Archive for the ‘Moses’ Tag

The Coronation of Joshua, the High Priest   Leave a comment

Above:  Joshua, High Priest

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART XIII

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Zechariah 6:9-15

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

Zechariah 6:9-15 depicts the making of two crowns yet the coronation of just one man–the high priest, Joshua ben Jehozadak.  We read another reference to “the Branch,” Zerubbabel, supposedly due to wear a royal crown and restore the Davidic Dynasty.  We know that he did neither.  We read an affirmation of the dual leadership of Joshua and Zerubbabel.

Zechariah 6:15 predicts the completion of the Second Temple, under one condition:

If only you will obey the LORD your God!

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That is almost a quote from Deuteronomy 28:1, at the beginning of a chapter about blessings, curses, and the consequences of disobedience to God.  Deuteronomy 28, placed in the mouth of Moses, comes from a time long after him.  The chapter benefits from centuries’ worth of hindsight.

Hindsight is the context from which people tell stories and weave interpretations.  Hindsight is useful and crucial during transitional periods, such as the temporal context of Haggai-First Zechariah.  Those who fail to learn the lessons of the past are not destined to repeat them.  Time does not play on a loop.  No, those who fail to learn the lessons of the past are destined to commit variations of those errors in new contexts.

Zechariah 6:15b states the overriding theme of Haggai 1-2 and Zechariah 1-8:

If only you will obey the LORD your God!

This is also a theme that repeats, as if on a loop, throughout the Old and New Testaments.  This theme remains germane in 2021.  However, knowing the details of how to obey God can prove challenging.  Applying timeless principles in circumstances introduces a degree of relativism.  I know, for example, that God commands me to love my neighbor as I love myself.  But how I should do that in a particular time, place, and cultural setting, as opposed to another time, place, and cultural setting?

One may have to do one’s best, trust in God, hope to get it right, and pray for forgiveness if one errs.  The desire to please God is a good start, at least.  It is more than many people want to do.  And, by grace, one can forgive oneself for trying and failing, just as God has forgiven one.

The rest of the story comes from Ezra 6:1-22 and 1 Esdras 7:-15.  We read that the construction of the Second Temple was complete in 516 B.C.E., and that a celebration of Passover followed.

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 Commissioning of Isaiah ben Amoz   Leave a comment

Above:  Isaiah’s Vision

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART VI

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Isaiah 6:1-13

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

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

Above:  The Brazen Serpent, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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

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

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

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

Listen carefully, but do not understand!

Look intently, but do not perceive!

Make the heart of this people sluggish,

dull their ears and close their eyes;

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

and their heart understand,

and they turn and be healed.

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

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

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

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

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

Repentance is no longer an option.

–779

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

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

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

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

You have made your bed.  Lie down in it.

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

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

Thus says the LORD:

For three crimes of ____, and now four–

I will not take it back–

Because they….

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR B

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

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, APOSTLE TO THE PYGMIES

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

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, ENGLISH FEMINIST AND SOCIAL REFORMER

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

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Stoicism and Platonism in Fourth Maccabees   Leave a comment

Above:  Zeno of Citium

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IV

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

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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.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Acting on the Words of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Peter’s Vison of a Sheet with Animals, by Henry Davenport Northrop

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, 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, whose never-failing Providence ordereth all things in heaven and earth;

we humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things,

and to give us those things which may be profitable for us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 196

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Exodus 3:1-14

Psalm 81

Acts 10:1-22

Matthew 7:22-29

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Matthew 7:22-29 establishes the key note for this blog post:  Hearing then acting on the words of God are imperative and wise.  Doing so transforms people.

Doing so has transformed people.  Moses, a murderer and a fugitive from Egyptian justice, became a great leader of his people.  (Unfortunately, most of his people grumbled in the wilderness for a generation.)  St. Simon Peter came to accept Gentiles as equals before God.

How much are you, O reader, willing to let divine commandments transform you?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER AND MARTYR, 1968

THE FEAST OF ABBY KELLEY FOSTER AND HER HUSBAND, STEPHEN SYMONDS FOSTER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONISTS AND FEMINISTS

THE FEAST OF BERTHA PAULSSEN, GERMAN-AMERICAN SEMINARY PROFESSOR, PSYCHOLOGIST, AND SOCIOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF GENE M. TUCKER, UNITED METHODIST MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN COSIN, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF COSIN

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Tobit’s Thanksgiving to God   Leave a comment

Above:  Judas Maccabeus

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART X

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Tobit 13:1-14a

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There is much going on in this reading.  Quickly, the Theory of Retribution, prominent in the Book of Tobit, recurs.  So does the Biblical theme of divine judgment and mercy being in balance.  Also, Tobit has two final testaments (Tobit 4:3-21 and 14:3-11), reminiscent of Moses in Deuteronomy 31-32 and 33.  Community and repentance are other evergreen themes.

I am most interested, however, in another aspect of this reading.  Jerusalem (Tobit 1:3-9) returns to the story.  I read the verses about Jerusalem in the Book of Tobit in the context of the Hasmonean rebellion (contemporary or nearly so to the composition of the Book of Tobit), not in the context of the Babylonian Exile.  I detect echoes of Hebrew prophecy and ponder how pious Jews living in the Hellenistic world related prophecy from prior centuries to their present day.  I also wonder if the anonymous author of the Book of Tobit expected the restoration of Jerusalem or wrote after the rededication of the Temple.

The Book of Tobit teaches the importance of faithful community.  Christian fundamentalism tends to be hyper-individualistic.  It teaches Jesus-and-Meism.  The Bible is not hyper-individualistic, though.  No, it teaches mutuality.  I cannot become my best self unless you, O reader, can become your best self, and vise versa.

The purpose of the book[of Tobit] is to move its readers from despair to prayer.

The Catholic Study Bible (1990), RG210

Sinking into despair is easy.  Hoping for better times can seem like setting oneself up for disappointment.  Trusting God can seem like a fool’s errand.  In other words,

Blessed are those who expect nothing;

they will not be disappointed.

Yet the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-26), on which that quote riffs, teach lived prayer, not despair.  They teach hope.  They teach trust in God.

So does the Book of Tobit.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF DAMASCUS AND COSMAS OF MAIUMA, THEOLOGIANS AND HYMNODISTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER HOTOVITZKY, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1937

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF PARMA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR; AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST; AND FRANZ GRUBER, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC TEACHER, MUSICIAN, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT OSMUND OF SALISBURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Tobit’s Blindness and Prayer   Leave a comment

Above:  Tobit and Anna with the Kid Goat, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART III

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Tobit 2:9-3:6

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Dystrus 7 was in late winter, in February.  Dystrus, a Hellenistic month, was also a literary anachromism.

In the story, Tobit was ritually impure after having buried a human corpse (Numbers 19:11-14).  So, he slept outside after washing himself ritually.  In the story, sleeping outdoors led to his blindness.  After two years, nephew Ahikar ceased to support Tobit then moved away.  The titular character, reduced to depending financially on his wife, wrongly accused her of having stolen an kid.  She justifiably objected to his attitude.  Anna, angry with her husband (not God, as was Job’s wife in Job 2:8), questioned Tobit’s virtue.  Then Tobit, like Jonah (Jonah 4:3, 8), Moses (Numbers 11:15), Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), and Job (Job 7:15), prayed for death.

The Theory of Retribution, which I have already mentioned and explained in this series, holds that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous.  This perspective pervades the Old and New Testaments.  Without rejecting the Theory of Retribution, I propose that life is more complicated than that.  Many of the wicked flourish and many of the righteous suffer in this life.  One way out of this conundrum is to relocate the ultimate reward or punishment to the afterlife.  Yet the Book of Tobit does not indicate belief in postmortem reward or punishment.

However, I remind you, O reader, of the meaning of the title of this book.  “Tobit” means “YHWH is good.”  The Book of Tobit, in its entirety, depicts YHWH as being very good.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 421

THE FEAST OF JAMES MILLS THOBURN, ISABELLA THOBURN, AND CLARA SWAIN, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES TO INDIA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COOKE AND BENJAMIN WEBB, ANGLICAN PRIESTS AND TRANSLATORS OF HYMNS

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

Above:  King Hezekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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

PART C

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2 Kings 18:1-12

2 Chronicles 29:1-31:21

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

honor wisdom, that you may reign for ever.

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

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

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

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

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

King Hezekiah, according to 2 Kings 18:6,

clung to the LORD.

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 6, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN GREGOR, FATHER OF MORAVIAN CHURCH MUSIC

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

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

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

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The Assumption and Legacy of Elijah   Leave a comment

Above:  The Assumption of Elijah

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 LXXX

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2 Kings 2:1-18

Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:14b-48:12a

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How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wonderous deeds!

And who has the right to boast which you have?

–Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:4, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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Elijah was one of three Biblical characters assumed bodily into Heaven.  The first was Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24).  The third was St. Mary of Nazareth, the Theotokos, the Mother of God, and the Queen of Heaven.

2 Kings 2:1-18 contains elements that may require explanation.  For example:

  1. The mantle (robe or cloak) was the physical means of parting the River Jordan, in an echo of the parting of the Sea of Reeds in Exodus 14.  Elijah resembled Moses in that scene.
  2. The request for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit was the request to become Elijah’s recognized and equipped successor.  According to Deuteronomy 21:17, the eldest son’s portion of the father’s inheritance was double that any of the any sons received.  Elisha asked for the same right as an eldest son, but not regarding property.
  3. Elisha resembled Moses in a second parting of the waters in 2 Kings 2:14.

I detect nostalgic exaggeration in Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/Wisdom of Ben Sira 48:8.  As I recall Biblical stories, God (in 1 Kings 19) ordered Elijah to choose his successor and to anoint the next Kings of Israel and Aram.  1 Kings 19 tells us that Elijah chose Elisha shortly thereafter.  2 Kings 8 and 9 tell me that Elisha anointed the next Kings of Israel and Aram.

Nevertheless, Elijah was one of the most remarkable figures in the Bible.  He became a figure of great importance in messianic expectation.  Elijah also became a symbol of the Hebrew prophetic tradition.  Jesus speaking with Elijah and Moses at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36) testified to the greatness of the prophet.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Elijah in the Wilderness   Leave a comment

Above: Elijah in the Desert, by Washington Alllston

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 LXXIII

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1 Kings 19:1-18

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The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe

and strips the forests bare.

–Psalm 29:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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King Ahab of Israel (Reigned 873-852 B.C.E.)

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Except when the voice of God is a soft, murmuring sound.

There is much going on in 1 Kings 19.  For example:

  1. Let us not forget the hundred unnamed prophets hiding from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel in two caves in 18:4.
  2. If Elijah had died in Chapter 19, the prophetic tradition would have continued.
  3. God provided for Elijah in the wilderness, as God had done for Moses and the former Hebrew slaves in Exodus.
  4. Elijah sheltering in the rock calls back to Moses sheltering in the rock (Exodus 33:13-33) when God passed by.
  5. The depiction of God in 1 Kings 19:1-18 is opposite of that of Baal Peor, a storm god.
  6. God told Elijah in so many words, “Stop whining!  Get back to work!”  Then God gave Elijah three tasks to complete.
  7. Elijah completed only one of those tasks.  Elisha completed the other two tasks in 2 Kings 8:7-15 and 9:1-15, after the assumption of Elijah into Heaven.  
  8. Elijah selecting his successor (Elisha) echoes Moses choosing his successor (Joshua son of Nun) in Numbers 27:15-23.

Germane texts offer a mixed critique of Elijah.  As with King David, his record in scripture is more ambiguous than his standard historical reputation.  Such overblown reputations result from the excesses of nostalgia.

Yet such ambiguity should comfort us.  If there was hope for Elijah, for example, there is also hope for us.  Heroic figures were human beings with great flaws and great virtues.  These heroes did much for God.  So can we mortals.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES A. WALSH AND THOMAS PRICE, COFOUNDERS OF THE MARYKNOLL FATHERS AND BROTHERS; AND MARY JOSEPHINE ROGERS, FOUNDRESS OF THE MARYKNOLL SISTERS OF SAINT DOMINIC

THE FEAST OF DMITRY BORTNIANSKY, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF HARRY WEBB FARRINGTON, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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The Anointing of David   2 comments

Above: Samuel Anointing 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 XIV

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1 Samuel 16:1-13

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I was small among my brothers,

and the youngest in my father’s house;

I tended my father’s sheep.

My brothers were handsome and tall,

but the Lord was not pleased with them.

–Psalm 151:1, 5, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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This story flows directly from 1 Samuel 15:1-35, the second version of God’s rejection of Saul in the composite narrative.

  1. 1 Samuel 16:1-13 contains various elements.  I will write about some of them.
  2. Samuel was on a subversive mission from God.  He was going out to anoint the next King of Israel in secret.  Israel already had a monarch.
  3. The arrival of a prophet created fear in some people.
  4. Saul was a head taller than most other Israelites (1 Samuel 9:2).  He was also handsome.  Good looks counted as a qualification for being a monarch.  David was also handsome (1 Samuel 16:12).  He was also shorter than Saul.
  5. God told Samuel to pay no attention to the conventional standards of appearance and height.
  6. David, the youngest of eight sons of Jesse, was God’s choice.  Seven was the number of completion; eight was one better.  Also, the Biblical motif of the youngest or a younger son being the chosen one recurred.
  7. As after the anointing of Saul (1 Samuel 10:9-13), the Spirit of God gripped the newly anointed (1 Samuel 16:13).
  8. David was a shepherd.  Moses had been a shepherd, too (Exodus 3:1).  Kings in the ancient Near East were often shepherds, figuratively.  Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, texts referred to Israelite monarchs as shepherds.

What standards do we look for in rulers?  I, as a student of United States history, think immediately of two very different Presidents of the United States who perpetually occupy the lower rungs of historians’ rankings of Presidents.  I think of Franklin Pierce (in office 1853-1857), who signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) into law, made Kansas “Bleeding Kansas,” and hastened the coming of the Civil War.  I also know that, according to tradition, he may have been the most handsome President.  I also think of the distinguished-looking Warren G. Harding (in office 1921-1923), the President from central casting.  I know, however, that he pursued nativistic policies and, even immediately after a briefing on an issue, admitted that he did not understand that issue.  Furthermore, I remember reading a candid admission Harding made in private:

I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.

Leadership involves matters more substantial than stature and good looks.  These matters are readily evident.  Some are intangible.  Being a leader also requires having followers.  One who has no followers merely takes a walk, so to speak.

Ezekiel 34 refers to Israelite kings as shepherds–bad ones.  All people have the right to live under good rulers–attentive shepherds who build up the common good.  The price of having bad shepherds is high, often measured in death tolls and economic carnage, and in other forms of injustice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH, MOTHER OF GOD

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