Archive for the ‘Numbers 22’ Category

To the Church in Pergamum   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of the Acropolis, Pergamum, Between 1888 and 1910

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-03770

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READING REVELATION, PART IV

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Revelation 2:12-17

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Pergamum, a prominent city, was the seat of the local Roman imperial Provincial Council.  Zeal for enforcing emperor-worship was great.  In the worldview of Revelation, Pergamum was on the short list of places where Satan was enthroned.

Nevertheless, the church there persisted in faith, even after the martyrdom of one of their own, Antipas.

The story of Balaam fills Numbers 22-24.  In that account, Balak, the King of Moab, afraid of the Israelites, hired the soothsayer Balaam to curse and weaken the Israelites.  Numbers 22-24 reveal that God prevented Balaam from doing that.  The Jewish tradition upon which Revelation 2:12-17 relied expanded on that story, making Balaam the prototype of evil people who taught Jews to commit idolatry and to eat food sacrificed to idols (Numbers 25:1-3).

The Nicolaitans favored accommodation to the dominant culture, the one John of Patmos considered evil.

The text of Revelation 2:12-17 is vague about the sins of some of the Christians there.  Some guesses are reasonable, though.  One may surmise that some Christians were eating food sacrificed to idols, for example.  One may recall 1 Corinthians 8:7-13 regarding that matter.

Revelation 2:12-17 concludes with a divine promise to the faithful–a blessed afterlife with spiritual manna.  This conclusion is similar to a passage from Second Baruch, from the Pseudepigrapha:

And it will happen at that time that the treasury of manna will come down again from on high, and they will eat of it in those years because these are they who will arrived at the consummation of time.

–2 Baruch 29:8, translated by A. F. J. Klijn

The white stone was blessed because it was white.  (White symbolized holiness in Revelation.  Jesus had white hair.  The martyrs wore white robes.  Et cetera.)  The stone bore a new name, perhaps that of Jesus.  The faithful, having remained faithful to Christ, received a positive afterlife.

Not conforming to the dominant culture can be difficult when one belongs to a powerless minority.  When that dominant culture oppresses one’s religion, conforming is an easy way out of persecution.  Human beings are inherently social creatures.  Conformity, therefore, is a powerful pressure.  When nonconformity is righteous, conformity is sinful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DENIS, BISHOP OF PARIS; AND HIS COMPANIONS; ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, CIRCA 250

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN LEONARDI, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF THE MOTHER OF GOD OF LUCCA; AND SAINT JOSEPH CALASANCTIUS, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

THE FEAST OF PENNY LERNOUX, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC JOURNALIST AND MORAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GROSSETESTE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOLAR, PHILOSOPHER, AND BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF WILFRED THOMASON GRENFELL, MEDICAL MISSIONARY TO NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

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False Teachers, Part III   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART XII

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Jude

2 Peter 2:1-22

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The second chapter of Second Peter expands on the Epistle of Jude.  Almost all of the points in Jude exist in 2 Peter 2.

One may recognize the thematic relationship of 2 Peter 1 to Jude and 2 Peter 2.  False teachers, evil desires, and spiritually undisciplined lives provide the connective tissue.

We also read another repetition of the Biblical motif that divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  In other words, we will reap what we have sown.  Grace is free, not cheap; it mandates a faithful response.  Yes, God imposes mandates.  Freedom is a gift to use properly, not to abuse and misuse.

References to the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha abound in Jude and 2 Peter 2.  I choose to explain the references:

  1. Jude 5 refers to Numbers 14 and 26:64-65.  Apostasy is possible, and carries with it the loss of salvation.
  2. Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 refer to Genesis 6:1-4.  An elaborate version of the story of the “watchers” exists in 1 Enoch 6-19 (especially chapter 10).
  3. Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 refer to Genesis 19:1-25, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The “unnatural vice” is rape, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and of a person or an angel.  Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 present the scenario opposite of Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4, in which angels lusted after human women.
  4. The combination of the preceding two points indicates the grave consequences of violating God’s intended order for creation.
  5. Jude 9, drawing on Exodus 2:11-12, indicates familiarity with the Assumption/Testament of Moses, a text from the first century C.E.  Between one-third and one-half of that text is missing.  The lost portion includes the section depicting St. Michael the Archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses and quoting Zechariah 3:2:  “May the Lord rebuke you!”  Even angels do not rebuke Satan in Zechariah 3:2, Jude 9, and the Assumption/Testament of Moses.  The lesson in Jude 9 is that, if we mere mortals revile angels, we sin.
  6. Jude 11 refers to Cain (Genesis 4:8-16), Balaam (Numbers 16:1-25), and Korah (Numbers 31:16).  2 Peter 2:15-16 refers to Balaam and his talking donkey (Numbers 22:28-33).  Rebellion against God leads to punishment and reproof.
  7. 2 Peter 2:5 refers to Genesis 6:17.
  8. Jude 14-15 refers to 1 Enoch 1:9.

These false teachers did more than teach falsehoods; they behaved scandalously at agape meals (Jude 12, 2 Peter 2:13-14).  These false teachers doomed themselves and disrupted faith community.

I approach Jude and 2 Peter 2 from a particular background.  I grew up feeling like the resident heretic.  My heresies were asking “too many” questions, being an intellectual, accepting science and history, harboring Roman Catholic tendencies, and not being a Biblical literalist.  Some in my family regard me as a Hell-bound heretic.  I embrace the label “heretic.”  I even own a t-shirt that reads,

HERETIC.

I approach the label “false teacher” cautiously.  One ought to make accusations with great caution, and based on evidence.  False teachers abound.  I am not shy about naming them and their heresies.  These include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, Prosperity Theology, and the excesses of Evangelicalism.  The list is long.  The standards of orthodoxy and orthopraxy are as simple and difficult as the Incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus; the Atonement; and the Golden Rule.  Proper love–in mutuality–builds up.  It does not tear people down.  Proper orthodoxy maintains divine standards and is generous, not stingy.  It is loving, not hateful.  And it leads to humility before God and human beings.

I affirm that I am doctrinally correct about some matters and wrong regarding others.  I also affirm that I do not know when I am wrong and when I am right.  The life of Christian discipleship is about trust in God, not about certainty.  The quest for certainty, when faith–trust–in God is called for is an idolatrous and psychologically comforting effort.  Proper Christian confidence–grounded in Christ alone–says:

I may be wrong, but I act as if I am right.  I can neither prove nor disprove this article of faith, but I act as if I am right.

May you, O reader, and I trust in the faithfulness of God.  May we walk humbly with God and live with our fellow human beings in loving, respectful mutuality.  We can do all of the above only via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HONORIUS, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF JOANNA P. MOORE, U.S. BAPTIST MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY RAMABAI, PROPHETIC WITNESS AND EVANGELIST IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD CHALLONER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOLAR, RELIGIOUS WRITER, TRANSLATOR, CONTROVERSIALIST, PRIEST, AND TITULAR BISHOP OF DOBERUS

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The End of Days   Leave a comment

Above:  Ahriman (from Zoroastrianism)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 24:1-27:13

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Babylon is not mentioned even once.  Rather, the eschatological focus of these chapters has raised their sights to the ultimate purpose of God in portraying the cosmological judgment of the world and its final glorious restoration.  Moreover, the redemption of Israel is depicted as emerging from the ashes of the polluted and decaying world.  Not just a remnant is redeemed , but the chapter recounts the salvation of all peoples who share in the celebration of God’s new order when death is banished forever (25:8).

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 173

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INTRODUCTION

Isaiah 24-27 constitutes the Isaiah Apocalypse.  They also constitute an early and not full-blown example of Biblical apocalyptic literature.  Some books I read inform me that the Jewish apocalyptic form emerged in the wake of the fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire–in the late sixth century (early 500s) B.C.E., to be precise.  These books also teach that full-blown Jewish apocalypses emerged only in the second century (100s) B.C.E., as in the case of Daniel 7-12.

Isaiah 24, in vivid language, depicts the divine destruction of the natural order and the social order.  I recommend the translation by Robert Alter, in particular.  Regardless of the translation, we read that people have violated the moral mandates embedded in the Law of Moses:

And the earth is tainted beneath its dwellers,

for they transgressed teachings, flouted law, broke the eternal covenant.

Therefore has a curse consumed the earth,

and all its dwellers are mired in guilt.

Therefore earth’s dwellers turn pale,

and all but a few humans remain.

–Isaiah 24:5-6, in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019)

The timeframe is sometime in the future, relative to both Third Isaiah and 2021.  in this vision, high socio-economic status provides no protection against God’s creative destruction.

Within the Book of Isaiah, in its final form, chapters 24-27 follow oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23) and precede more oracles against nations (chapters 28-33).  This relative placement is purposeful.

SWALLOWING UP DEATH FOREVER

Returning to the Isaiah Apocalypse, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God entails the defeat of the enemies of God’s people, the celebration of an eschatological banquet, and the swallowing up of death forever (See 1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 7:7-17).  The divine swallowing up of death echoes the swallowing up of Mot (the Canaanite god of death) in mythology.

Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 refer to divine victory over death.  Given the temporal origin of the Isaiah Apocalypse, is this a metaphor for the divine vindication of the downtrodden, likened to the dead?  Such language, in Book of Daniel (100s B.C.E.) and the Revelation of John (late 100s C.E.), refers to the afterlife.  The operative question regarding Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19, however, is if the author knew about and affirmed the resurrection of the dead.  We know that Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the dry bones) is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile.  But what about Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19?  Even the Jewish commentaries I consult do not arrive at a conclusion.

I understand why.  The Isaiah Apocalypses comes from a time when Jewish theology was changing, under the influence of Zoroastrianism.  Satan was moving away from being God’s employee–loyalty tester (Job 1-2) and otherwise faithful angel (Numbers 22:22-40)–and becoming a free agent and the chief rebel.   The theology of Ahriman, the main figure of evil in Zoroastrianism, was influencing this change in Jewish theology.  Jewish ideas of the afterlife were also changing under Zoroastrian influence.  Sheol was passing away.  Reward and punishment in the afterlife were becoming part of Jewish theology.  By the second century (100s) B.C.E., belief in individual resurrection of the dead was unambiguous (Daniel 12:2-3, 12).

I do not know what Third Isaiah believed regarding the resurrection of the dead.  I suppose that he could have affirmed that doctrine.  The historical context and the symbolic language of the apocalypse combine to confuse the matter.  So be it; I, as an Episcopalian, am comfortable with a degree of ambiguity.

DIVINE JUDGMENT ON ENEMIES OF THE COVENANT PEOPLE

Isaiah 25:9-12 singles out Moab, in contrast to the usual practice of not naming enemies in chapters 24-27.  One may recall material condemning Moab in Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 15:1-16:13; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Ezekiel 25:8-11.

In the divine order, the formerly oppressed rejoice in their victory over those who had oppressed them.  Oppression has no place in the divine order.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 24-27.  Divine deliverance of the oppressors is frequently catastrophic for the oppressors.  And the contrast between the fates of the enemies of God (27:11) and the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem (27:13) is stark.  As Brevard S. Childs offers:

In sum, the modern theology of religious universalism, characterized by unlimited inclusivity, is far removed from the biblical proclamation of God’s salvation (cf. Seitz, 192),

Isaiah (2001), 186

GOD’S VINEYARD

Neither do apostasy and idolatry have any place in the divine order.  And all the Jewish exiles will return to their ancestral homeland.  Also, the message of God will fill the earth:

In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall bud and flower,

and the face of the world shall fill with bounty.

–Isaiah 27:6, Robert Alter (2019)

The face of the world will be God’s productive vineyard, figuratively.  The people and kingdom of God, figuratively, are a vineyard in the Old and New Testament.  (See Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19).

CONCLUSION

Despite ambiguities in the texts, I am unambiguous on two germane points:

  1. Apocalyptic literature offers good news:  God will win in the end.  Therefore, faithful people should remain faithful.
  2. Apocalyptic literature calls the powers and leaders to account.  It tells them that they fall short of divine standards when they oppress populations and maintain social injustice.  It damns structures and institutions of social inequality.  It condemns societies that accept the unjust status quo.

Regardless of–or because of–certain ambiguities in the Isaiah Apocalypse, chapters 24-27 speak to the world in 2021.  Some vagueness in prophecy prevents it from becoming dated and disproven, after all.  And structural inequality remains rife and politically defended, unfortunately.

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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The Sixth Vision of First Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Zechariah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART X

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Zechariah 5:1-4

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The contents of Zechariah 1:7-6:15 date to early February 519 B.C.E. (1:7).

The sixth vision (5:1-4) was of a flying scroll about 30 feet long and about 15 feet wide.  The scroll was about the size of the portico of the Great Hall of the First Temple (1 Kings 6:3).  The purpose of the curse on this remarkable scroll was to remove all crime–namely, theft and perjury–from the land.  There was no room such transgressions in the ideal society to come–in either Judah or the world, depending on the translation of 5:3.

Zechariah 5:1-4 get us, O reader, into the realm of curses.  I, as a modern person grounded in science, give them barely a thought, except to dismiss them as superstitions.  I do not think, therefore, as the authors of Zechariah 5:1-4; Judges 17:2; Numbers 5; and Deuteronomy 29:19 did.  The importance of a curse, Biblically, relates to that of an oath.  (See Leviticus 5:20-24; Proverbs 29:24; Exodus 22:9-11/22:8-10; Judges 11:29-40; Matthew 5:33-37; et cetera.)  The importance of curses also relates to that of blessings, as in Numbers 27:1-45; Numbers 22-24; et cetera.

The emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the community of Zechariah 5:1-4 is a timeless principle, though.  May more people act according to mutuality, one of the pillars of the Law of Moses.

The importance of blessings, curses, and oaths in the Bible points to another timeless principle:  words matter.  Notice the mention of perjury in Zechariah 5:1-4, O reader.  One may recall Daniel 13, the story of Susanna, in which perjury almost cost an innocent woman her life.  The penalty for perjury in the Law of Moses is:

If the witness is a false witness, and has falsely accused the other, you shall do to the false witness just as that false witness planned to do to the other.  Thus you shall purge evil from your midst.

–Deuteronomy 19:18b-19, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

For more commentary about the importance and power of words, read James 3:1-12.  That which the author of that epistle wrote goes double or triple in the age of social media.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN DE JACOBIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP IN ETHIOPIA; AND SAINT MICHAEL GHEBRE, ETHIOPIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAMILLUS DE LELLIS, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND FOUNDER OF THE MINISTERS OF THE SICK

THE FEAST OF LEON MCKINLEY ADKINS, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MATTHEW BRIDGES, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAMSON OCCUM, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO NATIVE AMERICANS

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The Fourth Vision, Fifth Vision, and Second Oracle of First Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Zerubbabel’s Temple

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART IX

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Zechariah 3:1-4:14

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The contents of Zechariah 1:7-6:15 date to early February 519 B.C.E. (1:7).

The fourth vision (3:1-10; 4:4-5) is of the purification of the high priest Joshua ben Jehozadak, whom we met in Haggai 1:1.  TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) correctly translates the label in 3:2 as “the Accuser,” not “the Satan” or “Satan.”  This version thereby avoids an anachronistic reading of the doctrine of Satan, who, in Jewish theology, went from being an employee of YHWH to rebellious free agent during the Persian period.  “The Satan”–“the Accuser” and “the Adversary”–as an employee of YHWH in Numbers 22:26 and Job 1 and 2, for example.

One may legitimately argue that Satan was a rebellious free agent long before Zoroastrianism influenced Jewish theology, after the Babylonian Exile.  I, as a student of history, try not to read anachronisms into Biblical stories, though.

The vision depicts high priest Joshua as an unjustly criticized servant of God, affirmed and purified by God.  We read that Joshua was human, therefore flawed, yet that this intracommunity sniping was harmful.

We also read (as in Haggai 1:1) that Joshua and Zerubbabel (the governor) shared power.  One may recall Zerubbabel from Haggai 1:1 and 2:20-23.  One may remember that Zerubbabel would have been the Davidic king if there had been one.  One may recall that Haggai identified Zerubbabel as a king in the future (our ancient past).  Zerubbabel is “the Branch” in Zechariah 3:8.  The oracle about Zerubbabel (4:6-10) follows the fourth vision and relates to it.  That oracle declares that the governor will, by divine aid, oversee the completion of the rebuilding of the Temple.

The vision regarding high priest Joshua also predicts unusual prosperity in the future (Zechariah 4:4).  See Micah 4:4 and 1 Kings 5:5, also.

The fifth vision (4:1-3, 11-14) is of the lampstand (a menorah) and olive trees.  This vision speaks of Joshua and Zerubbabel as partners in power, with God being present.  One olive tree stands of Joshua.  The lampstand symbolizes God.  The other olive stands for Zerubbabel.

First Zechariah committed an error Haggai also made:  he predicted that Zerubbabel would become king and that the Davidic monarchy would resume.  He did not become a king, and no Davidic monarch has ruled since the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).

Sometimes–perhaps frequently–when God restores and revives peoples, God does so in ways they do not expect.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN DE JACOBIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP IN ETHIOPIA; AND SAINT MICHAEL GHEBRE, ETHIOPIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAMILLUS DE LELLIS, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND FOUNDER OF THE MINISTERS OF THE SICK

THE FEAST OF LEON MCKINLEY ADKINS, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MATTHEW BRIDGES, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAMSON OCCUM, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO NATIVE AMERICANS

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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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Announcement of Judgment, with Confidence in God’s Future   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MICAH, PART VII

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Micah 6:1-7:20

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A motif in Hebrew prophetic literature in God making a legal case against a group of people.  That motif recurs at the beginning of Chapter 6.

Another motif in the Hebrew Bible is that God is like what God has done.  In other words, divine deeds reveal God’s character.  Likewise, human deeds reveal human character.  We read reminders of divine deliverance in Micah 6:4-5.  These verses call back to Exodus 1:1-15:21; Numbers 22:1-24:25; and Joshua 3:1-5:12.  God, who is just, expects and demands human justice:

He has told you, O man, what is good,

And what the LORD requires of you:

Only to do justice

And to love goodness,

And to walk modestly with your God.

Then will your name achieve wisdom.

–Micah 6:8-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Not surprisingly, no English-language translation captures the full meaning of the Hebrew text.  For example, to walk humbly or modestly with God is to walk wisely or completely with God.  Doing this–along with loving goodness and doing justice–is more important than ritual sacrifices, even those mandated in the Law of Moses.  This theme occurs also in Hosea 6:4-6.  One may also recall the moral and ethical violations of the Law of Moses condemned throughout the Book of Amos.  Micah 6 and 7 contain condemnations of such sins, too.  The people will reap what they have sown.

To whom can they turn when surrounded by corruption and depravity?  One can turn to and trust God.  In the fullest Biblical and creedal sense, this is what belief in God means.  In the Apostles’ Creed we say:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth….

In the Nicene Creed, we say:

We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen.

Sometimes belief–trust–is individual.  Sometimes it is collective.  So are sin, confession, remorse for sins, repentance, judgment, and mercy.  In Micah 7:7-13, belief–trust–is collective.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance in the case of Jerusalem, personified.  The figure is Jerusalem, at least in the later reading of Micah.  The reference to Assyria (7:12) comes from the time of the prophet.

“Micah” (1:1) is the abbreviated form of “Micaiah,” or “Who is like YHWH?”  That is germane to the final hymn of praise (7:18-20).  It begins:

Who is a God like You….

–Micah 7:18a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born and raised in exile, within the borders of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Imagine that you had heard that the Babylonian Exile will end soon, and that you will have the opportunity to go to the homeland of which you have only heard.  Imagine that you have started to pray:

Who is a God like you, who removes guilt

and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;

Who does not persist in anger forever,

but instead delights in mercy,

And will again have compassion on us,

treading underfoot our iniquities?

You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins;

You will show faithfulness to Jacob, and loyalty to Abraham,

As you have sworn to our ancestors from days of old.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Imagine, O reader, how exuberant you would have been.

As R. B. Y. Scott wrote regarding the Book of Hosea:

[The prophet] speaks of judgment that cannot be averted by superficial professions of repentance; but he speaks more of love undefeated by evil.  The final word remains with mercy.

The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed. (1968), 80

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Book of Micah.  I invite you to join me as I read and write about First Isaiah (Chapters 1-23, 28-33).

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL GERHARDT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATINALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF AMELIA BLOOMER, U.S. SUFFRAGETTE

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHARLES ROPER, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF OTTAWA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LOJZE GROZDE, SLOVENIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1943

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The Census, the Plague, and the Altar   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of King David

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 XLIX

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2 Samuel 24:1-25

1 Chronicles 21:1-22:1

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Whenever I am afraid,

I will put my trust in you.

–Psalm 56:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Theology changes.  A careful reading of the Bible reveals theological evolution in the Bible.  This is the reason I cannot be a fundamentalist.  Inconsistencies exist in the texts.  For example, did God or “a satan”(“adversary,” literally) persuade King David to conduct the census for which God punished the kingdom for years?  The answer depends on whether one accepts 2 Samuel 24:1 or 1 Chronicles 21:1.

This discrepancy exists because of theological evolution.  As a serious student of the history of Jewish theology ought to know, Satan as a free agent (rather than as one of God’s employees, as the tester of loyalty to God, as in the Book of Job as in Numbers 22:21-40) is a relatively late development.  The understanding of Satan as a free agent and an opponent of God dates to the postexilic period, when Zoroastrianism was influencing Judaism.  The Persians may have been correct.  That is a separate matter for another post.  In terms of the history of religion, Satan as the chief rebel against God in Judaism and, by extension, in Christianity, is a legacy of Zoroastrian influence, objectively.

The question of God and evil interests me, an intellectually honest monotheist.  Saints, theologians, and philosophers have tackled the thorny problem.  I harbor no delusion that I settle it in this post.  I do, however, refer to C. S. Lewis, who acknowledged that God is in the dock.  Ultimately, I, as a monotheist, cannot honestly blame anyone except God for evil–for permitting it to exist, at least.  The author of 2 Samuel 24 accepted this perspective.  The author of 1 Chronicles 21, writing during the Persian Period, did not.

If, however, one accepts the pre-Persian Period concept of “the Satan” as one of God’s employees–the loyalty tester, as in the Book of Job, God remains responsible for evil, too.  God is still in the dock.  If one accepts “the Satan” as one of God’s employees, then one must accept that “the Satan” cannot function or exist apart from God.  In Genesis, the language in certain passages uses “God” and “angel” interchangeably.  This is not a difficulty if one accepts that angels can exist and function only in the context of God, that, whatever they do or say, they do on divine orders.  Therefore, the words and actions of an angel are those of God, practically.  Therefore, if one accepts the pre-Persian Jewish understanding of “the Satan,” one must accept that “the Satan” acts and speaks only when following divine orders.  God is still in the dock.

Or maybe the ancient Zoroastrians were correct regarding the existence of independent agents of evil.

If I preferred easy answers, I would not wrestle with God.  If I did not prefer wresting with God, this great monotheistic conundrum of the problem of God and evil would perturb me more than it does.  Ultimately, though, I must agree with David and Job.  God is God.  God refuses to fit into our boxes, regardless of how piously we define them.  And we have no feasible alternative to turning to God, do we?  Part of the life of spiritual growth is learning to distinguish between our biases and God’s thoughts.

Nevertheless, may we exercise caution in how we think, speak, and write of God.  May we refrain from portraying God as a celestial gangster.  I hear some people speak of God in terms that should lead one to recoil in terror from God.  An Episcopal priest I know has a wonderful strategy for engaging with people who profess not to believe in God.  He asks them to describe the God in whom they do not believe.  Inevitably, he hears a description of God he rejects.  “I don’t believe in that God either,” the priest replies.

I, as an Episcopalian, seek moderation.  I follow the Anglican Via Media, after all.  I am neither fully Protestant nor fully Roman Catholic.  I am not a Biblical literalist.  I reject, however, the excesses of John Dominic Crossan and that ilk.  My intellect is always in gear; it constitutes one-third of my faith.  Nobody who tells me I should think less often gets far with me theologically.  I accept the primacy of scripture without shutting down my brain’s higher functions and advocating for scriptural inerrancy and infallibility.  A frontal lobotomy and willful ignorance are not prerequisites for salvation.  And I affirm that God is trustworthy while admitting that no human being can fully understand God.  The image one sees when looking into one’s mirror may be the most alluring idol of all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, SPANISH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, MYSTIC, AND REFORMER

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Rebuilding the Culture of Judah, Part II   2 comments

Above:  Jerusalem at the Time of Nehemiah

Image in the Public Domain

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

PART XX

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Nehemiah 13:1-31

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There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her;

she shall not be overthrown;

God shall help her at the break of day.

The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken;

God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.

The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

–Psalm 46:5-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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This chapter contains separate elements.  I will write about each one in order.

13:1-3, pertaining to the ban against intermarrying with Ammonites, contains allusions to Deuteronomy 23:3-5 and Numbers 22-24.  One may also look forward to Ezra 9-10.  Perhaps one mistakes such an order for xenophobia.  Yet, if one reads the Hebrew Bible and notices how after intermarriage with Gentiles (with their own gods) led to national idolatry.  Then perhaps one will understand the reason for the ban.

The events of 13:4-9 predated those of 13:1-3.  (Consistent chronology is not the organizing principle in Nehemiah.)  Housing trouble-maker Tobiah (from the readings for the previous post in this series) in the Temple was a terrible idea.  Evicting Tobiah and purifying the rooms was necessary and proper.

Restoring the distribution of the means of supporting the Levites was also crucial.

The Sabbath is a day of essential rest.  The Sabbath is an indication of freedom.  The Sabbath is a gift.

Old, bad habits are difficult to break.  Human beings are creatures of habit.  May we nurture good habits.

Literally, the Book of Nehemiah ends with 13:31.  However, given that consistent chronology is not the organizing principle of Nehemiah, we will proceed chronologically to 9:38-10:39.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY THAUMATURGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC OF NEOCAESAREA; AND ALEXANDER OF COMONA, “THE CHARCOAL BURNER,” ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 252, AND BISHOP OF COMANA, PONTUS

THE FEAST OF SAINT EQUITIUS OF VALERIA, BENEDICTINE ABBOT AND FOUNDER OF MONASTERIES

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS LOY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR’ AND CONRAD HERMANN LOUIS SCHUETTE, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAURICE TORNAY, SWISS ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY TO TIBET, AND MARTYR, 1949

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The Faithfulness of God, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  Coastal Landscape with Balaam and the Ass, by Bartholomeus Breenburgh

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday after Easter, Year 1

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty God, who showest to them that be in error the light of thy truth,

to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness;

grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion

that they may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession,

and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;

through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 169-170

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Numbers 22:1-21

Psalms 121 and 123:1-3a

Revelation 3:1-6

John 16:12-22

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Appearances deceive sometimes.  Consider, O reader, the case of the church at ancient Sardis at the time of the writing of Revelation.  We read that, despite its reputation, the congregation was spiritually dead.  There was still hope, however, we read.

After all, one purpose of pronouncing judgment is to convince people to repent, so that condemnation ill no longer is necessary.

Do the right thing, we read.  God will help you to do it, we read as we continue.  God is faithful, the readings tell us.

Do we believe that?  The beginning of evil is the rejection of all the above.  When we think that God does not exist or does not care, at least, we conclude that we can and must do everything on our own.  Then we slip into amorality; the ends justify the means, we tell ourselves.

Trusting in the faithfulness of God liberates us to grow into our best spiritual selves, thereby leaving the world better than we found it.

May we trust in God, or continue to do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

TUESDAY IN HOLY WEEK

THE FEAST OF SAINT TIKHON OF MOSCOW, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT GEORGE THE YOUNGER, GREEK ORTHODOX BISHOP OF MITYLENE

THE FEAST OF JAY THOMAS STOCKING, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MONTFORD SCOTT, EDMUND GENNINGS, HENRY WALPOLE, AND THEIR FELLOW MARTYRS, 1591 AND 1595

THE FEAST OF RANDALL DAVIDSON, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

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