Archive for the ‘Isaiah 13’ Category

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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The Desolation of Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART II

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Lamentations 1:1-22

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The book of Lamentations was written, not simply to memorialize the tragic destruction of Jerusalem, but to interpret the meaning of God’s rigorous treatment of his people to the end that they would learn the lessons of the past and retain their faith in him in the face of overwhelming disaster.

–Theophile J. Meek, in The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 6 (1956), 5-6

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The two poetic voices in Lamentations 1 are the Poet (verses 1=10, 17) and Fair Zion (verses 11-16, 18-22).

I unpack the Poet’s section first:

  1. Widows were vulnerable, dependent upon male relatives.  Jerusalem, once like a princess, has become like a widow in verse 1.
  2. The reference to weeping bitterly (or incessantly, depending on translation) in verse 2 indicates intense weeping.
  3. The friends (or lovers, depending on translation) in verse 2 were political allies of Judah who did not come to that kingdom’s aid.  The Hebrew word, literally, “lovers,” indicates idolatry.
  4. Verse 3 compares the Babylonian Exile to slavery in Egypt.  See Genesis 15:13; Exodus 1:11; Deuteronomy 26:6.
  5. Verse 4 overstates the matter; many people remained in Judah after the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.
  6. Verse 5 accepts the Deuteronomic theology of divine retribution for sins.
  7. “Fair Zion” verse 6 conveys the sense of “dear little Zion.”  It is “Daughter of Zion,” literally.
  8. The personification of Jerusalem occurs frequently in Hebrew prophetic literature.  Examples include Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 52:2; Jeremiah 4:31; and Micah 4:8.
  9. Verse 8 reads, in part, “seen her disgraced.”  This is literally, “seen her nakedness,” connoting shame.
  10. Verse 9 uses ritual impurity (regarding menstruation) as a metaphor for moral impurity–idolatry, metaphorically, sexual immorality.
  11. Verse 10 likens the looting of the Temple to rape.

Then Fair Zion speaks:

  1. Verse 12 likens the Fall of Jerusalem to the apocalyptic Day of the LORD.  Other references to the Day of the LORD include Isaiah 13:13; Joel 2:1; Amos 5:8; Obadiah 15.
  2. Jerusalem has nobody to comfort her.  Therefore, she cannot finish mourning.
  3. A line in verse 20 can mean either “I know how wrong I was to disobey” or “How very bitter I am.”
  4. Verse 20 refers to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian army being outside the walls of Jerusalem and plague being inside the city.  (See Ezekiel 7:15.)
  5. Chapter 1 concludes with a prayer for divine retribution against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Maybe Fair Zion will receive some comfort from this divine judgment.  Yet God is silent.

The Book of Lamentations deals with trauma by telling the truth.  This contrasts with the dominant cultural pattern in my homeland, the United States of America–the “United States of Amnesia,” as the late, great Gore Vidal called it.  Certain Right-Wing politicians and private citizens outlaw or try to outlaw the telling of the truth in public schools, sometimes even in public colleges and universities.  Not telling the difficult truth stands in the way of resolving the germane problems and moving forward together into a better future, one that is more just.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL BARNETT, ANGLICAN CANON OF WESTMINSTER, AND SOCIAL REFORMER; AND HIS WIFE, HENRIETTA BARNETT, SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SAINT SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Divine Judgment Against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXXIV

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Jeremiah 50:1-51:64

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Since I started reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, I have read the material related to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in Isaiah 13:1-14:22; 21:1-10.

Jeremiah 50 and 51 contain two oracles (50:1-46; 51:1-58) and an account of the the transportation of the scroll of the prophecy against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire to Babylon, followed by the enactment of the curse against that empire (51:59-64).  Chapters 50 and 51 also contain material from different periods.  The copies I read are translations of the final draft, from after the Babylonian Exile.

The contents of the two oracles contain familiar, repeated themes:

  1. Babylon will fail.
  2. The empire will end.
  3. Jews will return to God and to their homeland.
  4. God is sovereign.
  5. Idolatry, hubris, and arrogance will be the downfall of the empire.

Jeremiah 51:59 provides a year for the events of 51:59-64.  That year is 593 B.C.E., the fourth year of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah.  The reference to King Zedekiah’s official delegation to Babylon fits historically.

Tying a stone around the scroll and sinking that scroll into the Euphrates River was a prophetic symbolic action.  Seraiah ben Neriah, brother of Baruch ben Neriah, performed that task on Jeremiah’s behalf.  That symbolic action enacted the curse that Babylon would sink and never rise again.

Babylon remained a major city, within the Persian Empire, for centuries.  In the Hellenistic Era, however, Babylon declined.  By the early Christian era, Babylon had become a village.  The site, abandoned by 1000 C.E., became a source for bricks.

Above:  Ruins of Babylon, 1932

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-13231

Thus for the words of Jeremiah.

–Jeremiah 51:64b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

So ends the Book of Jeremiah, except for Chapter 52, mostly copied and pasted from 2 Kings 24:18-25:30.

I have already covered Jeremiah 52 (as Jeremiah 52) here and (as 2 Kings 24 and 25) here and here.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Book of Jeremiah.  I invite you to remain with me as I move along to the Book of Lamentations.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY FRANCES BLOMFIELD GURNEY, ENGLISH POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EVELYN UNDERHILL, ANGLICAN MYSTIC AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; SAINT AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP, AND SAINTS DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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Introduction to Jeremiah’s Oracles Against the Nations   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXV

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Jeremiah 46:1

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Jeremiah 46-51 consists of oracles against nations:

  1. Egypt (46),
  2. Philistia (47),
  3. Moab (48),
  4. Ammon, Edom, Aram, Arabia, and Elam (49), and
  5. the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (50-51).

Such oracles are staples of Hebrew prophetic literature.  They fill the Book of Nahum (against the Assyrian Empire), the Book of Obadiah (against Edom), Isaiah 13-23, Ezekiel 25-32, and Amos 1:3-2:16.  The oracles in Jeremiah 46-51 are consistent with Jeremiah’s commission:

…a prophet to the nations I appointed you.

–Jeremiah 1:5, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The Book of Jeremiah consists of material from various sources.  Some of these oracles, therefore, come from Jeremiah himself.  Others may come from a later stratum or subsequent strata of composition.  This fits with the process of composing and editing other Hebrew prophetic books as late as after the Babylonian Exile.  So be it.

We read, in the context of a particular scroll from 605 B.C.E.:

Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to his scribe, Baruch, son of Neriah, and wrote on it at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words contained in the scroll, which Jerhoiakim, king of Judah, had burned in the fire, adding many words like them.

–Jeremiah 36:32, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

I wonder how many other authors added

many words like them

elsewhere in the Book of Jeremiah, specifically in in Chapters 46-51.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6:  THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT SPYRIDON OF CYPRUS, BISHOP OF TREMITHUS, CYPRUS; AND HIS CONVERT, SAINT TRYPHILLIUS OF LEUCOSIA, CYPRUS; OPPONENTS OF ARIANISM

THE FEAST OF DAVID ABEEL, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND MISSIONARY TO ASIA

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BENJAMIN SANFORD, U.S. METHODIST THEN CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SIGISMUND VON BIRKEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Divine Judgment on Bad Kings and False Prophets   Leave a comment

Above:  King Zedekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XIV

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Jeremiah 23:1-40

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I like wordplay.  The Hebrew Bible is replete with it.  In Jeremiah 23, for example, puns on the Hebrew root letters resh and ayin move from ro’in (“shepherds,” in verses 1-4) to ra’ah (“evil,” in verses 11, 12, 14, 17, 22), mere’im (“evildoers,” in verse 14), and re’im (“each other,” in verses 27, 30, 35).  Also, in verses 5-6, we find a pun on the name of Zedekiah, the last King of Judah.  “Zedekiah” means “YHWH is justice.'”  The true branch of David’s line, however, will be “The LORD our justice.” we read.  This text tells us that Zedekiah did not live up to his regnal name.

The imagery of kings as shepherds exists in Ezekiel 34, also.

The promise of a messianic royal branch, in reference to an ideal ruler, occurs also in Isaiah 11:1 and Zechariah 3:8.  This promise contradicts facts from the historical record.

As with other parts of the Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 23 contains layers of authorship.  Verses 7-8, repeated nearly verbatim from Jeremiah 16:14-15, probably date to a period after Jeremiah–most likely during or after the Babylonian Exile.

False prophets abounded.  Some prophesied in the name of Baal Peor; they led people astray.  Other prophets claimed to speak on behalf of God; they led people into violations of the covenant.  The people and the false prophets paid a high price.  In more wordplay, massa (“burden”) meant a message from God (also in Deuteronomy 1:12; Jeremiah 17:24, 27; Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 15:1; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Malachi 1:1; Isaiah 22:1; Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1), as well as a judgment from God.  The language of the “burden of the LORD,” as an oracle, was more common in reference to Gentile nations than to Israel and Judah.  In Jeremiah 23, the population that had requested an oracle received a judgment instead.

A difficult and germane question remains unanswered:  Without the benefit of hindsight, how can one discern who is a false prophet?  Each of us may correctly classify some figures as false prophets and wrongly categorize others, based on a belief system.  In hindsight, identifying false prophets is easier than doing so in real time.  If, for example, a self-proclaimed prophet predicts that Jesus will return by a certain date, one may reasonably classify him or her as a false prophet.  One may be certain, however, if that date comes and goes without the Second Coming having occurred.  On a mundane level, someone may offer a pronouncement that may be difficult to evaluate on the true prophet-false prophet scale in real time.  This person may even be a false prophet while imagining himself or herself to be a true prophet.  I accept Jeremiah as a true prophet, with the benefit of hindsight and faith.  Yet I admit that, had I lived when he was prophesying, I may have thought he was crazy.

May rulers be good and prophets be true.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARNABAS THE APOSTLE, COWORKER OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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The Downfall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire and the End of the Babylonian Exile   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART XI

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Isaiah 13:1-14:22; 21:1-10

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Chronology is not the organizing principle in the final version of the Book of Isaiah.  Therefore, writing based on topic can be appropriate.  The selected texts come from a time after Isaiah ben Amoz–probably very late in the existence of the Kingdom of Judah.  They cannot come from Isaiah ben Amoz because they speak of a geographical reality that did not yet exist.  However, Isaiah 14:24-27, in which the Assyrian Empire still stands, consistent with the geopolitical situation Isaiah ben Amoz knew.

The Book of Isaiah has already established that God punishes human arrogance.  That theme repeats here.  Arrogance feeds a false self of self-sufficiency, in contrast to reality, that we all depend entirely on God.  This arrogance feeds an “every man for himself” mentality, which encourages and condones exploitation of the poor.  Exploitation violates mutuality, a major principle in the Law of Moses.  When divine anger burns, the gig is up.

The key difference between the fates of Babylonia and the exiled Judeans was that preserved a remnant of the Judeans.  God was faithful to the divine promise in the covenant.  Restoration–the end of the Babylonian Exile–followed punishment.

I have read the entire canon of scripture of the Russian Orthodox Church (78 books) and taken notes.  I did that more than two decades ago, however.  I have been blogging my way through the Bible, with lectionaries as guides, since 2009.  I have been blogging through the books of the Bible according to plans I have devised for years, too.  Through it all, I have never failed to learn something I have missed umpteen times.  I have also become increasingly aware of how much the Bible repeats itself, even within the same book.

For maximum effect, O reader, find the first post in this series about First Isaiah and start reading, unless you have been doing so already.  Or find my first post in the “Reading Hosea” series, the series that has led me here, to First Isaiah, and start reading there.  First Isaiah contains themes also present in the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, and I have written about some of those themes in greater detail prior to this post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST AND MARTYR, 166/167

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, 309

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROBINSON, MARMADUKE STEPHENSON, AND MARY DYER, BRITISH QUAKER MARTYRS IN BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 1659 AND 1660

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God Cares, Part VI   1 comment

Above:  Jacob and Rachel, by Palma Vecchio

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 29:1-6, 10-28 or Isaiah 13:6-16

Psalm 14

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 9:9-13, 27-34

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A recurring theme in the Hebrew Bible is people tricking tricksters–in this case, Laban tricking Jacob.  What comes around, comes around.

The condemnations of evil and the predictions of divine wrath on the day of the LORD continue in Isaiah 13:6-16.  Passages such as these belie the claim of the benighted, evil, foolish people who tell themselves in Psalm 14 that God does not care, a translation more to the point than the standard

There is no God.

Practical atheism, not theoretical atheism, is the matter in Psalm 14.

The Incarnation confirms that God cares.  The Church is the building of God, metaphorically; God is the builder; Jesus is the foundation.  Jesus seeks out sinners to reform and heals blindness.  Yet there is more than one variety of blindness; spiritual blindness seems more stubborn than literal blindness in some stories of Christ healing people.

What comes around, goes around, and God cares.  God cares enough to let us learn from our mistakes.  God cares enough to grant us opportunities to reform.  God cares enough to invite us take messages of God to others.  God cares enough to tend to physical needs.  God cares enough to reintegrate us into community life.

God cares.  Do we?  Do we care enough?

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-11-year-a-humes/

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Posted July 24, 2018 by neatnik2009 in 1 Corinthians 3, Genesis 29, Isaiah 13, Matthew 9, Psalm 14

Tagged with ,

The Faithfulness of God, Part I   1 comment

Above: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, by John Martin (1854)

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 19:15-29 (An American Translation):

When dawn appeared, the angels urged Lot on saying,

Bestir yourself; take away your wife, and the two daughters that are at hand, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.

When he hesitated, the men, because of the LORD’s pity on him, seized his hand and those of his wife and his two daughters, and bringing them out, they left him outside the city.  After they had brought them outside, they said,

Fly for your life; do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the valley; fly to the hills, lest you be swept away.

Lot said to them,

O no sirs!  Your servant has indeed found favor with you, and great is the kindness that you have done me in saving my life, but I cannot possibly fly to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I perish.  Here is the town near enough to fly to, and quite small; pray, let me fly there (is it not small?) to save my life.

The LORD said to him,

See, I grant you this request as well, in that I will not overthrow the town of which you speak.  Hurry and fly there; for I can do nothing until you reach there.

Thus the name of the town came to be called Zoar [small].

Just as the sun rose over the earth and Lot entered Zoar, the LORD rained sulphur and fire from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah, devastating those cities and all the valley, with all the inhabitants of the cities and the vegetation on the land.  And Lot’s wife looked back, and had become a pillar of salt.

Lot’s Wife Pillar, Mount Sodom, Israel

Next morning when Abraham went early to the place where he had stood before the LORD, he gazed toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the region of the valley, and he saw smoke from the land rising like smoke from a kiln.

Thus it was that God remembered Abraham when he destroyed the cities of the valley, by sending Lot away from the catastrophe when he devastated the cities where Lot lived.

Psalm 26 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give judgment for me, O LORD,

for I have lived with integrity;

I have trusted in the LORD and have not faltered.

Test me, O LORD, and try me;

examine my heart and my mind.

3 For your love is before my eyes;

I have walked faithfully before you.

I have not sat with the worthless,

nor do I consort with the deceitful.

5 I have hated the company of evildoers;

I will not sit down with the wicked.

6 I will wash my hands in innocence, O LORD,

that I may go in procession round your altar,

Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving

and recounting all your wonderful deeds.

8 LORD, I love the house in which you dwell

and the place where your glory abides.

Do not sweep me away with sinners,

nor my life with those who thirst for blood,

10 Whose hands are full of evil plots,

and their right hand full of bribes.

11 As for me, I will live with integrity;

redeem me, O LORD, and have pity on me.

12 My foot stands on level ground;

in the full assembly I will bless the LORD.

Matthew 8:23-27 (An American Translation):

And he [Jesus] got into the boat, and his disciples with him.  And suddenly a terrific storm came up on the sea, so that the waves broke over the boat, but he remained asleep.  And they woke him, saying,

Save us, sir!  We are lost!

And he said to them,

Why are you afraid?  You have so little faith!

Then he got up and reproved the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm.  And the men were amazed and said,

What kind of man is this?  For the very winds and sea obey him!

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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One of the challenges of following a lectionary can be identifying the common theme present in two or more readings from different parts of the Bible.  After consulting commentaries and pondering all that I have read in the readings and the commentaries, I have found the common thread:  Faithfulness to God is the path to life.  This faithfulness needs only to be present.  However, as Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is spiritual death.  The wages of sin can also be physical death, and the punishment flows from the sin itself.  In other words, we reap what we sow.  God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.

Let us examine the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah carefully.  In Genesis 19:1-14, two angels arrive at Sodom, where Lot rescues them from would-be gang rapists.  The angels tell Lot that God will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah very shortly because, as Professor Richard Elliott Friedman translates verse 13,  they have “grown big before YHWH’s face.”

I pause at this point to ponder the importance of growing “big before YHWH’s face.”  Later in Chapter 19, YHWH permits Lot and his family to flee to Zoar, which is small, for safety.  (Two angels appear early in Chapter 19, and by chapter’s end, YHWH is there, too.  When did God show up, after disappearing between the end of Chapter 18 and the beginning of Chapter 19?  Following the bouncing ball can be challenging.)  Anyhow, I posit that growing “big before YHWH’s face” indicates spiritual arrogance, a lack of faithfulness.

There is an interesting feature in the Hebrew text of verse 15.  The word for punishment, as in “…or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city,” means sin as well.  Sin and punishment are the same thing; consequences flow from actions, so we reap what we sow.

Lot is sufficiently hospitable to rescue the angels, strangers in Sodom, and, as Genesis 19:29 indicates, God saves Lot and family out of faithfulness to Abraham.  Indeed, Lot is a disturbing character, one who offers his two virgin daughters to the would-be gang rapists gathered outside his house (verse 8).  Fortunately for the daughters, the men are not interested.

But Lot is kind to the strangers, if not his own daughters, and the angelic guests offer him and his family a safe way out–if only they follow instructions.  Nobody must look back.  I suppose that curiosity about what is happening would inspire one to look back; we are a species of people who stare at the aftermath of car wrecks.

Biblical writers over many generations used Sodom and Gomorrah to demonstrate various points.  These include:

  • Repent, or be destroyed.
  • Sexual immorality (in all its forms) is wrong.  The first explicit link between homosexual acts and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah comes in Jude 7, however.
  • Any town that refuses to heed visitors bearing the word of God will face condemnation.
  • The failure to extend hospitality to strangers will lead to condemnation.
  • The neglect of the poor will lead to condemnation and destruction.

The word “Sodom” appears in the New Revised Standard Version 51 times.  For those of you who wish to follow up, here they are:

  • Genesis 10:19
  • Genesis 13:10, 12, and 13
  • Genesis 14:2, 8, 10-12, 17, 21, 22, and 26
  • Genesis 18:16, 20, and 26
  • Genesis 19:1, 4, 24, and 28
  • Deuteronomy 29:23
  • Deuteronomy 32:32
  • Isaiah 1:9 and 10
  • Isaiah 3:9
  • Isaiah 13:19
  • Jeremiah 23:14
  • Jeremiah 49:18
  • Jeremiah 50:40
  • Lamentations 4:6
  • Ezekiel 16:46, 48, 49, 53, 55, and 56
  • Amos 4:11
  • Zephaniah 2:9
  • 3 Maccabees 2:5
  • 2 Esdras 2:8
  • 2 Esdras 7:106
  • Matthew 10:15
  • Matthew 11:23 and 24
  • Luke 10:12
  • Luke 17:29
  • Romans 9:29
  • 2 Peter 2:6
  • Jude 7
  • Revelation 11:8

The reading from Matthew tells the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  In all fairness to the Apostles, I would have been afraid, too.  I note also that Jesus said they had little faith, not no faith.  This is a difficult text, one with more possible interpretations than I dreamed possible before reading commentaries.  However, remaining consistent with my methodology of following a common thread between or among lectionary readings, I latch onto the “little faith” comment.  At least the Apostles had some faith.  Are we not like this much, if not most, of the time?  We have some faith and we know that we need more.  We believe, yet we need God to forgive us for our unbelief.  But a little faith is better than none, and from little faith much more can spring.  As the Book of Psalms says, God knows that we are “but dust.”

Reciprocity matters in a healthy relationship with God.  We will get much wrong, for we are fallible.  But, by grace, we can walk in the paths of righteousness more often than not.  We might save not only ourselves, but friends and family members, too.  But are we trying?  That is the first question.  Fortunately, God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.  And let us remember what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said about faithfulness:  God calls us to be faithful, not successful.

Certainly, how we treat others can be an outward sign of faithfulness.  If we love God with our essence and respect ourselves, following the Golden Rule will result in frequent acts of kindness.  To follow up on a previous devotion in this series, Jesus said that “you shall know them by their fruits.”  I add to this thought the entire Letter of James.

May we be faithful to God for the glory of God and out of awe of God and gratitude for all the wonderful deeds God has done.  And why not?  God is faithful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELAIDE, HOLY ROMAN EMPRESS

THE FEAST OF MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/week-of-proper-8-tuesday-year-1/

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