Archive for the ‘Lamentations 4’ Category

Acts Symbolic of Siege and Exile   Leave a comment

Above:  Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING EZEKIEL, PART IV

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ezekiel 4:1-5:17

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Some of the Hebrew prophets were eccentric, to use a polite word.  Hosea married a prostitute (Hosea 1).  Isaiah walked around naked (Isaiah 20).  Jeremiah wore a very dirty loincloth (Jeremiah 13) and a cattle yoke (Jeremiah 27-28).  Ezekiel ate a scroll (Ezekiel 1, 3).

Ezekiel committed more symbolic acts in 4:1-5:17:

  1. He built a model of Jerusalem under siege (4:1-2).
  2. Then he placed an iron plate between himself and the model.  The plate represented the barrier separating God and besieged Jerusalem.
  3. Then Ezekiel reclined on his left side for 390 days (or 190 days, depending on the text one consults) and on his left side for 40 days–one day per year.  A generation was 40 years.  Many Biblical scholars have offered explanations for the 190 or the 390 years.  These explanations, marginally interesting, have not held my attention.  The act of reclining symbolized famine (4:4-8).
  4. Ezekiel combined grains that grow under siege conditions and backed bread.  He ate this bread and drank water in quantities barely capable of sustaining human life (4:9-11).  He baked this bread over cow manure (4:12-15).  This act symbolized the desperate people’s violation of food laws in the Law of Moses during the siege of Jerusalem.
  5. Ezekiel shaved his head and beard with a sword.  Then he burned one-third, representative of a third of the inhabitants of Jerusalem who perished when the city burned in 586 B.C.E.  The prophet struck one-third of the hair with the sword.  This act symbolized the inhabitants of Jerusalem killed around the city in 586 B.C.E.  Then Ezekiel scattered the remaining third to the wind and sheathed a sword at those hairs.  This act symbolized the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian pursuit of those who fled Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.  Some of these hairs burned, too.

Ezekiel 5:5-17 explains that the people of Jerusalem had defiled the Temple, and had earned their harsh punishment.  The text also describes catastrophic and desperate conditions in Jerusalem during the siege.  Cannibalism is one of the results of these circumstances.  (See Lamentations 2:20; 4:10, also.)

Had Ezekiel lived in some parts of the world in 2021, he would have been medicated and under psychiatric care.  So would Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Isaiah may also have faced legal charges of indecent exposure.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST BRITISH MARTYR, CIRCA 209 OR 305

THE FEAST OF DESIDERIUS ERASMUS, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, BIBLICAL AND CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, AND CONTROVERSIALIST; SAINT JOHN FISHER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, BISHOP OF ROCHESTER, CARDINAL, AND MARTYR, 1535; AND SAINT THOMAS MORE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, JURIST, THEOLOGIAN, CONTROVERSIALIST, AND MARTYR, 1535

THE FEAST OF GERHARD GIESHCEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES ARTHUR MACKINNON, CANADIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, 1965

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NOLA

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Community’s Lament to the Lord   Leave a comment

Above:  $100 Trillion Bank Note, Zimbabwe

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING LAMENTATIONS, PART VI

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lamentation 5:1-22

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Book of Lamentations concludes on a thoroughly depressing note.  The prayer for restoration ends without hope.  Hope was for Chapters 3 and 4, not Chapter 5.

So much has gone wrong by Chapter 5:

  1. The family structure has broken down (verses 2-3).
  2. Foreign conquerors have overrun the country (verse 2).
  3. The people were defenseless (verse 3).
  4. The economy was and inflation was rampant (verses 4-5).
  5. The last Assyrian king had fallen from power in 609 B.C.E., but the point that trusting in in foreign powers, not in God, remained valid.
  6. The voice of the community accepted intergenerational guilt and punishment (Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9, contra Ezekiel 3:16-21; Ezekiel 14:12-23; Ezekiel 18:1-32; Ezekiel 33:1-20).
  7. Lackeys of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian monarch governed Judah (verse 8).
  8. Food was scarce (verse 9).
  9. The social order had broken down.  Violence, indignity, rape, and abusive labor were rampant (verses 11-14).  Young men performed the work of women, prisoners, slaves, and animals (verse 13).
  10. Old men no longer administered justice at city gates (verse 14), as in Deuteronomy 22:15; Deuteronomy 25:7; Ruth 4:1-2, 11).
  11. Temple worship was impossible (verse 15).
  12. The Davidic Dynasty had ended (verse 16).
  13. The covenant relationship with God was broken (verses 21-22).

Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself,

And let us come back;

Renew our days as of old!

–Lamentations 5:22b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Book of Lamentations concludes without a divine reply to that plea.  It ends without a comforting or easy answer.  It concludes with God present yet hiding.  Sit with that, O reader.  Give the Book of Lamentations its due.

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

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Punishment of Zion   Leave a comment

Above:  Lamentations

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING LAMENTATIONS, PART V

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lamentation 4:1-22

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The main bright ray of hope in the Book of Lamentations is in Chapter 3.  Theological whiplash continues as the readings revert to…lamentations.  Chapter 4 describes the siege of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.. as well as the suffering and degradation of the city’s residents at the time.

Some points require explanation:

  1. In verse 1, gems and gold represent people.  They are precious yet discarded.
  2. Jackals (verse 3) had a reputation as despicable scavengers.
  3. Ostriches (verse 3) were supposedly cruel and neglectful parents (Job 39:13-18).
  4. Starving children were too weak to cry in verse 4.  (Ezekiel 3:16; Psalm 137:6; Job 29:10)
  5. The inhabitants of Sodom died quickly (Genesis 19:24-25), but the inhabitants of Jerusalem suffered a long agony.
  6. Coral and sapphire were colors associated with vigor in verses 7-8.  Those colors have disappeared.
  7. Fire represented divine wrath (Lamentations 2:3 and 4:11; Deuteronomy 32:22; Isaiah 10:17; Jeremiah 17:27).  There was also the literal fire that destroyed Jerusalem, of course.
  8. Contrary to popular belief (Psalms 46 and 48), Mount Zion was not inviolable.  The belief that God would not let Mount Zion fall came from foreigners (Lamentations 4:12).
  9. Shedding blood (verses 13 and 14), in this case, referred to committing idolatry (Ezekiel 22:1-5; Psalm 106:37-40).  The people most closely associated with purity were the most impure.  Those once among the most respected in society had become as impure as lepers (verse 15).
  10. The Poet spoke in verses 1-16 and 21-22.  The Community spoke in verses 17-20.
  11. The tone in verse 21 is ironic.  Edom comes in for condemnation here and in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Obadiah; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; and Ezekiel 35:1-15.
  12. Verse 22 offers a glimmer of hope.  The Babylonian Exile will end, we read.  Justice will prevail because punishes sins, we read.

I ponder the idea of a world in which justice prevails because God punishes sins.  I think about the world as it is and perceive that it bears little resemblance to God’s ideal world.  The disparity between reality and the ideal is discouraging.  Were I more poetic, and if I had the desire to compose a set of lamentations for the world and United States of America in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would do so.

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Introduction to the Book of Lamentations   Leave a comment

Above:  Heading and Opening of Lamentations

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING LAMENTATIONS, PART I

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The tradition that the prophet composed the Book of Lamentations immediately after the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) and prior to departing involuntarily for Egypt is deeply ingrained in many minds.  That tradition is evident in the brief preface in the Septuagint and the Vulgate:

When Israel had been taken into captivity and Jerusalem had become a wilderness, it happened that the prophet Jeremiah sat down in tears; he uttered this lament over Jerusalem, he said….

–Quoted from a footnote in The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

This tradition has its origin in an interpretation of 2 Chronicles 35:25:

Jeremiah also made a lament for Josiah; and to this day the minstrels, both men and women, commemorate Josiah in their lamentations.  Such laments have become traditional in Israel, and they are found in the written collections.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

King Josiah of Judah died in 609 B.C.E.

The Book of Lamentations laments the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) and never mentions King Josiah.  The language is similar to that in the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  Much of the language is sufficiently vague that the laments can apply to many disasters, other than the Fall of Jerusalem.

The text does not answer the question of authorship.  One may perhaps legitimately hypothesize that the prophet Jeremiah contributed to the Book of Lamentations.  The most likely scenario is that the Book of Lamentations is the product of authors.

The Book of Lamentations, completed before the dedication of the Second Temple (516 B.C.E.), embraces the Deuteronomic theology of divine retribution (as in the Book of Jeremiah).  Lamentations also contains material from various sources.  There are four voices–those of the Poet, Fair Zion, the Man (personified Israel), and the Community–in five poems.  Chapters 1-4 are Hebrew acrostic poems.  Chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5 have 22 verses each.  Chapter 3 has 66 verses.

The placement of the Book of Lamentations varies.  The Book of Lamentations, classified as a prophetic book in Christian Bibles, exists in different places, relative to other books, in Christian canons of scripture.  It is between Jeremiah and Baruch in Roman Catholic Bibles, between Jeremiah and Ezekiel in Protestant and Anglican Bibles, between Baruch and Ezekiel in Ethiopian Orthodox Bibles, and between Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah in The Orthodox Study Bible (2008).  The Book of Lamentations, in the Writings (not the Prophets) section of the Hebrew Bible, sits between Ruth and Ecclesiastes.

Major lectionaries ignore most of the Book of Lamentations.  The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) does this:

  1. 1:1-6 is one of two possible First Readings for Proper 22, Year C.  On that Sunday, 3:19-26  is an alternative response.
  2. 3:1-9, 19-24 is a reading for Holy Saturday, Years A, B, and C.  But how many congregations who follow the RCL conduct the Holy Saturday liturgy?

The introduction to the Book of Lamentations in The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), acknowledges that the Roman Catholic Church, outside of Holy Week,

has otherwise tended to neglect the book.

–1142

Indeed, the current Roman Catholic Mass lectionaries assign little–yet more than the RCL does–from the Book of Lamentations:

  1. 1:1-6 is the First Reading for Proper 27, Year C.
  2. 2:2, 10-14, 18-19 is the First Reading for Saturday, Week 12, Ordinary Time, Year 2.
  3. 3:1-9, 19-24 is the First Reading on Holy Saturday, Years A, B, and C.
  4. 3:19-26 is the First Reading on Proper 22, Year C.
  5. 3:23-33 is the First Reading on Proper 9, Year B.

The introduction to the Book of Lamentations in The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), continues from the quote above:

It is not hard to see why; a more anguished piece of writing is scarcely imaginable….But with its unsparing focus on destruction, pain, and suffering the book serves an invaluable function as part of Scripture, witnessing to a biblical faith determined to express honestly the harsh realities of a violent world and providing contemporary readers the language to do the same.

–1142-1143

Observant Jews read or hear the Book of Lamentations read liturgically on the ninth day of Av (in July or August), the day of public mourning and fasting in commemoration of the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. and the Second Temple in 70 C.E.  The ninth day of Av is also a day to commemorate other disasters and catastrophes in the Jewish past.  The recitation of the Book of Lamentations occurs in candlelight or dim light, while the reader and the congregation sit on the floor or low benches.

Rereading the Book of Lamentations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic may help individuals and faith communities express an honest, Biblical faith in a world in which many people, institutions, and societies have lost their minds and gone off the rails, and in which returning to the old normal is impossible.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE BERKELEY, IRISH ANGLICAN BISHOP AND PHILOSOPHER; AND JOSEPH BUTLER, ANGLICAN BISHOP AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN FRANCIS REGIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NORMAN MACLEOD, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS COUSIN, NORMAN MACLEOD, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RUFUS JONES, U.S. QUAKER THEOLOGIAN AND COFOUNDER OF THE AMERICAN FRIENDS SERVICE COMMITTEE

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HIRAM FOULKES, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Divine Judgment Against Edom, Part I   4 comments

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING JEREMIAH, PART XXX

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Jeremiah 49:7-22

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Edomites were relatives of the Hebrews–descendants of Esau, a.k.a. Edom, actually (Genesis 25:19-34; 33:1-20; 35:1-36:43).  The Edomites were traditional, bitter enemies of the the Hebrews.  Edomites joined Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian forces at the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  Hebrew antagonism toward the Edomites made its way into the Bible (Isaiah 34:1-17; Isaiah 63:1-6; Lamentations 4:21-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Amos 1:11-12; Obadiah; Malachi 1:2-5; Psalm 137:7; et cetera).

This antagonism is especially evident in Jeremiah 49:7-22, which, unlike some of the oracles in this set, lacks a lament.  Also, Jeremiah 49:22 echoes 48:41-44 (regarding Moab) and 50:44, 44-46 (regarding the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire).

Since I commenced this project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, I have read the material regarding Edom in Amos 1:11-12 and Isaiah 21:11-12.

The Edom material in Obadiah and in Ezekiel 25:12-14; 35:1-15 awaits me, in due time.

Some points in the oracle require explanation:

  1. This oracle and the Book of Obadiah probably drew from the same source.
  2. Borzah was the main city-fortress of Edom.
  3. Edom, associated with wisdom (Job 1:3; Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1) had become prideful and arrogant.

There would be no word of comfort for Edom.  The future was calamity for Edom and the Edomites.  Edomites, who had moved into southern Judah after the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) and established a capital at Hebron, declined during the Persian period.  This region of Judah became Idumea.  During the Persian period, Nabatean encroachment upon Edom pushed many more Edomites into Idumea.  Those Edomites who remained in Edom assimilated with the Nabateans.

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

God’s Second Call of Jonah, with the Repentance of the Ninevites   Leave a comment

Above:  Jonah, by George Fredric Watts

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING JONAH

PART III

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Jonah 3:1-10

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Jonah 3 includes the humorous element of exaggeration.

  1. No ancient city was a three-days’ walk across.  Sorry, Jonah 3:3.
  2. Even the livestock repented.  (Jonah 3:7-8)

Jonah’s preaching in Nineveh deserves attention.

  1. The call to repent is absent.
  2. The message is brief:  “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”  The message does not explain why Nineveh will be “overthrown” or what the Hebrew word translated “overthrown” means.
  3. The Hebrew word we read as “overthrown” or “overturned” is its own antonym.  (Think, O reader, about “oversight” in English.  “Oversight” means both supervising and seeing, on one hand, and not seeing, on the other hand.) The germane Hebrew word indicates destruction in some texts, including Genesis 19:21, 25, and 29; Deuteronomy 29:22; Jeremiah 20:16; and 4:6.  Nevertheless, the same word indicates deliverance in other passages, including Deuteronomy 23:5; Psalm 66:6; and Jeremiah 31:13. 
  4. The scene, then, is one of Jonah preaching the destruction of Nineveh and of repentance causing the city’s deliverance.  The scene is one of Jonah undercutting his own message.  The scene is one of Jonah’s prediction mocking him.  The scene is one of penitent Ninevites undermining Jonah’s message.

Divine persistence can wear down human resistance  And God can work through us, despite ourselves.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANNE STEELE, FIRST IMPORTANT ENGLISH FEMALE HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWIN HATCH, ANGLICAN PRIEST, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARTHA COFFIN PELHAM WRIGHT; HER SISTER, LUCRETIA COFFIN MOTT; HER HUSBAND, JAMES MOTT; HIS SISTER, ABIGAIL LYDIA MOTT MOORE; AND HER HUSBAND, LINDLEY MURRAY MOORE; U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONISTS AND FEMINISTS

THE FEAST OF PETER TAYLOR FORSYTH, SCOTTISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Faithfulness of God, Part I   1 comment

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

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adapted from this post:

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

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++