Archive for the ‘Numbers 21’ Category

Divine Judgment Against Moab   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXVIII

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Jeremiah 48:1-47

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Moab, east of the Dead Sea, was one of the traditional and bitter enemies of the Hebrews (Judges 3:12-30; Numbers 22; Deuteronomy 2:8-9; 2 Kings 3:4, et cetera).  The Moabites, allies of the Assyrian Empire, fell to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in the middle of the sixth century B.C.E.

Since I started this project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, I have read oracles against Moab in Amos 2:1-3 and Isaiah 15:1-16:13.

The oracle against Moab in Ezekiel 25:8-11 awaits me, in due time.

The oracle in Jeremiah 48 contains certain references that require explanation:

  1. Place names in Moab abound.
  2. Verse 7 mentions Chemosh, the head of the Moabite pantheon (Numbers 21:29).
  3. Verses 11 and 12 mention Moabite wine, renowned for its quality.  Here the wine functions as a metaphor for complacency.
  4. Verse 18 refers to the capital, Dibon, built on a height.  This verse personifies Dibon as a confident ruler.

Moab, once powerful and confident, became debased.  It became a laughingstock (verse 26) and a horror to its neighbors (verse 39).  It, poetically, swam in vomit (verse 26).  Yet, at the end of the oracle.  God announced the restoration of the fortunes of Moab “in the days to come” (verse 47).  The promised restoration may have had nothing to do with Moabite kinship to the Israelites (Genesis 19:37-38); Jeremiah 46:25-26 predicted a restoration of Egyptian fortunes, too.

Archaeology tells us that Moab, mostly depopulated in the 500s B.C.E., was a place where nomads wandered for centuries.  Archaeology also tells us that sedentary life became feasible in Moab in the last few centuries B.C.E.

The themes of trusting in power and false gods, not in YHWH, are tropes in Hebrew prophetic literature.  These are themes that apply to people and peoples in 2021, too.  The identities of the false gods vary widely–from imagined deities to the Almighty Dollar.  Idolatry is no match for the sovereignty of God, though.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT METHODIUS I OF CONSTANTINOPLE, DEFENDER OF ICONS AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE; AND SAINT JOSEPH THE HYMNOGRAPHER, DEFENDER OF ICONS AND THE “SWEET-VOICED NIGHTINGALE OF THE CHURCH”

THE FEAST OF DAVID LOW DODGE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN BUSINESSMAN AND PACIFIST

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS J. UPLEGGER, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND MISSIONARY; “OLD MAN MISSIONARY”

THE FEAST OF FRANK LAUBACH, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF MARK HOPKINS, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, EDUCATOR, AND PHYSICIAN

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Divine Judgment on Philistia, Phoenicia, Moab, Aram, Ethiopia, and Egypt, with Warnings Against Alliances with Egypt and Ethiopia   3 comments

Above:  Map of the Assyrian Empire

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART XII

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Isaiah 14:28-20:6; 23:1-18; 30:1-26; 31:1-9

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INTRODUCTION

Some of this material may have originated with Isaiah ben Amoz, but other material (if not all of it) came from a later time.  The First Isaiah (Chapters 1-23, 28-33) part of the Book of Isaiah came to exist in its final form of the Babylonian Exile.  The editing of the older material and the addition of old material created a multi-layered collection of texts.

I acknowledge this historical and literary reality without reservation.  I also focus on meanings.  Contexts–especially historical ones–are crucial for establishing a text’s original meaning.  One needs to do this before interpreting a text for today as effectively as possible.  Unfortunately, determining original historical context is not always possible in First Isaiah.  Still, I do the best I can.

If prophetic denunciations of Tyre/Philistia, Moab, and Aram/Damascus (Isaiah 14:28-17:14) seem familiar to you, O reader, you may be thinking of Amos 1:3-5; 1:9-10; and 2:1-3.

PHILISTIA

Isaiah 14:28 establishes a temporal marker:

In the year that King Ahaz died….

As I have written in previous posts in this series of posts about Hebrew prophetic books, establishing a coherent and consistent chronology on the Gregorian Calendar and the B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. scale for the period from King Azariah/Uzziah of Judah and King Hezekiah of Judah is notoriously difficult.  If one consults three study Bibles, one may find three different sets of years for the reign of the same monarch.  Although study Bibles disagree about when King Ahaz began to reign, they agree that he died in or about 715 B.C.E.

Circa 715 B.C.E., Philistine cities, Assyrian vassals, were trying to forge a regional united front against the Assyrian Empire.  That empire had already swallowed up Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel in 720 and 722 .C.E., respectively.  The Kingdom of Judah, under King Hezekiah, did not join this alliance.  Circa 715 B.C.E., the Assyrian Empire was experiencing a period of temporary decline.

Do not rejoice, Philistia, not one of you,

that the rod which struck you is broken;….

–Isaiah 14:29a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The rod was not broken, after all.  The Assyrian Empire had a resurgence of power, and the anti-Assyrian rebellion failed.

Anyway, the snake in Isaiah 29:b is a call back to the seraphim (poisonous snakes) from Numbers 21:1-9 and Deuteronomy 8:15, and alluded to in Isaiah 6:1-13.

Philistia’s hopes of throwing off the Assyrian yoke were in vain.

PHOENICIA (TYRE AND SIDON)

The Phoenicians (who deserve much credit for the alphabet in which I write this post) were seagoing merchants.  In fact, in the Bible, the association between Phoenicians and merchants was so strong that, in some texts, “Phoenicians” may refer to merchants, not ethnic-cultural Phoenicians.  Anyway, many Phoenician merchants were fabulously wealthy.

Isaiah 23:1-18 may be either a prophecy or a text written after the failed Phoenician rebellion against the Assyrian Empire in 701 B.C.E.  The text is, in any case, a mock lament.  The text criticizes Phoenicians for relying on their wealth and being arrogant, not relying on YHWH.  We read the Tyre, supposedly inviolable, fell.  We may legitimately consider this as a warning that Jerusalem, also supposedly inviolable, could fall, too.

It did, in 586. B.C.E.

MOAB

The temporal origin of Isaiah 15:1-16:13 is uncertain.  It may date to a time after Isaiah ben Amoz and refer to mourning after Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian military activity.  A similar text, a dirge for events circa 650 B.C.E., exists in Jeremiah 48.  There are also thematic connections with Numbers 21:27-30.

Moab, to the east of the Dead Sea, was where Jordan is today.  Moab was a traditional enemy of the Jewish people.  The (united) Kingdom of Israel controlled Moab.  The (northern) Kingdom of Israel fought off Moabite resistance to its control until the reign (851-842 B.C.E.) of King Joram (Jehoram) of Israel.  Then Moab regained its independence.  Circa 735 B.C.E., Moab became a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire.  In the middle of the seventh century B.C.E., Moab, as an autonomous state, ceased to exist.  Moab traded Assyrian domination for Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian domination in 609 B.C.E.  The last Moabite king’s reign ended circa 600 B.C.E. (Jeremiah 27:3).

Isaiah 16 encourages the Kings of Judah, part-Moabite (Ruth 1-4), to welcome Moabite refugees.

Isaiah 16 also includes some references that careful, attentive readers of the early prophets (Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah) should find familiar.  Verse 7 refers to raisin cakes offered to false gods (Hosea 3:1).  The royal government of Judah had a divine mandate to act justly, consistent with the Law of Moses (verses 1-5).  We read another condemnation of collective and official “haughtiness, pride, and arrogance” before God (verse 6).  And the remnant of Moab will be “very small and weak,” we read in verse 14.  The Moabite remnant contrasts with the Judean remnant.

E. D. Grohman wrote:

Archaeological exploration has shown that Moab was largely depopulated from ca. the beginning of the sixth century, and in many sites from ca. the eighth century.  From the sixth century on, nomads wandered through the land until political and economic facts made sedentary life possible again in the last centuries B.C.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:  An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, K-Q (1962), 418

ARAM/DAMASCUS

Aram (where Syria is today) was the main rival to the Assyrian Empire during the prophetic careers of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, and during the beginning of the prophetic career of First Isaiah.  After the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.), both the Kingdom of Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel lost territory to the Assyrian Empire and became vassal states of that empire.  The Assyrian Empire conquered Israel in 722 B.C.E. and Aram in 720 B.C.E.

Truly, you have forgotten the God who saves you,

the Rock, your refuge, you have not remembered.

–Isaiah 17:10a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

I will return to that theme before the end of this post.

ETHIOPIA AND EGYPT–REALLY CUSH/NUBIA

Modern place names do not always correspond to ancient place names.  The references to Ethiopia in Isaiah 18:1-7 and 20:1-6 are to Cush (where the Sudan is today).  On maps of the Roman Empire, the label is Nubia.

A Cushite/Nubian dynasty (the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty of Egypt) controlled Egypt at the time, so references to “Ethiopia” included Egypt.  That dynasty had invited the Kingdom of Judah to join its coalition against the Assyrian Empire circa 715 B.C.E.  Egypt/Cush/Nubia had replaced Aram as the main rival to the Assyrian Empire.  Judah, under King Hezekiah, did join this alliance, much to divine disapproval (Isaiah 30:1-5; 31:1-9).  Judean participation in this alliance was apparently an example of rebellion against God (Isaiah 28:14-22; 29:15-26; 30:6-7).  God was prepared to act against the Assyrian Empire, but not yet (Isaiah 18:1-7).

Isaiah 19 refers to the Cushite/Nubian conquest of Egypt and asserts divine sovereignty over Egypt:

The idols of Egypt tremble before him,

the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them.

Verse 1b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The theological-geopolitical agenda in the Egyptian/Cushite/Nubian material was to rely only on God, not on powerful neighbors that did not have Judah’s best interests at heart.  Trusting in God was the only way to maintain independence.  Empires rose and fell, but God would never fall.  And God was waiting to be gracious to Judah (Isaiah 30:18f).

For this said the Lord GOD,

the Holy One of Israel:

By waiting and by calm you shall be saved,

in quiet and trust shall be your strength.

But this you did not will.

–Isaiah 30:15, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

CONCLUSION

These passages reflect a particular geopolitical and historical set of circumstances.  As with the Law of Moses, one ought to be careful not to mistake examples bound by circumstances for timeless principles do exist.

If one expects me to extrapolate these readings into a condemnation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.) or the United Nations (U.N.), for example, I will disappoint such a person.  I live in the United States of America, not equivalent to any ancient kingdom, empire, or city-state.  I do not accept American Exceptionalism either, so I may disappoint another group of readers.  The same rules and moral standards that apply to other nation-states in 2021 also apply to the United States of America.

One timeless principle germane in this post is the imperative of trusting in God more than in people.  This applies both collectively and individually.  God is forever; people have relatively short lifespans.  Nation-states come and go.  Administrations come and go, also.  Even the most capable and benevolent leaders are imperfect.  They can still function as instruments of God, of course.  May they do so.  And may they know that they are “like grass.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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

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The Commissioning of Isaiah ben Amoz   Leave a comment

Above:  Isaiah’s Vision

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART VI

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Isaiah 6:1-13

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King Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah died no later than 742 B.C.E. and no earlier than 733 B.C.E., depending on which scholar’s chronology one accepts.

The scene in this familiar portion of scripture is the Temple in Jerusalem.  Certain details are notable; some are important.  “Feet” is a euphemism for genitals in 6:2.  That is interesting, but is it important?  At the time of Isaiah ben Amoz, seraphim were not yet a class of angels in Hebrew angelology.  No, they were serpentine creatures.  A bronze image of a serpent–perhaps the one Moses had made–stood in Jerusalem.  It did so until King Hezekiah ordered its destruction (2 Kings 18:4).  “Seraphim” is the plural form of “seraph” (“to burn”).  This term calls back to the “fiery” serpents who bit Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 21:1-9; Deuteronomy 8:15).  “Seraphim” means “the burning ones.”  That detail matters.

Above:  The Brazen Serpent, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

(Numbers 21:1-9; Deuteronomy 8:15)

The terrified reaction of Isaiah ben Amoz makes sense in this context.  The Hebrew word for “doomed” (Isaiah 6:5) can also mean “struck silent.”  Notice the emphasis on Isaiah’s lips (6:7) and ponder “struck silent,” O reader.  On the other hand, there was a popular belief that seeing God would lead to one’s death (Genesis 32:31; Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:22).

Isaiah 6:1-13 bears evidence of editing after the fact.  Verse 13 seems to come out of nowhere, for example.  Acknowledging this is being intellectually honest.  I favor intellectual honesty.  Yet another aspect of this chapter interests me more.

And [God] replied:  Go and say to this people:

Listen carefully, but do not understand!

Look intently, but do not perceive!

Make the heart of this people sluggish,

dull their ears and close their eyes;

Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,

and their heart understand,

and they turn and be healed.

–Isaiah 6:9-10, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

More than one interpretation of the mission of Isaiah ben Amoz exists.

  1. One interpretation holds that his mission was not to call the people to repentance, and therefore, to stave off divine judgment.  No, the prophet’s mission was to inform the people of their fate.  Yet God will preserve a remnant, we read.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.
  2. An alternative interpretation holds that God predicted that people would not respond favorably to Isaiah’s message.  Sometimes the wording in certain passages of scripture may describe the result as the intention.

So far in this long blogging project through the Hebrew prophetic books, I have gone through the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, each with layers of writing and editing.  So far, I have read God call upon recalcitrant people to repent and go into “no more mercy” mode.

The hard reading of Isaiah 6:9-10 may be the accurate one.  As the heading of a germane note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014) reads:

Repentance is no longer an option.

–779

Isaiah 6:13, added later, softens the blow.

The purification of the lips of Isaiah ben Amoz (6:5-7) is symmetrical to the purification of the people.  And there is hope for renewal, even in a burned stump.

Yet a lack of symmetry exists, too.  Isaiah ben Amoz knew he was unworthy before God.  Isaiah did walk humbly/modestly/completely with God (Micah 6:8).  The people, however, were either oblivious or indifferent to God.  They had trampled the covenant, grounded in the Law of Moses.  Their prosperity (not shared with the poor) was about to fade, and the kingdom was about to go into decline.

One of the recurring themes in the early prophets is, in a few words:

You have made your bed.  Lie down in it.

That is an uncomfortable message to ponder.  It is a message the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) shies away from by assigning only verses 1-8 on Trinity Sunday, Year B.  It is a message the RCL provides the option for omitting by making verses 9-13 optional on the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.

Yet consider a motif from the Book of Amos, O reader:

Thus says the LORD:

For three crimes of ____, and now four–

I will not take it back–

Because they….

–Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Divine patience is not infinite.  Neither is divine judgment.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  I do not pretend to know where judgment gives way to mercy, and mercy to judgment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOAN OF ARC, ROMAN CATHOLIC VISIONARY AND MARTYR, 1430

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, APOSTLE TO THE PYGMIES

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, ENGLISH FEMINIST AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LUKE KIRBY, THOMAS COTTAM, WILLIAM FILBY, AND LAURENCE RICHARDSON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1582

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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 Accession of King Hezekiah of Judah, with His Reforms   1 comment

Above:  King Hezekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART C

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2 Kings 18:1-12

2 Chronicles 29:1-31:21

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Therefore if you delight in thrones and scepters, O monarchs over the peoples,

honor wisdom, that you may reign for ever.

–Wisdom of Solomon 6:21, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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King Ahaz of Judah (Reigned 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.)

King Hezekiah of Judah (Reigned 729/715-698/687 B.C.E.)

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The account in 2 Kings 18:1-12 is short and to the point.  It provides a few examples of reforms, including the destruction of the bronze serpent in Moses.  (That bronze serpent was prominent in Numbers 21:8-9).  Three chapters in 2 Chronicles 29-31 provide many details and reflect the Chronicler’s theological and liturgical concerns.

King Hezekiah was a capable monarch, a pious man, and a breath of fresh air.  He was also an exception to the rule.  He stood in immediate, stark contrast to his father (King Ahaz) and son (King Manasseh).  And, after King Hezekiah, there followed only one more great monarch of Judah–Josiah.

King Hezekiah, according to 2 Kings 18:6,

clung to the LORD.

May people, speaking of us in hindsight, accurately make the same comment about us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 6, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN GREGOR, FATHER OF MORAVIAN CHURCH MUSIC

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI GABRIELI AND HANS LEO HASSLER, COMPOSERS AND ORGANISTS; AND CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI AND HEINRICH SCHÜTZ, COMPOSERS AND MUSICIANS

THE FEAST OF HALFORD E. LUCCOCK, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAGDELEINE OF JESUS, FOUNDRESS OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF JESUS

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Judgment and Mercy, Part XIV   1 comment

Above:  Caduceus

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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Numbers 21:4-9 or Malachi 3:19-24/4:1-6

Psalm 74:1-2, 10-17

Hebrews 13:1-16, 20-21

Mark 12:35-44

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The promise of divine punishment for evil and of divine deliverance of the oppressed and righteous on the great Day of the LORD is one example of judgment and mercy being like sides of a coin.  The deliverance of the oppressed is very bad news for the oppressors, who are, in a way, victims of themselves.

If we behave as we should–revere God, take care of each other, et cetera–we will not have to fear punishment from God for not doing so.  We may incur punishment from human authorities, as in Tobit 1, but God did not promise a peaceful life in exchange for righteousness.

Two stories require more attention.

The cure in Numbers, cited also in John 3:14-15, in the context of the crucifixion of Jesus, our Lord and Savior’s glorification, according to the Fourth Gospel, is a textbook case of sympathetic magic.  It is related to Egyptian imagery of kingship, divinity, and protection from cobra saliva.  A commonplace visual echo is the caduceus, the medical symbol.

Pay attention to what precedes and follows Mark 12:41-44.  Our Lord and Savior’s condemnation of those who, among other things,

eat up the property of widows,

precedes the account of the widow giving all she had to the Temple.  Immediately in Chapter 13, we read a prediction of the destruction of the Temple.  I conclude that Jesus found the widow’s faith laudable yet grieved her choice.

May our lives bring glory to God and lead others to faith and discipleship.  May we, in our zeal, not go off the deep end and embarrass God and/or accidentally drive people away from God or get in the way of evangelism.  And may we never mistake an internal monologue for a dialogue with God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 27, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BROOKE FOSS WESTCOTT, ANGLICAN SCHOLAR, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF DURHAM; AND FENTON JOHN ANTHONY HORT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN HENRY BATEMAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHAN NORDAHL BRUN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, AUTHOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND RENEWER OF THE CHURCH; AND HIS GRANDSON, WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, U.S. ARCHITECT AND QUAKER PEACE ACTIVIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/27/devotion-for-proper-28-year-b-humes/

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The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Part II   1 comment

Above:  The Crucifixion and the Way of the Holy Cross, June 9, 1887

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-00312

FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY CROSS (SEPTEMBER 14)

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Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross

that he might draw the whole world to himself:

Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption,

may take up our cross and follow him;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 581

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Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross

that he might draw the whole world to himself.

To those who look upon the cross, grant your wisdom, healing, and eternal life,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 57

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Numbers 21:4b-9

Psalm 98:1-5 or 78:1-2, 34-38

1 Corinthians 1:18-24

John 3:13-17

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The Feast of the Holy Cross commemorates two events–The discovery of the supposed true cross by St. Helena on September 14, 320, and the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, on that day in 335, on the anniversary of the dedication of the First Temple in Jerusalem.  In the Eastern Orthodox Church the corresponding commemoration is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The Feast of the Holy Cross has had an interesting history.  It existed in Constantinople in the 600s and in Rome in the 800s.  The feast did not transfer into Anglicanism initially.  It did become a lesser feast–a black-letter day–in The Book of Common Prayer in 1561.  In The Church of England The Alternative Service Book (1980) kept Holy Cross Day as a black-letter day, but Common Worship (2000) promoted the commemoration to a major feast–a red-letter day.  The Episcopal Church dropped Holy Cross Day in 1789 but added it–as a red-letter day–during Prayer Book revision in the 1970s.  The feast remained outside the mainstream of U.S. and Canadian Lutheranism until the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and its variant, Lutheran Worship (1982).

Without getting lost in the narrative weeds (especially in Numbers 21), one needs to know that God chastises Jews and Christians for their sins yet does not destroy them, except when He allegedly sends poisonous snakes to attack them.  Then God provides a healing mechanism.  We should look up toward God, not grumble in a lack of gratitude.  In the Gospel of John the exaltation of Jesus is his crucifixion.  That is counter-intuitive; it might even be shocking.    If so, recall 1 Corinthians 1:23–Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.  God frequently works in ways we do not understand.

As for God sending poisonous snakes to bite grumbling Israelites, that does not fit into my concept of God.  My God-concept encompasses both judgment and mercy, but not that kind of behavior.

The choice of the cross as the symbol of Christianity is wonderfully ironic.  The cross, an instrument of judicial murder and the creation of fear meant to inspire cowering submission to Roman authority, has become a symbol of divine love, sacrifice, and victory.  A symbol means what people agree it means; that is what makes it a symbol.  Long after the demise of the Roman Empire, the cross remains a transformed symbol.

The Episcopal collect for Holy Cross Day invites us to take up a cross and follow Jesus.  In Cotton Patch Gospel (1982), the play based on Clarence Jordan‘s The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John, Jesus, says that a person not willing to accept his or her lynching is unworthy of Him.

That is indeed a high standard.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 27, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS GALLAUDET AND HENRY WINTER SYLE, EPISCOPAL PRIESTS AND EDUCATORS OF THE DEAF

THE FEAST OF SAINT AMADEUS OF CLERMONT, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK; AND HIS SON, SAINT AMADEUS OF LAUSANNE, FRENCH-SWISS ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC BARBERI, ROMAN CATHOLIC APOSTLE TO ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF HENRIETTE LUISE VAN HAYN, GERMAN MORAVIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/08/27/devotion-for-the-feast-of-the-holy-cross-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Part I   1 comment

Above:  The Crucifixion and the Way of the Holy Cross, June 9, 1887

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-00312

FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY CROSS (SEPTEMBER 14)

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The Feast of the Holy Cross commemorates two events–The discovery of the supposed true cross by St. Helena on September 14, 320, and the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, on that day in 335, on the anniversary of the dedication of the First Temple in Jerusalem.  In the Eastern Orthodox Church the corresponding commemoration is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The Feast of the Holy Cross has had an interesting history.  It existed in Constantinople in the 600s and in Rome in the 800s.  The feast did not transfer into Anglicanism initially.  It did become a lesser feast–a black-letter day–in The Book of Common Prayer in 1561.  In The Church of England The Alternative Service Book (1980) kept Holy Cross Day as a black-letter day, but Common Worship (2000) promoted the commemoration to a major feast–a red-letter day.  The Episcopal Church dropped Holy Cross Day in 1789 but added it–as a red-letter day–during Prayer Book revision in the 1970s.  The feast remained outside the mainstream of U.S. and Canadian Lutheranism until the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and its variant, Lutheran Worship (1982).

Without getting lost in the narrative weeds (especially in Numbers 21), one needs to know that God chastises Jews and Christians for their sins yet does not destroy them, except when He allegedly sends poisonous snakes to attack them.  Then God provides a healing mechanism.  We should look up toward God, not grumble in a lack of gratitude.  Isaiah 45:21-25, set toward the end of the Babylonian Exile, argues that God is the master of history, and that the vindication of the former Kingdom of Judah will benefit Gentiles also, for Gentiles will receive invitations to worship the one true God.  Many will accept, we read.  In the Gospel of John the exaltation of Jesus is his crucifixion.  That is counter-intuitive; it might even be shocking.    If so, recall 1 Corinthians 1:23–Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.  God frequently works in ways we do not understand.  John 12 mentions some God-fearers, Gentiles who worshiped YHWH.  This reference picks up from Isaiah 45:21-25.  It also fits well with the Pauline mission to Gentiles and emphasis on Christ crucified.

As for God sending poisonous snakes to bite grumbling Israelites, that does not fit into my concept of God.  My God-concept encompasses both judgment and mercy, but not that kind of behavior.

The choice of the cross as the symbol of Christianity is wonderfully ironic.  The cross, an instrument of judicial murder and the creation of fear meant to inspire cowering submission to Roman authority, has become a symbol of divine love, sacrifice, and victory.  A symbol means what people agree it means; that is what makes it a symbol.  Long after the demise of the Roman Empire, the cross remains a transformed symbol.

The Episcopal collect for Holy Cross Day invites us to take up a cross and follow Jesus.  In Cotton Patch Gospel (1982), the play based on Clarence Jordan‘s The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John, Jesus, says that a person not willing to accept his or her lynching is unworthy of Him.

That is indeed a high standard.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA, DISCIPLE OF JESUS

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Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross

that he might draw the whole world to himself:

Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption,

may take up our cross and follow him;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Isaiah 45:21-25

Psalm 98 or 8:1-4

Philippians 2:5-11 or Galatians 6:14-18

John 12:31-36a

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 581

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Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross

that he might draw the whole world to himself.

To those who look upon the cross, grant your wisdom, healing, and eternal life,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Numbers 21:4b-9

Psalm 98:1-4 or 78:1-2, 34-38

1 Corinthians 1:18-24

John 3:13-17

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 57

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Numbers 21:4-9

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 12:20-33

Lutheran Service Book (2006), xxiii

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Adapted from this post:

https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/devotion-for-the-feast-of-the-holy-cross-september-14/

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This is post #1900 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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Grace and Obligations   1 comment

mosesandsnake

Above:  Stained-Glass Window:  Moses and the Snake, St. Mark’s Church, Gillingham, Kent, England

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, our leader and guide, in the waters of baptism

you bring us to new birth to live as your children.

Strengthen our faith in your promises, that by your

Spirit we may lift your life to all the world through

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 21:4-9 (11th Day)

Isaiah 65:17-25 (12th Day)

Psalm 128 (Both Days)

Hebrews 3:1-6 (11th Day)

Romans 4:6-13 (12th Day)

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Some Related Posts:

Numbers 21:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/thirtieth-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-b/

Isaiah 65:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/devotion-for-january-5-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twenty-third-day-of-lent/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/proper-28-year-c/

Hebrews 3:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/18/week-of-1-epiphany-thursday-year-1/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/devotion-for-the-thirty-sixth-day-of-lent-tuesday-in-holy-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Romans 4:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/devotion-for-january-13-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/week-of-proper-23-friday-year-1/

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Happy are they all who fear the LORD,

and who follow in the ways of the LORD!

–Psalm 128:1, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The story in Numbers 21:4-9 is a good place to start this post.  It sent me scurrying to commentaries.  The notes in The Jewish Study Bible (2004) tell me of the Rabbinic discomfort with the sympathetic magic in the account.  Professor Richard Elliott Friedman, in his Commentary on the Torah (2011), makes the connection between the bronze serpent and the incident concerning the snake in the court of the Pharaoh (Exodus 7:8-10).  Friedman also refers to 2 Kings 18:4, in which King Hezekiah orders the destruction of the bronze serpent, to which some people had been burning incense.  Volume 2 (1953) of The Interpreter’s Bible says that the bronze serpent was an example of spiritual homeopathy or at least an example thereof, one which

rests on a sound basis in human experience

whereby

wounds heal wounds.

–page 243

The best, most helpful analysis, however, comes from Walther Eichrodt, as translated by J. A. Baker:

The terrifying power of God, who will turn his weapons of leprosy, serpent and plague (cf. Ex. 4.1-7, Num. 21:6ff; 11:33) even against his own people leaves men in no doubt that the covenant he has created is no safe bulwark, behind which they can make cunning use of the divine power to prosecute their own interests.  The covenant lays claim to the whole man and calls him to a surrender with no reservations.

Theology of the New Testament, Volume One (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, 1961), pages 44-45

Thus this post continues a line of thought present in its immediate predecessor in order of composition.  God calls the blessed people to function as blessings to others.  The faithful, redeemed people of God have a mandate to cooperate with God in reforming society for the common good and divine glory.  In the Bible righteousness and justice are the same thing.  Hence we read prophets’ condemnations of economic exploitation and judicial corruption as opposites of righteousness.  To live in the household of God is to have both privileges and duties.

One task for those with a slave mentality is to abandon it and to embrace freedom in God.  I know that eating the same thing repeatedly gets old rapidly, but at least the Israelites were not starving.  God does provide; gratitude is in order, even if manna is crystallized insect feces.  Often our mentalities stand between us and God, whose manna does come with the condition of servitude to the source.  What we receive from God might not be what we want or expect, but it is what we need.  May we accept it gratefully and accept the obligation to serve God and leave our world better than we found it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/devotion-for-the-eleventh-and-twelfth-days-of-lent-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Numbers and Luke, Part IX: Fairness and Grace   1 comment

conquest-of-the-amorites-james-tissot

Above:  The Conquest of the Amorites, by James Tissot

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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 everlasting 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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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 21:10-35

Psalm 93 (Morning)

Psalms 136 and 117 (Evening)

Luke 21:20-38

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Some Related Posts:

Luke 21:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/first-day-of-advent-first-sunday-of-advent-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/week-of-proper-29-thursday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/week-of-proper-29-friday-year-1-and-week-of-proper-29-saturday-year-1/

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NOTE:

The sequence to which this post belongs continues at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS, beginning with the following URL:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-in-pentecost-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/.

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Israelite victories and conquests prior to the arrival in Canaan fill Numbers 21:10-35.  The narrative tells us that so long as they obeyed God, they won.  I wish that life were always as simple as obedience to God leading to success and prosperity.  Yet, as we read in Luke 21:12-19, sometimes it leads to persecution and betrayal.  Indeed, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot opens the next chapter.

I have no easy answers as to why bad things happen to good people.  Observation and the study of history have taught me some lessons.  Jealousies arise.  We see those who are better than ourselves and we seek to tear them down rather than to improve ourselves.  Or we misunderstand others, and we learn to hate those we do not understand.  Sometimes people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Yet some people seem to have all the luck while others seem to have none.  The fact that I know all this does mean than I understand it very well.

I do know that the world is an unfair place.  I have railed against this to God.  The world is still horribly unfair, however.  But perhaps fairness is not the proper standard.  Grace is not fair either, but I try not to complain about that reality.  No, the standard I really seek is grace–to everybody.  And, when I perceive the absence of it, I become disturbed.  And I rail about it to God.  But to what extent are we–you, O reader, and I–supposed to function as agents of that grace more than we do?

Now that is a hard lesson.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 23, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICETAS OF REMESIANA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF WIREMU TAMIHANA, MAORI PROPHET AND KINGMAKER

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/devotion-for-the-fiftieth-day-of-easter-day-of-pentecost-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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