Archive for the ‘Isaiah 35’ Category

The Superscription of the Book of Obadiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Obadiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING OBADIAH, PART I

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Obadiah 1a

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The prophecy of Obadiah.

–Obadiah 1a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Book of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible, consists of twenty-one verses in one chapter.  It contains divine oracles of divine judgment against the nation of Edom.  The Book of Obadiah is also one of the two Hebrew prophetic books omitted from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL); the other one is Nahum, about God taking out the Assyrian Empire.  The shortest book in the Hebrew Bible is also absent from the Roman Catholic lectionaries for Masses on weekdays, Sundays, and major feast days.

Since I have started this project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order (with some exceptions), I have read the material regarding Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; and Isaiah 34:5-17.

Dating the Book of Obadiah is difficult.  Comparing eight commentaries and study Bibles, I detect no consensus about when Obadiah (“servant of YHWH”) prophesied in Jerusalem.  Robert Alter (2019) proposes that Obadiah prophesied during the final years of the Kingdom of Judah.  Five sources published between 1992 and 2015 insist that the book dates to after the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (1956), favors composition after the Babylonian Exile.  The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), states that Obadiah prophesied either during or after the Babylonian Exile.

We know almost nothing about Obadiah.  Even his name is common; the Hebrew Bible refers to twelve Obadiahs.  If we add “Obed” (a variant) to the list, we arrive at eighteen Obadiahs/Obeds.  Composition in Jerusalem after the fall of the Kingdom of Judah to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire is feasible.  History tells us that the conquerors did not deport everyone.  The text indicates that Obadiah received religious training and read other Hebrew prophetic books.  Commentaries point to similarities to Jeremiah 40; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Joel 1:15; Joel 2:5, 32; Joel 3:3, 17; and Amos 9:12.  Of course, some of these similarities may be due to later prophets having read the Book of Obadiah.  Obadiah also seems to have been one of those men called to prophesy for a brief period of time.

Anger against Edom marks the Book of Obadiah.  This makes sense, given the persistent hostility between the Jews and the Edomites.  This hostility is also evident in Malachi 1:2-5, from after the Babylonian Exile.  Consistent with this hostility and echoing Isaiah 34-35 (or the other way around), the Book of Obadiah pronounces divine doom on Edom and a bright future for the Jews.

For more on that point, read the next post in this series, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MYLES HORTON, “FATHER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS EUMENIOUS AND PARTHENIOS OF KOUDOUMAS, MONKS AND FOUNDERS OF KOUDOMAS MONASTERY, CRETE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF DAMASCUS, SYRIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1860

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS SPIRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF RUED LANGGAARD, DANISH COMPOSER

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The Fourth Servant Song   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Crucifixion

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART IX

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) lists the Fourth Servant Song as one of three options for the reading from the Old Testament on Good Friday.  Another option is Genesis 22:1-18.  My thoughts on Abraham nearly killing his son, Isaac, are on record at this weblog.  The other option is the Wisdom of Solomon 2:1, 12-24, in which the wicked reject justice.  That reading fits Good Friday perfectly, for, as the Gospel of Luke emphasizes, the crucifixion of Jesus was a perversion of justice.  One may recall that, in the Gospel of Luke, for example, the centurion at the foot of the cross declares Jesus innocent (23:47), not the Son of God (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39).  As I will demonstrate in this post, the applicability of the Fourth Servant Song to Good Friday works thematically, too, but interpretive issues that have nothing to do with Jesus also interest me.

In the original context, the servant in Isaiah 53:13-53:12 is the covenant people during the Babylonian Exile.  The dominant theology in Second Isaiah (chapters 34-35, 40-55) is that the Babylonian Exile was justified yet excessive (40:2; 47:6)–that people had earned that exile.  The theology of Second Isaiah also argues that this suffering was vicarious, on behalf of Gentile nations in the (known) world.  In other words:

Yet the Israelites are still the focus in that these verses offer them a revolutionary theology that explains the hardships of exile:  The people had to endure the exile and the suffering it engendered because that suffering was done in service to God so that God, through their atoning sacrifice, could redeem the nations.

–Susan Ackerman, in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), 1031

Much of the Hebrew Bible, in its final, postexilic form, holds that the Babylonian Exile was divine punishment for persistent, collective, and unrepentant disregard for the moral mandates in the Law of Moses.  This attitude is ubiquitous in the Hebrew prophetic tradition.  I know, for I am working on a project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in historical order (with some exceptions), starting with the Book of Hosea.

Yet Isaiah 53:7-9 contradicts that interpretation.  It rejects even 40:1-3 and 47:6, from within Second Isaiah.  Isaiah 53:7-9, not about Jesus, argues that the Babylonian Exile and its accompanying suffering was unjust and the people were innocent.  The thematic link to the atoning suffering of sinless Jesus is plain to see.

Let us not neglect the theme of the vicarious suffering of the Hebrews in the Babylonian Exile, though.  I can read; the text says that, through the suffering of these exiles, Gentile nations would receive divine forgiveness and the Hebrews would receive a reward–renewal.  I try to wrap my mind around this theology, yet do not know what to make of it.  I wrestle with this theology.

Atonement via vicarious suffering is a topic about which I have written at this weblog.  Reading in the history of Christian theology tells me that three theories of the atonement exist in the writings of Church Fathers.  These theories are, in no particular order:

  1. Penal Substitutionary Atonement,
  2. The Incarnation, and
  3. The Conquest of Satan (the Classic Theory, or Christus Victor).

I come closest to accepting the Classic Theory.  It has the virtue of emphasizing that the resurrection completed the atonement.  In other words, dead Jesus cannot atone for anything; do not stop at Good Friday.  I like the Eastern Orthodox tradition of telling jokes on Easter because the resurrection of Jesus was the best joke God ever pulled on Satan.  The second option strikes me as being part of the atonement, and the first option is barbaric.  I stand with those Christian theologians who favor a generalized atonement.

Whether the question is about the atoning, vicarious suffering of Jewish exiles or about the atoning, vicarious suffering of Jesus, perhaps the best strategy is to accept it, thank God, and live faithfully.  The Eastern Orthodox are correct; we Western Christians frequently try to explain too much we cannot understand.  Atonement is a mystery; we may understand it partially, at best.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MYLES HORTON, “FATHER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS EUMENIOUS AND PARTHENIOS OF KOUDOUMAS, MONKS AND FOUNDERS OF KOUDOMAS MONASTERY, CRETE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF DAMASCUS, SYRIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1860

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS SPIRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF RUED LANGGAARD, DANISH COMPOSER

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Comfort My People   Leave a comment

Above:  Sheep and Shepherd, by Anton Mauve

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART III

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Isaiah 40:1-11

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Isaiah 40 flows thematically from Isaiah 34 and 35.

My soundtrack for Isaiah 40:1-11 comes courtesy of Handel‘s Messiah.  Now that I have gotten that out of the way, I proceed with the rest of this post.

Just as the commissioning of First Isaiah does not open First Isaiah (It occurs in Isaiah 6.), the commissioning of Second Isaiah occurs three chapters in.  Chronology is not the organizing principle in the Book of Isaiah.  Second Isaiah’s commission is to be a comforter, we read.  This contrasts with the mission of Ezekiel, the previous prophet.  One may recall that God called Ezekiel to be a watchman (Ezekiel 2:1-3:11) to a rebellious people who would not listen to him.  The Book of Ezekiel contains oracles of consolation, though.  The expectation in Second Isaiah, however, is that people will listen.

Again, divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.  The time for mercy and deliverance is at hand, we read.

The reference to the royal road in the wilderness (40:3-5) calls back to other passages of scripture.  The Divine Presence, having departed Jerusalem and the Temple (Ezekiel 8-11), will travel with returning exiles, we read.  (See Ezekiel 43:1-5, too.)  The highway in the desert is also a motif in Isaiah 35:8-10.

YHWH is the good shepherd in Isaiah 40:10-11, protecting the sheep from enemies.  One may recall that YHWH is also the good shepherd in Ezekiel 34:11-31; Psalm 23; and Psalm 78.  Perhaps one recalls that Lamentations 3:1-20 depicts YHWH as a bad shepherd, and that this raging voice against YHWH indicates just one opinion in that chapter.

Rage against God is predictable, especially after a terrible event or during a time of crisis and distress.  Many people blame God for doing what God has not done.  God is a convenient scapegoat.  Many people also misunderstand God.  This is predictable, too.  God is so much greater than and different from we mere mortals, after all.  The extent to which we can understand God is limited.  So be it.

The nature of God is the topic of the next post in this series.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 8, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AND AGENT OF NATIONAL HEALING; AND BETTY FORD, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

THE FEAST OF ALBERT RHETT STUART, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF GEORGIA, AND ADVOCATE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF ALICE PAUL, U.S. QUAKER WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF GEORGE NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA BONONCINI AND ANTONIO MARIA BONONCINI, ITALIAN COMPOSERS

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Divine Judgment Against the Nations (Especially Edom), With the Return of the Redeemed Exiles to Zion   3 comments

Above:  Map Showing the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 34-35

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The Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  I recall, recently, reading Ezekiel 25-32, in which YHWH denounced various Gentile nations for opposing the Jewish people.  I read that same theme in Isaiah 34.  The chapter opens by addressing the nations and peoples of the (known) world.

For the LORD is angry at all the nations,

Furious at all their host;….

–Isaiah 34:2a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

In the fifth verse, however, the focus narrows to Edom, that frequently hostile cousin people of the Hebrews.

I have already read the oracles of divine judgment against Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; and Ezekiel 35:1-15.

The oracles against Edom in the Book of Obadiah awaits me, after I complete my blogging through Second Isaiah.

For it is the LORD’s day of retribution,

The year of vindication for Zion’s cause.

–Isaiah 34:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Isaiah 34 and 35 contrast the fates of Edom and the Hebrew exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  We read of the destruction of Edom (which happened).  We also read of the renewal and return of Hebrew exiles.  We read of the impending end of the Babylonian Exile.  We read of a reverse exodus, an exodus from Babylon:

And a highway shall appear there,

which shall be called the Sacred Way.

No one unclean shall pass along it,

But it shall be for them.

No traveler, not ever fools, shall go astray.

No lion shall be there,

No ferocious beast shall set foot on it–

These shall not be found there.

But the redeemed shall walk it.

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,

And come with shouting to Zion,

Crowned with joy everlasting.

They shall attain joy and gladness,

While sorrow and sighing flee.

–Isaiah 35:8-10, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Second Isaiah introduces the themes of the end the Babylonian Exile, the return to the homeland, and the restoration of the covenant relationship with YHWH.  These themes, not unique to Second Isaiah, permeate other portions of Hebrew prophetic literature, too.  And they are on the forefront of Second Isaiah.

I also notice the presence of the themes of exile and exodus.  Walter Brueggemann writes that exile and exodus are the two major themes in the Hebrew Bible.

Just as the Hebrew prophetic literature is repetitive, so must I be.  I come to this point by a reading project that has taken me through, in order:

  1. Hosea,
  2. Amos,
  3. Micah,
  4. First Isaiah (1-23, 28-33),
  5. Zephaniah,
  6. Nahum,
  7. Habakkuk,
  8. Jeremiah,
  9. Lamentations, and
  10. Ezekiel.

I am not parachuting into Isaiah 34 and 35.  I do not pretend to know what that balance is or where it should be.  I will not get too big for my theological britches, at least not in that matter.

Neither am I a fundamentalist.  I acknowledge that Second Isaiah and other prophets projected their attitudes onto God some of the time.  As Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel wrote, prophets were people, not microphones.  I admit that I project my attitudes onto God.  I confess that I need to know that I do this, and to stop doing that, as much as possible.

I also acknowledge that divine mercy upon and deliverance of the oppressed may be catastrophic for the oppressors and their allies.  One may describe this in several ways, including divine judgment and karma.  As the Bible teaches, people will reap what they have sown.

Nevertheless, I take no pleasure in the fate of Edom.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS RALPH MILNER, ROGER DICKINSON, AND LAWRENCE HUMPHREY, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 1591

THE FEAST OF FRANCES FLORENTINE HAGEN, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HEDDA OF WESSEX, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF LEO SOWERBY, EPISCOPAL COMPOSER AND “DEAN OF CHURCH MUSIC”

THE FEAST OF THOMAS HELMORE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND ARRANGER AND COMPOSER OF HYMN TUNES

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Introduction to Second Isaiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map Showing the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART I

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Isaiah 34-35, 40-55

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The division of the Book of Isaiah into Chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66 is neat and tidy yet inaccurate.  The Book of Isaiah, in its final form, is obviously the work of more than one person.  I suppose that even the most ardent fundamentalist must admit that Isaiah 36:1-39:8 is nearly verbatim from 2 Kings 18:13-20:19.  Or maybe I expect too much of some people.

The division of the Book of Isaiah into at least two Isaiahs is standard in Biblical scholarship.  The notes in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), assume two Isaiahs.  The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), among other sources, assumes three Isaiahs, with the division falling neatly into 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66.  I, however, follow the division of the book found in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003).

“Second Isaiah” (whoever he was what his parents called him) prophesied circa 540 B.C.E., in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Ezekiel had retired from prophesying circa 571 B.C.E.  The Babylonian Exile had been in progress since 597 B.C.E., with the second wave commencing in 586 B.C.E.    But the Babylonian Exile was about to end; the Persians and the Medes were on the march.  They conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.

The oracles of Second Isaiah addressed issues that vexed the Jewish exilic communities.  Were they the Chosen People?  Was God sovereign?  Would the Babylonian Exile end?  The answers to those three questions was affirmative.  Second Isaiah also understood exile as punishment for collective, persistent sins (except in 52:13-53:12) and exile as vicarious suffering on behalf of the nations, to bring those nations to shalom with God.  This second point was revolutionary theology.  Universalism was not unique in Hebrew prophetic literature.  The idea that YHWH was the God of all the nations, not a tribal deity, was already in the proverbial blood stream of Hebrew thought.  Yet ideas have not needed to be unique and original to prove revolutionary, have they?

I propose, O reader that this idea remains revolutionary in certain minds and faith communities in 2021.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN WYCLIFFE AND JAN HUS, REFORMERS OF THE CHURCH

THE FEAST OF GEORGE DUFFIELD, JR., AND HIS SON, SAMUEL DUFFIELD, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTERS AND HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF HENRY THOMAS SMART, ENGLISH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JOSIAH CONDER, ENGLISH JOURNALIST AND CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SON, EUSTACE CONDER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF OLUF HANSON SMEBY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Eschatological Ethics IX   Leave a comment

Above:  Thessaloniki (Formerly Thessalonica), Greece

Image Source = Google Earth

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For the Sunday Next Before Advent, 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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Absolve, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy people from their offenses;

that from the bonds of our sins which, by reason of our frailty,

we have brought upon us, we may be delivered by thy bountiful goodness;

through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with

thee and the Holy Spirit, ever One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 236

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Isaiah 35:3-10

Psalm 148

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Luke 12:35-43

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The two primary themes of the Hebrew Bible are exile and exodus.  Both themes are present in Isaiah 35:3-10.  The exile is the Babylonian Exile.  The exodus is the return from the Babylonian Exile.  Placing this reading at the end of the church year makes sense, for the language transitions neatly into texts for Advent.

Psalm 148 is a beautiful hymn.  It reads like reality after God has finally vanquished evil.

Speaking of eschatology, the background of St. Paul the Apostle’s First Letter to the Thessalonians includes the realization that Jesus may not be returning as soon as many people expected.  The question in Chapter 5, then, is how to live while waiting.  The answer is to continue to live according to the Golden Rule, both collectively and individually.  Build each other up.  Repay evil with good.  Support one another.  Do not become discouraged in behaving properly.  The reading from Luke 12:35-43 agrees.

Even when dashed eschatological expectations are not a factor, many people may become discouraged.  For example, compassion fatigue is a real and labeled phenomenon in the context of serial appeals for assistance in the wake of disasters.  Having compassion and behaving compassionately can be emotionally exhausting.

The readings tell us not to give up, however.  However eschatology shakes out, may God find us living righteously, both collectively and individually, at any given moment.  We–as communities and individuals–have vocations from God.  We have work to do.  May we complete it well and faithfully, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 3, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANSKAR AND RIMBERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOPS OF HAMBURG-BREMEN

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER, ENGLISH POET AND FEMINIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALFRED DELP, GERMAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF JEMIMA THOMPSON LUKE, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER; AND JAMES EDMESTON, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL DAVIES, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Judith Before Holofernes   Leave a comment

Above:  Holofernes

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART VI

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Judith 10:1-12:20

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Holofernes was like his master, King Nebuchadnezzar II.  He was vain, boastful, and quick to accept flattery.  The general also consumed lies as easily and in great quantities as easily as he drank too much wine.

Judith played the role of the seductress well.  She understood male nature, which she exploited.  In doing so, Judith placed herself in much danger.  She was even sleeping in the tent of Holofernes.  Her undercover (pardon the pun) mission was always perilous.

A few aspects of these three chapters are especially worthy of explanation and elaboration.  

  1. Judith lied when she said her people were so desperate they were about to violate the food laws in the Law of Moses.  She referenced Leviticus 17:10-16 and Numbers 18:8-32.  Yet, at the time of the composition of the Book of Judith, any violation of the Law of Moses for the purpose of preserving human life was acceptable, according to one school of Jewish thought (1 Maccabees 2:29-41).
  2. Ironically, Holofernes told the truth, at least partially.  He said that Judith was renowned throughout the world (11:20-23).  The Book of Judith has long provided inspiration for artists.
  3. Judith was in extreme sexual danger (12:5).  So was Sarah in Genesis 12:10-20 and 20:17.
  4. Judith established her routine of leaving the Assyrian army camp unchallenged each night (12:6-9).  This strategy paid off in 13:11.
  5. Judith had to work quickly.  She had only five days to deliver her people (7:29-32; 8:32-35).
  6. Judith obeyed kosher food laws, even in the Assyrian army camp.  (One may think of Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1, too.)
  7. Judith’s unnamed female maid/servant was loyal and essential.  Judith’s servant was intelligent, unlike the gullible Bagoas, servant of Holofernes. 
  8. In 11:19-23, Judith used language laced with allusions to the prophets and the Book of Psalms.  Verses 19 and 20, for example, echoed Isaiah 40:3-4; 35:8-10; 42:16; 51:11; 56:10-11;; as well as 2 Samuel 7:13; Psalm 89:4; Ezekiel 34:8; Zechariah 10:2 and 13:7.
  9. Ironically, the wisdom at which Holofernes marveled was deception.
  10. The words of Holofernes, “…your God will be my God…” (11:22), an echo of Ruth 1:16, are vague.  Perhaps the character had no idea what he was saying.
  11. Holofernes lusted after Judith (11:16).
  12. The texts depict Judith as a great beauty.  They also describe Assyrian soldiers as drooling over her.  Therein resided part of Judith’s power, which she used to the full extent necessary.

The Book of Judith contains elements of satire and comedy.  The text is rich with irony in many places.  For example, even a boastful fool accidentally tells the truth sometimes.  The intoxicated Holofernes also imagines himself to be in control of the situation.  He has no idea how wrong he is.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF LUKE OF PRAGUE AND JOHN AUGUSTA, MORAVIAN BISHOPS AND HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT KAZIMIERZ TOMASZ SYKULSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF LARS OLSEN SKREFSRUD, HANS PETER BOERRESEN, AND PAUL OLAF BODDING, LUTHERAN MISSIONARIES IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF MARYRS OF EL MOZOTE, EL SALVADOR, DECEMBER 11-12, 1981

THE FEAST OF SAINT SEVERIN OTT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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Two Kingdoms III   Leave a comment

Above:  Herod Agrippa I

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twenty-Fifth 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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Almighty God, we beseech thee, show thy mercy unto thy humble servants,

that we who put no trust in our own merits may not be dealt with

after the severity of thy judgment, but according to thy mercy;

through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 231

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Isaiah 35:4-10

Psalm 119:129-144

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Luke 19:11-26

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God, who vanquishes the wicked and redeems the oppressed, balances judgment and mercy.  The redemption of the oppressed is mercy for the oppressed and judgment of the oppressors.  In a real sense, oppressors doom themselves.  They do not have to be oppressors, after all.  The redemption of the oppressed may come in this life or the next one, but it will come.  God is faithful.

Now I will focus on the Gospel lesson.  The Parable of the Pounds may seem like a parallel version of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), but it is not.  The Parable of the Talents is about personal spiritual responsibility.  The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX (1995), labels Luke 19:11-27 as the “Parable of the Greedy and Vengeful King.”

Follow the proverbial bouncing balls with me, O reader.

Herod the Great (reigned 47-4 B.C.E.), a Roman client king, had died, leaving sons:

  1. Archelaus;
  2. Herod Antipas, full brother of Archelaus; and
  3. Philip (the Tetrarch), half-brother of Archelaus and Herod Antipas.

Archelaus wanted to succeed his father as a client king.  Before he departed for Rome, Archelaus had about 3000 people killed.  A delegation of 50 Jews also went to Rome, to argue against Archelaus’s petition to Emperor Augustus.  The emperor made Archelaus the Ethnarch of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria instead.  Archelaus was too brutal, even by Roman imperial standards.  Augustus deposed him in 6 C.E. and exiled the would-be-king to Gaul.

Herod Antipas served as the Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C.E. to 39 C.E.  He ordered the execution of St. John the Baptist, who had objected to the incestuous marriage to Herodias.  (She was the former wife of Philip the Tetrarch, as well as as Herod Antipas’s half-niece.  Salome was, therefore, Herod Antipas’s step-daughter and great-half-niece.)

Philip was the Tetrarch of Northern Transjordan from 4 B.C.E. to 34 C.E.  His territory became Herod Agrippa I’s realm in 37 C.E.  (Herod Agrippa I was Philip’s half-nephew and Herodias’s brother.)  Herod Agrippa I held the title of king from 37 to 44 C.E.

The transfer of that territory to Herod Agrippa I made Herodias jealous.  So did the act by which Emperor Tiberius had granted Lysanius, the Tetrarch of Abilene, the title of king in 34 C.E.  (Lysanius was not a member of the Herodian Dynasty.)  Herodias and Herod Antipas traveled to Rome in 39 C.E. to request that Caligula grant Herod Antipas the title of king, too.  Herod Agrippa I sent emissaries to oppose that petition.  Caligula deposed Herod Antipas and exiled the couple to Gaul.  The emperor also added the territory of Herod Antipas to that of Herod Agrippa I.  Then, in 41 C.E., Emperor Claudius (I) added Judea and Samaria to the realm of Herod Agrippa I.  Herod Agrippa died in 44 C.E.

Jesus and his audience knew the story of Archelaus, the model for the would-be-king in the Parable of the Pounds/Greedy and Vengeful King.  Likewise, the original audience for the Gospel of Luke (written circa 85 C.E.) knew the story of Herod Antipas’s ill-fated quest for the title of king.  They brought that story to this parable, too.

Not every parable of Jesus features a stand-in for God.  The newly-appointed king in the parable was not a role model.  The parable presents us with a study in contrasts between two kingdoms–the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom of this world depends on violence, exploitation, injustice, and artificial scarcity.  The Kingdom of God is the polar opposite of the kingdom of this world.

R. Alan Culpepper, writing about this parable in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX (1995), 364, proposes that

The enemies of the kingdom of God will be punished no less severely than if they had opposed one of the Herods, but in God’s kingdom the greedy will be driven out of the Temple and the generous will be rewarded.

After all, we reap what we sow.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, PATRIARCH; AND SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, PATRIARCH AND “FATHER OF ORTHODOXY”

THE FEAST OF CHARLES SILVESTER HORNE, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES FRIEDRICH HASSE, GERMAN-BRITISH MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF JULIA BULKLEY CADY CORY, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURGUNDY, KING; SAINT CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND SAINT CLODOALD, FRANKISH PRINCE AND ABBOT

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Eschatological Ethics VIII   Leave a comment

Above:  The Visitation

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday of Advent, 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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Almighty and Everlasting God, who hast given to us, thy servants, grace,

by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity,

and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity;

we beseech thee, that thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith,

and evermore defend us from all adversities;

who livest and reignest, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 182

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Isaiah 35

Psalm 98

Romans 1:16-25

Luke 1:39-56

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Apocalyptic writing serves at least two legitimate purposes.  One is to keep hope alive, to remind people to remain faithful until the full-realized Kingdom of God becomes reality and justice is ubiquitous.  Another purpose is to point out the extent to which human governments, institutions, and societies fall short of the divine standard of justice.  They fall short of that standard because people do.

Advent is not so much a time of preparation for the twelve days of Christmas (December 25-January 5) as it is a time of preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus.  Do we believe that the full-realized Kingdom of God will become manifest on Earth?  And do we imagine that it will in no way displace some aspects of society from which we benefit?  Divine justice is good news for the oppressed and a catastrophe for those who oppress them and who consent to the oppression.  The return of Jewish exiles, foretold in Isaiah 35, followed the reckoning of their Chaldean overlords.  One may also think of Revelation 18, in which, following the fall of Babylon (read:  Rome), those who benefited from violence and exploitation mourn.

God is faithful and just.  If we are, too, we stand with God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF FOLLIOT SANDFORD PIERPOINT, ANGLICAN EDUCATOR, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, SCOTTISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1615

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Building Up the Common Good, Part II   1 comment

Above:   Scenic View of Desert in Spring

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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Isaiah 35:1-10

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

James 5:7-10

Matthew 1:1-17

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In Isaiah 34 we read of God turning the territory of the enemies of Judah into a desert.  In Chapter 35, however, we read of God transforming a desert–making waters burst forth in it–so that exiles from Judah may return to their ancestral homeland in a second Exodus on a highway God has put in place for them.  Judgment for some is an occasion of mercy for others.  The restoration prayed for in Psalm 80 becomes a reality.

Building up the common good was a theme in the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent.  That theme, consistent with the lesson from James 5, has never ceased to be germane.  When has habitual grumbling built up the common good or been even selfishly beneficial?  It certainly did not improve the lot of those God had liberated from Egypt.  The admonition to avoid grumbling has never meant not to pursue justice–not to oppose repressive regimes and exploitative systems.  Certainly opposing such evils has always fallen under the heading of building up the common good.

I do find one aspect of James 5:7-11 puzzling, however.  That text mentions the endurance of Job, a figure who complained bitterly at great length, and justifiably so.  Juxtaposing an admonition against grumbling with a reference to Job’s endurance seems as odd as referring to the alleged patience of the very impatient Job.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17 is theological, not literal.  The recurrence of 14, the numerical value of the Hebrew letters forming David’s name, is a clue to the theological agenda.  The family tree, with surprisingly few named women in it (We know that women were involved in all that begetting.), includes monarchs, Gentiles, and three women with questionable sexual reputations.  That is quite a pedigree!  That genealogy also makes the point that Jesus was human.  This might seem like an obvious point, but one would do well to consider the other alleged sons of deities who supposedly atoned for human sins in competing religions with followers in that part of the world at that time.  We know that not one of these figures, such as Mithras, ever existed.  The physicality of Jesus of Nazareth, proving that he was no figment of imaginations, is a great truth.

We also know that the Roman Empire remained firmly in power long after the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.  The promised reign of God on Earth persists as a hope reserved for the future.  In the meantime, we retain the mandate to work for the common good.  God will save the world, but we can–and must–leave it better than we found it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 14, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FANNIE LOU HAMER, PROPHET OF FREEDOM

THE FEAST OF ALFRED LISTER PEACE, ORGANIST IN ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND

THE FEAST OF HARRIET KING OSGOOD MUNGER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF NEHEMIAH GOREH, INDIAN ANGLICAN PRIEST AND THEOLOGIAN

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-of-advent-year-a-humes/

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