Archive for the ‘2 Esdras 7’ Tag

“For He Must Reign.”   Leave a comment

Above:  The Last Judgment

Image in the Public Domain




Revelation 20:1-15



In Revelation, 1000 symbolizes a large, uncountable quantity.

Interpretations of the millennium vary.

  1. Premillennialism flourishes during unsettled, difficult times, such as 1914f.
  2. Postmillennialism is more popular during good, relatively peaceful times.  My great-grandfather, George Washington Barrett (1873-1956), was a minister in the old Methodist Episcopal Church, South (extant 1845-1939), then Methodist Church (extant 1939-1968).  He came of age during La Belle Epoque, which World War I terminated.  My great-grandfather was a Postmillennialist.
  3. Amillennialism interprets the millennium allegorically, understanding “1000” to be symbolic in Revelation 20.
  4. John Nelson Darby’s Dispensationalism, one of the pillars of C. I. Scofield’s study Bible, the “manual of fundamentalism,” is rank heresy, as is fundamentalism.  The rapture is absent from historic Christianity.  The rapture also entails two Second Comings of Jesus.  Would not the second Second Coming be the Third Coming?

I am an Amillennialist.  The only number in Revelation I take literally in Revelation occurs in the first three chapters; I count messages to seven (more than six and fewer than eight) congregations.  After chapter 3, all numbers are symbolic, and seven indicates perfection.   Anyhow, Amillennialism holds that the present time is the “Millennium.”  One may notice that the “Millennium” has been in progress for longer than 1000 years.

In Revelation 20, God, having temporarily subdued evil, finally vanquishes it.  In the meantime, the martyrs reign.

Revelation 20 refers to the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine unambiguously present in Judaism since at least the first century B.C.E. (Daniel 12).  This doctrine, imported from Zoroastrianism, exists in other ancient Jewish and Christian texts, both canonical and otherwise.  Examples include:

  1. 1 Corinthians 15:50;
  2. 2 Baruch 49-51;
  3. 1 Enoch 5:1; 61:5; 62:15-16; and
  4. 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 7:32.

Revelation 20 is both similar to and different from certain Pseudepigraphal texts.  The Messiah, sitting on the throne, judges in 1 Enoch 45:3; 69:27-29; and 2 Baruch 72:2-6.  Yet God sits on the throne and judges in Revelation 20:13.


I have always been religiously calm.  The fires of revivalism have never appealed to me.  No, I have immersed myself in scripture, ecclesiastical tradition, proper liturgy, and intellectualism.  The Presbyterian motto,

decently and in order,

is “my song,” so to speak.  (Yet I have defined “order” to include The Book of Common Prayer.)  My dominant spiritual path has been that of intellectual discipleship–Thomism.  I have always been “cool,” not “hot,” in particular connotations of these words.  I have frequently been an outlier, relative to religious subcultures around me.

I am a product of my personality and milieu.  My experiences shape me, but do does a path that fits me naturally.  I hope you, O reader, interpret what follows in the manner in which I intend it:

I know too much to hold certain beliefs.  Also, certain experiences turn me off from some doctrines.

Regarding details of divine judgment and mercy, as well as the divine conquest of evil (the sooner the better, I say), I assert that these reside entirely within the purview of God.  I am content to leave them there.

I stand within Western Christianity.  I also critique my tradition.  One of the characteristics of Western Christianity that frustrates me is the tendency to explain too much.  I prefer the Eastern Christian practice of leaving mysteries mysterious.  God is in charge.  I can relax about many matters, given this.  God knows x, y, and z; that much suffices.  God has done a, b, and c.  So be it.  Why should I want to explain how God did it?

As I age, this intellectual is turning into something of a mystic.  Life is replete with surprises.








Stoicism and Platonism in Fourth Maccabees   Leave a comment

Above:  Zeno of Citium

Image in the Public Domain





4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; 18:20-24


The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, composed in 20-54 C.E., perhaps in Antioch, is a treatise.  It interprets Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy–Stoicism and Platonism, to be precise.  4 Maccabees elaborates on the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, covered relatively succinctly in 2 Maccabees 7:1-42, and set prior to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

Fourth Maccabees, composed by an anonymous Hellenistic Jew and addressed to other Hellenistic Jews, has two purposes:

  1. To exhort them to obey the Law of Moses (18:1), and
  2. To proclaim that devout reason is the master of all emotions (1:1-2; 18:2).

Cultural assimilation was a common temptation for Hellenistic Jews.  “Keep the faith,” the author urged more verbosely than my paraphrase.  For him, devout reason was a reason informed by the Law of Moses.  Devout reason, in the author’s mind, the highest form of reason was the sole province of faithful Jews.

Vicarious suffering is also a theme in 4 Maccabees.  In this book, the suffering and death of the martyrs purifies the land (1:11; 6:29; 17:21), vindicates the Jewish nation (17:10), and atones for the sins of the people (6:29; 17:22).  The last point presages Penal Substitutionary Atonement, one of several Christian theologies of the atonement via Jesus.

The blending of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy is evident also in the treatment of the afterlife.  The Second Book of the Maccabees teaches bodily resurrection (7:9, 11, 14, 23, and 29).  One can find bodily resurrection elsewhere in Jewish writings (Daniel 12:2; 1 Enoch 5:1-2; 4 Ezra/2 Esdras 7:42; 2 Baruch 50:2-3).  The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, however, similar to the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-4, teaches instant immortality, with reward or punishment.  The martyrs achieve instant instant immortality with reward (4 Maccabees 9:9, 22; 10:15; 14:15; 15:7; 16:13, 25; 17:12, 18; 18:23).  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, goes to everlasting torment (9:9, 29, 32; 10:11, 15; 11:3, 23; 12:18; 18:5).

Stoicism, in the Greek philosophical sense, has a different meaning than the average layperson may assume.  It is not holding one’s feelings inside oneself.  Properly, Stoicism teaches that virtue is the only god and vice is the only evil.  The wise are indifferent to pain and pleasure, to wealth and poverty, and to success and misfortune.  A Stoic, accepting that he or she could change x, y, and z, yet not t, u, and v.  No, a Stoic works to change x, y, and z.  A Stoic, therefore, is content in the midst of difficulty.  If this sounds familiar, O reader, you may be thinking of St. Paul the Apostle being content in pleasant and in unpleasant circumstances (Philippians 4:11-12).

Stoicism shows up elsewhere in the New Testament and in early Christianity, too.  It is in the mouth of St. Paul in Athens (Acts 17:28).  Stoicism is also evident in the writings of St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397), mentor of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  Why would it not be in the writings of St. Ambrose?  Greek philosophy informed the development of early Christian theology.  Greek philosophy continues to exist in sermons, Sunday School lessons, and Biblical commentaries.  Greek philosophy permeates the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Hebrews.  Greek philosophy is part of the Christian patrimony.

Platonism was the favorite form of Greek philosophy in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.  Platonism permeated the works of St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215) and his star pupil, Origen (185-254), for example.  Eventually, though, St. Albert the Great (circa 1200-1280) and his star pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), successfully made the case for Aristotle over Plato.  Holy Mother Church changed her mind after the deaths of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. The Church, having embraced Aristotle over Plato, eventually rescinded the pre-Congregation canonization of St. Clement of Alexandria.  And the Church has never canonized Origen.  I have, however, read news stories of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland trying to convince The Episcopal Church to add Origen to the calendar of saints.  (The Episcopal Church already recognizes St. Clement of Alexandria as a saint.)

Platonism and Stoicism have four cardinal virtues–rational judgment, self-control, justice, and courage.  These appear in 4 Maccabees 1:2-4.  As I read these verses, I recognize merit in them.  Some emotions do hinder self-control.  Other emotions to work for injustice and obstruct courage.  News reports provide daily documentation of this.  Other emotions further the causes of justice and courage.  News reports also provide daily documentation of this.

I also affirm that reason should govern emotions.  I cite news stories about irrationality.  Emotions need borders, and must submit to objectivity and reason, for the best results.

4 Maccabees takes the reader on a grand tour of the Hebrew Bible to support this conclusion.  One reads, for example, of Joseph (Genesis 39:7-12; 4 Maccabees 2:1-6), Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:7; 4 Maccabees 2:19-20), Moses (Numbers 16:1-35; Sirach 45:18; 4 Maccabees 2:17), David (2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 4 Maccabees 3:6-18).

Reason can effect self-control, which works for higher purposes.  One of these higher purposes is

the affection of brotherhood.

–4 Maccabees 13:19, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

In the case of the seven martyred brothers, as the author of 4 Maccabees told their story, these holy martyrs used rational judgment and self-control to remain firm in their faith.  Those brothers did not

fear him who thinks he is killing us….

–4 Maccabees 13:14, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

That is the same courage and conviction present in Christian martyrs, from antiquity to the present day.

One may think of another passage:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

–Matthew 10:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Not surprisingly, many persecuted Christians derived much comfort and encouragement from 4 Maccabees.  These Christians had to rely on each other, just as the seven brothers did in 4 Maccabees.

Mutuality is a virtue in the Law of Moses and in Christianity.

I have spent the first four posts in this series laying the groundwork for the First, Second, and Fourth Books of Maccabees.  I have provided introductory material for these books.

Next, I will start the narrative countdown to the Hasmonean Rebellion.





Reaping What One Sows I   1 comment

Slum DC 1937

Above:  A Slum in Washington, D.C., November 1937

Photographer = John Vachon

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USF33-T01-001048-M3


The Collect:

God of heaven and earth,

before the foundation of the universe and the beginning of time

you are the triune God:

Author of creation, eternal Word of creation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide us to all truth by your Spirit,

that we may proclaim all that Christ has revealed

and rejoice in the glory he shares with us.

Glory and praise to you,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 6:22-27

Psalm 20

Mark 4:21-25


Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we will call upon the Name of the LORD our God.

They will collapse and fall down,

but we will arise and stand upright.

–Psalm 20:7-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The rich rule the poor,

And the borrower is a slave to the lender.

He who sows injustice shall reap misfortune;

His rod of wrath shall fail.

The generous man is blessed,

For he gives of his bread to the poor.

–Proverbs 22:7-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)


The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.  That statement applies today; it has done so since antiquity.  This is not a matter as simple as hard work leading to prosperity and sloth leading to poverty, for some of the hardest workers have been and are poor.  No, certain rich people have developed and maintained systems which perpetuate income inequality and favor some people yet not most.

In the Kingdom of God, however, spiritual principles work differently than much of human economics:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

–Galatians 6:7-10, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Present conduct determines the future.  A positive relationship with God is a wonderful thing, but sitting on it, as if one has a “Jesus and me” relationship, is negative.  Sharing one’s faith is the only way to gain more, but hoarding it will lead to losing it.  In other words, the more one gives away spiritually, the more one will receive.

A related text comes from 2 Esdras 7:21-25:

For the Lord strictly commanded those who come into the world, when they come, what they should do to live, and what they should do to avoid punishment.  Nevertheless they were not obedient and spoke against him:

they devised for themselves vain thoughts,

and proposed to themselves wicked frauds;

they even declared that the Most High does not exist,

and they ignored his ways.

They scorned his law,

and denied his covenants;

they have been unfaithful to his statutes,

and have not performed his works.

That is the reason, Ezra, that empty things are for the empty, and full things are for the full.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The atheism mentioned in the passage is practical atheism, that which acknowledges the existence of God while rejecting the ideas that God has an active and effective role in the world and that God’s commandments should have any influence on one’s life.  It is, quite simply, Deism.  Atheism, in the sense that one hears of it frequently in modern Western societies, was rare in antiquity.  That which Reza Aslan calls anti-theism, or hostility to theism (not just the rejection of it), was even more rare.  Thus, when we consider Psalm 14, the most accurate rendering of the opening lines is not that fools say “there is no God” (the standard English translation), but that fools say, “God does not care,” as TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) renders the passage.

For more verses about the consequences of disobedience, consult Matthew 13:12 and Luke 8:18.

The Aaronic Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26), a familiar text and an element of many liturgies, precedes an important verse:

Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

–Numbers 6:27, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Receiving blessings from God obligates one to function as a vehicle for others to receive blessings from God.  Grace is free (for us), but never cheap.  In the context of Numbers 6, there is also a mandate to obey the Law of Moses, which contains an ethic of recognizing one’s complete dependence on God, one’s dependence upon other human beings, one’s responsibility to and for others, and the absence of the right to exploit anyone.

Thus the conclusion of this post echoes the beginning thereof.  We have a mandate to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Obeying that commandment can prove to be difficult and will lead us to change some of our assumptions and related behaviors, but that is part of the call of God upon our lives.  We ought to respond positively, out of love for God and our neighbors, but the principle that our present conduct will determine our future hangs over us.





Adapted from this post:


The Faithfulness of God, Part I   1 comment

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


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Genesis 19:15-29 (An American Translation):

When dawn appeared, the angels urged Lot on saying,

Bestir yourself; take away your wife, and the two daughters that are at hand, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.

When he hesitated, the men, because of the LORD’s pity on him, seized his hand and those of his wife and his two daughters, and bringing them out, they left him outside the city.  After they had brought them outside, they said,

Fly for your life; do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the valley; fly to the hills, lest you be swept away.

Lot said to them,

O no sirs!  Your servant has indeed found favor with you, and great is the kindness that you have done me in saving my life, but I cannot possibly fly to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I perish.  Here is the town near enough to fly to, and quite small; pray, let me fly there (is it not small?) to save my life.

The LORD said to him,

See, I grant you this request as well, in that I will not overthrow the town of which you speak.  Hurry and fly there; for I can do nothing until you reach there.

Thus the name of the town came to be called Zoar [small].

Just as the sun rose over the earth and Lot entered Zoar, the LORD rained sulphur and fire from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah, devastating those cities and all the valley, with all the inhabitants of the cities and the vegetation on the land.  And Lot’s wife looked back, and had become a pillar of salt.

Lot’s Wife Pillar, Mount Sodom, Israel

Next morning when Abraham went early to the place where he had stood before the LORD, he gazed toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the region of the valley, and he saw smoke from the land rising like smoke from a kiln.

Thus it was that God remembered Abraham when he destroyed the cities of the valley, by sending Lot away from the catastrophe when he devastated the cities where Lot lived.

Psalm 26 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give judgment for me, O LORD,

for I have lived with integrity;

I have trusted in the LORD and have not faltered.

Test me, O LORD, and try me;

examine my heart and my mind.

3 For your love is before my eyes;

I have walked faithfully before you.

I have not sat with the worthless,

nor do I consort with the deceitful.

5 I have hated the company of evildoers;

I will not sit down with the wicked.

6 I will wash my hands in innocence, O LORD,

that I may go in procession round your altar,

Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving

and recounting all your wonderful deeds.

8 LORD, I love the house in which you dwell

and the place where your glory abides.

Do not sweep me away with sinners,

nor my life with those who thirst for blood,

10 Whose hands are full of evil plots,

and their right hand full of bribes.

11 As for me, I will live with integrity;

redeem me, O LORD, and have pity on me.

12 My foot stands on level ground;

in the full assembly I will bless the LORD.

Matthew 8:23-27 (An American Translation):

And he [Jesus] got into the boat, and his disciples with him.  And suddenly a terrific storm came up on the sea, so that the waves broke over the boat, but he remained asleep.  And they woke him, saying,

Save us, sir!  We are lost!

And he said to them,

Why are you afraid?  You have so little faith!

Then he got up and reproved the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm.  And the men were amazed and said,

What kind of man is this?  For the very winds and sea obey him!


The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


One of the challenges of following a lectionary can be identifying the common theme present in two or more readings from different parts of the Bible.  After consulting commentaries and pondering all that I have read in the readings and the commentaries, I have found the common thread:  Faithfulness to God is the path to life.  This faithfulness needs only to be present.  However, as Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is spiritual death.  The wages of sin can also be physical death, and the punishment flows from the sin itself.  In other words, we reap what we sow.  God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.

Let us examine the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah carefully.  In Genesis 19:1-14, two angels arrive at Sodom, where Lot rescues them from would-be gang rapists.  The angels tell Lot that God will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah very shortly because, as Professor Richard Elliott Friedman translates verse 13,  they have “grown big before YHWH’s face.”

I pause at this point to ponder the importance of growing “big before YHWH’s face.”  Later in Chapter 19, YHWH permits Lot and his family to flee to Zoar, which is small, for safety.  (Two angels appear early in Chapter 19, and by chapter’s end, YHWH is there, too.  When did God show up, after disappearing between the end of Chapter 18 and the beginning of Chapter 19?  Following the bouncing ball can be challenging.)  Anyhow, I posit that growing “big before YHWH’s face” indicates spiritual arrogance, a lack of faithfulness.

There is an interesting feature in the Hebrew text of verse 15.  The word for punishment, as in “…or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city,” means sin as well.  Sin and punishment are the same thing; consequences flow from actions, so we reap what we sow.

Lot is sufficiently hospitable to rescue the angels, strangers in Sodom, and, as Genesis 19:29 indicates, God saves Lot and family out of faithfulness to Abraham.  Indeed, Lot is a disturbing character, one who offers his two virgin daughters to the would-be gang rapists gathered outside his house (verse 8).  Fortunately for the daughters, the men are not interested.

But Lot is kind to the strangers, if not his own daughters, and the angelic guests offer him and his family a safe way out–if only they follow instructions.  Nobody must look back.  I suppose that curiosity about what is happening would inspire one to look back; we are a species of people who stare at the aftermath of car wrecks.

Biblical writers over many generations used Sodom and Gomorrah to demonstrate various points.  These include:

  • Repent, or be destroyed.
  • Sexual immorality (in all its forms) is wrong.  The first explicit link between homosexual acts and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah comes in Jude 7, however.
  • Any town that refuses to heed visitors bearing the word of God will face condemnation.
  • The failure to extend hospitality to strangers will lead to condemnation.
  • The neglect of the poor will lead to condemnation and destruction.

The word “Sodom” appears in the New Revised Standard Version 51 times.  For those of you who wish to follow up, here they are:

  • Genesis 10:19
  • Genesis 13:10, 12, and 13
  • Genesis 14:2, 8, 10-12, 17, 21, 22, and 26
  • Genesis 18:16, 20, and 26
  • Genesis 19:1, 4, 24, and 28
  • Deuteronomy 29:23
  • Deuteronomy 32:32
  • Isaiah 1:9 and 10
  • Isaiah 3:9
  • Isaiah 13:19
  • Jeremiah 23:14
  • Jeremiah 49:18
  • Jeremiah 50:40
  • Lamentations 4:6
  • Ezekiel 16:46, 48, 49, 53, 55, and 56
  • Amos 4:11
  • Zephaniah 2:9
  • 3 Maccabees 2:5
  • 2 Esdras 2:8
  • 2 Esdras 7:106
  • Matthew 10:15
  • Matthew 11:23 and 24
  • Luke 10:12
  • Luke 17:29
  • Romans 9:29
  • 2 Peter 2:6
  • Jude 7
  • Revelation 11:8

The reading from Matthew tells the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  In all fairness to the Apostles, I would have been afraid, too.  I note also that Jesus said they had little faith, not no faith.  This is a difficult text, one with more possible interpretations than I dreamed possible before reading commentaries.  However, remaining consistent with my methodology of following a common thread between or among lectionary readings, I latch onto the “little faith” comment.  At least the Apostles had some faith.  Are we not like this much, if not most, of the time?  We have some faith and we know that we need more.  We believe, yet we need God to forgive us for our unbelief.  But a little faith is better than none, and from little faith much more can spring.  As the Book of Psalms says, God knows that we are “but dust.”

Reciprocity matters in a healthy relationship with God.  We will get much wrong, for we are fallible.  But, by grace, we can walk in the paths of righteousness more often than not.  We might save not only ourselves, but friends and family members, too.  But are we trying?  That is the first question.  Fortunately, God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.  And let us remember what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said about faithfulness:  God calls us to be faithful, not successful.

Certainly, how we treat others can be an outward sign of faithfulness.  If we love God with our essence and respect ourselves, following the Golden Rule will result in frequent acts of kindness.  To follow up on a previous devotion in this series, Jesus said that “you shall know them by their fruits.”  I add to this thought the entire Letter of James.

May we be faithful to God for the glory of God and out of awe of God and gratitude for all the wonderful deeds God has done.  And why not?  God is faithful.







Adapted from this post: