Archive for the ‘Job 22’ Category

The First Oracle of Haggai   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Haggai

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART II

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Haggai 1:1-15

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King Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes (r. 559-530 B.C.E.) conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  The following year, he issued a decree permitting Jewish exiles to return to their ancestral homeland (Ezra 1:1-4).  The first wave of exiles to return to the ruined homeland (Ezra 1:5-2:70; 1 Esdras 2:8-30; 1 Esdras 5:1-73).  The old, prophetic predictions of the homeland being a verdant paradise of piety and prosperity did not match reality on the ground.  Grief and disappointment ensued.  The land was not as fertile as in the germane prophecies, and the economy was bad.

As of 520 B.C.E., proper worship, as had occurred before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.), had not resumed.  People had set up an altar–most likely in 520 B.C.E. (as 1 Esdras 5:47-55 indicates, not in 538 B.C.E. (as Ezra 3:1-8 indicates).

Construction of the Second Temple began (Ezra 3:10-13; 1 Esdras 5:56-65a).  Yet opposition to that effort caused a pause in construction (Ezra 4:1-23; 1 Esdras 5:65b-73).

Haggai 1:1-15 establishes two dates and three names:

  1. The first date (1:1), converted to the Gregorian Calendar, is August 9, 520 B.C.E.
  2. The first name is Haggai, who prophesied from August 9 to December 18, 520 B.C.E.
  3. The second name is Joshua ben Zehozadak, the chief priest.
  4. The final name is Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel (of the House of David), the satrap (governor).   Notice the lack of the Davidic monarchy, O reader.
  5. The final date (1:15) is September 21, 520 B.C.E.

Haggai offered a simple explanation of why the drought was severe and the economy was poor.  He blamed everything on the lack of a completed Temple in Jerusalem.  The prophet argued that such disrespect for God was the culprit, and that the poverty and drought were punishment.  Work on the construction of the Second Temple resumed.  Surely resuming construction of the Second Temple ended the drought and revived the economy, right?  No, actually, hence Haggai 2:10-10.

Haggai’s heart was in the right place, but he missed an important truth that predated Jesus:

[God] makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

–Matthew 5:45b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Haggai could have recalled certain laments from Hebrew literature.  He could have remembered Psalm 73, for example.  Why did the wicked flourish and the righteous falter?  Haggai could have recalled the Book of Job, in which the innocent, titular character suffered.

I make no pretense of being a spiritual giant and a great spring of wisdom, O reader.  However, I offer you a principle to consider:  God is not a vending machine.

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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A Collage of Laments   Leave a comment

Above:  Lamentations 3:10

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART IV

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Lamentation 3:1-66

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Different voices fill Lamentations 3.  A new voice–that of Israel personified as the Man–speaks in verses 1-24, and perhaps through verse 39, as well.  An alternative view holds that the Poet speaks in verses 25-39.  Another new voice–that of the Community–speaks in verses 48-51.  Either Fair Zion or the Man speaks in verses 52-66.

Verses 1-20 depict deportation into exile.  They also depict God as a bad shepherd, in contrast to Psalm 23, Psalm 78, and Ezekiel 34.  Yet, starting with verse 25, we read an expression of hope in God.  Divine loyalty has not ended and divine mercies are not spent, we read.

For the Lord does not

Reject forever,

But first afflicts, then pardons

In His abundant kindness.

–Lamentations 3:31-32, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Comparing translations reveals shades of meaning in the original Hebrew text.  The Revised English Bible (1989) reads:

For rejection by the Lord

does not last forever.

He may punish, yet he will have compassion

in the fullness of his unfailing love….

When we turn to The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011), we read:

For the Lord does not reject forever;

Though he brings grief, he takes pity,

according to the abundance of his mercy….

Much of the material in verses 25-39 sounds like speeches by Job’s alleged friends (Job 4, 8, 11, 15, 18, 20, 22, 25, 32-37):  Suffering is divine punishment for sin, and people should accept this punishment.  In the context of the Book of Job, this is a misplaced theology, not applicable to the titular character’s situation (Job 1:1-2:10; 42:7-9).  Also, the speeches of Job’s alleged friends read like the useless yet conventionally pious babblings they are, in narrative context.

The rest of the Book of Lamentations confesses sins, repents of those sins, begs for divine deliverance, expresses hope in God, and prays for divine judgment on the wicked nations.

I get theological whiplash from Lamentations 3.  The contrast between Lamentations 3 and the rage against God in Lamentations 2 is stark.  And who says that God does not willingly bring grief or affliction?  I recall many passages from Hebrew prophetic books in which God speaks and claims credit for causing grief and affliction.  I do not recall anyone forcing God to do that.  In some passages, however, God speaks of these divine actions as the consequences of human sins.

I approach theodicy cautiously.  I am also an intellectually honest monotheist.  I have no evil god to blame for anything, thereby letting the good god off the hook.  There is simply and solely God, who is ever in the dock, so to speak.   The major problem with human theodicy is that it easily degenerates into idiocy at best and heresy at worst.

Whenever someone professes not to believe in God, one way to handle the situation is to ask that individual to describe the God in whom he or she does not believe.  One may also want to ask how the other person defines belief in God.  In the creedal sense, to believe in God is to trust in God.  Yet many–or most–people probably understand belief in God to mean affirmation of the existence of God.

Idiotic theodicy produces a range of God-concepts abhorrent to me.  I suspect that many–or most–of those professed agnostics and atheists reject at least one of these God-concepts, too.  Many professed agnostics and atheists–a host of them refugees from conventional piety and abusive faith–may be closer to a healthy relationship with the God of the Universe than many conventionally devout Jews and Christians.  This matter lies far outside my purview; it resides in the purview of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DALBERG ACTON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER, AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, AND ADVOCATE FOR PEACE

THE FEAST OF MICHEL-RICHARD DELALANDE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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Daniel and Susanna   Leave a comment

Above:  Susanna and the Elders

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART XI

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Daniel 13:1-64

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Daniel and Susanna, according to study Bibles I consulted, hails from either the second or the first centuries B.C.E.  A standard description of Daniel 13 is that it is the oldest surviving detective story.  I prefer to think of it as the oldest surviving Perry Mason story.

The cast of named characters is:

  1. Joakim, husband of Susanna;
  2. Susanna, daughter of Hilkiah and wife of Joakim;
  3. Hilkiah, father of Susanna; and
  4. Daniel.

The story does not name the two wicked elders.

This is a story about the miscarriage of justice.  We read that the beautiful and pious Susanna, wife of the wealthy and pious Joakim, refused the sexual advances of the lecherous and homicidal elders, who had hidden in her garden.  The story describes the two elders as predators.  We also read of their perjury and of Susanna’s false conviction, followed by her sentence of death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:21-22).

This is also a story about justice.  We read of Susanna’s prayer (verses 42-43) and of God’s reply:  sending Daniel to rescue her.  We read of Daniel’s Perry Mason routine, by which he exposed the two elders’ lies with an arborial question:  

Now, if you really saw this woman, then tell us, under what tree did you see them together?”

–Verse 54, The Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha (1989)

We also read of the elders’ execution, in accordance with the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 19:16-21).  In the Law of Moses, the punishment for committing perjury to convict someone falsely is to suffer the fate one intended for the accused.

The suffering of the innocent and the pious is a major theme in the Book of Daniel.  We also read of God delivering such victims in Daniel 2 and 3.  Yet Daniel 10-12 wrestles with the realities of martyrdoms.

God delivers the innocent and the pious some of the time.  This tension is evident in the Book of Psalms.  Some of those texts sound like Elihu, as well as Job’s alleged friends:  Suffering results from sins, and God delivers the righteous.  Yet other Psalms come from the perspective of the suffering righteous.  The former position fills Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/the Wisdom of Ben Sira, too.  Ecclesiastes functions as a counter-argument to that excessive optimism.

Why does God deliver some of the righteous and not all of them?  I have no pat answer for such a challenging question.  In Revelation 6:9-11, even the martyrs in Heaven are not always happy.

We who struggle with this vexing question belong to an ancient tradition.  We are the current generation in a long train.  We have reasons to rejoice, at least; God delivers some of the innocent and the pious.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 23, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN KENNETH PFOHL, SR., U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS WIFE, HARRIET ELIZABETH “BESSIE” WHITTINGTON PFOHL, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN; AND THEIR SON, JAMES CHRISTIAN PFOHL, SR., U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF CASPAR FRIEDRICH NACHTENHOFER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLEMENT I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MISSIONARY

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The Oratory and Theology of Elihu, Part III   1 comment

the-wrath-of-elihu-william-blake

Above:  The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Job 34:1-20

Psalm 28

Matthew 6:7-15

Hebrews 13:9-14 (15-16) 17-25

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Elihu seems like a rather annoying person.  He is eager to defend God against Job’s complaints and to offer a more vigorous theodicy than that of Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.  Elihu argues, in part:

So far is God removed from wickedness,

and Shaddai from injustice,

that he requites a man for what he does,

treating each one as his way of life deserves.

God is never wrong, do not doubt that!

Shaddai does not deflect the course of right.

–Job 34:10b-12, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Translation:  Job sinned, and these sufferings of his are divine punishment for those sins.  If he repents, God will forgive Job and end his sufferings.  This conclusion contradicts Job 1 and 2, which offer a truly disturbing answer:  God has permitted an innocent man to suffer as part of a wager.

This seems like an excellent place at which to add the analysis of John Job, author of Job Speaks to Us Today (Atlanta, GA:  John Knox Press, 1977), pages 102-103.  The author asks, “Why are Job’s friends not truly wise?”  He concludes, in part:

The friends, first of all, are shameless utilitarians.  Repentance, in the estimation of Eliphaz, is a kind of insurance policy.  Making petition to God is advocated, not for the intrinsic value of a relationship with him, but simply for the pay-off in material terms–as when he says, “Come to terms with God and you will prosper; that is the way to mend your fortune” (22:21).  The interesting point here is that the friends adopt precisely the position which Satan regards as universally occupied by those who make a show of being god-fearing.  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” he had asked.  Eliphaz makes no secret of the grounds on which he is advising Job to fear God.  It is all too shallow.  Faith is depersonalized:  it becomes self-centered instead of God-centered.  Its character as faith is destroyed.  Fear of God is simply not the right way to describe it.

If one replaces “Eliphaz” with “Elihu” and changes the citation from Job 22 to one from Chapter 34, this analysis remains valid.

The Book of Job defies the desire for easy answers that fundamentalism typifies.  God is just, correct?  Then how does one explain the wager in Job 1 and 2?  And does not Job deserve better than the “I am God and you are not” speeches in Job 38-41?  In Job 42, however, God expresses his displeasure with Eliphaz and company for speaking falsely about him and praises Job for speaking honestly about him (God).  Those two responses seem incompatible, do they not?  Of course, one came from one source and the other came from another.  Elihu, who states correctly that God does not meet human measures (Job 33:12b), also spouts foolishness.  The Book of Job provides no easy answers and offers a false, Hollywood ending, at least in its final, composite form.  The original version ends with Job’s repentance for overreaching a few verses into Chapter 42.

Job needed good friends, not Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu.  He needed people who came to comfort him, to listen to him, and to let him cry on their shoulders.  He needed friends who followed advice from Hebrews 13:16:

Never neglect to show kindness and to share what you have with others; for such are the sacrifices which God approves.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

The standard we apply to others will be the standard God applies to us; we read this in Matthew 7:1-5.  Forgiveness is something we are to extend to others, and divine forgiveness of our sins depends on our forgiveness of the sins of others.  This is a lesson the author of Psalm 28 had not yet learned.  This is a lesson with which I have struggled mightily and with which I continue to struggle.  Success in the struggle does not depend on my own power, fortunately; grace is abundant.  The desire to do something one knows one ought to do is something with which God can work.  It is, metaphorically, a few loaves and fishes, which God can multiply.

In Job 42 God burned with anger toward Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  (The text does not mention Elihu, most likely because the text of the Book of Job did not yet contain the Elihu cycle.)  The alleged friends had not spoken truthfully of God, but Job had.  Job interceded on their behalf, however, and God excused their folly and forgave their sins.  Job, who had complained bitterly to his alleged friends, who had taunted him and sometimes even enjoyed his sufferings, all while imagining that they were pious and that he had done something to deserve his plight, prayed for their forgiveness.

That is a fine lesson to draw from the Book of Job.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CONSTANCE AND HER COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF ANNE HOULDITCH SHEPHERD, ANGLICAN NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ISAAC THE GREAT, PATRIARCH OF ARMENIA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CHATTERTON DIX, HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/devotion-for-the-fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-d/

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Easy and False Answers   1 comment

Job and His Alleged Friends

Above:   Job and His Alleged Friends

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Merciful God, gracious and benevolent,

through your Son you invite all the world to a meal of mercy.

Grant that we may eagerly follow this call,

and bring us with all your saints into your life of justice and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 15:8-11, 24-33 (Thursday)

Job 22:21-23:17 (Friday)

Psalm 32:1-7 (Both Days)

2 Corinthians 1:1-11 (Thursday)

2 Peter 1:1-11 (Friday)

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Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

–Psalm 32:5, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The author of Psalm 32 had guilt and sin with which to deal.  The fictional character of Job, however, did not suffer because of any sin he had committed, according to Chapters 1 and 2.  Eliphaz the Temanite did not grasp this reality, so he uttered pious-sounding statements (some of which echo certain Psalms and much of the Book of Proverbs), pestering (not consoling) Job, who felt isolated from the mystery he labeled God.  Job was terrified of God (as he should have been, given God’s conduct throughout the book, especially Chapters 1, 2, 38, 39, 40, and 41) and was honest about his feelings.  Eliphaz, in contrast, offered an easy and false answer to a difficult question.

Yes, some suffering flows from one’s sinful deeds and functions as discipline, but much suffering does not.  Consider the life of Jesus of Nazareth, O reader.  He suffered greatly, even to the point of death, but not because he had sinned.  Much of the time our suffering results from the sins of other people.  On other occasions we suffer for no apparent reason other than that we are at the wrong place at the wrong time or we have a pulse.

May we resist the temptation to peddle in easy and false answers to difficult questions.  May we seek not to be correct but to be compassionate, to live according to love for God and our fellow human beings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-26-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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