Archive for the ‘Ezekiel 37’ Category

The End of Days   Leave a comment

Above:  Ahriman (from Zoroastrianism)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 24:1-27:13

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Babylon is not mentioned even once.  Rather, the eschatological focus of these chapters has raised their sights to the ultimate purpose of God in portraying the cosmological judgment of the world and its final glorious restoration.  Moreover, the redemption of Israel is depicted as emerging from the ashes of the polluted and decaying world.  Not just a remnant is redeemed , but the chapter recounts the salvation of all peoples who share in the celebration of God’s new order when death is banished forever (25:8).

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 173

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INTRODUCTION

Isaiah 24-27 constitutes the Isaiah Apocalypse.  They also constitute an early and not full-blown example of Biblical apocalyptic literature.  Some books I read inform me that the Jewish apocalyptic form emerged in the wake of the fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire–in the late sixth century (early 500s) B.C.E., to be precise.  These books also teach that full-blown Jewish apocalypses emerged only in the second century (100s) B.C.E., as in the case of Daniel 7-12.

Isaiah 24, in vivid language, depicts the divine destruction of the natural order and the social order.  I recommend the translation by Robert Alter, in particular.  Regardless of the translation, we read that people have violated the moral mandates embedded in the Law of Moses:

And the earth is tainted beneath its dwellers,

for they transgressed teachings, flouted law, broke the eternal covenant.

Therefore has a curse consumed the earth,

and all its dwellers are mired in guilt.

Therefore earth’s dwellers turn pale,

and all but a few humans remain.

–Isaiah 24:5-6, in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019)

The timeframe is sometime in the future, relative to both Third Isaiah and 2021.  in this vision, high socio-economic status provides no protection against God’s creative destruction.

Within the Book of Isaiah, in its final form, chapters 24-27 follow oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23) and precede more oracles against nations (chapters 28-33).  This relative placement is purposeful.

SWALLOWING UP DEATH FOREVER

Returning to the Isaiah Apocalypse, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God entails the defeat of the enemies of God’s people, the celebration of an eschatological banquet, and the swallowing up of death forever (See 1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 7:7-17).  The divine swallowing up of death echoes the swallowing up of Mot (the Canaanite god of death) in mythology.

Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 refer to divine victory over death.  Given the temporal origin of the Isaiah Apocalypse, is this a metaphor for the divine vindication of the downtrodden, likened to the dead?  Such language, in Book of Daniel (100s B.C.E.) and the Revelation of John (late 100s C.E.), refers to the afterlife.  The operative question regarding Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19, however, is if the author knew about and affirmed the resurrection of the dead.  We know that Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the dry bones) is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile.  But what about Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19?  Even the Jewish commentaries I consult do not arrive at a conclusion.

I understand why.  The Isaiah Apocalypses comes from a time when Jewish theology was changing, under the influence of Zoroastrianism.  Satan was moving away from being God’s employee–loyalty tester (Job 1-2) and otherwise faithful angel (Numbers 22:22-40)–and becoming a free agent and the chief rebel.   The theology of Ahriman, the main figure of evil in Zoroastrianism, was influencing this change in Jewish theology.  Jewish ideas of the afterlife were also changing under Zoroastrian influence.  Sheol was passing away.  Reward and punishment in the afterlife were becoming part of Jewish theology.  By the second century (100s) B.C.E., belief in individual resurrection of the dead was unambiguous (Daniel 12:2-3, 12).

I do not know what Third Isaiah believed regarding the resurrection of the dead.  I suppose that he could have affirmed that doctrine.  The historical context and the symbolic language of the apocalypse combine to confuse the matter.  So be it; I, as an Episcopalian, am comfortable with a degree of ambiguity.

DIVINE JUDGMENT ON ENEMIES OF THE COVENANT PEOPLE

Isaiah 25:9-12 singles out Moab, in contrast to the usual practice of not naming enemies in chapters 24-27.  One may recall material condemning Moab in Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 15:1-16:13; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Ezekiel 25:8-11.

In the divine order, the formerly oppressed rejoice in their victory over those who had oppressed them.  Oppression has no place in the divine order.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 24-27.  Divine deliverance of the oppressors is frequently catastrophic for the oppressors.  And the contrast between the fates of the enemies of God (27:11) and the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem (27:13) is stark.  As Brevard S. Childs offers:

In sum, the modern theology of religious universalism, characterized by unlimited inclusivity, is far removed from the biblical proclamation of God’s salvation (cf. Seitz, 192),

Isaiah (2001), 186

GOD’S VINEYARD

Neither do apostasy and idolatry have any place in the divine order.  And all the Jewish exiles will return to their ancestral homeland.  Also, the message of God will fill the earth:

In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall bud and flower,

and the face of the world shall fill with bounty.

–Isaiah 27:6, Robert Alter (2019)

The face of the world will be God’s productive vineyard, figuratively.  The people and kingdom of God, figuratively, are a vineyard in the Old and New Testament.  (See Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19).

CONCLUSION

Despite ambiguities in the texts, I am unambiguous on two germane points:

  1. Apocalyptic literature offers good news:  God will win in the end.  Therefore, faithful people should remain faithful.
  2. Apocalyptic literature calls the powers and leaders to account.  It tells them that they fall short of divine standards when they oppress populations and maintain social injustice.  It damns structures and institutions of social inequality.  It condemns societies that accept the unjust status quo.

Regardless of–or because of–certain ambiguities in the Isaiah Apocalypse, chapters 24-27 speak to the world in 2021.  Some vagueness in prophecy prevents it from becoming dated and disproven, after all.  And structural inequality remains rife and politically defended, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Three Prophecies Against Gog, With the Return of Israel   Leave a comment

Above:  King Gyges of Lydia

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART XVII

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Ezekiel 38:1-39:29

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The identities of Gog and Magog are topics of scholarly dispute.  Gog may be a reference to a mythical ruler, and Magog (the land Gog governed) may be mythical, too.  Another hypothesis holds that Magog (Akkadian, “mat-Gog”) may refer to the ancient Kingdom of Lydia, which fell to the Persian Empire in 546 B.C.E.  If Magog is a reference to Lydia, Gog is a reference to King Gyges of Lydia (r. 685-652 B.C.E.).  The main idea, anyway, is that Magog refers to a distant, northern kingdom.  This kingdom will attack restored Israel, but God will fight for restored Israel, Ezekiel 38-39 say.

In Hebrew prophetic literature, invasions usually came from the north, as in Jeremiah 1:13-15.  Gog and Magog, regardless of any real-world references, represented an unspecified threat at some undefined point in the future, relative to Ezekiel’s time.

Above:  A Map Showing the Kingdom of Lydia

Image in the Public Domain

The restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 39:21-29) is also a prominent theme in Chapters 36 and 37, of course.  The Book of Ezekiel is repetitive.

The language of prophecy is frequently vague and poetic.  When it is not–as in Haggai 1 and 2, for example–one problem is that the prediction may not come to pass, and disillusionment will ensue, predictably.  I do not know if Ezekiel 38 and 39 represent bad history or unfulfilled prophecy.  Whichever one they represent, so be it.  The really big idea is plain and clear, however.  That point is that God is in control of human history.  Once God has demonstrated that point, the restoration of Israel can begin.  And all flesh will see it together.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY ZACCARIA, FOUNDER OF THE BARNABITES AND THE ANGELIC SISTERS OF SAINT PAUL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GEORGE NICHOLS AND RICHARD YAXLEY, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYRS, 1589; SAINT HUMPHREY PRITCHARD, WELSH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1589; AND SAINT THOMAS BELSON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1589

THE FEAST OF GEORGES BERNANOS, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC NOVELIST

THE FEAST OF HULDA NEIBUHR, CHRISTIAN EDUCATOR; HER BROTHERS, H. RICHARD NIEBUHR AND REINHOLD NIEBUHR, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST THEOLOGIANS; AND URSULA NIEBUHR, EPISCOPAL THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH BOISSEL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST AND MARTYR IN LAOS, 1969

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Posted July 5, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Ezekiel 36, Ezekiel 37, Ezekiel 39, Haggai 1, Haggai 2, Jeremiah 1

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The Regeneration of the Land, With the Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART XVI

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Ezekiel 36:1-37:28

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Ezekiel 36 flows from Ezekiel 35, the second of two divine oracles against Edom in that book.  In Ezekiel 35, one of the points of condemnation is Edomite settlement in the former Kingdom of Judah during the Babylonian Exile.  That point comes up in 36;5.

The short summary of Ezekiel 36-37 is that God will renew the people of the covenant, restore them to their land, and renew their land.  God will do this, not for the sake of the covenant people (36:22), but so that

then they shall know that I am the LORD.

–Ezekiel 36:38b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The motivation the Book of Ezekiel attributes to God disturbs me.  I would elaborate on that point in this post, but (1) I have other fish I am more interested in frying, and (2) I have elaborated on that point already in Part IX of this series.

Another repeated theme is the use of ritual impurity as a metaphor for moral impurity (36:16f).

Ezekiel 37 is about the renewal of the covenant people, in the context of the “new heart” and “new spirit” (36:26).  The vision of the valley of dry bones is a vivid reading.  The contribution of the spiritual based on it upon the last episode of The Prisoner (1967-1968) is indelibly stamped on mind.  This reading is a favorite reading at many Easter Vigils each year.  However, that vision has nothing to do with the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine unknown to the prophet Ezekiel.  No the vision is a bout the restoration of the nation, unified and free of idolatry (37:15f).  The prediction of the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty remains unfulfilled.

When all hope seems lost, trust in God may be extremely difficult to muster.  Faith that the future can be better–will be better–may seem foolish.  I understand, somewhat.  I understand well enough that I refuse to condemn those who think so.  Faith in the trenches can be hard to maintain.

The Book of Ezekiel, despite its excesses–including misogyny and a selfish deity–does have the virtue of proclaiming faith in the trenches.  If one cannot hold onto healthy faith in the trenches, all really may be lost.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 9:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ADALBERO AND ULRIC OF AUGSBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF CHARLES ALBERT DICKINSON, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH OF PORTUGAL, QUEEN AND PEACEMAKER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PIER GIORGIO FRASSATI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC SERVANT OF THE POOR AND OPPONENT OF FASCISM

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The Shepherds of Israel   Leave a comment

Above:  Statue of Ezekiel, Parma

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART XV

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Ezekiel 34:1-31

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Ezekiel 33-39, from after the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.), contains the rationale for and the anticipation of the transformation of YHWH’s people.  Ezekiel 33 reiterates the call of Ezekiel and argues for individual responsibility for one’s actions before God.  Chapter 34 employs shepherds as a metaphor for Hebrew kings and shepherds as a metaphor for God.  Ezekiel 34 is also one of the few chapters of the Book of Ezekiel the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) cites.

The reviews of the Kings of Israel and Judah in the Books of Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Chronicles are mostly negative.  The critique in Ezekiel 34 is that the majority of them did a bad job of looking out for the people.  We read that the people paid dearly for this neglect.  Recall, O reader, that Ezekiel prophesied in exile in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Consider, O reader, that the prophet had the benefit of hindsight.

We read that YHWH is the good shepherd , who will tend faithfully to the flock.  We also read that this task will entail dealing with the bad shepherds.  Why not?  Divine mercy on and deliverance of the oppressed and powerless may entail bad news for the oppressors and powerful.  We read of divine plans to reunite the scattered flock–to end the Babylonian Exile.

We also read of divine judgment of exploitative members of that flock.  Why not?  Exploitation contradicts one of the ethical mandates of the Law of Moses.

Then we read of the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty.  This one awaits fulfillment, or will never occur.  Inaccurate prophecies (such as the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of Egypt (Jeremiah 43:8-13; Jeremiah 46:2-28; and throughout Ezekiel 29-32) do exist in the Hebrew Bible.

One need not study historical records alone for examples of predatory and bad readers of peoples.  One can consult the news (if one can do so without triggering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and identify such bad shepherds.  The divine condemnation of bad shepherds in Ezekiel 34 applies to them, also.  Even worse, these shepherds lead many sheep.  Many of these shepherds, having come to power via elections, work to subvert the democratic and and electoral processes.  God has the most power, of course.  But sheep are not powerless in all societies.  When they have the option of withdrawing their consent for bad shepherds to govern, the sheep ought to do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN AND ANATOLIUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCHS; AND SAINTS AGATHO, LEO II, AND BENEDICT II, BISHOPS OF ROME; DEFENDERS OF CHRISTOLOGICAL ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DIONYSIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA, AND CHURCH FATHER; SAINT EUSEBIUS OF LAODICEA; AND SAINT ANATOLIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, BISHOP OF LAODICEA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HELIODORUS OF ALTINUM, ASSOCIATE OF SAINT JEROME, AND BISHOP OF ALTINUM

THE FEAST OF IMMANUEL NITSCHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND MUSICIAN; HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW, JACOB VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR, HIS SON; WILLIAM HENRY VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS BROTHER, CARL ANTON VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS DAUGHTER, LISETTE (LIZETTA) MARIA VAN VLECK MEINUNG; AND HIS SISTER, AMELIA ADELAIDE, VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN CENNICK, BRITISH MORAVIAN EVANGELIST AND HYMN WRITER

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The Superscription of the Book of Ezekiel   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART I

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Ezekiel 1:1-3

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In 597 B.C.E., Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian forces invaded Judah.  King Jehoiachin‘s brief reign ended.  His uncle Mattaniah came to the throne as King Zedekiah.  Jehoiachin and many others–members of the Judean elite–became exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The first wave of the Babylonian Exile had begun.

Ezekiel ben Buzi was one of these captives and exiles.  Ezekiel, a priest in the community beside the Chebar Canal (next to the city of Nippur, southeast of the city of Babylon), received his commission as a prophet on the fifth day of Tammuz (on the Gregorian Calendar, in June), 593 B.C.E.  He prophesied until 571 B.C.E.

Robert Alter describes Ezekiel as

surely the strangest of all the prophets

and as

an extreme case.

The Hebrew Bible, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1049

The prophet, whose name meant, “God strengthens,” was, by modern standards, misogynistic, as in Chapters 16 and 23.  He was not unique–certainly not in the company of Biblical authors.  According to Alter, especially in the context of Chapter 16:

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.  The states of disturbance exhibited in his writing led him to a series of remarkable visionary experiences, at least several of which would be deeply inscribed in the Western imagination, engendering profound experiences in later poetry and in mystical literature.  At the same time, there is much in these visions that reminds us of the dangerous dark side of prophecy.  To announce authoritatively that the words one speaks are the words of God is an audacious act.  Inevitably, what is reported as divine speech reaches us through the refracting prism of the prophet’s sensibility and psychology, and the words and images represented as God’s urgent message may be sometimes distorted in eerie ways.

–1051-1052

Biblical scholars from a variety of times, theological orientations, and geographical origins have commented on Ezekiel’s pathological psychology.  The prophet may not have been well-adjusted.  “Touched by the gods” has been an expression for a long time, and for a good reason.

However much one accepts that much or most of the Book of Ezekiel comes from the prophet, a textual difficulty remains.  The book includes evidence of subsequent editing after the Babylonian Exile.  Any given passage, in its final form, may have more to do with Ezra or some other editor than with Ezekiel.  Or that passage may be entirely from Ezeki8el.  Or the editorial touch may be light.

I acknowledge these matters as I commit to my primary purpose in this Hebrew prophetic reading project:  to read these passages in context and to ponder what they say to the world today.  The ancient message, grounded in particular circumstances, continues to speak.

“The hand of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:3) symbolizes divine power.

The Book of Ezekiel breaks down into three sections:

  1. Chapters 1-24, in their original form, date to between the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  This section divides into two subsections.  Chapters 1-11 contain visions of divine presence and departure.  Chapters 12-24 offer a rationale for and anticipate the destruction of Jerusalem.
  2. Chapters 25-32 contain oracles against the nations.  The arrangement of these oracles is not chronological.  Such a collection of oracles is also a feature of other prophetic writings, as in Amos 1:3-2:3; Isaiah 13:1-23:19; Jeremiah 46:1-51:64.
  3. Chapters 33-48 contain oracles from after the Fall of Jerusalem.  This section breaks down into two subsections.  Chapters 33-39 offer a rationale for and anticipate the transformation of the LORD’s people.  Chapters 40-48 contain visions of the LORD’s return to the Second Temple (not yet built; dedicated in 516 B.C.E.) in a transformed land.

Tova Ganzel wrote, in the introduction to the Book of Ezekiel, in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014):

Because of the central themes of the Temple, acts of leadership, sins of the people, and divine theophanies appear in both the predestruction and postdestruction oracles (1.3, 13-15, 22-24; 8.2-3; 10.11, 22-23; 40.1-2; 43.1-5), Ezekiel’s oracles merit both sequential and topical study.

–1034

I will study the Book of Ezekiel in a combination of sequential and topical organization of posts.

Major lectionaries ignore most of the Book of Ezekiel.  The Roman Catholic lectionaries for weekdays, Sundays, and major feast days omit Chapters 3-8, 11, 13-15, 19-23, 25-27, 29-42, 44-46, and 48 entirely. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) lists the Book of Ezekiel only five times:

  1. 34:11-16, 20-24 for Christ the King Sunday, Year A;
  2. 36:24-27 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C;
  3. 37:1-14 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C; the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A; and (as an alternative reading), for the Day of Pentecost, Year B.

I understand the benefits and limitations of lectionaries.  Any lectionary–even a narrow, one-year cycle with two readings and a Psalm each Sunday–is superior to ministers focusing on their favorite passages of scripture Sunday after Sunday.  The orderly reading of scripture in communal worship has virtues.  Lectionaries also help people to read the Bible in conversation with itself.  Nevertheless, the parts of the Book of Ezekiel that even three-year cycles overlook are worth hearing and reading, in private, alone, in a study group, and in the context of worship.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 7:  THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH AUGUSTUS SEISS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF ALFRED RAMSEY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CHARLES COFFIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HANS ADOLF BRORSON, DANISH LUTHERAN BISHOP, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN SPARROW-SIMPSON, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND PATRISTICS SCHOLAR

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Resurrection of the Dead, Part IV   Leave a comment

Above:  Resurrection of the Righteous and Coronation of the Virgin, by Francesco Bassano the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday after Easter, 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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Almighty God, who showest to them that be in error the light of thy truth,

to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness;

grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion

that they may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession,

and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;

through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 169-170

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Isaiah 26:12-16, 19

Psalms 122 and 123

2 Timothy 1:3-14

John 11:1-29

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Some texts are clear.  John 11:1-44, for example, makes plain that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  A plain reading of 2 Timothy reveals that the author, writing as St. Paul the Apostle, thought that Jesus had abolished death, of a sort.  Psalm 122 obviously includes a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem.  Psalm 123, another pilgrimage text, is a prayer for divine mercy.

Isaiah 26:19 is ambiguous, though.  Some texts in the Hebrew Bible use life after death as a metaphor for national renewal.  Ezekiel 37 does this, for example.  Daniel 12:2-3, 12 is the only passage in the Hebrew Bible that unambiguously affirms the personal resurrection of the dead.  The germane note in The Jewish Study Bible takes no side in the debate over whether Isaiah 26:19 is literal or metaphorical.  Even rabbis disagree.  So be it.

In Christian theology, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead relies on more than one passage of scripture anyway.  Beliefs about the afterlife common among Christians have more to do with Greek philosophy than the Bible.  Changing minds regarding this issue can be a challenging task.  Assumptions often become so entrenched that they become so entrenched that they remain despite evidence and education to the contrary.

Ultimately, nobody on this side of the veil knows what lies on the other side.  People have ideas, many of which extend this life into the next one.  Heaven–or whatever one calls it–may seem like an extension of what we know on Earth.  Our human imaginations cannot conceive of what the afterlife is like.  The best we can do is to resort to metaphors and analogies.

I have my ideas.  Heaven and Hell are realities, but not places.  A place has coordinates and geography.  One can map a place.  It is to the north of X or to the west of Y.  Heaven and Hell, I propose, are spiritual realities.  Every person in Heaven got there by grace.  All people in Hell sent themselves.  And you, O reader, and I may be shocked and perhaps even appalled at who is where.

Such matters are in the purview of God, as they have always been.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEODOSIUS THE CENOBIARCH, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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

THE FEAST OF MIEP GIES, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS II OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH OF AQUILEIA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD FREDERICK LITTLEDALE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

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Can These Dry Bones Live?   Leave a comment

Above:  Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones

Image in the Public Domain

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For Easter Sunday, 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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Almighty God, who through the resurrection of thine only begotten Son Jesus Christ,

hast overcome death and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life;

assist and support us, we beseech thee, the aspirations of thy heavenly grace,

that dying unto sin always, and living unto righteousness,

we may at last triumph over death and the grave, in the full image of our risen Lord:

to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 163

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Ezekiel 37:9-14

Psalm 115

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Luke 24:13-35

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There is always hope in God.  In the case of Ezekiel 37, an allegory of the restoration of Judah from the Babylonian Exile, the hope was legitimate.  God was faithful.  Jesus was dead.  Then he was alive again.  The resurrection of the dead will occur.  Without the resurrection of Jesus being real, we Christians are the most pitiable people.

The resurrection of Christ is a mandatory doctrine in Christianity.  Some doctrines are optional.  One can be a Christian while refuting the Virgin Birth, for example.  About one quarter of Christianity rejects Original Sin.  (The Eastern Orthodox did not have St. Augustine of Hippo.)  But the resurrection of Jesus is mandatory.  Without it we have a dead Jesus.  Dead Jesus cannot save anybody from anything.

Know, O reader, that I am not an especially doctrinaire person.  At least one member of my family is concerned about my salvation because she thinks I am wrong on too many points of doctrine.  So be it.  Therefore, when I write that the resurrection of Christ is a mandatory doctrine, that statement carries greater weight than if a more doctrinaire Christian had written it.

I accept the resurrection of Jesus on faith.  I also accept the resurrection of the dead on faith.  I have no evidence for or against those propositions.  I must, therefore, accept them on faith, or reject them.

My spiritual struggles regard the resurrection of myself in this life, not the resurrection of Jesus nearly 2000 years ago and the resurrection of the dead in the next life.  Since the sudden, violent death of Bonny, my beloved, on October 14, 2019, I have been less alive than I used to be.  Part of me died with her.

I await a particular resurrection in this life.  Depending on the day or time thereof, I either affirm or reject that resurrection of that part of me that died on October 14, 2019, will occur.  Those dry bones may yet live.  They remain dead today.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

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

THE FEAST OF ALLEN WILLIAM CHATFIELD, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF IGNATIOUS SPENCER, ANGLICAN THE  ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND APOSTLE OF ECUMENICAL PRAYER; AND HIS PROTEGÉE, ELIZABETH PROUT, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF THE CROSS AND PASSION

THE FEAST OF MARY LUNDIE DUNCAN, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM GAY BALLANTINE, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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The Final Vision   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. Michael the Archangel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART X

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Daniel 10:1-12:13

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This passage, superficially from 586 B.C.E. or so, actually comes from a time much closer to 164 B.C.E.  The reference to the “prince of Greece” (the guardian angel of the Seleucid Empire) clues us into the actual period of composition.

Again, as I keep repeating in these posts, the Book of Daniel is not history.  Chapter 11 mentions Darius the Mede, supposedly the conqueror of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, and the immediate predecessors of Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes.  Historical records tell us that Cyrus II conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  Records also tell us that the Persian Empire had ten kings from 559 to 330 B.C.E., with Cyrus II being the first and Darius III the last.  Daniel 11:2 reads:

Persia will have three more kings, and the fourth will be wealthier than them all; by the power he obtains through his wealth, he will stir everyone up against the kingdom of the Greeks.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The material in the reading for this post is dense, with many references to ancient potentates.

  1. The “warrior king” in Daniel 11:3 is obviously a reference to Alexander III “the Great,” given the breaking up of his empire after his death (11:4).
  2. The kings of the south were kings of the Ptolemaic Empire.
  3. The kings of the north were kings of the Seleucid Empire.
  4. The kings of the south (11:5f) and the north (11:6f) were Ptolemy I Soter (reigned 323-285 B.C.E.) Seleucus II Callinicus (reigned 246-225 B.C.E.), respectively.
  5. Daniel 11:6 refers to the murder of the daughter of a daughter of King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (reigned 285-246 B.C.E.).
  6. Daniel 11:7 refers to the retaliation of King Ptolemy III Euergetes (reigned 246-221 B.C.E.).
  7. Daniel 11 also contains references to hostile relations during the reigns of subsequent kings, including Ptolemy V Ephiphanes (reigned 204-180 B.C.E.) and Antiochus III “the Great” (reigned 223-187 B.C.E).
  8. Daniel 11:20 refers to Seleucus IV Philopater (reigned 187-175 B.C.E.), who attempted to rob the treasury of the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 3).
  9. Daniel 11:21f refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.E.), the bête noire of Hasmonean partisans and a foe of the Ptomemaic Dynasty in Egypt.

Jews were literally in the middle of this Ptolemaic-Seleucid warfare.  Judea, incorporated into the Seleucid Empire after the Battle of Paneas (200 B.C.E.), were subject to religious persecution.  This reality set the stage for the Hasmonean rebellion, in progress during the composition of Daniel 7-12.

The message of Daniel 10-12, then, is to remain faithful despite persecution and martyrdom.  God will win in the end.

Daniel 12 contains another theologically important detail.  The resurrection of the dead in Ezekiel 37 is a metaphor for the restoration of Judah after the Babylonian Exile.  The resurrection of the dead is literal in Daniel 12, though.

Living in perilous times is stressful.  The temptation to surrender hope is strong.  Yet, as the Book of Daniel repeatedly reminds us, God is sovereign.  God is faithful.  And, to quote the Reverend Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901),

This is my Father’s world,

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

The battle is not done;

Jesus who died shall be satisfied,

And earth and heaven be one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 22, 2020 COMMON ERA

CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY–PROPER 29:  THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF ROBERT SEAGRAVE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DITLEF GEORGSON RISTAD, NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, LITURGIST, AND EDUCATOR

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Judgment and Mercy, Part XIX   Leave a comment

Above:  The Poor, the Lame, and the Blind Called Into the Supper

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, Year 1

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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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Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand

the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil;

and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only true God;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 216

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Ezekiel 37:15-28

Psalm 101

Hebrews 4:9-13 and Ephesians 4:1-6

Luke 14:15-33

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Divine justice may seem unrecognizable to many of us much of the time.  Divine justice/righteousness comes bound up with judgment and mercy.  We can hide nothing from God, and divine judgment is frequently permitting our proverbial chickens to roost.  We may, like the author of Psalm 101, favor

destroying the wicked in the land

or something like that, but such a decision belongs with God, not any mere mortal.  God may choose to forgive and restore, for all we know.  Our proper human response is to care for each other to be humble before God and each other.

The Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-33) requires attention.  The host represents God.  The host properly takes offense at disrespectful excuses from people who had accepted invitations.  The host, true to the Lukan theme of reversal of fortune, invites the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame–powerless, marginalized people.  Then the host, still having room, invites Gentiles.

R. Alan Culpepper, writing about this parable in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX (1995), quoted T. W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus (1957), 130:

The two essential points in His teaching are that no man can enter the Kingdom without the invitation of God, and that no man can remain outside it but by his own deliberate choice.

We make our decisions, after all.  Grace is extravagant and free yet not cheap.  Awe, respect, and gratitude for grace should compel one to accept it and to permit it to transform one’s life.  One ought to accept the invitation to the great banquet of God and never offer excuses.  Yet one is free to reject the invitation and to offer excuses.  God sends no person to Hell.  All who are present in Hell condemned themselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAROSLAV VAJDA, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOZEF CEBULA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1941

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILIUS OF SULMONA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND ALMSGIVER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHANEL, PROTOMARTYR OF OCEANIA, 1841

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW, EPISCOPAL ATTORNEY, THEOLOGIAN, AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

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The Faithfulness of God, Part IV   Leave a comment

Above:  The Vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourth Sunday after Easter, Year 1

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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 makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will;

grant unto thy people that they may love what thou commandest,

and desire what thou dost promise; that, among the manifold changes of this world,

our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are to be found;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 172

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalms 124 and 125

2 Timothy 2:8-23

John 16:1-11

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This saying is sure:

“If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;

if we endure, we shall also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.”

–2 Timothy 2:11-13, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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The theme of seeking, trusting, and obeying God is prominent in the readings.

Martin Luther counseled people to trust in the faithfulness of God.  Many baptized, practicing Christians, true to the Medieval zeitgeist that shaped them, feared that their sins condemned them to Hell.  Luther, a theologian of the spoken word and of sacramental language, must have recalled the passage (itself a quoted portion of a hymn, probably) from 2 Timothy I quoted and that he translated into German.  It was sound advice.

It remains good spiritual counsel.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

WEDNESDAY IN HOLY WEEK

THE FEAST OF HENRY MELCHIOR MUHLENBERG, PATRIARCH OF AMERICAN LUTHERANISM; HIS GREAT-GRANDSON, WILLIAM AUGUSTUS MUHLENBERG, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGICAL PIONEER; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, ANNE AYRES, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERHOOD OF THE HOLY COMMUNION

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIONYSIUS OF CORINTH, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT HUGH OF ROUEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP, ABBOT, AND MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JULIE BILLIART, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

THE FEAST OF TIMOTHY LULL, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, THEOLOGIAN, AND ECUMENIST

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Posted April 8, 2020 by neatnik2009 in 2 Timothy 2, Ezekiel 37, John 16, Psalm 124, Psalm 125

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