Archive for the ‘Exodus 21’ Category

Divine Judgment Against Israel and Judah   Leave a comment

Above:  Clarke County Jail, Athens-Clarke County, Georgia

Image Source = Google Earth

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READING AMOS, PART III

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Amos 2:4-16

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Introduction

The Books of Amos, Hosea, Micah, and First Isaiah (Chapters 1-23, 28-33), in their final forms, bear the evidence of editing and updating as late as after the Babylonian Exile.  Isaiah 36-39, frequently classified as part of First Isaiah, is verbatim from 2 Kings 18:13-20:19, except for Isaiah 38:9-20 (King Hezekiah’s prayer of thanksgiving).  One may reasonably argue that Amos 2:4-5 (the condemnation of Judah) is not original to the first draft of the Book of Amos, given that the prophet had a mandate to prophesy against the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.

The words of Amos, a sheepherder from Tekoa, who prophesied concerning Israel….”

–Amos 1:1, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Nevertheless, we read the final draft of the Book of Amos, last updated to speak to exiles in Persian-occupied Judea.  Therefore, the final draft is the one we ponder and apply to today.

In Amos 1:3-2:3, God, through the prophet (and subsequent writers), had condemned Gentile neighbor nations of Israel and Judah for crimes that were anti-human or against nature.  The covenant did not apply to these nations, but certain standards did.  And God held these nations accountable.  The covenant did apply to Israel and Judah, though.

The motif from Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1 repeats in 2:4, 6:

For three crimes of _____, and now four–

I will not take it back-….

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Divine patience has its limits.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.

Judah (2:4-5)

The (southern) Kingdom of Judah had “spurned the instruction of the LORD, and did not keep his statutes….”

That kingdom fell to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C.E.

Israel (2:6-16)

The identity of Israel in Amos 2:6-16, in its final form, is ambiguous.  Israel seems to be the Northern Kingdom at first, given the prophet’s mandate.  Yet, in 2:10f, Israel refers to the Jewish people.  2:6-16, probably in this form since after the Babylonian Exile, applies the text to the Jews of that time.

The condemnations are timeless.  They include economic injustice, exploitation of human beings, slavery, judicial corruption, and other offenses against the common good.  Some details are specific to time and place.  For example, consider 2:7b:

Son and father sleep with the same girl,

profaning my holy name.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

She may be a cultic prostitute, as in Hosea 4:14, in violation of Deuteronomy 23:17.  Or she may be a bond-servant whose rights father and son trample by making her their concubine, in violation of Exodus 21:8.  Sexual promiscuity (in violation of Deuteronomy 27:20; Leviticus 18:8, 15, 17; and Leviticus 20:10f) is another matter in this verset.  This promiscuity violates an oath made in the name of YHWH.  One may recognize applications of Amos 2:7b in various contexts today.

Upon garments taken in pledge

they recline beside my altar.

Wine at treasury expense

they drink in their temple.

–Amos 2:8, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

A debtor used a garment as collateral for a loan.  Exodus 22:26-27 protected the rights of debtors:

If you take your neighbour’s cloak in pawn, return it to him by sunset, because it is his only covering.  It is the cloak in which he wraps his body; in what else can he sleep?  If he appeals to me, I shall listen, for I am full of compassion.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

The wine in Amos 2:8b was wine gained from fines debtors paid to creditors.  Exodus 21:22 and Deuteronomy 22:19 permitted imposing fines as a form of reparation for injury.  The rich were exploiting the poor and manipulating the rules at cultic festivals of YHWH.  They were making a mockery of sacred rituals.  Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, addressed such behavior in Hosea 6:4-6.

But they, to a man, have transgressed the covenant.

–Hosea 6:7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The (northern) Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E.

Conclusion

The condemnations in Amos 2:6-8 remain relevant, unfortunately.

  1. Human trafficking is a major problem.  I live in Athens, Georgia, to the northeast of Atlanta, a hub of the slave trade, of a sort.
  2. In the United States of America, the federal minimum wage is not a living wage.
  3. Judicial corruption continues to exist.  Often, wealthy defendants fare better than impoverished ones.  “How much justice can you afford?” is frequently an honest and germane question.  Many innocent people bow to prosecutors’ pressure and plead guilty to lesser offenses to avoid certain conviction and a stiffer sentence for a greater legal charge.
  4. Bail, frequently not necessary, is a burden on impoverished defendants.
  5. The exploitation of human beings, as a matter of corporate and government policies, remains endemic.
  6. Sexual promiscuity, to which human nature is prone, remains ubiquitous.
  7. Women are frequently vulnerable to powerful men.
  8. Idolatry is another persistent problem.
  9. Injustice is individual, collective, and systemic.

If he appeals to me, I shall listen, for I am full of compassion.

–Exodus 22:27b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  Divine mercy for the oppressed may take the form of judgment for the oppressors.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN DE CHARGÉ AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS OF TIBHIRINE, ALGERIA, 1996

THE FEAST OF EUGENE DE MAZENOD, BISHOP OF MARSEILLES, AND FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE MISSIONARIES, OBLATES OF MARY IMMACULATE

THE FEAST OF FRANZ JÄGGERSTÄTTER, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR AND MARTYR, 1943

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH ADDISON AND ALEXANDER POPE, ENGLISH POETS

THE FEAST OF SAINT MANUEL GÓMEZ GONZÁLEZ, SPANISH-BRAZILIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1924; AND SAINT ADILO DARONCH, BRAZILIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC ALTAR BOY AND MARTYR, 1924

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Divine Judgment Against Foreign Nations, Part I   2 comments

Above:  Map of the Assyrian Empire and Its Neighbors

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING AMOS, PART II

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Amos 1:3-2:3

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Introduction

As I read the Book of Amos, I ask myself how much of the final version is original to the text from the prophet.  I know that the final version of the Book of Amos dates to the 400s B.C.E., three centuries after the time of the prophet.  Nevertheless, that question, germane for some matters of interpretation, is irrelevant for other matters of interpretation.  The message(s) of the Book of Amos for people, cultures, societies, and institutions in 2021 C.E. are what they are, regardless of which layer of composition to which a particular passage belongs.

Amos 1:3-2:16 consists of prophetic oracles of judgment against nations.  I choose to write about the oracles against Judah and Israel in the next post.  In this post, I focus on divine judgment against Aram, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab.

Notice, O reader, a motif:

For three crimes of _____, and now four–

I will not take it back–….

–Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

This motif indicates the end of divine patience after the third crime.  Divine patience is not infinite.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.

Amos 1:3-2:3 condemns neighboring nations for behavior that is anti-human or against nature.  These Gentiles, not being under the Law of Moses, had no covenant with God to keep.  They were still accountable according to certain standards, though.

Aram (1:3-5)

Aram was where Syria is today.  Aram was the main rival of the Assyrian Empire during the time of the prophets Amos, Hosea, Micah, and (First) Isaiah.  Aram was also a frequent foe of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.

Aram had “threshed Gilead with sledges of iron,” a reference to a military campaign (2 Kings 13:3-7).  King Hazael came to power circa 842 B.C.E. and reigned until circa 806 B.C.E. (2 Kings 8:7-15).  He founded a dynasty.  Hazael’s immediate successor was his son, King Ben-hadad II (2 Kings 13:3).  Hadad was a storm god, and “Ben” meant “son of.”

“Aven” meant “evil,” so the Valley of Aven was the “Valley of Evil.”  Beth-eden was an Aramaic city-state between the Euphrates and Balikh Rivers.  According to Amos 1:5, God would depose the King of Beth-eden and exile the Arameans.  During the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 15:27-31; 2 Kings 16:1-19; 2 Chronicles 28:1-26; Isaiah 7:1-8:23), King Pekah of Israel (r. 735-732 B.C.E.) and King Rezin of Aram (r. 750-732 B.C.E.), having formed an anti-Assyrian alliance, fought the (southern) Kingdom of Judah and besieged Jerusalem because King Ahaz (r. 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) refused to join that coalition.  King Ahaz of Judah turned not to God, but to the Assyrian Empire.  That empire conquered part of Aram and reduced Israel to vassalage in 732 B.C.E.  The Assyrian Empire ended Aram’s existence as an independent kingdom in 720 B.C.E.  That empire relocated Arameans throughout the Assyrian Empire, including in Samaria (2 Kings 17:24, 30).

Philistia (1:6-8

Philistia was on the Mediterranean coast and east of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.  Philistia was where the Gaza Strip is today.  Philistines were the people otherwise known as Phoenicians.

Philistia had “exiled an entire population,” probably from Israel or Judah.  This raid, perhaps during the reign (817-800 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 13:1-25) of King Jehoahaz of Israel, violated Exodus 21:16, not that the covenant applied to the Philistines.

Tyre (1:9-10)

Tyre, on the Mediterranean coast, was the chief Phoenician city in the middle 700s B.C.E.  It was a wealthy commercial capital of a trading network.

Tyre had violated a treaty with an unnamed partner and handed an entire population over to slave markets in Edom.

Edom (1:11-12)

Edom was south of the Dead Sea, in what is now the southern regions of Israel and Jordan.  Edom was the nation, by tradition, descended from Esau, a.k.a. Edom (Genesis 25:25-28:9; 32:3-33:16; 35:1-43; 36:1-43).  Jacob/Israel had made their peace (Genesis 33), but their descendants had continued the conflict.

Edom, the nation, had pursued his “brother” (Israel) with the sword.  Edom, the nation, was metaphorically the brother of the Israelite people (Numbers 20:14; Deuteronomy 2:4; Deuteronomy 23:7; Obadiah 10, 12).  King David had added Edom to the (united) Kingdom of Israel (2 Samuel 8:13f; 1 Kings 11:15-17).  Edom, part of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah after the division of the (united) Kingdom of Israel, threw off Judean control during the reign (851-853 B.C.E.) of King Jehoram (Joram) (2 Kings 8:16-24; 2 Chronicles 21:4-20). Yet Judah reconquered Edom during the reign (798-769 B.C.E.) of King Amaziah of Judah (2 Kings 14:1-22; 2 Chronicles 25:1-28) and the reign (785-733 B.C.E.) of King Azariah/Uzziah of Judah (2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23), contemporary with the time of the prophets Hosea, Amos, and Micah.  Edomites persisted in their anger; they raged in wrath without end.

Ammon (1:13-15)

Ammon was to the west of the River Jordan and north of the Dead Sea, in modern-day Jordan.  Ammon had been part of the (united) Kingdom of Israel under Kings David and Solomon.  The Ammonites had broken away circa 928 B.C.E., when the (united) Kingdom of Israel split into the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.

Ammon had “ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, in order to extend their territory” (Amos 1:13).  Ammon had fought a border war with Israel, probably during the 800s B.C.E.  In the course of that conflict, Ammonite soldiers had ripped open pregnant women, a tactic not unheard of, sadly.

Ammon became a vassal state (742-630 B.C.E.) of the Assyrian Empire then a province thereof.  With the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of the Assyrian Empire, Ammon became a rebellious province of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The rebellion failed, and mass deportations ensued.

Moab (2:1-3)

Moab was west of the Dead Sea, in modern-day Jordan.  Moab had been a vassal state of the (united) Kingdom of Israel under Kings David and Solomon then under the kings of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  King Mesha of Moab had successfully rebelled against vassalage during the reign (851-842 B.C.E) of King Jehoram (Joram) of Israel (1 Kings 3:1-27) and the reign (870-846 B.C.E.) of King Jehoshaphat of Judah (1 Kings 22:1-51; 2 Kings 3:1-27; 2 Chronicles 17:1-20:37).  Moab was also the homeland of Ruth.

Moab had “burned to ashes the bones of Edom’s king.”  This was an extreme disrespect usually reserved criminals (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9), not that Moabites were subject to the Law of Moses.  This act, which had no effect on either the (northern) Kingdom of Israel or the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, was still a crime against God.

Moab came under Assyrian domination (c. 735 B.C.E.), became an Assyrian province (711 B.C.E.), and finally ceased to be a state (circa 600 B.C.E.).  (For more about the decline and fall of Moab, read Isaiah 15-16 and Jeremiah 48.)

Conclusion

A spiritual mentor of mine liked to read some portion of the Bible then ask:

What is really going on here?

God, who is sovereign over all the nations, does not tolerate injustice.  The Book of Amos beats the drum repeatedly.  God cares deeply about how people, cultures, societies, and institutions treat people.

In this post, I have focused on neighbors of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.  Many of the prophet’s original audience probably delighted to hear these proclamations of divine judgment against these foreign nations.

Then Amos stopped preaching and started meddling, so to speak.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALCUIN OF YORK, ABBOT OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS COLUMBA OF RIETI AND OSANNA ANDREASI, DOMINICAN MYSTICS

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELIOT, “THE APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIÁ ANGÉLICA LATHROP, FOUNDRESS OF THE DOMINICAN SISTERS OF HAWTHORNE

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Exploitation III   Leave a comment

Above:  Moses, by Edward Peck Sperry, 1897

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-31841

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For the Second Sunday in Lent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Lord Jesus Christ, our only King, who came in the form of a servant:

control our wills and restrain our selfish ambitions,

that we may seek thy glory above all things and fulfill our lives in thee.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 121

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Exodus 34:1-9

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Matthew 7:24-29

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When I was a boy, I had a collection of Arch Books.  Each volume, a thin paperback book, told one Bible story in words and pictures.  This was a wonderful way for a child to learn Bible stories.  The Arch Book for the parable from Matthew 7:24-27 has lodged itself in my memory.

Jesus likened himself to a rock.  Moses was atop a mountain in Exodus 19 when he received far more than ten commandments from God.  (The commandments fill Exodus 20-24.)  Moses was atop a mountain again, to receive more commandments and stone tablet versions (Exodus 25-31).  While Moses was away, impatient Israelites broke the covenant.  Moses, in anger, broke the first stone tablets (Exodus 32).  Then Moses interceded on behalf of the people (Exodus 32-33).  God restored the covenant in Exodus 34.

We are supposed to read Exodus 34 in the context of the rest of the Torah narrative and of the Hebrew Bible more broadly.  We know of the unfortunate habit of murmuring and of relatively short memories of God’s mighty acts yet long memories of Egyptian leftovers.

I am not a psychologist, but psychology intrigues me.  Therefore, I listen and read closely in the field.  What we remember and what we forget–and why–indicates much about our character and about human nature, for good and for ill.  Often our minds work against the better angels of our nature; much of remembering and forgetting is a matter of the unconscious mind.  As rational as many of us try to be and like to think of ourselves as being, we tend to be irrational, panicky creatures who forget that, when we harm others, we hurt ourselves, too.  We also forget the promises we made recently all too often.

How we behave toward God and how we act toward others are related to each other.  Do we recognize God in others?  If so, that informs how we treat them.  Although I do not see the image of God in Mimi, my feline neighbor whom I feed outside my back door, I recognize her as a creature of God, an animal possessed of great dignity and worthy of respect.  Returning to human relations, the Law of Moses teaches, in terms of timeless principles and culturally specific examples, that we have divine orders to take care of each other, and never to exploit one another.  That commandment applies to societies, institutions, and governments, not just individuals.

Societies, institutions, governments, and individuals who forget or never learn that lesson and act accordingly are like a man who was so foolish that he build his house on sand, not on rock.  The rain will fall, the floods will come, the winds will blow, and the house will fall.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Exodus and Luke, Part II: Together in Society   1 comment

migrant-worker-1935

Above:  A Migrant Worker in California, 1935

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/fsa1999000001/PP/)

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 22:20-23:13

Psalm 97 (Morning)

Psalms 124 and 115 (Evening)

Luke 4:16-30

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Some Related Posts:

Exodus 21-23:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/week-of-proper-11-saturday-year-1/

Luke 4:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/fifth-day-of-epiphany/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/seventeenth-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-in-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/week-of-proper-17-monday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/week-of-proper-17-monday-year-2/

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I began my preparations for this post by reading Exodus 21:1-23:13 closely.  The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod lectionary skips Exodus 21:1-22:19.  This statement does not constitute a criticism, for one must skip around sometimes when creating a lectionary.  Yet I thought that the skipped-over verses might pertain to the assigned material.  I was correct.

Exodus 22:20 forward commands the Israelites to show kindness, mercy, and respect to strangers, widows, and orphans, to refrain from usury (a rule which credit card companies violate daily), to make good sacrifices to God, to return wandering livestock to its owner, to grant justice to the poor, to leave food in the fields for the hungry, and to honor the Sabbath.  The guiding principle is that what one person does affects others.  There is no room for careless individualism which harms the society.

But what does one find in Exodus 21:1-22:19?  Slaves (more like indentured servants in the U.S. historical context) have rights.  Women have many of the same rights as men.  One dies for a variety of offenses, from cursing or insulting one’s parents to committing murder.  One can sell one’ s daughter into slavery.  Retribution is in proportion to the offense.  For  many offenses restitution–not death–is the penalty.  An Israelite who offers a sacrifice to a deity other than Yahweh must die.  A reader can find other laws there; this is just a sampling.

Historical and cultural contexts matter.  There were traditional Semitic notions of family honor and parental authority.  Any offense which carried the death penalty was one deemed especially dangerous to society.  And the people were nomads in the desert.  Resources were precious, and there was no jail or prison.

I, of course, live in a settled society which draws influences from the Enlightenment.  Despite poverty not far from my front door (a few miles away, elsewhere in Athens, Georgia, a street separates university dormitories from public housing projects), there is an abundance of food and drink.   And the local jail is frequently overcrowded.  I wonder how a modern version of the Law of Moses would compare the biblical one.

In Luke 4:16-30 we read an account of our Lord’s rejection at Nazareth, his hometown.  Plotting to overthrow someone off a cliff, as some residents of Nazareth meant to do Jesus, was not nice.  Perhaps some people thought that it was consistent with the death penalty for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16).  Or maybe it was just a case of homicidal rage.  If they had succeeded that day, would they not have been subject to death themselves (Exodus 21:14)?

One must, if one is to understand the Bible properly, consider it intelligently, taking into account all the germane contexts, avoiding the error of prooftexting, and not transforming the Bible into an idol.  May we use the Bible as an icon–through which we see God–not as an idol–which we see in lieu of God.  And may we remember that we are here on the planet together, so what one person does affects others.  And God expects us to avoid wronging or oppressing one another.  After all, we all bear the image of God; may we treat each other accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROBERT OF NEWMINSTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY GIANELLI, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF SAINT ALPHONSUS LIGUORI AND THE SISTERS OF MARY DELL’ORTO

THE FEAST OF CHARLES AUGUSTUS BRIGGS, PRESBYTERIAN PASTOR AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/devotion-for-the-ninth-day-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionay/

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The Good and the Bad, Mixed Together   1 comment

Above:  Mixed Bag

(http://www.cpsu.org.au/campaigns/news/13207.html)

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Exodus 24:3-8 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And Moses came and told the people all of YHWH’s words and all the judgments.  And the people answered, one voice, and they said,

We’ll do all the things that YHWH has spoken.

And Moses wrote all of YHWH’s words.  And he got up early in the morning and built an altar below the mountain and twelve pillars for twelve tribes of Israel.  And he sent young men of the children of Israel, and they made peace offerings to YHWH:  bulls.  And Moses took half of the blood and set it in basins and threw half of the blood on the altar.  And he took the scroll of the covenant and read in the people’s ears.  And they said,

We’ll do everything that YHWH has spoken, and we’ll listen.

Psalm 51:11-16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

14 I shall teach your ways to the wicked,

and sinners shall return to you.

15 Deliver me from death, O God,

and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,

O God of my salvation.

16 Open my lips, O Lord,

and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Matthew 13:24-30 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he put another parable before them,

The kingdom of Heaven,

he said,

is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while his men were asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  When the crop came up and began to ripen, the weeds appeared as well.  Then the owner’s servants came up to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field?  Where did all these weeds come from?” “Some enemy of mine has done this,” he replied.  ”Do you want us then to go out and pull them all up?” said the servants.  ”No” he returned, “if you pull up the weeds now, you would pull up the wheat with them.  Let them both grow together till the harvest.  And at harvest-time I shall tell the reapers, ‘Collect all the weeds first and tie them up in bundles ready to burn, but collect the wheat and store it in my barn.’”

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The Collect:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Follow the URL for my thoughts on the reading from Matthew.

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/proper-11-year-a/

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Often people treat the Ten Commandments as if no other commandments follow them immediately.  But reading Exodus 21-23 contains a host of pronouncements the Book of Exodus says come from God.  I am dubious about this claim with regard to certain commandments, such as 21:17, which reads,

And anyone who curses his father and his mother shall be put to death.

This is just one of many death penalty offenses in Chapters 21-23.  Other commandments, such as 21:26, acknowledge the existence of slavery without condemning it.

On the other hand, there is 23:9, which reads,

And you shall not oppress an alien–since you know the alien’s soul, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

These chapters also contain great compassion.

How shall one distinguish among the good laws and the bad ones?  I propose a simple standard:  Agape.  This is the unconditional love God extends toward us.  Agape is the word for love in 1 Corinthians 13, which I quote from the Revised Standard Version:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophesy, it will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man , I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.  So faith, hope, and love, abide,these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I cannot argue with that.

Love is the law of God.  May we do as God as instructed us; may we love ourselves as God loves us.  Then may we extend this love to all others, seeking the best for them.  By grace, may God’s best for everyone become reality.  And may rejoice in each other’s good fortune and be agents of God in bringing that to fruition, as opportunities to do so present themselves and we are able to participate.

This is the best way I know to differentiate within the mixed bag of commandments.  My guiding principle is to follow Jesus, for I am a Christian.  My history-oriented brain understands that death penalty offenses are numerous in societies with limited resources.  To feed an offender constitutes a drain on scarce supplies.  So I understand the death penalties in the Law of Moses in that context.  But, I ask, what about love and possibility of forgiveness and reform?  Are these not Jewish and Christian virtues?  Of course they are.  So I side with virtue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 10, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEODOSIUS THE CENOBIARCH, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM EVEREST, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GOOD, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MILAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LAUD, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/week-of-proper-11-saturday-year-1/

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