Archive for the ‘Psalm 137’ Category

Commitments   1 comment

Above:  The Far West of the Persian Empire in 525 B.C.E.

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Nehemiah 2:1-9 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, wine was set before him; I took the wine and gave it to the king–I had never been out of sorts in his presence.  The king said to me,

How is it that you look bad, though you are not ill?  It must be bad thoughts.

I was very frightened, but I answered the king,

May the king live forever!  How should I not look bad when the city of the graveyard of my ancestors lies in ruins, and its gates have been consumed by fire?

The king said to me,

What is your request?

With a prayer to the God of Heaven, I answered the king,

If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah, the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.

With the consort seated at his side, the king said to me,

How long will you be gone and when will you return?

So it was agreeable to the king to send me, and I gave him a date.  Then I said to the king,

If it please the king, let me have letters to the governors of the province Beyond the River, directing them to grant me passage until I reach Judah; likewise, a letter to Asaph, keeper of the King’s Park, directing him to give me timber for roofing the gatehouses of the temple fortress and the city walls and for the house I shall occupy.

The king gave me these, thanks to my God’s benevolent care for me.  When I came to the governors of the province of Beyond the River I gave them the king’s letters.  The king also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

Psalm 137 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,

when we remembered you, O Zion.

2  As for our harps, we hung them up

on the trees in the midst of that land.

3  For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,

and our oppressors called for mirth:

“Sing for us the songs of Zion.”

4  How shall we sing the LORD’s song

upon alien soil?

5  If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand forget its skill.

6  Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth

if I do not remember you,

if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

7  Remember the day of Jerusalem, O LORD,

against the people of Edom,

who said, “Down with it!  even to the ground!”

8  O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who pays you back

for that which you have done to us!

9  Happy shall be he who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock!

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Let us ground ourselves in time and space before we proceed.  Cyrus II “the Great” of the Persians and the Medes conquered the Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  He permitted the first group of Jews to return to their ancestral homeland one year later, 538 B.C.E.  He died in 530, and Cambyses (reigned 530-522) succeeded him.  After Cambyses came Darius I (reigned 522-486), who permitted the construction of the Second Temple from 520 to 515.  Xerxes I (reigned 486-465) occupied the throne next, after which came Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424), Nehemiah’s king.  (Thanks to The Jewish Study Bible for the dates.)

Nobody had restored the walls of Jerusalem nearly a century after the first group of exiles had returned.  So, circa 445 B.C.E, Nehemiah, the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes I, sought and received permission to oversee the restoration of those walls.  The diminished state of Jerusalem troubled Nehemiah so much that he had to do something about it.  He committed himself to that great task.

Although the Biblical authors are generally favorably disposed toward the Persian kings who helped the Jews, many of the writings from and about that time have an air of melancholy about them.  The reality of 538 B.C.E. and the following years exists in the shadow of pre-destruction Jerusalem.  The Second Temple was far less grand than the complex from Solomon’s time, the city walls were in a dilapidated state for almost century, and home was part of a far-flung yet generally benevolent empire they did not govern.  Furthermore, Judea was one of the poorer regions of the Persian Empire, a fact of which the residents were quite aware.  There were many reasons to feel discouraged.

Consider Psalm 137 also.  It speaks of a time prior to the Persian conquest of Babylon.  The frustrations of the exiled, conquered, and/or colonized are understandable in any time or place.  These are on full display in Psalm 137, which I have typed in its entirely.  The lectionary said to stop at verse 6, but the full impact of the text requires that one read all of it.  Verses 7-9 speak of violence and the desire for revenge, even upon innocent children unfortunate enough to have been born Babylonian.  The Book of Psalms is honest about raw human emotions, as we should be without condoning certain ones.  But let us not skip over the verses we find uncomfortable.

The text in Luke has a parallel reading in Matthew.  Follow the URL I have provided to read my thoughts about the Matthew version.  It is sufficed to say here that, as I interpreted the Matthew version in the light of the verses before it, I will do the same for this day’s reading from Luke.  Jesus has just set his course for Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week.  So he does not tolerate excuses from anyone.  He has committed himself, so he expects others to dedicate themselves.

It is also worth noticing that, in the next section, Jesus sends the outer circle of disciples out on a preaching mission.  Thus 9:60 makes sense.  It reads, “…your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

There is much work to do for God.  May we avoid distractions and excuses; may we begin or continue to fulfill our vocations.  Along the way we may need some help from others of a different religious or ethnic or social group or economic class.  May they do their parts too.  And may we leave behind all baggage that would weigh us down.  May the love of God fill us and drive away all that is not love.

That is a commitment worth keeping.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 21, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ROBERT SEYMOUR BRIDGES, POET AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSELM, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 21, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/week-of-proper-21-wednesday-year-1/

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Posted October 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Nehemiah 2, Psalm 137

Tagged with , , , ,

Admitting the Existence of Our Dark Sides   1 comment

Above:  Zedekiah Chained

2 Kings 25:1-12 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.  And in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army.  He besieged it; and they built towers against it all around.  The city continued in a state of siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.  By the ninth day [of the fourth month] the famine had become acute in the city; there was no food left for the common people.

Then [the wall of] the city was breached.  All the soldiers [left the city] by night through the gate between the double walls, which is near the king’s garden–the Chaldeans were all about the city; and [the king] set out for the Arabah.  But the Chaldean troops pursued the king, and they overtook him in the steppes of Jericho as his entire force left him and scattered.  They captured the king and brought him before the king of Babylon at Riblah; and they put him on trial.  They slaughtered Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes; then Zedekiah’s eyes were put out.  He was chained in bronze fetters and he was brought to Babylon.

On the seventh day of the fifth month–that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon–Nebuzaradan, the chief of the guards, an officer of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem.  He burned the House of the LORD, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem; he burned down the house of every notable person.  The entire Chaldean force that was with the chief of the guard tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side.  The remnant of the people that was left in the city, the defectors who had gone over to the king of Babylon–and the remnant of the population–were taken into exile by Nebuzaradan, the chief of the guards.  But some of the poorest in the land were left by the chief of the guards, to be vinedressers and field hands.

Psalm 137 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,

when we remembered you, O Zion.

2  As for our harps, we hung them up

on the trees in the midst of that land.

3  For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,

and our oppressors called for mirth:

“Sing for us the songs of Zion.”

4  How shall we sing the LORD’s song

upon alien soil?

5  If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand forget its skill.

6  Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth

if I do not remember you,

if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

7  Remember the day of Jerusalem, O LORD,

against the people of Edom,

who said, “Down with it!  even to the ground!”

8  O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who pays you back

for that which you have done to us!

9  Happy shall be he who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock!

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The Canadian Anglican Lectionary says to read Psalm 137:106 for this day.  I have chosen, however, to include all nine verses.  The first six verses are mournful; the final three are vengeful.  These are honest and understandable emotions, given the circumstances.

One of the virtues of the Book of Psalms is its honesty.  True, we ought not indulge our feelings of vengeance by encouraging and acting upon them, but neither should we pretend that these emotions do not exist.  ”Vindicate me” and “Crush my enemies” are predictable pleas to God.

The good news is that we can take everything to God in prayer.  God already knows us–the good, the bad, and the really ugly–better than we know ourselves.  To be honest with God is a positive sign.  It is better than bottling up the gremlins of our souls or ignoring them.  And, by grace, we can work through our dark sides.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 18, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PORCHER DUBOSE, EPISCOPAL THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT HELENA, MOTHER OF EMPEROR CONSTANTINE I

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/week-of-proper-7-friday-year-2/

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