Archive for the ‘Genesis 28’ Category

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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Divine Judgment Against Foreign Nations, Part I   8 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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Trusting in God, Part XII   Leave a comment

Above:  Jacob’s Dream, by Salvator Rosa

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 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, whose never-failing Providence ordereth all things in heaven and earth;

we humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things,

and to give us those things which may be profitable for us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 196

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Genesis 28:10-22

Psalm 40:1-16

Acts 9:23-43

Mark 8:1-9

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Jacob was a trickster.  His tricks got him into trouble.  Furthermore, others tricked him, giving him a taste of his own medicine.  Reciprocity was a recurring theme in the Hebrew Bible.

“Jacob’s Ladder”-ramp, really, in a dream changed Jacob’s perspective.  He had justified his tricks with the assumption that he had one purpose–survival–and that he had to rely on his own wiles.  The dream with the ramp to Heaven demonstrated that he–and the earth–was not remote and cut off from Heaven.

In this image are the seeds of incarnational faith, of the power of God being embodied in a historical man.  Thus our text points to the statement of Jesus (John 1:51).

–Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (1982), 243

Speaking of Jesus, the Feeding of the Four Thousand (Mark 8:1-10) pointed to the Kingdom of God being at work on the ground.  That was also a theme in the reading from Genesis and the assigned verses from Acts.

If we trust in our own means, we may justify treating our fellow human beings badly.  We also sin against them and God.  Tet, if we trust in God, we are free to live apart from the delusion of self-reliance.  We are free to live according to the Golden Rule.  And we glorify God.

May we do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER AND MARTYR, 1968

THE FEAST OF ABBY KELLEY FOSTER AND HER HUSBAND, STEPHEN SYMONDS FOSTER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONISTS AND FEMINISTS

THE FEAST OF BERTHA PAULSSEN, GERMAN-AMERICAN SEMINARY PROFESSOR, PSYCHOLOGIST, AND SOCIOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF GENE M. TUCKER, UNITED METHODIST MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN COSIN, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF COSIN

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Salvation and Damnation, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Saint Bartholomew, by Antonio Veneziano

Image in the Public Domain

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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 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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Amos 5:6-15 or Proverbs 1:20-33

Psalm 115:12-18

1 Timothy 2:1-15

John 1:43-51

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Without getting lost on a side trip through cultural context in 1 Timothy 2, I focus on the core, unifying theme this week:  We reap what we sow.

Now they must eat the fruit of their own way,

and with their own devices be glutted.

For the self-will of the simple kills them,

the smugness of fools destroys them.

But he who obeys me dwells in security,

in peace, without fear of harm.

–Proverbs 1:33, The New American Bible (1991)

The crucifixion of Jesus, the blood of the martyrs, and the suffering of the righteous contradicts the last two lines.  O, well.  The Book of Proverbs is excessively optimistic sometimes.  The Book of Ecclesiastes corrects that excessive optimism.

Righteousness is no guarantee against suffering in this life.  Nevertheless, we will reap what we sow.  Some of the reaping must wait until the afterlife, though.

The New Testament readings point to Jesus, as they should.  1 Timothy gets into some cultural details that do not reflect the reality of Athens, Georgia, in December 2020.  I denounce the male chauvinism evident in 1 Timothy 1:9-15.  That sexism is of its time and place.  I focus instead on God desiring that people find salvation.  They do not, of course.  Many of them are like the disobedient people in Amos 5 and Proverbs 1.

The divine mandate of economic justice present in Amos 5 remains relevant.  It is a mandate consistent with the teachings of Jesus and the ethos of Second Temple Judaism.  That divine mandate, built into the Law of Moses, is crucial in Covenantal Nomism.  According to Covenantal Nomism, salvation is via grace–birth into the covenant.  One drops out of the covenant by consistently and willfully neglecting the ethical demands of the covenant.

In other words, damnation is via works and salvation is via grace.

The reading from John 1 requires some attempt at an explanation.  The parts of John 1:35-43 that need to be clear are clear.  But, after consulting learned commentaries, I still have no idea what amazed St. Bartholomew/Nathanael the Apostle about Jesus seeing him under a fig tree.  I recall having read very educated guesses, though.  The crucial aspect of that story is the call to follow Jesus.  Also, John 1:43 links Jacob’s Ladder/Staircase/Ramp (Genesis 28:10-17) to the crucifixion (“lifting up”) of Jesus.  The Johannine theme of the exaltation of Christ being his crucifixion occurs in Chapter 1, too.  The crucifixion of Jesus was the gate of Heaven, according to John 1:43.

That gate is sufficiently narrow to exclude those who exclude themselves.  Those who carry with them the luggage of bribery cannot enter.  Those who haul along the bags of exploitation of the poor cannot pass.  No, those who exclude themselves have done injustice to God and Jesus while exploiting “the least of these.”  Those who have excluded themselves must eat the fruit of their own way.

C. S. Lewis wrote that the doors to Hell are locked from the inside.  

Think about that, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 29, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS (TRANSFERRED)

THE FEAST OF JOHN BURNETT MORRIS, SR., EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PHILIPP HEINRICH MOLTHER, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, BISHOP, COMPOSER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS BECKET, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, AND MARTYR, 1170

THE FEAST OF THOMAS COTTERRILL ENGLISH PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-d-humes/

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Paradoxes and Faith   1 comment

Above:  Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday of Advent, Year 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O Lord, keep us watchful for the appearing of thy beloved Son,

and grant that, in all the changes of this world, we may be strengthened by thy steadfast love;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with

thee and the Holy Spirit be glory, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 117

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Genesis 28:10-22

1 John 5:1-5

Matthew 11:2-10

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First, who is a child of God?

1 John 5:1 tells us:

Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ

is a child of God,

and whoever loves the father

loves the son.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

Jacob/Israel lived and died long before the Incarnation, so he was not responsible for affirming Jesus, but he was responsible for keeping a moral code he had recently violated, with the help of his mother, in Genesis 28.  Jacob/Israel was a trickster.  Yet, we read, God was with him.  Obviously, this was not due to any merit of Jacob/Israel, by grace, a child of God.

Second, do children of God overcome the world?  1 John 5:4-5, echoing Jesus in John 16:33, says they do.  One may recall the execution of St. John the Baptist on the order of Herod Antipas.  One may also recall that John 16:33 is near to the crucifixion of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.

God frequently makes little or no sense, according to human standards.  These two paradoxes point to that truth.  Grace is scandalous, as in the case of Jacob/Israel.  The world, as it is, does not conform to the divine order.  Furthermore, we mere mortals see and comprehend only in part.  We need to abandon the idol of false certainty, however psychologically satisfying it may be.  We need to walk in faith instead.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VENERABLE MATTHEW TALBOT, RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC IN DUBLIN, IRELAND

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 FREDERICK LUCIAN HOSMER, U.S. UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SEATTLE, FIRST NATIONS CHIEF, WAR LEADER, AND DIPLOMAT

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The Call of God VII   1 comment

Above:  Jacob’s Dream, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

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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 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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Genesis 28:10-19 or Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 13

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Matthew 8:18-34

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Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 13 point in one theological direction.  Genesis 28:10-19 points in another direction.  The note of judgment for injustice and iniquity sounds in Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 13, but God shows mercy to the deceitful Jacob, on the run from Esau, his vengeful brother, whom he had cheated more than once, in Genesis 28:10-19.  Via the dream of Jacob’s Ladder (more of a stairway or a ramp, actually), God confirms that Jacob is the carrier of the patriarchal promise.  Sometimes the wisdom of God seems foolish.

The call of God on our lives is to follow without making excuses.  The call of God on our lies is to follow even when doing so is inconvenient–or more.  The call of God on our lives is to function as vehicles of grace, to leave others better than they were when first our paths crossed theirs, the owners of the herd of swine in Matthew 8:23-24 not withstanding.

That which we do to others, we do to ourselves; this is a profound statement.  If one takes it seriously, one will be less likely to act in selfish ways that benefit me (at the expense of others) in the short term.  If one takes this truth seriously, one will be less likely to fail to recognize problems of others, as being problems that God will also affect one.  If we internalize this truth, we will be less likely to make excuses and shirk our responsibilities.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS À KEMPIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, PRIEST, AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN NEWTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH, U.S. BAPTIST MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/24/devotion-for-proper-10-year-a-humes/

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Yet Another Chance, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Leonello Spada

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE NINTH SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O God, you have joined together diverse nations in the confession of your name:

Grant us both to will and to do what you command, that your people,

being called to an eternal inheritance, may hold the same faith in their hearts

and show the same godliness in their lives;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 154

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Isaiah 55:1-7

Psalm 45

Philemon 1-3, 10-16

Luke 15:11-32

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God extends us second, third, fourth, fifth, et cetera chances.  Do we welcome these?

Consider the Letter to Philemon, O reader.  It is a text a long line of exegetes reaching back into antiquity has misinterpreted.  It is not, as St. John Chrysostom, a man fearful of the possibility that people in the Roman Empire would associate Christianity with the emancipation of slaves, thought, an argument for returning fugitive slaves to their masters.  Neither is the text a defense of slavery, as many defenders of chattel slavery in the antebellum United States argued.  Furthermore, nowhere does the letter indicate that Onesimus was a thief; the conditional tense makes a difference.  And, as certain scholars of the New Testament note, the correct translation of verse 16 is actually

…as if a slave,

not the usual

…as a slave.

The conditional tense makes a difference.  Tradition of which I have no reason to doubt the veracity holds that the rest of the story was a second chance for both Onesimus and Philemon, both of whom became bishops.  That point aside, I enjoy the pun, for Onesimus means “useful,” and he will be useful again, we read.  Also, the manipulation of Philemon is at its positive full force:  I could tell you to do the right thing, but I know that I do not have to do that because of the kind of man you are, the letter says.  One might conclude that Philemon did not have much of a choice in this scenario.

The story traditionally labeled the Parable of the Prodigal Son offers three compelling characters:  a father and two sons.  An observant student of the Bible might think of the motif of a father having two sons; something bad will happen.  Consider, O reader, the brothers Cain and Abel (Genesis 4), Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 16, 18, 21), and Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25-28, 32, 33, 35, 36), for example.  In this case we have a loving father and two sons–an ungrateful, disrespectful wastrel and his dutiful older brother.  The father knows and loves both of his sons.  He does not force them to do the right thing.  The father lets his younger son go in the expectation that he will return.  The father is jubilant when the younger son returns.  The older brother should also rejoice, but he wonders why he receives so little attention.  He is actually in a much better state than the returned younger brother, who will have to live with the concrete consequences of his folly for the rest of his life.  The older brother will still inherit the estate, however.

Each of us, throughout his or her life, might fill all three roles in the parable.  Many of us might identify most easily with the resentful and dutiful older brother, who does as her father tells him to do.  This resentful, holier-than-thou attitude is a gateway to Donatism, however.  We should actually rejoice when the penitent return.  We ought to welcome divine grace showered upon those we do not like.  When we do not do this, we commit a particular sin.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 11, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARY SLESSOR, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY IN WEST AFRICA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FOX, FOUNDER OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS

THE FEAST OF MIEP GIES, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH

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The Scandal of Grace II: Enemies   Leave a comment

Above:  Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O Lord, we ask you mercifully to hear us;

and grant that we, to whom you have given a hearty desire to pray,

may by your mighty aid be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 138

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Genesis 28:10-22

Psalm 3

Acts 9:22, 26-31

John 3:4-17

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One might have enemies for various reasons.  If one is like Jacob, a schemer and a trickster, one antagonizes others easily.  However, if one is like St. Paul the Apostle, one might antagonize via one’s occasional brusqueness as well as one’s obedience to God.

The scandal of grace is also evident.  Why else would Jacob become an agent of the divine covenant?  Why else would God choose Saul of Tarsus?  And why else would the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, live, die, and resurrect, for the benefit of the human race?

We humans seem to like the scandal of grace when it benefits us and those similar to us yet to resent it when it works to the benefit of those we do not like.  That is sinful.  Should we not rejoice that God is so generous?  One might think of the satirical character of Jonah, from the book that bears his name.  One of the points of the Book of Jonah is not to be like Jonah, after all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

THE ELEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF FELIX MANZ, FIRST ANABAPTIST MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH ANN SETON, FOUNDRESS OF THE AMERICAN SISTERS OF CHARITY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GREGORY OF LANGRES, TERTICUS OF LANGRES, GALLUS OF CLERMONT, GREGORY OF TOURS, AVITUS I OF CLERMONT, MAGNERICUS OF TRIER, AND GAUGERICUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN LUDWIG FREYDT, GERMAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

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Flawed Agents of Grace   1 comment

Jacob's Ladder William Blake

Above:  Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants.

Because we cannot rely on our own abilities,

grant us your merciful judgment,

and train us to embody the generosity of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 27:1-29 (Monday)

Genesis 28:10-17 (Tuesday)

Psalm 106:1-12 (Both Days)

Romans 16:1-16 (Monday)

Romans 16:17-20 (Tuesday)

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Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people,

and visit me with your saving help;

That I may see the prosperity of your elect

and be glad with the gladness of your people,

and I may glory with your inheritance.

–Psalm 106:4-5, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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One of the challenges one faces in reading the Bible intelligently is understanding cultural nuances.  What does it matter, for example, that a father imparts a blessing on his son?  That was important in the culture of Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and Esau/Edom, for the blessing or curse, in the minds of many people, determined the destiny of the recipient of the pronouncement.

Isaac was a pitiful character.  The fact that his father, Abraham, had tried to kill him once must have messed him up psychologically.  Wife Rebekah plotted to deceive him in order to promote her second son, Jacob.  She succeeded, and the promise flowed through the second son again, Isaac having been the second son of Abraham.  The confirmation of the promise came in a dream about angels on a ladder.  But Jacob remained a trickster, one whom Laban fooled.  The promise of God, this chain of events tells me, does not depend on purity of human character or motivation.  This is good news, for it the divine promise did depend on such factors, it would be vain hope.

St. Paul the Apostle, after a long list of commendations in Romans 16, advised people to avoid

those who stir up quarrels and lead others astray, contrary to the teaching you received

–Romans 16:17b, The Revised English Bible (1989).

The process of sorting out core Christian doctrines entailed centuries of debates among those who asked sincere questions.  Many of these seekers of the truth were objectively wrong about certain details, but at least they proceeded from a good motivation.  When they were wrong, their contribution led to the formulation of correct doctrines, so we Christians of the twenty-first century are indebted to them.  St. Paul the Apostle might have considered some of these individuals to be among “those who stir up quarrels and lead others astray,” for he was quite opinionated.  There were also actual mischief-makers.  Maybe you, O reader, have encountered the type–people who ask questions to provoke, not to seek an answer.

Those who sow the seeds of dissension seem to have great internal discord, for those at peace with themselves make peace and troubled people cause trouble.  I have witnessed these dynamics in congregations.  And I recognize it in family life, such as in the account in Genesis 27 and 28.  Much of the narrative of the Old Testament reads like a catalog of bad parenting and of sibling rivalry.  The texts are honest about character flaws, though, so we modern readers need not feel guilty about thinking of them as less than heroic all the time.  These were flawed people–as we are–and God worked through them as God works through us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 16. 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DIEFENBAKER AND LESTER PEARSON, PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA; AND TOMMY DOUGLAS, FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN JONES OF TALYSARN, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BROTHER ROGER OF TAIZE, FOUNDER OF THE TAIZE COMMUNITY

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-20-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Faith, Questions, and Confidence   Leave a comment

th

Above:  A Question Mark

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have filled the earth with the light of your incarnate Word.

By your grace empower us to reflect your light in all that we do,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 21

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 12:1-7 (January 2)

Genesis 28:10-22 (January 3)

Psalm 72 (both days)

Hebrews 11:1-12 (January 2)

Hebrews 11:13-22 (January 3)

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Some Related Posts:

Genesis 12:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/second-sunday-in-lent-year-a/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/devotion-for-the-eighth-and-ninth-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/proper-5-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/week-of-proper-7-monday-year-1/

Genesis 28:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-in-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/week-of-proper-9-monday-year-1/

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

Hebrews 11:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/week-of-3-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/week-of-6-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/devotion-for-the-fifth-day-of-easter-thursday-in-easter-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/week-of-proper-1-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/proper-14-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/proper-15-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/devotion-for-friday-before-the-first-sunday-of-advent-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Now faith means that we have full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see.  It was this that that won their reputation for the saints of old.

–Hebrews 11:1-2, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

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Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.

It was by faith that the people of old won God’s approval.

–Hebrews 11:1-2, The Revised English Bible

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Faith is the reality of we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.  The elders in the past were approved because they showed faith.

–Hebrews 11;1-2, Common English Bible

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Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen.  It is for their faith that our ancestors are acknowledged.

–Hebrews 11:1-2, The New Jerusalem Bible

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Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.

–Hebrews 11:1-2, The New Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition

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Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,

who alone does wonderful things.

And blessed by his glorious name for ever.

May all the earth be filled with his gory.

Amen.  Amen.

–Psalm 72:18-19, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The Bible is replete with troublesome characters.  Yet, the texts tell us, God worked through many of them.  For example, Abraham and Sarah became the parents of nations in their old age–an inspiring story?  But what about the mistreatment of Hagar and Ishmael?  Furthermore, the story of near-sacrifice of Isaac disturbs me; I will make no excuses for it.  As Elie Wiesel pointed out in a Bible study I saw in the 1990s, the Bible does not record any conversation between father and son after that incident, which must have damaged their relationship in ways which the passage of time did not repair.

As for Jacob, he was a trickster whom others conned.

Yet God worked with and through them, transforming these people for their benefit and that of many others, even to the present day.  That is grace, is it not?

“Faith” has more than one meaning in the Bible.  It is purely intellectual in James and inherently active in Paul, hence the appearance (but no more than that) of a faith-works contradiction between the two.  And, in the Letter to the Hebrews, faith is that which, in the absence of evidence for or against, enables one to continue in justifiable confidence.  If we have empirical evidence one way or the another, we do need faith.  I have heard church members say that they (A) have faith and (B) have evidence for the same proposition.  They misunderstood whereof they spoke.  They sought certainty when they should have desired confidence.

As James D. G. Dunn wrote in a different context (the search for the historical Jesus):

The language of faith uses words like “confidence” rather than “certainty.”  Faith deals in trust, not in mathematical calculations, nor in a “science” which methodically doubts everything which can be doubted….Walking “by faith” is different from walking “by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).  Faith is commitment, not just conviction.

Faith as trust is never invulnerable to questions.  Rather, faith lives in dialogue with questions.  Faith-without-doubt is a rare commodity, which few (if any) have experienced for any length of time.  On the contrary, doubt is the inoculation which keeps faith strong in the face of unbelief.  Whereas it is the “lust for certainty” which leads to fundamentalism’s absolutising of its own faith claims and dismissal of all others.  In fact, of course, little or nothing in real life is a matter of certainty, including the risks of eating beef, or of crossing a road, or of committing oneself in marriage….

Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), pages 104-105

I propose that we should never fear to question God faithfully.  Have we understood God correctly?  We can misunderstand, after all.  We have done so often.  And sometimes, as in the case of the Syro-Phoenician woman who encountered Jesus, rebutting a statement is the result which the speaker of the rebutted statement desires.  Sometimes passing the test of faithfulness entails arguing with, not being submissive, to God.  We need not stand in terror of God if we act out of healthy faith, the kind which creates space for many intelligent questions.  And then how will God work through us in the world?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 24, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS A KEMPIS, SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN BOSTE, GEORGE SWALLOWELL, AND JOHN INGRAM, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/devotion-for-january-2-and-3-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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