Archive for the ‘Nehemiah 2’ Category

Religious Decline and Hope of Recovery   Leave a comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART II

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Malachi 1:2-3:12

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As I wrote in Reading Malachi, Part I, the dating of the Book of Malachi is vague–perhaps prior to 445 B.C.E., when the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah began (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9)–or perhaps not.   Clear, however, are the sense of spiritual crisis and the religious decline in the Book of Malachi.

Consider 1:2-5, O reader.  We read divine assurance of love for the people.  We may assume safely that the population (much of it, anyway) needed this assurance.  The proof of divine love for Jews in Judea in Malachi 1:2-5 is their continued existence in their ancestral homeland.  The contrast with their ancient foe and cousin people, the Edomites, is stark.

I have read and blogged about divine judgment on the people of Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Obadiah; and Isaiah 34:5-17.

The designated portion of the Book of Malachi continues with the condemnations of priests and the population.  We read of priests offering defiled food as sacrifices.  We read that God objected strongly to such disrespect, and preferred no ritual sacrifices to the offerings of blemished animals.  (See Exodus 12:5; Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 10; Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 22:22).  We read that God was really angry:

And now, O priests, this charge is for you:  Unless you obey and unless you lay it to heart, and do dishonor to My name–said the LORD of blessings into curses.  (Indeed, I have turned them into curses, because you do not lay it to heart.)  I will put your seed under a ban, and I will strew dung upon your faces, the dung of your festal sacrifices, and you shall be carried out to its [heap].

–Malachi 2:1-3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Furthermore, we read that (much of) the population of Israel has failed to keep the covenant, too.  We read that God objected to Jewish men divorcing Jewish wives to marry foreign women.  One may recall that this was also an issue in Ezra 10.  As prior to the Babylonian Exile, idolatry is in play.  Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Deuteronomy 12:31 permit divorce, but Malachi 2:16 begins:

For I detest divorce….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Context is crucial; statements never arise in a vaccum.

Malachi 3:5 specifies offenses:

But [first] I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me:  Who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause] of the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the LORD of Hosts.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Faithless members of the Chosen People remain “children of Jacob,” we read.  And God (as in Zechariah 1:3) expects them to express remorse for their sins and to repent:

Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you–said the LORD of Hosts.

–Malachi 3:7b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The text continues by explaining another way (other than not committing the previously listed sins) the people could return to God:  to support the Levites (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21-31; Nehemiah 13:10-13).  The text challenges the people to respond faithfully and generously to the extravagant and generosity of God.

Malachi 3:11 mentions locusts in the present tense.  This clue does not reveal as much as one may guess.  Does Malachi 3:11 date the Book of Malachi approximately contemporary with the Book of Joel, whenever that was?  The case for this is tenuous and circumstantial.  One may recall that swarms of locusts were a frequent threat in the region.  Malachi 3:11 may tell us one reason many people were not paying their tithes, though.

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 exists within a context, of course.  Taking it out of context distorts its meaning.  Recall Malachi 2:17, O reader.  We read there that people have been wearying God by saying:

“All who do evil are good in the sight of the LORD, and in them He delights,” or else, “Where is the God of justice?”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 rebuts that wearying statements and that wearying question.

Trusting in God liberates.  It liberates populations and individuals.  It liberates them to become their best possible selves in God, who is extravagantly generous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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The Superscription of the Book of Malachi   1 comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART I

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Malachi 1:1

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The stated prophet in Malachi 1:1 is simply “Malachi,” without the traditional “son of ” formula following the persona name.  “Malachi” means “My messenger.”  This may be a name, a description, or both.  In fact, we know close to nothing about the prophet.

The Book of Malachi does not provide many details that place it in time.  It comes from after the Babylonian Exile.  1:8 and 1:2-5 place the book during the Persian period (539-332 B.C.E.).  The Book of Malachi refers to concerns raised in the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and First Esdras–Malachi 1:6-14 and Nehemiah 10:32-39; 13:31 pertain to provision for sacrifices.  The tithe is the topic in Malachi 3:8-12 and Nehemiah 13:10-14.  Acceptable marriage partners are the topic in Malachi 3:5 and Nehemiah 5:1-13.  But did Malachi come before Ezra and Nehemiah, who started their reforms in 445 B.C.E.?  (See Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9.)

The historical relationship s of Joel, Second Zechariah, and Malachi to each other are not clear.  The Book of Malachi, in its original form, may plausibly date to the 470s, prior to Second Zechariah.  Or the Book of Malachi may plausibly postdate Second Zechariah.

The Book of Malachi has fifty-five verses.  Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles divide those verses into three chapters.  Yet Anglican and Protestant Bibles divide these verses into four chapters.

Considering how short the Book of Malachi is, it fares well on the three major Christian lectionaries.  The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) assigns 3:14 for the Presentation of the Lord, Years A, B, and C, as well as for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C.  The RCL also assigns 4:1-2a on Proper 28, Year C.  The Roman Catholic lectionary for Sundays and major feast days assigns 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10 for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.  The same lectionary assigns 3:19-20a for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  The corresponding lectionary for weekday Masses assigns 3:1-4, 23-24 on December 23, Years 1 and 2.  The same lectionary assigns 3:13-20b for Thursday in Week 27 of Ordinary Time, Year 1.

Shall we begin, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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Introduction to Second Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ZECHARIAH, PART I

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Zechariah 9-14

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The Book of Zechariah has two distinct sections.  First Zechariah encompasses chapters 1-8.  Second Zechariah, from a later time, encompasses chapters 9-14.  Second Zechariah, in turn, consists of two sections–chapters 9-11 and 12-14.  Second Zechariah, like much else of the Hebrew Bible, exists in a final form expanded and revised from its original form.

Second Zechariah dates mainly to the middle of the fifth century–the 450s B.C.E., give or take.  The temporal setting is Persian imperial concern for internal security, in the wake of the Egyptian rebellion in the 450s B.C.E., as well as the Greek-Persian wars.  History tells us that the Persian Empire increased control over its western satrapies (provinces) and built fortresses and garrisons linking the Mediterranean coast to the interior.  History also tells us that, from 515 to 450 B.C.E., the pace of Jewish resettlement of Judah was relatively slow, as was the pace of economic recovery.  Furthermore, history tells us that the situation in Judah improved substantially only after 445 B.C.E., with the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9).

Second Zechariah contains diverse material that draws heavily on earlier works.  These works include Jeremiah 13:1-11 and Ezekiel 4:1-5:4, which influenced Zechariah 11:4-16.  Other influences on Second Zechariah include the Book of Isaiah and the Deuteronomic History (Deuteronomy-2 Kings).

The three major Christian lectionaries do little with Second Zechariah.  The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) schedules 9:9-12 for Proper 9, Year A.  That is the only listing of anything from the Book of Zechariah on the RCL.  The Roman Catholic lectionary for Sundays and major feast days lists Second Zechariah twice–9:9-10 for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A; and 12:10-11 and 13:1 for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  (First Zechariah is absent from that lectionary.)  The Roman Catholic lectionary for weekday Masses omits Second Zechariah yet lists three excerpts from First Zechariah.

The introduction to the Book of Zechariah in The Oxford Study Bible (1992) describes much of Second Zechariah as

extremely enigmatic.

So be it.  Let us jump in, shall we?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WHITE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF THE CARMELITE MARTYRS OF COMPIEGNE, 1794

THE FEAST OF BENNETT J. SIMS, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF SAINT NERSES LAMPRONATS, ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF TARSUS

THE FEAST OF R. B. Y. SCOTT, CANADIAN BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, HYMN WRITER, AND MINISTER

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The Promise of the New Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Tiges (Isaiah 61:11)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART IV

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Isaiah 60:1-62:12

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Isaiah 60-62 is a lengthy poem of encouragement to Jerusalem (Zion), personified as a bereaved woman.  Jewish exiles are returning to Jerusalem, we read.

Certain themes are notable, some for their presence and others for their absence:

  1. There is no Davidic monarch in Third Isaiah.  In this respect, Third Isaiah disagrees with Haggai, First Zechariah, and First Isaiah.
  2. In the future, according to Isaiah 60:1-62:12, the Jewish nation will have royal and priestly status, and God will rule directly.
  3. A must society embodies the divine covenant and receives God’s blessing.
  4. Judah, in Isaiah 60:1-22, is superior to its neighbors.  The theme of reversal of fortune exists here.  So do national concerns, overriding universalism of any variety.  We read of Gentiles transporting Jewish exiles to Judah, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and bringing silver and gold.  This image contrasts with First Isaiah (2:1-4), in which Gentiles stream to Jerusalem to learn God’s ways.
  5. Isaiah 61:1-9 applies the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:10), by which farmers forced into indentured servitude could regain their land, to the nation.  The time to start over had come.
  6. The predicted splendor of Jerusalem contrasted with the actual state of the city prior to 445 B.C.E. and the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8:1-9:55).  Isaiah 60:1-62:12 offered hope for a better future.

Hope is essential.  These beautiful three chapters, replete with familiar passages, come from a particular context.  If one takes these chapters and passages out of context, one misses much of their meaning.  The central message is timeless, not bound by context, though.  That meaning is that God is faithful.  God has promised to act.  God will act.  Keep the faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Introduction to Third Isaiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART I

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Isaiah 24-27, 56-66

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Haggai prophesied in late 520 B.C.E.  First Zechariah, commissioned as a prophet in late 520 B.C.E., prophesied in 519 and 518 B.C.E.  Sometime after Jewish exiles began to return to their ancestral homeland in the late 530s B.C.E., Third Isaiah prophesied.  He grappled with difficult circumstances and ubiquitous disappointment, just as Haggai and First Zechariah did.  The reality on the ground did not match the descriptions of prosperity and paradise on Earth that some previous prophets had offered.  For example, the contrast between the pessimism of many returned exiles and the optimism of Second Isaiah (from circa 540 B.C.E.) was a gaping chasm.

Third Isaiah spoke of divine sovereignty and divine compassion for Israel.  He did this between 537 and 455 B.C.E., in the context of matters remaining difficult for Jews in their ancestral homeland, part of the Persian Empire.  The reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra, starting in 445 B.C.E. (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8:1-9:55) greatly improved the civic and spiritual life of the population.  Third Isaiah prophesied before these reforms.

Designating Isaiah 56-66 as Third Isaiah and Isaiah 24-27 as part of First Isaiah is commonplace.  Yet I follow the determination in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), for I define the prophesies of Third Isaiah as encompassing Isaiah 24-27, 56-66.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONAVENTURE, SECOND FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF FRIARS MINOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT ATHANASIUS I OF NAPLES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF DUNCAN MONTGOMERY GRAY, SR., AND HIS SON, DUNCAN MONTGOMERY GRAY, JR.; EPISCOPAL BISHOPS OF MISSISSIPPI, AND ADVOCATES OF CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF GEORGE TYRRELL, IRISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN AND ALLEGED HERETIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT SWITHUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF WNCHESTER

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The Tears of the Christ   1 comment

Above:  Jesus, from The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964)

A Screen Capture

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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 13:1-16 or Ezra 1:1-7; 3:8-13

Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

Revelation 7:9-17

John 11:1-3. 16-44

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Jesus wept.

–John 11:35, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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They will never hunger or thirst again; neither the sun nor scorching wind will ever plague them because the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears like their eyes.

–Revelation 7:16-17, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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I could take so many paths through the assigned readings for this week.  These readings are rich texts.  I will take just one path, however.

Before I do, here are a few notes:

  1. Abraham waited for God to tell him which land to claim.  Abraham chose well.
  2. Lot chose land on his own.  He chose poorly.  However, at the time he seemed to have chosen wisely; he selected fertile land.
  3. I agree with Psalm 136.  Divine mercy does endure forever.
  4. The chronology of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah weaves in and out of those books.  I know, for I blogged my way through them in chronological order at BLOGA THEOLOGICA last year.

For the record, the chronological reading order of Ezra-Nehemiah follows:

  1. Ezra 1:1-2:70; Nehemiah 7:6-73a;
  2. Ezra 3:1-4:5;
  3. Ezra 5:1-6:22;
  4. Ezra 4:6-24;
  5. Nehemiah 1:1-2:20;
  6. Nehemiah 3:1-4:17;
  7. Nehemiah 5:1-19;
  8. Nehemiah 6:1-7:5;
  9. Nehemiah 11:1-12:47;
  10. Nehemiah 13:1-31;
  11. Nehemiah 9:38-10:39;
  12. Ezra 7:1-10:44; and
  13. Nehemiah 7:73b-9:38.

I take my lead in this post from the New Testament readings.  Tears are prominent in both of them.  Tears are on my mind during the COVID-19 pandemic.  They are also on my mind as I continue to mourn the violent death of my beloved.  Her departure from this side of the veil of tears has left me shaken and as forever changed me.

The full divinity and full humanity of Jesus are on display in John 11.  We read that Jesus wept over the death of his friend, St. Lazarus of Bethany.  We also read of other people mourning and weeping in the immediate area.  We may not pay much attention to that.  We may tell ourselves, “Of course, they grieved and wept.”  But two words–“Jesus wept”–remain prominent.

There is a scene in The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964) that fits this theme.  At the time, Hollywood studios had recently released technicolor movies about a Jesus who had no tear ducts yet had an impressive command of Elizabethan English while resembling a Northern European.  Yet Pier Paolo Pasolini, who committed about half of the Gospel of Matthew to film, presented a Jesus who had tear ducts.  Immediately after the off-camera decapitation of St. John the Baptist, the next shot was a focus on Christ’s face.  He was crying.  So were the men standing in front of him.

Jesus wept.

We weep.  Jesus weeps with us until the day God will wipe away all tears of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 23, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE ALMSGIVER, PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES KINGSLEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST, NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD GRUBB, ENGLISH QUAKER AUTHOR, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES D. SMART, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF PHILLIPS BROOKS, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF MASSACHUSETTS, AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2021/01/23/devotion-for-proper-19-year-d-humes/

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Israel’s True Power and Strength   Leave a comment

Above:  King John Hyrcanus I

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART III

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Judith 4:1-6:2

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Holofernes represented an oppressive violent power and an ego-driven monarch.  The general had succeeded in his previous campaigns, even against people who had greeted his army with garlands, dancing, and the sound of timbrels (2:1-3:10).  The Israelites were in dire straits as he turned his attention toward them.

Yet the Israelites worshiped God.  They prayed to God.  And, as even Achior, the Ammonite leader acknowledged, the Israelites’ power and strength resided in God.  Yet Holofernes asked scornfully,

Who is God beside Nebuchadnezzar?

–Judith 6:2b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Achior found refuge with the Israelites, at least.

A refresher on the Kingdom of Ammon and on the Ammonites is in order.

  1. “Ammon” comes from Benammi, both the son and grandson of Lot (Genesis 19:30-38).  Lot’s daughters had gotten their father drunk then seduced him.  They gave birth to the founders of the Moabite and Ammonite peoples.
  2. The attitude toward the Ammonites in the Bible is mostly negative.
  3. The Kingdom of Ammon was east of the River Jordan and north of Moab.  
  4. The Kingdom of Ammon, a vassal state of Israel under Kings David and Solomon.  After Ammon reasserted itself, it became a vassal state of the Neo-Assyrian Empire then the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  A failed rebellion led to mass deportations of Ammonites and the colonization of their territory by Chaldeans.

Anyone who wants to read more about the Ammonites in the Bible may want to follow the following reading plan:

  1. Genesis 19;
  2. Numbers 21;
  3. Deuteronomy 2, 3, 23;
  4. Joshua 12, 13;
  5. Judges 3, 10, 11, 12;
  6. 1 Samuel 10, 11, 12, 14;
  7. 2 Samuel 8, 10, 11, 12, 17, 23;
  8. 1 Kings 11, 14;
  9. 2 Kings 23, 24;
  10. 1 Chronicles 11, 18, 19, 20;
  11. 2 Chronicles 12, 20, 24, 26, 27;
  12. Ezra 9;
  13. Nehemiah 2, 4, 13;
  14. Psalm 83;
  15. Isaiah 11;
  16. Jeremiah 9, 25, 27, 40, 41, 49;
  17. Ezekiel 21, 25;
  18. Daniel 11;
  19. Amos 1;
  20. Zephaniah 2;
  21. Judith 1, 5, 6, 7, 14;
  22. 1 Maccabees 5; and
  23. 2 Maccabees 4, 5.

Back to Achior…

A close reader of Achior’s report (5:6-21) may detect some details he got wrong.  Not all characters speak accurately in every matter.  One may expect an outsider to misunderstand some aspects of the Israelite story.

At the end of the Chapter 6, we see the conflict between the arrogance of enemies of God and the humility of Israelites.  We know that, in the story, the Israelites could turn only to God for deliverance.  Anyone familiar with the Hebrew prophets ought to know that this theme occurs in some of the prophetic books, too.

In the context contemporary to the composition of the Book of Judith, Jews had endured Hellenistic oppression under the Seleucid Empire.  Jews had won the independence of Judea.  John Hyrcanus I (reigned 135-104 B.C.E.; named in 1 Maccabees 13:53 and 16:1-23) had ordered the destruction of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerazim and forced many people to convert to Judaism.  The persecuted had become persecutors.  This was certainly on the mind of the anonymous author of the Book of Judith.

May we, collectively and individually, do to others as we want them to do to us, not necessarily as they or others have done to us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIERST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF ERIK CHRISTIAN HOFF, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONIST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIN SHKURTI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1969

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The Prayer of Nehemiah and His Mission to Jerusalem   2 comments

Above:  Nehemiah the Cupbearer

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 2 KINGS 22-25, 1 ESDRAS, 2 CHRONICLES 34-36, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAH

PART XV

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Nehemiah 1:1-2:20

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Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

“May they prosper who love you.

Peace be within your walls

and quietness within your towers.

For my brethren and companions’ sake,

I pray for your prosperity.

Because of the house of the LORD our God,

I will seek to do you good.”

–Psalm 122:6-9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Circa 445 B.C.E., during the reign (465-424 B.C.E.) of Artaxerxes I, King of the Persians and the Medes…

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king.  If anyone was going to poison the royal wine, Nehemiah would drink it and suffer the consequences.

Nehemiah had a well-honed sense of national sin and of complete dependence on God.  He also understood divine mercy.  Fortunately, he swayed Artaxerxes I, who allowed him to travel to Jerusalem.  Unfortunately, Nehemiah contended with opposition.  Of course he did.  That was consistent with the readings for the previous post in this series.

Nehemiah also carried a letter from the king.  Our hero resumed the construction of the city and its walls.  This was risky, for (1) opposition remained strong and (2) Artaxerxes I changed his mind easily.  The king was, after all, one of the models for the capricious, lazy, and easily-swayed Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther.

Aren’t we glad that mercurial potentates no longer rule?  (I ask that question sarcastically.)

Nehemiah combined trust in God with political savvy.  He knew when and how to speak to the king.  Nehemiah understood what to say.  He knew how to follow God, work in the world as it is, and accomplish his goals without tarnishing himself morally.  Nehemiah’s overriding goal was to improve the lives of his people, the Jews.

As we move in the world, we need to know that piety alone is insufficient.  So are good intentions and high ideals.  We need to wed all of the above with savvy tactics that do not betray all of the above.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 14:  THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT EDITH STEIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND PHILOSOPHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HERMAN OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONK AND MISSIONARY TO THE ALEUT

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY SUMNER, FOUNDRESS OF THE MOTHERS’ UNION

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Affirming the Dignity of Work in Words and Deeds, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Labor Day, by Samuel D. Ehrhart

Published in Puck Magazine, September 1, 1909

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-26406

FOR LABOR DAY (U.S.A.)

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) contains a collect and assigned readings for Labor Day.

Interdependence is a cardinal virtue in the Law of Moses.  Interdependence is also obvious, or should be.  Somehow, especially in the global West, the idea of rugged individualism persists.  Yet, no matter how hard or well one works, one drives on roads other people built, relies on technology other people invented or maintain, and depends on many other people might guess at first thought.  Anyone who can read this post with comprehension relies on hosts of educators, for example.

As I affirm that I depend on the work of others, just as others depend on my work, I also affirm the dignity of work.  Therefore, I argue for certain propositions:

  1. Nobody should have to work in a death trap or a sweatshop;
  2. All wages should be living wages;
  3. People should work to live, not live to work;
  4. Union organizing and collective bargaining should be inviolable rights; and
  5. Access to affordable, quality health care is an inalienable right.

Nobody has a moral right to exploit anyone else.  No institution has a moral right to exploit any person.  After all, people should be more important than profits.

Furthermore, all work should benefit societies or communities.  By this standard most jobs pass the test.  We need plumbers and bus drivers, for example, but we also need actors, poets, and novelists.  In a just world teachers, librarians, police officers, and fire fighters would be some of the best paid professionals, but that is not the world in which we live, unfortunately.  It can be, however.  A society is what its members make it.  Sufficient force of public opinion, applied well, changes policies.  The major obstacle to positive social change is resignation to the current reality.

Furthermore, the best kind of work is also indistinguishable from play.  Work ought not only to provide financial support for one but also fulfill intangible needs.  Work, at its best, is something one who performs it enjoys.  Work should improve, not detract from, one’s quality of life.

Work does, of course, assume many forms, at home and out like the home.  One should never forget that a stay-at-home parent is a working parent.  One should never forget that one who leaves the labor force to become a caregiver for a relative is still working, just without wages.  One should acknowledge that those who, for various reasons, cannot join the labor force, are valuable members of society, and that many of them can contribute greatly to society, if others will permit them to do so.  Whenever a society holds back any of its members, it prevents itself from achieving its potential.

May we remember also that, as valuable as work is, rest and leisure are vital also.  Ideally one will balance the three properly.  We know that the brain requires a certain amount of sleep–especially REM sleep–to function properly.  We know that the correct amount of rest is necessary for the body to function properly.  We know that leisure makes for better employees.

Work, at its best, is a gift from God.  It is a gift for divine glory and the meeting of human needs.  Work, at its best, builds up (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) individuals, families, communities, societies, nation-states, and the world.  One’s work, at its best, is a vocation from God; it occupies the intersection of one’s greatest joys and the world’s deepest needs.

May you, O reader, find your work fulfilling in every way.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA, DISCIPLE OF JESUS

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Almighty God, you have so linked our lives with one another

that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives:

So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good;

and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor,

make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers,

and arouse our concern for those who are out of work;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

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

Ecclesiasticus/Wisdom of Sirach 38:27-32

Psalm 107:1-9 or 90:1-2, 16-17

1 Corinthians 3:10-14

Matthew 6:19-24

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 261, 932

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We invoke thy grace and wisdom, O Lord, upon all men of good will

who employ and control the labor of men.

Amid the numberless irritations and anxieties of their position,

help them to keep a quite and patient temper,

and to rule firmly and wisely, without harshness and anger.

Since they hold power over the bread, the safety, and the hopes of the workers,

may they wield their power justly and with love,

as older brothers and leaders in the great fellowship of labor.

Suffer not the heavenly light of compassion for the weak and the old to be quenched in their hearts.

When they are tempted to sacrifice human health and life for profit,

do thou strengthen their will in the hour of need,

and bring to nought the counsels of the heartless.

May they not sin against thee by using the bodies and souls of men as mere tools to make things.

Raise up among us employers who shall be makers of men as well as of goods.

Give us men of faith who will look beyond the strife of the present,

and catch a vision of a nobler organization of our work,

when all shall still follow the leadership of the ablest,

no longer in fear, but by the glad will of all,

and when all shall stand side by side in a strong and righteous brotherhood of work;

according to thy will in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Evangelical and Reformed Church, Book of Worship (1947) 382-383

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Ecclesiasticus/Wisdom of Sirach 38:24-34 or Nehemiah 2:1-18

Psalms 124 and 125 or 147

2 Timothy 2:1-15 or Matthew 7:15-27

–General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, A Book of Worship for Free Churches (1948), 409

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Adapted from this post:

https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/devotion-for-labor-day-u-s-a/

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Mutuality, Society, and the Body of Christ   1 comment

Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem's Walls--Gustave Dore

Above:  Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem’s Walls, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures

to be written for the nourishment of your people.

Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that, comforted by your promises,

we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23

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The Assigned Readings:

Nehemiah 2:1-10

Psalm 19

Romans 12:1-8

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No one can see his own mistakes,

acquit me of my hidden faults.

Hold me back, too, from sins I know about,

do not let them gain mastery over me.

Then shall I keep my integrity

and be innocent of any great sin.

–Psalm 19:13-14, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley

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Underpinning much of the Bible is an ethos of mutuality and of recognition of complete human dependence on God.  We are responsible to each other and for each other.  We are supposed to support each other in vocations from God, not seek to advance on the proverbial ladder by kicking other people off that ladder.  And we ought to act based on the knowledge that everything we have comes from God.  There is no such being as a self-made person.

St. Paul the Apostle, writing in Romans 12, likened Christian community to the body of Christ.  He meant what he wrote plainly–that Christians are members of each other and that all spiritual gifts are necessary.  Nobody in the body of Christ is insignificant and no gift is too small.

God has equipped all people for a productive role or roles in society.  One vital function of each person is to help others to fulfill their vocation or vocations as the opportunities to do so present themselves.  Whenever I read about a person who has accomplished much, I notice that others helped him or her along the way to one accomplishment or another.  Such helpers tend not to receive the credit they should, but they are always essential.

Nehemiah, who left a position in the Persian royal court, was able, with the help of King Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424 B.C.E.) and many others, most of whose names have not come down to us, to help rebuild Jerusalem.  The efforts of those whose labors supported Nehemiah’s project were no less important than Nehemiah’s zeal.  The visionary and his helpers were essential, for one without the other would have accomplished nothing.

In the spirit of mutuality we ought to help each other spiritually.  Each of us has blind spots in spiritual matters, but others can tell us what occupies them.  We also need encouragement to continue to do the right things the right ways.  Positive reinforcement is also crucial to maintaining good practices.  A third category of mutual spiritual help is providing feedback in the middle ground between “keep doing that” and “stop doing the other thing.”  Sometimes we are moving in the right direction yet require advice in how to pursue that path more effectively.  Often we have difficulty recognizing our deficiencies in that category also.

A true friend is one who says and does that which one needs, not necessarily what one wants.  A “yes man” is not a true friend.  Within the bounds of social and ecclesiastical friendship we ought to be true friends to each other.  How many of us will fulfill that vocation?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE EVE OF THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI:  PROPER FOR THE GOODNESS OF CREATION

THE FEAST OF THEODOR FLIEDNER, PIONEER OF THE DEACONESS MOVEMENT IN THE LUTHERAN CHURCH

THE FEAST OF GEORGE KENNEDY ALLEN BELL, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CHICHESTER

THE FEAST OF JOHN RALEIGH MOTT, ECUMENICAL PIONEER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/devotion-for-friday-before-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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