11.

The story of King Josiah of Judah confirms what most people know already:  the wisdom and character of those who sit in positions of power changes the courses of nations and the world.  And even those who walk with God make foolish decisions.  At least these rulers are not evil, though.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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