Archive for the ‘Job 37’ Tag

Elihu’s Speeches   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF JOB

PART XII

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Job 32:1-37:24; 28:1-28

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We read that Elihu was livid.  We read that:

He fumed with rage against Job for thinking that he was right and God was wrong; and he was equally angry with the three friends for giving up the argument and thus admitting God had to be unjust.

–Job 32:2b-3, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Chapters of pneumatic platitudes ensue.  If one was paying attention during the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, one will recognize the themes.  For example, Job must have sinned, for why else would he be suffering?  God is just, so Job needs to confess his sins and reconcile with God.  This whole terrible situation is Job’s fault.  Or so says Elihu.

Chapter 28, sometimes regarded as being of independent origin and inserted into the book, shares vocabulary with chapter 37, which also refers to the sky.  So, chapter 28 is, according to The Jewish Study Bible, the conclusion of Elihu’s speeches.

Ironically, the last verse describes Job, not Elihu:

And [God] said to man,

“Wisdom?  It is fear of the Lord.

Understanding?–avoidance of evil.

–Job 28:28, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

We never read of Elihu again in the Book of Job.  Good riddance!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 3, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE SEVENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY TO THE FAR EAST

THE FEAST OF AMILIE JULIANE, COUNTESS OF SCHWARZBURG-RUDOLSTADT, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL TAIT, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAN FRANCISZEK MACHA, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF M. WOOLSEY STRYKER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AUTHOR, HYMNAL EDITOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SOPHIE KOULOMZIN, RUSSIAN-AMERICAN CHRISTIAN EDUCATOR

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The Prologue of the Book of Job   2 comments

READING THE BOOK OF JOB

PART I

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Job 1 and 2

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PRELIMINARY STATEMENTS

The introduction to the Book of Job in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), describes this ancient text as a

complex and composite work.

That is an understatement.  For example, the flow of the story at the end of chapter 31 leads directly into chapter 38, but someone interjected chapters 32-37.  Furthermore, chapter 28 seems to belong to the Elihu material, also.  Even if chapter 28 does not belong to the Elihu cycle, it still comes out of left field relative to what surrounds it.

The Book of Job, which most likely dates to after the Babylonian Exile, fits into the regional literary motif of the pious sufferer.  More than one ancient text reflecting this motif exists.  So, once more, the Bible contains literature similar to writings from neighboring cultures.  This should surprise nobody; cultures influence each other, especially when they are near other.

I have no interest in dissecting the Book of Job line by line; rather, I stand back and look at the big picture.  I choose to focus on the forest and to zoom in on some trees.  Besides, this project is not the first time I have blogged regarding the Book of Job.  One hundred-nineteen lectionary-based posts at this weblog contain tags that link them to the Book of Job.  This project is, however, the first time I am blogging my way through the Book of Job from the first verse to the last one.

My translations and guides for this journey through the Book of Job are:

  1. The Jerusalem Bible (1966).  This is my primary translation because J. R. R. Tolkien worked on the translation of this book in that version.
  2. TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985, 1999), as contained in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014).
  3. Robert Alter’s translation in The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019).
  4. Samuel Terrien and Paul Scherer, writing in The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 3 (1954).
  5. Carol A. Newsom, writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4 (1996).

Now, without further ado, I turn to the Prologue of the Book of Job.

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GOD, HASATAN, AND JOB

The Book of Job opens with a prose prologue, just as it closes with a prose epilogue.  The prologue establishes the setting in the Transjordan, during the age of the patriarchs.  Yet the Book of Job mimics an archaic literary style and indicates familiarity with Second and Third Isaiah.

This story, told as a folktale, is not historical.  It, theological, is mostly poetic.  The Book of Job is, in the highest meaning of the word, a myth.  The Book of Job is not literally true, but it contains truth.  Part of the interpretive complexity of the book comes from nauseating gas bags (Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite) sounding like passages from the books of Psalms and Proverbs.  They are obnoxious pains in every part of human anatomy, but they do speak a truth on occasion despite themselves.

We read of the lavish lifestyle of Job and his family.  They are spectacularly wealthy.  Banquets that continue for day after day are commonplace.  The siblings live harmoniously with each other and their parents.  The story tells us that Job performs a priestly function on behalf of his offspring; he sacrifices in case any of them have sinned.  Job is a devout monotheist who cares deeply for his family.

We read also of the “sons of God”–in this case–angels, members of the heavenly court.  This is a rewritten vestige of pagan divine councils, commonplace in that part of the world in antiquity.  In this context we meet the Adversary, hasatan (the Satan), who had yet to transform into a rogue in Jewish theology and to become the archenemy of God in apocalyptic literature.

One may recall the story of Balaam in Numbers 22-24.  The story about the talking donkey in 22:22-35 is intriguing, to say the least.  In that story, the donkey, sees the Adversary/the angel of YHWH standing in the road in 22:22-27.  Then Balaam sees the heavenly figure in 22:31. Balaam and the Adversary converse afterward.  Hasatan works for God in Numbers 22.

The Book of Job comes from a time in the history of theology when the Adversary/the Satan was a loyal servant of God.  The job of hasatan in Job 1 and 2 is to test the loyalty of the people of God, modeled here after a King of the Persian Empire, a man who employed loyalty testers throughout the realm.  The Book of Job comes from a transitional time in the doctrine of Satan; hasatan seems to derive too much satisfaction from his job.  Robert Alter points to the Satan’s

cynical mean-spiritedness.

Yet the Satan does nothing without divine permission.  He still works for God.

Hasatan continues to fulfill the role of accuser in Zechariah 3:1, also from the Persian period.  However, Zechariah 3 indicates a shift toward the Satan as rogue:

He showed me Joshua the high priest, standing before the angel of Yahweh, with Satan standing on his right to accuse him.  The angel of Yahweh said to Satan, “May Yahweh rebuke you, Satan, may Yahweh rebuke you, he who has made Jerusalem his very own.  Is not this man a brand snatched from the fire?”

–Zechariah 3:1-2, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

During the Persian period, the Satan came to resemble Ahriman, the evil one in Zoroastrianism.  One culture influenced another one.

The history of the doctrine is objective, documented, and not subject to dispute.  The question of the truth behind the doctrine is theological.  Truth with a capital T does exist regarding this matter.  I think I know what that truth is.  Whether I agree with God is a matter for God to say.

For the record, I think that Jewish theology, under Zoroastrian influence, finally got the doctrine right.

The Book of Job tells us that YHWH allows Job to suffer and innocents to die.  The Book of Job tells us that YHWH permits all this to happen as part of a wager with hasatan, the overzealous, cynical loyalty tester.  Job 1 and 2 portray YHWH negatively.  This is anthropomorphic understanding of YHWH.

Anthropomorphizing God is unavoidable; we mere mortals have our cultural perspectives and carry assumptions.  Yet me must, if we are spiritually honest, acknowledge that God is far greater and far more than we can imagine.

The Prologue to the Book of Job raises a question germane to each of us:  Why do we revere God, if we do?  Do we practice a quid pro quo faith life?

“Yes,” Satan said, “but Job is not God-fearing for nothing, is he?”

–Job 1:9, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

The omniscient narrative voice in the Book of Job does not ask why the righteous suffer.  No, it tells us why Job suffers.  The alleged friends think they know why Job suffers.  The titular character rejects their theory and knows who is ultimately responsible for his suffering–God.  The Book of Job does ask each of us why we are devout, assuming that one is pious, of course.  Is this faith relationship that one that mistakes God for a vending machine or a sugar daddy?  Or is this faith relationship one that survives crises and other hardships.

The ending of the prologue introduces us to three friends–Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.  One of my favorite puns tells me that Bildad the Shuhite was the shortest man in the Bible.  (I did not make up that joke.  I do groan at it, though.)  Seriously, though, the subsequent poetic chapters reveal that a famous question applies to the Book of Job.  That query is,

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

I invite you, O reader, to remain beside me on this journey through the Book of Job.  We will hear from Job–the man himself–in the next installment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 22, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ROBERT SEAGRAVE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANNA KOLESÁROVÁ, SLOVAK ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1944

THE FEAST OF DITLEF GEORGSON RISTAD, NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, LITURGIST, AND EDUCATOR

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The First Oracle of Haggai   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Haggai

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART II

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Haggai 1:1-15

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King Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes (r. 559-530 B.C.E.) conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  The following year, he issued a decree permitting Jewish exiles to return to their ancestral homeland (Ezra 1:1-4).  The first wave of exiles to return to the ruined homeland (Ezra 1:5-2:70; 1 Esdras 2:8-30; 1 Esdras 5:1-73).  The old, prophetic predictions of the homeland being a verdant paradise of piety and prosperity did not match reality on the ground.  Grief and disappointment ensued.  The land was not as fertile as in the germane prophecies, and the economy was bad.

As of 520 B.C.E., proper worship, as had occurred before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.), had not resumed.  People had set up an altar–most likely in 520 B.C.E. (as 1 Esdras 5:47-55 indicates, not in 538 B.C.E. (as Ezra 3:1-8 indicates).

Construction of the Second Temple began (Ezra 3:10-13; 1 Esdras 5:56-65a).  Yet opposition to that effort caused a pause in construction (Ezra 4:1-23; 1 Esdras 5:65b-73).

Haggai 1:1-15 establishes two dates and three names:

  1. The first date (1:1), converted to the Gregorian Calendar, is August 9, 520 B.C.E.
  2. The first name is Haggai, who prophesied from August 9 to December 18, 520 B.C.E.
  3. The second name is Joshua ben Zehozadak, the chief priest.
  4. The final name is Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel (of the House of David), the satrap (governor).   Notice the lack of the Davidic monarchy, O reader.
  5. The final date (1:15) is September 21, 520 B.C.E.

Haggai offered a simple explanation of why the drought was severe and the economy was poor.  He blamed everything on the lack of a completed Temple in Jerusalem.  The prophet argued that such disrespect for God was the culprit, and that the poverty and drought were punishment.  Work on the construction of the Second Temple resumed.  Surely resuming construction of the Second Temple ended the drought and revived the economy, right?  No, actually, hence Haggai 2:10-10.

Haggai’s heart was in the right place, but he missed an important truth that predated Jesus:

[God] makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

–Matthew 5:45b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Haggai could have recalled certain laments from Hebrew literature.  He could have remembered Psalm 73, for example.  Why did the wicked flourish and the righteous falter?  Haggai could have recalled the Book of Job, in which the innocent, titular character suffered.

I make no pretense of being a spiritual giant and a great spring of wisdom, O reader.  However, I offer you a principle to consider:  God is not a vending machine.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 10:  THE SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF NATHAN SODERBLOM, SWEDISH ECUMENIST AND ARCHBISHOP OF UPPSULA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DAVID GONSON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1541

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN GUALBERT, FOUNDER OF THE VALLOMBROSAN BENEDICTINES

THE FEAST OF SAINTS THOMAS SPROTT AND THOMAS HUNT, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1600

THE FEAST OF SAINT VALERIU TRAIAN FRENTIU, ROMANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 1952

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A Collage of Laments   Leave a comment

Above:  Lamentations 3:10

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART IV

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Lamentation 3:1-66

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Different voices fill Lamentations 3.  A new voice–that of Israel personified as the Man–speaks in verses 1-24, and perhaps through verse 39, as well.  An alternative view holds that the Poet speaks in verses 25-39.  Another new voice–that of the Community–speaks in verses 48-51.  Either Fair Zion or the Man speaks in verses 52-66.

Verses 1-20 depict deportation into exile.  They also depict God as a bad shepherd, in contrast to Psalm 23, Psalm 78, and Ezekiel 34.  Yet, starting with verse 25, we read an expression of hope in God.  Divine loyalty has not ended and divine mercies are not spent, we read.

For the Lord does not

Reject forever,

But first afflicts, then pardons

In His abundant kindness.

–Lamentations 3:31-32, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Comparing translations reveals shades of meaning in the original Hebrew text.  The Revised English Bible (1989) reads:

For rejection by the Lord

does not last forever.

He may punish, yet he will have compassion

in the fullness of his unfailing love….

When we turn to The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011), we read:

For the Lord does not reject forever;

Though he brings grief, he takes pity,

according to the abundance of his mercy….

Much of the material in verses 25-39 sounds like speeches by Job’s alleged friends (Job 4, 8, 11, 15, 18, 20, 22, 25, 32-37):  Suffering is divine punishment for sin, and people should accept this punishment.  In the context of the Book of Job, this is a misplaced theology, not applicable to the titular character’s situation (Job 1:1-2:10; 42:7-9).  Also, the speeches of Job’s alleged friends read like the useless yet conventionally pious babblings they are, in narrative context.

The rest of the Book of Lamentations confesses sins, repents of those sins, begs for divine deliverance, expresses hope in God, and prays for divine judgment on the wicked nations.

I get theological whiplash from Lamentations 3.  The contrast between Lamentations 3 and the rage against God in Lamentations 2 is stark.  And who says that God does not willingly bring grief or affliction?  I recall many passages from Hebrew prophetic books in which God speaks and claims credit for causing grief and affliction.  I do not recall anyone forcing God to do that.  In some passages, however, God speaks of these divine actions as the consequences of human sins.

I approach theodicy cautiously.  I am also an intellectually honest monotheist.  I have no evil god to blame for anything, thereby letting the good god off the hook.  There is simply and solely God, who is ever in the dock, so to speak.   The major problem with human theodicy is that it easily degenerates into idiocy at best and heresy at worst.

Whenever someone professes not to believe in God, one way to handle the situation is to ask that individual to describe the God in whom he or she does not believe.  One may also want to ask how the other person defines belief in God.  In the creedal sense, to believe in God is to trust in God.  Yet many–or most–people probably understand belief in God to mean affirmation of the existence of God.

Idiotic theodicy produces a range of God-concepts abhorrent to me.  I suspect that many–or most–of those professed agnostics and atheists reject at least one of these God-concepts, too.  Many professed agnostics and atheists–a host of them refugees from conventional piety and abusive faith–may be closer to a healthy relationship with the God of the Universe than many conventionally devout Jews and Christians.  This matter lies far outside my purview; it resides in the purview of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DALBERG ACTON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER, AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, AND ADVOCATE FOR PEACE

THE FEAST OF MICHEL-RICHARD DELALANDE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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Mutuality in God IV   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Augustine of Hippo, by Ambito Lombardo

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 2

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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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O God, who in the glorious Transfiguration of thy only begotten Son,

hast confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the fathers,

and who, in the voice that came from the bright cloud,

didst in a wonderful manner vouchsafe to make us co-heirs with the King of his glory,

and bring us to the enjoyment of the same;

through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord,

who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit,

ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 134

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Job 28:1-28

Psalm 119:49-64

1 Corinthians 10:1-14

Matthew 15:14-29

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How should one interpret Job 28?  It does not flow from Chapter 27.  “He” (God) in 28:3 has no antecedent in Job 27.  And the identity of the speaker is uncertain.  Chapter 28 sits between Job 27 and Job 29, of the titular character.  Is the speaker Job, one of his alleged friends, or someone else?

The identity of the speaker is crucial.  To know who speaks in a particular passage of the Book of Job is to know how to read or hear that passage.  Job’s alleged friends are objectively wrong on many points within the Book of Job and within the full canon of Jewish scripture.  Yet they are right sometimes, too.  To quote a cliché, 

A broken clock is right twice a day.

A note in The Jewish Study Bible hypothesizes that the speaker is Elihu, a character shoe-horned into the Book of Job between Job’s concluding argument to God (at the end of Chapter 31) and the beginning of God’s reply to job in Chapter 38.  The epilogue to the Book of Job names Eliphz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite (42:9) yet never Elihu.

[God] said to man,

“See!  Fear of the Lord is wisdom;

To shun evil is understanding.

–Job 28:28, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That verse is consistent with Psalm 119.

The trials you have had to bear are no more than people normally have.  You can trust God not to let you be tried beyond your strength, and with any trial he will give you a way out of it and the strength to bear it.

–1 Corinthians 10:13, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

I have heard a consistent misinterpretation of that verse for many years.  

To read “you” as singular is wrong.  1 Corinthians is a letter to a congregation, not an individual.  Individualistic assumptions of my Western culture may lead one to misread and mishear “you” as singular.  Reading the passage in a romance language helps to clear up the matter, too.

Aucune tentation ne vous est survenue qui n’ait été humaine; Dieu est est fidèle et ne permettra pas que vous soyez téntes au-delà de vos forces….

–1 Corinthiens 10:13a, Nouvelle Version Segond Révisée (1978)

Vous is plural, not formal singular, in this case.

Within the context of faith community, all the necessary spiritual resources exist.  The variety of spiritual gifts and the presence of God can fulfill each person’s spiritual needs.  Mutuality remains a theme.

Regarding Matthew 15:21-28, I refer you, O reader, to the category for Matthew 15.  Follow it to find my analysis of that story.

I prefer to focus on another aspect of the Gospel reading.  The dark side of human nature defiles one–makes one unclean–makes one “common,” as J. B. Phillips translated the Greek word.  The list in Matthew 19 is representative, not comprehensive.  One may ask what fornication, theft, perjury, and slander have in common.  They are ways to harm others–emotionally, legally, socially, economically, and physically.  They work against the model of mutuality in 1 Corinthians 10:13.

To tie up the readings with a figurative bow, mutuality fits with Job 28:28 and Psalm 119.  We should shun evil, individually and collectively.  And standing in awe of God (a better translation than “fearing God”) is wisdom.

As St. Augustine of Hippo wrote at length and more eloquently than I write, those who love God as they should can do whatever they want and still please God.  They want to live in faith community defined by mutuality.  These spiritual giants want to help, not harm.  They are in tune with God.

I make no pretense of being one of these spiritual giants.  I do, however, know in visceral, practical terms how mutuality works in a congregation.  I know how to give and receive.  Both are blessings from God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, MARKUS BARTH, SWISS LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, WELSH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYR, 1610

THE FEAST OF PAUL EBER, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MURRAY, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Daniel and Susanna   Leave a comment

Above:  Susanna and the Elders

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART XI

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Daniel 13:1-64

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Daniel and Susanna, according to study Bibles I consulted, hails from either the second or the first centuries B.C.E.  A standard description of Daniel 13 is that it is the oldest surviving detective story.  I prefer to think of it as the oldest surviving Perry Mason story.

The cast of named characters is:

  1. Joakim, husband of Susanna;
  2. Susanna, daughter of Hilkiah and wife of Joakim;
  3. Hilkiah, father of Susanna; and
  4. Daniel.

The story does not name the two wicked elders.

This is a story about the miscarriage of justice.  We read that the beautiful and pious Susanna, wife of the wealthy and pious Joakim, refused the sexual advances of the lecherous and homicidal elders, who had hidden in her garden.  The story describes the two elders as predators.  We also read of their perjury and of Susanna’s false conviction, followed by her sentence of death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:21-22).

This is also a story about justice.  We read of Susanna’s prayer (verses 42-43) and of God’s reply:  sending Daniel to rescue her.  We read of Daniel’s Perry Mason routine, by which he exposed the two elders’ lies with an arborial question:  

Now, if you really saw this woman, then tell us, under what tree did you see them together?”

–Verse 54, The Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha (1989)

We also read of the elders’ execution, in accordance with the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 19:16-21).  In the Law of Moses, the punishment for committing perjury to convict someone falsely is to suffer the fate one intended for the accused.

The suffering of the innocent and the pious is a major theme in the Book of Daniel.  We also read of God delivering such victims in Daniel 2 and 3.  Yet Daniel 10-12 wrestles with the realities of martyrdoms.

God delivers the innocent and the pious some of the time.  This tension is evident in the Book of Psalms.  Some of those texts sound like Elihu, as well as Job’s alleged friends:  Suffering results from sins, and God delivers the righteous.  Yet other Psalms come from the perspective of the suffering righteous.  The former position fills Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/the Wisdom of Ben Sira, too.  Ecclesiastes functions as a counter-argument to that excessive optimism.

Why does God deliver some of the righteous and not all of them?  I have no pat answer for such a challenging question.  In Revelation 6:9-11, even the martyrs in Heaven are not always happy.

We who struggle with this vexing question belong to an ancient tradition.  We are the current generation in a long train.  We have reasons to rejoice, at least; God delivers some of the innocent and the pious.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 23, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN KENNETH PFOHL, SR., U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS WIFE, HARRIET ELIZABETH “BESSIE” WHITTINGTON PFOHL, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN; AND THEIR SON, JAMES CHRISTIAN PFOHL, SR., U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF CASPAR FRIEDRICH NACHTENHOFER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLEMENT I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MISSIONARY

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Intelligence and Understanding   Leave a comment

Above:  Head of Job, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Trinity, 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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O God, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by thy Holy Spirit,

that being made ever mindful of the end of all things,

and the day of just judgment,

we may be stirred up to holiness of living here,

and dwell with thee forever hereafter;

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

The Book of Worship (1947), 233

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Job 28

Psalm 119:161-176

Ephesians 2:1-10

Matthew 12:38-50

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Which literary (not historical) character speaks in Job 28?  Scholarly sources disagree.  The two candidates are Job and that idiot, Elihu.  Job 28 does not flow stylistically from Job 27, in which Job is the speaker.  The Elihu cycle is Job 32-37, of course, but Job 28 may consist of material that belongs there.  If Elihu is the speaker (as the notes in The Jewish Study Bible insist), this text proves the adage that a broken clock is right twice a day.

And [God] said to man,

“Wisdom?  It is fear of the Lord.

Understanding?–avoidance of evil.”

–Job 28:28, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

To put it another way,

Then [God] said to human beings,

“Wisdom?–that is fear of the Lord;

Intelligence?–avoidance of evil.”

–Job 28:28, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

“Fear of the Lord” is a terrible and common translation.  “Fear” should be “awe.”

More interesting, though, is “intelligence” for “understanding” in The New Jerusalem Bible.  “Understanding” is the standard translation in English.  On the other hand, Nouvelle Version Segond Revisée (1978) renders Job 28:28 as:

Puis il dit à l’homme:

Voici la crainte du Seigneur, c’est la sagesse;

S’ecarter du mal, c’est l’intelligence.

We read in Psalm 119:174-176:

I long for your salvation, Yahweh,

And your law is my delight.

Long live my soul to praise you,

and let your ordinances help me.

If I should stray like a lost sheep,

seek your servant,

For I have not forgotten your commandments.

Mitchell J. Dahood, S.J.

If we love God, we keep divine commandments.  If we love God, we do not ask for signs, faithlessly.  If we love God, we love one another, bearers of the image of God.  If we love God, we return to God after having sinned.  If we love God, we try to avoid evil.  If we love God, we embrace divine mercy for ourselves and all other recipients of it.  If we love God, we accept the present of salvation and the demands that gift makes on our lives.  Grace is free, not cheap.  If we love God, we stand in awe of God and act intelligently, with understanding, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 3, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF CAROLINE CHISHOLM, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BOUDINOT, IV, U.S. STATESMAN, PHILANTHROPIST, AND WITNESS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE-LÉONIE PARADIS, FOUNDRESS OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MAURA AND TIMOTHY OF ANTINOE, MARTYRS, 286

THE FEAST OF SAINT TOMASSO ACERBIS, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

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The Oratory and Theology of Elihu, Part VII   1 comment

the-wrath-of-elihu-william-blake

Above:  The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

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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Job 36:14-37:24

Psalm 11

Matthew 8:5-13 or John 4:43-54

Jude 1-25 or Hebrews 13:9-14, 17-25

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Elihu’s speeches contain much that sounds pious.  Job 36:24-37:24 supports this generalization.  We read, among other things, that we should praise God and that divine grandeur exceeds our knowledge of it.  Elihu even sounds like God in Job 38-41, the “I am God and you are not” speeches:

Mediate on God’s wonders.

Can you tell how God controls them

or how his clouds make the lightning flash?

Can you tell how he holds the clouds in balance:

a miracle of consummate skill?

When your clothes are hot to your body

and the earth lies still under the south wind,

can you help him to spread the vault of heaven,

Or temper the mirror of cast metal?

–Job 37:14b-18, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

I prefer the God of Job 42:7-8 to the God of Job 38-41, for the former acknowledges that Job was correct.  For some reason I have really noticed Job 43:7-8 during the preparation for this series of posts, despite the many times I have read that passage over the years.  Part of the wonder of scripture is that one can always find something one has missed.

Among my favorite aspects of Judaism is the practice of arguing faithfully with God.  The character of Job exemplifies that well.  He is, contrary to an inaccurate cliché, impatient and argumentative–justifiably, I contend.  Yes, we can take refuge in God, but this does preclude a good argument now and then.

We should repent of and express remorse for our sins, as grace helps us to recognize them.  As we do so, we ought to follow the advice of Hebrews 13:13-15 and follow Jesus, who healed people around whom he was not present, into the world as pilgrims each day.  We might suffer reproach, but the servant is not greater than the master.  Sometimes we will suffer for reasons neither we nor others understand, or because of the sins of others.  That is simply reality.

One lesson to learn from the Book of Job is the difference between speaking the truth in love and blaming the victim.  Unfortunately, recognizing that distinction can prove difficult in the moment.  May we, by grace, prove innocent of being like Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, and Elihu, who were sincerely wrong and not helpful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 11, 2016 COMMON ERA

PROPER 19:  THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAPHNUTIUS THE GREAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF UPPER THEBAID

THE FEAST OF NARAYAN SESHADRI OF JALNA, INDIAN PRESBYTERIAN EVANGELIST AND “APOSTLE TO THE MANGS”

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATIENS OF LYONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/09/11/devotion-for-the-last-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-d/

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The Oratory and Theology of Elihu, Part VI   1 comment

the-wrath-of-elihu-william-blake

Above:  The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

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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Job 36:1-23

Psalm 61

Matthew 13:53-58

2 Peter 3:1-7 (8-14) 15-18

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Elihu went on speaking.

–Job 36:1a, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

I read those words and thought,

Unfortunately.

“Elihu” means “He is my God.”  Elihu mounts a full-throated theodicy; he seeks to prove that God is just.  (God needs no human defense, of course.)  In the process Elihu accuses Job falsely of having been an agent of economic injustice and states that this alleged sin of Job is the reason for the main character’s sufferings.  All of this contradicts Job 1 and 2, as a reader of the text is supposed to know.  Elihu, who is falsely confident that he is correct, is blaming the victim.

Later in the Book of Job, a text with layers of authorship, we read two very different answers from God.  In Chapters 38-41 God gives Job the “I am God and you are not” speeches.  In the prose epilogue, in Chapter 42, however, God speaks briefly to Eliphaz the Temanite, saying:

I burn with anger against you and your two friends for not speaking truthfully about me as my servant Job has done….

–Verse 7b, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

There is no mention of Elihu after Chapter 37.  I suppose that this is because the composition of Chapters 32-37 postdates that of the epilogue, but, given that the Elihu material is similar in content to the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, he would have met with divine disapproval also, had the Elihu cycle existed at the time of the composition of the epilogue.

In contrast to the arrogance of Elihu (Job 36:4) one finds humility before God in Psalm 61 and 2 Peter 3:14.  Divine patience is, in the words of 2 Peter 3:15, an

opportunity for salvation,

but divine judgment and mercy exist in a balance which only God understands fully.  May we accept this opportunity for salvation, not imagine that we are enlightened and that our words contain no fallacies.  And may we avoid committing the error of people of Nazareth in Matthew 13:53-58, that is, permitting familiarity to blind us to the fact that we do not know as much as we think we do.  This is an especially helpful caution regarding passages of scripture with which we are familiar; they retain the ability to contradict our false assumptions and surprise–even scandalize–us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 10, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SALVIUS OF ALBI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF MORDECAI JOHNSON, EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT NEMESIAN OF SIGUM AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS AND MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/devotion-for-the-eighth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-d/

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Listening to God   1 comment

Silas Benjamin

Above:  God Speaking to King Silas Benjamin Through a Storm in New King, Part 2, the Final Episode of Kings (2009)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

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The Collect:

O God of creation, eternal majesty,

you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm.

By your strength pilot us,

by your power preserve us,

by your wisdom instruct us,

and by your hand protect us,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 37:1-13

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

Luke 21:25-28

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Some went down to the sea in ships

and plied their trade in deep waters;

They beheld the works of the LORD

and his wonders in the deep.

Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose,

which tossed high the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths;

their hearts melted because of their peril.

they reeled and staggered like drunkards and were at their wits’ end.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper

and quieted the waves of the sea.

Then they were glad because of the calm,

and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy

and the wonders he does for his children.

Let them exalt him in the congregation of his people

and praise him in the council of the elders.

–Psalm 107:23-32, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The imagery of the storm god, common in the ancient Near East, appears in the Bible.  We find this imagery in the three readings for today, in fact.  Elihu, speaking in Job 37, uses it.  Later, in Chapters 38-41, God speaks out of the tempest.  Psalm 107 (the reading from which I extended) describes a storm at sea.  And we read of natural disasters and of Jesus descending on a cloud in Luke 21.  (Cue “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” everyone.)  The imagery of clouds associated with God is rich in the Bible, from the Book of Exodus to the Transfiguration, Ascension, and Second Coming of Jesus.  And, in the NBC series Kings (2009), based on stories of David and Saul yet set in contemporary times, God speaks to King Silas Benjamin (the Saul figure) from storm clouds.

Nevertheless, another passage of scripture comes to my mind.  In 1 Kings 19 the prophet Elijah is hiding from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who want to kill him.  God speaks to Elijah, but not from any storm or natural disaster:

The LORD was passing by:  a great and strong wind came, rending mountains and shattering rocks before him, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a faint murmuring sound.

–1 Kings 19:11b-12, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Then God spoke to Elijah.

I extended the reading from Psalm 107 to include the calmed waters of the sea because doing so works well with the reading from 1 Kings 19.

God does some of God’s best speaking in the quietness, I am convinced.  Certainly some occasions justify dramatic demonstrations, but we mere mortals will miss God’s still, small voice if we focus on God’s booming voice.  God speaks to us often via a range of channels, from the spectacular to the mundane.  My experience has taught me that God has spoken most profoundly to me in the silence and in the conversational speaking tones of people around me.  Sometimes God has whispered to me, but usually God has simply spoken to me.  Those messages have proven most spiritually helpful in my life.

I invite you, O reader, to make a habit of being quiet and listening for whatever God says to you.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 25, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE ANNUNCIATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-7-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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