Archive for the ‘Habakkuk 2’ Category

Introduction to Haggai-First Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART I

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Haggai 1-2

Zechariah 1-8

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The Book of Haggai consists of two chapters, four oracles, and thirty-eight verses.

The Book of Zechariah consists of two sections–First Zechariah (chapters 1-8) and Second Zechariah (chapters 9-14).  Haggai and First Zechariah share a background and setting. Also, the chronology of Haggai-First Zechariah starts in Haggai, continues in First Zechariah, returns to Haggai, then resumes in First Zechariah.

Jerusalem, 520-518 B.C.E.  Darius I (r. 522-486 B.C.E.) was the King of the Persian Empire.  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had fallen in 539 B.C.E.  The Babylonian Exile had ended in 538 B.C.E.  The rebuilding of Jerusalem was underway, slowly.  The standard of living there was bad yet improving, slowly.  The construction of the Second Temple had started then paused indefinitely.

Names interest me.  “Haggai,” derived from the Hebrew stem for “to make a pilgrimage feast,” means “festal.”  Not surprisingly, the Temple is central to the prophetic book bearing this name.  “Zechariah” means “YHWH remembers.”  One may want to keep that in mind while reading First Zechariah.

The Temple is central to Haggai-First Zechariah.  The prophecies of certain Hebrew prophets do not reflect this bias; see Amos (5:18-25) and First Isaiah (1:12-16), set before the Babylonian Exile, O reader.  Also consult Third Isaiah (66:1), from after the Babylonian Exile.  Diversity of opinions exists in the corpus of canonized Hebrew prophecy.  So be it.

I will unpack another theme as write posts to succeed this one.  As I have established in this long-term project of reading and blogging about the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, some Hebrew prophecies contradict historical, documented, objective reality.  This is not a matter of legitimate dispute; “alternative facts” are not valid.  The Haggai-First Zechariah provides some examples of this pattern.  When predictions do not come true, some people become discouraged, understandably.  I, as a student of history, take note of the prophecy and the reality.  The facts are what they are, and speak for themselves.  In the face of the contradiction between reality and prophecy, some people should become discouraged.

John J. Collins, writing in The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), offers some food for thought:

Hope should not be focused on specific predictions.  The faith of Habakkuk was secure because it was a faith in ultimate justice and did not depend on specific events coming to pass within a short space of time.  Haggai’s more specific prediction gives rise to problems.

–RG404

I know this problem from elsewhere in Hebrew prophetic literature.  The prediction of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of Egypt (Jeremiah 43:1-8; Jeremiah 46:2-28; Ezekiel 29-32) contradicts the the historical record, which indicates that, in 525 B.C.E., Egypt fell to the Persian Empire, which had previously conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  If the prophecies were, in contrast, of the fall of Egypt to a great, unnamed empire from the east, there would be no problem, though.

Yet, as Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel wrote, prophets were people, not microphones.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 10:  THE SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF NATHAN SODERBLOM, SWEDISH ECUMENIST AND ARCHBISHOP OF UPPSULA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DAVID GONSON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1541

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN GUALBERT, FOUNDER OF THE VALLOMBROSAN BENEDICTINES

THE FEAST OF SAINTS THOMAS SPROTT AND THOMAS HUNT, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1600

THE FEAST OF SAINT VALERIU TRAIAN FRENTIU, ROMANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 1952

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Indictment for Apostasy and Call to Repentance   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART III

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Jeremiah 2:1-4:4

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Has any nation changed its gods

Even though they are no-gods?

But My people has exchanged its glory

For what can do no good.

–Jeremiah 2:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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God had liberated the Hebrew slaves from Egypt.  Then the former slaves had quickly started grumbling.  No member of that generation had entered Canaan.  In Canaan, the Hebrews had practiced idolatry.  The practice of idolatry had continued through the time of Jeremiah.  The abandonment of the covenant, with the common good built into it, constituted infidelity to God.  The irony of self-serving religion was that it could “do no good,” as TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) masterfully renders 2:11.

I like the translation of Jeremiah 2:11 in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985).  The wordplay of “no-gods” and “no good” is wonderful.  “Do no good” is not a literal translation, though.  The New Revised Standard Version (1989) uses “does not profit,” not “do no good.”  The germane Hebrew verb is ya’al, or “to confer or gain profit of benefit.”  Ya’al also occurs in Jeremiah 2:8:

The priests never asked themselves, “Where is the LORD?”

The guardians of the Teaching ignored Me,

And the prophets prophesied by Baal

And followed what can do no good.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Ya’al sounds like “Baal,” as in Baal Peor, the Canaanite fertility and storm god.  The connotation of ya’al (profit) is almost entirely negative in the Hebrew Bible, and frequently occurs in the context of idolatry.  This verb occurs 23 times:  1 Samuel 12:21; Job 15:3; Job 21:15; Job 30:13; Job 35:3; Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4; Isaiah 30:5-6; Isaiah 44:9-10; Isaiah 47:12; Isaiah 48:17; Job 57:12; Jeremiah 2:8 and 11; Jeremiah 12:13; Jeremiah 16:19; Jeremiah 23:32; and Habakkuk 2:18.

The metaphor of the covenant as a marriage should be familiar to anyone who has read the Book of Hosea attentively.  That metaphor plays our in this portion of Jeremiah, too.  Idolatry is, metaphorically, infidelity to God.  And this infidelity entails economic injustice, hence the reference to “the blood of the innocent poor” (Jeremiah 2:34).  The metaphor of irreversible divorce (Jeremiah 3:105) draws from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, in which the husband may not take back his wife after she has remarried.  Can the sinful population return to YHWH?  (The Book of Jeremiah, with its layers of composition and authorship, is inconsistent in the answer to this question.)  The people, not YHWH, have broken the relationship.  Yes, we read in this part and other segments of the Book of Jeremiah, the sinful population can return if it will repent, we read.  It can return if it will turn its back to its sins and return to God, we read.  The text mixes metaphors.  The adulterous wife becomes rebellious children.  Yet the call to repent remains.

We know that the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah fell, however.  Knowing this adds melancholy to our understanding of these verses.  Nevertheless, we also know that the Babylonian Exile ended.  That detail should add some joy to the mix as we read Jeremiah 2:1-4:4.

To return to my opening theme, the irony of idolatry in the name of self-serving religion is that it is in vain.  The Law of Moses, with its ethical core, builds up the common good and teaches mutuality.  Whatever affects one person, affects others.  We are all responsible to and for each other as we stand together, completely dependent upon God.  Selfish gain, the sort that enriches some while impoverishing others, works against the common good and harms the one who benefits the one who benefits from that selfish gain.  This selfish gain turns into a liability in the long term.

God longs to heal our afflictions, even the ones we have inflicted on ourselves.  We must turn back toward God, however.  If we refuse to do so, we judge and condemn ourselves.  This truth applies on more than one level.  There is the individual level, of course.  Yet may we not forget that Jeremiah 2:1-4:4 addresses populations, not individuals or one person.  Sin is both collective and individual.  So are forgiveness and restoration.  We may feasibly apply this call to collective repentance to neighborhoods, families, congregations, denominations, societies, nation-states, et cetera.

God is the source of the best stuff, for lack of a better word.  Do we want the best stuff or inferior stuff?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY GIANELLI, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF SAINT ALPHONSUS

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK LUCIAN HOSMER, U.S. UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HUBERT LAFAYETTE SONE AND HIS WIFE, KATIE HELEN JACKSON SONE, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES AND HUMANITARIANS IN CHNA, SINGAPORE, AND MALAYSIA

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

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Unpacking Habakkuk 2:4–Sayings About Tyrants   Leave a comment

Above:  Habakkuk

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HABAKKUK, PART IV

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Habakkuk 2:5-20

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Denunciations of tyrants and tyranny remain germane, unfortunately.

Habakkuk 2:5-20 unpacks 2:4, the text on which I fixated in the previous post in this series.  Certain aspects of 2:5-20 do not translate well into English; others do.

First, the commandment to trust in God, not in wealth, pervades the Old and New Testaments.  We read it in Habakkuk 2:5f.  The issue is attachment to wealth, not wealth itself.  This point is also prominent in Luke 12:15; Mark 10:17-27; and 1 Timothy 6:10.  In Habakkuk 2:7, the same Hebrew word means both “debtors” and “creditors.”  Debtor nations can become creditor nations, and the other way around.

Second, the theology of divine retribution, prominent in the Bible (notably in Nahum, which I recently finished reading) informs Habakkuk 2:8f.  What comes around, goes around.  Through divine retribution, something beautiful happens:

But the earth shall be filled

with the knowledge of the LORD’s glory,

just as the water covers the sea.

–Habakkuk 2:14, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

This divine glory contrasts with the corrupt, sinful human glory of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire and other earthly powers (2:16).  God is sovereign.  Idolatry, in all its forms, is foolish.

In the original context, Habakkuk 2:5-20 applied to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Reinterpretation of these verses probably commenced immediately after the fall of that empire to the Persians and the Medes in 539 B.C.E.

Tyrants succeed because other people empower them.  Tyrants fail because of insufficient support.  The fully-realized Kingdom of God is antithetical to tyranny.  Yet the history of the Christian Church is replete with official ecclesiastical support for tyrants and would-be tyrants.  One may recognize support for fascist dictators, military juntas, and those who who seek to subvert representative government from the ancient past to the present day.  And the condemnations Habakkuk 2:5-20 leveled against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire apply to certain governments, public officials, and private citizens in 2021.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 5:  THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF FRANKLIN CLARK FRY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA AND THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANÇON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN FRIEDRICH HERTZOG, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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Posted June 6, 2021 by neatnik2009 in 1 Timothy 6, Habakkuk 2, Luke 12, Mark 10

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Habakkuk’s Second Complaint, with God’s Response   1 comment

Above:  Habakkuk and God

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HABAKKUK, PART III

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Habakkuk 1:12-2:4

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Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence

while the wicked devour those more just than ourselves?

–Habakkuk 1:13b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That is an excellent question for God in any time and place.

The context of the prophet Habakkuk was probably after 605 B.C.E. yet before the first Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian invasion of Judah in 598/597 B.C.E.  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire was notoriously cruel.  This, was, unfortunately, a characteristic common to many Mesopotamian empires in antiquity.

“The righteous will live by faith” is a familiar line that should never be trite.  Sadly, many people reduce it to triteness.  It is a line, originally from Habakkuk 2:4, and quoted in Romans 1:17, in the context of justification with God.  The line occurs, originally, in the context of God’s reply (2:2-4) to the second complaint of the prophet.

The LORD answered me and said:

Write the prophecy down,

Inscribe it clearly on tablets,

So that it can be read easily.

For there is yet a prophecy for a set term,

A truthful witness for a time that will come.

Even if it tarries, wait for it still;

For it will surely come, without delay:

Lo, his spirit within him is puffed up, not upright,

But the righteous man is rewarded with life

For his fidelity.”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Robert Alter’s translation of Habakkuk 2:4 follows:

Look, the spirit within him is callous, not upright,

but the righteous man lives through his faithfulness.

The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019)

The translation of Habakkuk 2:4, according to The Revised English Bible (1989) follows:

The reckless will lack an assured future,

while the righteous will live by being faithful.

Habakkuk 2:4, in The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011), reads:

See, the rash have no integrity;

but the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live.

The variety in translations opens up a sense of shades of meaning in the Hebrew text.  Does a righteous person–man, whatever–receive life as a reward for fidelity to God or survive extreme hardship by being faithful to God?  Also, the varying translations of the first part of 2:4 interest me.  Lacking integrity, being puffed up, and being callous sound different than having no future.  Perhaps they have no future because they are puffed up and are callous.  The translation in The Revised English Bible (1989) reminds me of why I frequently add that version to the stack of translations I consult on Bible study projects.  The Revised English Bible (1989) maintains a high literary quality and is often idiosyncratic and not literal.  Yet captures the meanings of texts.

In the original context, the faithful Jews of Judah seemed to have no future.  The future seemed to belong to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  God said that reality was the other way around.  God told Habakkuk that the divine schedule was not the prophet’s schedule.

Imagine, O reader, that you were a faithful Jew living late in the Babylonian Exile.  Imagine that you were, as in Psalm 137, sitting by the waters of Babylon and singing songs of Zion.  Imagine that you had never lived in Zion.  How might Habakkuk 2:4 have sounded to you?  How might you have responded to it?

Imagine also, O reader, that you were a faithful Jew (perhaps the same one) years later, having returned to your ancestral homeland?  How might you have related to Habakkuk 2:4 then?

Waiting for God can be extremely challenging in a variety of circumstances–not just worst-case scenarios.  Waiting for God requires trust in God.  That can come only via trust in grace.  One may desire to trust God; that is a good start.  Trusting God and walking in healthy relationship with God requires divine assistance.  It is available.  How many of us see it and do not recognize it?  And how many of us never even see it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOROTHEUS OF TYRE, BISHOP OF TYRE, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 362

THE FEAST OF BLISS WIANT, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR, ARRANGER, AND HARMONIZER; AND HIS WIFE, MILDRED ARTZ WIANT, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF INI KOPURIA, FOUNDER OF THE MELANESIAN BROTHERHOOD

THE FEAST OF MAURICE BLONDEL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHER AND FORERUNNER OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL

THE FEAST OF ORLANDO GIBBONS, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; THE “ENGLISH PALESTRINA”

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The Superscription of the Book of Habakkuk   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Habakkuk

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HABAKKUK, PART I

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Habakkuk 1:1

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The situation for Judah had become worse since the days of the prophet Nahum, shortly before the Fall of Nineveh (612 B.C.E.).  King Josiah of Judah (r. 640-609 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 22:1-23:30; 2 Chronicles 34:1-35:27; 1 Esdras 1:1-33; Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 49:1-6) had died in combat against Pharaoh Neco II (r. 610-595 B.C.E.).  The Egyptian leader had sought to establish power in Syria; Judah was between Egypt and Syria.  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had terminated Neco II’s plans for Syria.

In the wake of King Josiah’s death, Judah had become a vassal state of Egypt.  Pharaoh Neco II had chosen the next two Kings of Judah.  Jehoahaz/Jeconiah/Shallum (2 Kings 23:31-35; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4; 1 Esdras 1:34-38) had reigned for about three months before becoming a prisoner in Egypt.  Then Neco II had appointed Eliakim and renamed him Jehoiakim (r. 608-598 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 23:36-24:7; 2 Chronicles 36:5-8; 1 Esdras 1:39-42).  Jehoiakim was always a vassal while King of Judah.  After being the vassal of Neco II of Egypt for about three years, he became a vassal of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 605 B.C.E.  He died a prisoner in that empire.

Two more Kings of Judah reigned; both were vassals of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah (2 Kings 24:8-17; 2 Kings 25:27-30; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10; 1 Esdras 1:43-46) reigned for about three months before going into exile in that empire.  The last King of Judah was Zedekiah, born Mattaniah (2 Kings 24:18-25:26; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; 1 Esdras 1:47-58).  He reigned from 597 to 586 B.C.E.  The last events he saw before Chaldean soldiers blinded him were the executions of his sons.

The Book of Habakkuk exists within the context of three years–605, 598/597, and 586 B.C.E.–and two Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian invasions of Judah.  The book, in its original form, dates to closer to 605 and 598/597 B.C.E. than 586 B.C.E.

The superscription tells us almost nothing about the prophet.  “Habakkuk” derives from an Arabic word meaning “dwarf.”  He may have been a cultic prophet.  The superscription does not even reveal the name(s) of the King(s) of Judah when Habakkuk prophesied.

The Book of Habakkuk contains fifty-six verses in three chapters.  The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) gives short shrift to the book, assigning only eight verses once every third years.  Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 is one of two options for the Old Testament reading on Proper 26, Year C.  The lectionary includes:

the righteous live by their faith

(2:4b), taken out of textual context.

I invite you, O reader, to join me as I read all of the Book of Habakkuk, in historical and textual context.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOROTHEUS OF TYRE, BISHOP OF TYRE, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 362

THE FEAST OF BLISS WIANT, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR, ARRANGER, AND HARMONIZER; AND HIS WIFE, MILDRED ARTZ WIANT, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF INI KOPURIA, FOUNDER OF THE MELANESIAN BROTHERHOOD

THE FEAST OF MAURICE BLONDEL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHER AND FORERUNNER OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL

THE FEAST OF ORLANDO GIBBONS, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; THE “ENGLISH PALESTRINA”

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Oracles of Divine Punishment, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  The Siege of Jerusalem, 586 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MICAH, PART IV

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Micah 3:1-12

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Leaders, by definition, have followers.  Those who think they may be leaders can test this hypothesis easily; they can turn around and see if they have followers.

Continuing with the thread of divine judgment for exploiting the poor and working against the common good, we come to Micah 3.  We read condemnations of kings and other rulers, who have maintained destructive policies.  When the Assyrians (or later on, the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians) come, we read, these rulers will cry out to God.  God will not answer them because of the evil they have committed.  They have forsaken the covenant, with its mandate of social justice, including economic justice.

One who reads the Hebrew Bible closely enough and long enough should know about false prophets, whom kings kept on the payroll.  These false prophets are targets in Micah 3:5-8.  These prophets, the Hebrew text indicates, are:

like beastly creditors or snakes that bite the flesh off Israel with their teeth.

The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), 1198

The language of beastly behavior, used to describe leaders (3:1-3) exists also in 3:5-8.  In 3:5, the Hebrew verb nashakh (“to bite”) puns on the noun nahash (“snake”).  In other contexts, nashakh means “to charge interest.”  Charging interest carries negative connotations in Habakkuk 2:7 and Deuteronomy 23:20.

A population with predators for leaders is in an extremely difficult situation.  One may think also of Ezekiel 34, the promise is that God, the Good Shepherd, will take the place of bad kings, bad shepherds.  (Does Ezekiel 34 synchronize with Micah 2:12-13?)  In Micah 3:12, however, the news is different and frightening:

Assuredly, because of you

Zion shall be plowed as a field,

And Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins,

And the Temple Mount

A shrine in the woods.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 25, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BEDE OF JARROW, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND FATHER OF ENGLISH HISTORY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALDHELM OF SHERBORNE, POET, LITERARY SCHOLAR, ABBOT OF MALMESBURY, AND BISHOP OF SHERBORNE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CRISTOBAL MAGOLLANES JARA AND AGUSTIN CALOCA CORTÉS, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC SAINTS AND MARTYRS, 1927

THE FEAST OF SAINT MADELEINE-SOPHIE BARAT, FOUNDRESS OF THE SOCIETY OF THE SACRED HEART; AND SAINT ROSE PHILIPPINE DUCHESNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT MYKOLA TSEHELSKYI, UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1951

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Trusting in God, Part X   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Habakkuk

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fifteenth 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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O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church;

and because it cannot continue in safety without thy succor,

preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 212

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Habakkuk 2:1-14

Psalm 84

Ephesians 4:8-16

Luke 12:16-40

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The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire was cruel.  It was evil.  The empire, in the words of God, delivered to Habakkuk,

destroyed many peoples

and

plundered many nations.

The prophet’s theological problem was how to relate to God when the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire seemed invincible.  God’s answer, recorded in Habakkuk, was that the empire would fall.  The empire that lived by the sword doomed itself to die by the sword.

The existence of evil does not negate the existence and justice of God.  Few questions impress me less than,

If God exists and is just, why did x happen?

I tread carefully in the realm of theodicy, an undertaking that turns into idiocy easily and frequently.  Social injustice will always exist as long as people are in charge of institutions and governments.  We can, however, reduce social injustice.  We have a moral mandate to do so.  God equips us to do so.

Empires and nation-states rise and fall.  So be it.  We cannot change that reality, certainly.  We can, regardless of whatever else is happening and who ever is in political power, trust and take refuge in God.  We can trust in our real king.  We can pray, with the author of Psalm 84,

How lovely is your dwelling,

O Yahweh of Hosts!

My soul longs and pines aloud

for your court, O Yahweh!

My heart and my flesh cry out.

–Verses 2-3, Mitchell J. Dahood (1968)

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELARD OF CORBIE, FRANKISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND ABBOT; AND HIS PROTÉGÉ, SAINT PASCHASIUS RADBERTUS, FRANKISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN IN JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

THE FEAST OF RUTH BYLLESBY, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBISTA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940; AND SAINT WLADYSLAW GORAL, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 1945

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Private and Public Morality   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Habakkuk

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

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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The Assigned Readings:

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-14

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Titus 1:1-16

Luke 18:31-43

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Three ideas intertwine to the point of becoming inseparable in these assigned readings:  trusting God, having good public morality, and having good private morality.  Responsibility is both individual and collective.  Leaders receive particular attention in the readings from Habakkuk and Titus.  Injustice–social, economic injustice, to be precise–is rife while corrupt rulers pile up what is not properly theirs.  Furthermore, for a bishop (in the case of the reading from Titus) to teach properly, the home life cannot contradict spoken orthodoxy.

The Law of Moses forbids exploitation.  This teaching informs Judeo-Christian orthodox morality all the way from both Testaments to current times.  Yet many professing, conventionally devout Jews and Christians somehow justify exploitation.  Fortunately, many other Jews and Christians condemn exploitation in words and deeds.  Their witness is consistent with the Law, the prophets, and Jesus.

Jesus died at the hands of an unjust system of a violent empire.  It dominated with fear and intimidation.  Jesus, however, exposed that empire for what it was by being better than it was.

Can we see that?  Can we also see the link between public and private morality, as well as the connection between them and trusting in God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 23, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR AND ISAAC THE GREAT, PATRIARCHS OF ARMENIA

THE FEAST OF MEISTER ECKHART, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN AND MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT METODEJ DOMINICK TRCKA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1959

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTORIAN OF HADRUMETUM, MARTYR AT CARTHAGE, 484

THE FEAST OF SAINT WALTER OF PONTOISE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND ECCLESIASTICAL REFORMER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2020/03/23/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-c-humes/

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Deferred Hope   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Bartholomew, by Gregorio Bausa

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Lord, who commanded your apostles to go into all the world,

and to preach the Gospel to every creature,

Let your name be great among the nations from the rising of the Sun

to the going down of the same.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 86

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Habakkuk 2:18-20; 3:2-4

Psalm 52

1 Peter 2:4-10

John 1:35-51

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The assigned reading from 1 Peter is too brief.  One should, for full comprehension of 2:4-10, back up into chapter 1 and start reading.  We read that Gentile Christians are a holy people, a priesthood set apart to serve God, and a holy people, a priesthood set apart to serve God, and a temple all at once, via divine mercy.  With grace come obligations, of course.  We ought to put away

all wickedness and deceit, hypocrisy and jealousy and malicious talk of any kind.

–1 John 2:1, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Not putting them away is inconsistent with being a light to the nations.

1 John 2:3 affirms that God is good, in an echo of Psalm 34:8.  That segue brings me to Habakkuk.  Once again the assigned reading is unfortunately truncated.  The overall context of the Book of Habakkuk is the Babylonian Exile.  The text struggles with how to affirm the goodness of God in light of a violent and exploitative international order.  The author seems less certain than the man who wrote Psalm 52.  The central struggle of Habakkuk is timeless, for circumstances change and time passes, but certain populations experience oppression at any given moment.

I have no easy answer to this difficult question, nor do I aspire to have one.  God has some explaining to do, I conclude.

The Roman occupation of the Holy Land was in full effect at the time of Christ.  A portion of the Jewish population sought a military savior who would expel the Romans.  Jesus disappointed them.  He did, however, astound St. Nathanael/Bartholomew.  All Jesus had to do was say he had seen the future Apostle under a fig tree.

This is an interesting section of John 1.  Every time I study 1:47-51 I consult resources as I search for more answers.  The Gospel of John is a subtle text, after all; it operates on two levels–the literal and the metaphorical–simultaneously.  St. Nathanael/Bartholomew acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah and follows him.  The fig tree is a symbol of messianic peace in Micah 4:4 (one verse after nations end their warfare and beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks) and in Zechariah 3:10 (one verse after God promises to remove the Israelites’ collective guilt in one day, in the context of the Babylonian Exile.  The context of the confession of St. Nathanael/Bartholomew then, is apocalyptic; an ideal future in which God reigns fully on the Earth is the hope.  So as for Jesus seeing St. Nathanael/Bartholomew under a fig tree, that feat seems to have indicated to the future Apostle that possessed unique insights.

The apocalyptic nature of the vision of St. Nathanael/Bartholomew sitting under a fig tree is juicier material, though.  I also wonder how well the future Apostle understood the messiahship of Jesus at the time of his confession.  The answer is that he did so incompletely, I conclude.  I do not mean that as a criticism; I merely make a statement of what I perceive to have been reality.

The question of now to make sense of the divine goodness in the context of a violent and exploitative world order remains.  I offer a final thought regarding that:  Is not hope superior to hopelessness?  Deferred hope is still hope.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 4, 2017 COMMON ERA

LABOR DAY (U.S.A.)

THE FEAST OF PAUL JONES, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF UTAH AND PEACE ACTIVIST; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, JOHN NEVIN SAYRE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND PEACE ACTIVIST

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The Issue of the Choppiness of Pericopes in the Revised Common Lectionary   Leave a comment

2-thessalonians

Above:  The Second Reading for Proper 26, Year C

Scanned from the Bulletin for St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, October 30, 2016

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) (1992) is a wonderful resource for preaching and Bible study.  With its three-year cycle it covers about one-fourth of the Bible (the Protestant Bible, that is, I suppose).  Certainly the RCL covers more of scripture than does its immediate predecessor, the Common Lectionary (1983) and any of a number of one-year and two-year lectionaries the RCL has replaced in a variety of denominations.  Furthermore, as a number of clergymen and clergywomen have said, the RCL requires them to address passages of the Bible on which they might not have preached otherwise.  Another advantage of reading scripture via a lectionary, the RCL in particular, is that it helps one read passages of scripture in the context of each other.  Scripture is, after all, one context in which to read scripture properly.

Sometimes the RCL chops up passages of scripture, skipping over certain verses.  On some occasions this does not change the meaning or flavor of the pericope; the cut might serve the purpose of sparing the lector of having to read polysyllabic names that have no effect on the point of the lesson, as in Nehemiah 8:4.  Sometimes the cuts create an awkward composite reading yet do not change the meaning of the passage.  For example, the First Reading (Track One) for Proper 26, Year C, is Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, skipping over God’s reply to the prophet and most of the prophet’s answer to God in the first chapter.  The main reason for this kind of cut seems to be time.  Besides, a good homilist can summarize the cut material, so that omission is fine.  I do, however, object to other cuts.

Consider, O reader, 1 Thessalonians 1.  The verses from it assigned for reading on Proper 26, Year C, are 1-4 and 11-12.  This fact makes me more interested in verses 5-10 than I might be otherwise.  In The Revised English Bible (1989) verses 1-4 read:

From Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians who belong to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friends, we are always bound to thank God for you, and it is right that we should, because your faith keeps on increasing and the love you all have for each other grows ever greater.  Indeed we boast about you among the churches of God, because your faith remains so steadfast under all the persecutions and troubles you endure.

Verses 5-10 read:

This points to the justice of God’s judgement; you will be proved worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.  It is just that God should balance the account by sending affliction to those who afflict you, and relief to you who are afflicted, and to us as well, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in blazing fire.  Then he will mete out punishment to those who refuse to acknowledge God and who will not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, cut off from the presence of the Lord, and the splendor of his might, when on the great day he comes to reveal his glory among his own and his majesty among all believers; and therefore among you, since you believed the testimony we brought you.

Verses 11-12, the end of the chapter, read:

With this in mind we pray for you always, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and that his power may bring to fulfilment every good purpose and every act inspired by faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Omitting verses 5-10 removes the crucial link between verses 1-4 and verses 11-12.  It also changes the tone of the reading, dropping the balance of divine judgment and mercy.  I understand that the question of the balance of judgment and mercy in God can be uncomfortable for many people, but that question does recur in both the Old and New Testaments.  I do not pretend to have arrived at answer other than “only God knows.”  So be it.

Omitting uncomfortable verses is a pattern in the RCL, which does not omit all of them.  All one has to do to notice this pattern of avoiding reading certain verses is to pay attention to the RCL’s treatment of the Book of Psalms.  The RCL avoids some Psalms entirely and omits certain uncomfortable passages in others.  The emotions in the Psalms are frequently raw and not Christlike.  This fact might make one uncomfortable speaking, chanting, or singing certain lines in Christian worship.  Nevertheless, the RCL does include all of Psalm 137, even the part about dashing the heads of the children of enemies against a rock.  In contrast, I note that the Common Lectionary (1983) omits the final, vengeful verses of Psalm 137.

I have noticed these omissions more than I used to since I began to teach an adult Sunday School class just over a year ago.  For slightly more than a year I have studied the assigned readings ahead of time so I can lead a discussion of them between the morning services.  More than once I have extended readings in class and led a discussion of pericopes as I have thought they should have been, that is, not chopped up, cut, and pasted.

As much as I affirm the RCL as a useful tool, I also recognize its limitations.  There is, of course, the three-quarters of the (Protestant, I presume) Bible it does not cover.  According to my reading regarding lectionaries, a seven-year cycle would cover just about all of the (Protestant, I presume) material.  How many congregations and homilists are ready for Years A. B, C, D, E, F, and G?  And how much of Leviticus does one what to hear read aloud in church on Sunday mornings?  The main limitation of the RCL is one pastors can fix easily; they can extend readings and restore omitted verses.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT WOLFGANG OF REGENSBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP

THE FEAST OF ALL HALLOWS’ EVE

THE FEAST OF THE REFORMATION

THE VIGIL FOR THE EVE OF ALL SAINTS’ DAY

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