Archive for the ‘Numbers 18’ Tag

Religious Decline and Hope of Recovery   Leave a comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART II

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Malachi 1:2-3:12

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As I wrote in Reading Malachi, Part I, the dating of the Book of Malachi is vague–perhaps prior to 445 B.C.E., when the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah began (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9)–or perhaps not.   Clear, however, are the sense of spiritual crisis and the religious decline in the Book of Malachi.

Consider 1:2-5, O reader.  We read divine assurance of love for the people.  We may assume safely that the population (much of it, anyway) needed this assurance.  The proof of divine love for Jews in Judea in Malachi 1:2-5 is their continued existence in their ancestral homeland.  The contrast with their ancient foe and cousin people, the Edomites, is stark.

I have read and blogged about divine judgment on the people of Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Obadiah; and Isaiah 34:5-17.

The designated portion of the Book of Malachi continues with the condemnations of priests and the population.  We read of priests offering defiled food as sacrifices.  We read that God objected strongly to such disrespect, and preferred no ritual sacrifices to the offerings of blemished animals.  (See Exodus 12:5; Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 10; Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 22:22).  We read that God was really angry:

And now, O priests, this charge is for you:  Unless you obey and unless you lay it to heart, and do dishonor to My name–said the LORD of blessings into curses.  (Indeed, I have turned them into curses, because you do not lay it to heart.)  I will put your seed under a ban, and I will strew dung upon your faces, the dung of your festal sacrifices, and you shall be carried out to its [heap].

–Malachi 2:1-3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Furthermore, we read that (much of) the population of Israel has failed to keep the covenant, too.  We read that God objected to Jewish men divorcing Jewish wives to marry foreign women.  One may recall that this was also an issue in Ezra 10.  As prior to the Babylonian Exile, idolatry is in play.  Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Deuteronomy 12:31 permit divorce, but Malachi 2:16 begins:

For I detest divorce….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Context is crucial; statements never arise in a vaccum.

Malachi 3:5 specifies offenses:

But [first] I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me:  Who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause] of the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the LORD of Hosts.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Faithless members of the Chosen People remain “children of Jacob,” we read.  And God (as in Zechariah 1:3) expects them to express remorse for their sins and to repent:

Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you–said the LORD of Hosts.

–Malachi 3:7b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The text continues by explaining another way (other than not committing the previously listed sins) the people could return to God:  to support the Levites (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21-31; Nehemiah 13:10-13).  The text challenges the people to respond faithfully and generously to the extravagant and generosity of God.

Malachi 3:11 mentions locusts in the present tense.  This clue does not reveal as much as one may guess.  Does Malachi 3:11 date the Book of Malachi approximately contemporary with the Book of Joel, whenever that was?  The case for this is tenuous and circumstantial.  One may recall that swarms of locusts were a frequent threat in the region.  Malachi 3:11 may tell us one reason many people were not paying their tithes, though.

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 exists within a context, of course.  Taking it out of context distorts its meaning.  Recall Malachi 2:17, O reader.  We read there that people have been wearying God by saying:

“All who do evil are good in the sight of the LORD, and in them He delights,” or else, “Where is the God of justice?”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 rebuts that wearying statements and that wearying question.

Trusting in God liberates.  It liberates populations and individuals.  It liberates them to become their best possible selves in God, who is extravagantly generous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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Judith Before Holofernes   Leave a comment

Above:  Holofernes

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART VI

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Judith 10:1-12:20

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Holofernes was like his master, King Nebuchadnezzar II.  He was vain, boastful, and quick to accept flattery.  The general also consumed lies as easily and in great quantities as easily as he drank too much wine.

Judith played the role of the seductress well.  She understood male nature, which she exploited.  In doing so, Judith placed herself in much danger.  She was even sleeping in the tent of Holofernes.  Her undercover (pardon the pun) mission was always perilous.

A few aspects of these three chapters are especially worthy of explanation and elaboration.  

  1. Judith lied when she said her people were so desperate they were about to violate the food laws in the Law of Moses.  She referenced Leviticus 17:10-16 and Numbers 18:8-32.  Yet, at the time of the composition of the Book of Judith, any violation of the Law of Moses for the purpose of preserving human life was acceptable, according to one school of Jewish thought (1 Maccabees 2:29-41).
  2. Ironically, Holofernes told the truth, at least partially.  He said that Judith was renowned throughout the world (11:20-23).  The Book of Judith has long provided inspiration for artists.
  3. Judith was in extreme sexual danger (12:5).  So was Sarah in Genesis 12:10-20 and 20:17.
  4. Judith established her routine of leaving the Assyrian army camp unchallenged each night (12:6-9).  This strategy paid off in 13:11.
  5. Judith had to work quickly.  She had only five days to deliver her people (7:29-32; 8:32-35).
  6. Judith obeyed kosher food laws, even in the Assyrian army camp.  (One may think of Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1, too.)
  7. Judith’s unnamed female maid/servant was loyal and essential.  Judith’s servant was intelligent, unlike the gullible Bagoas, servant of Holofernes. 
  8. In 11:19-23, Judith used language laced with allusions to the prophets and the Book of Psalms.  Verses 19 and 20, for example, echoed Isaiah 40:3-4; 35:8-10; 42:16; 51:11; 56:10-11;; as well as 2 Samuel 7:13; Psalm 89:4; Ezekiel 34:8; Zechariah 10:2 and 13:7.
  9. Ironically, the wisdom at which Holofernes marveled was deception.
  10. The words of Holofernes, “…your God will be my God…” (11:22), an echo of Ruth 1:16, are vague.  Perhaps the character had no idea what he was saying.
  11. Holofernes lusted after Judith (11:16).
  12. The texts depict Judith as a great beauty.  They also describe Assyrian soldiers as drooling over her.  Therein resided part of Judith’s power, which she used to the full extent necessary.

The Book of Judith contains elements of satire and comedy.  The text is rich with irony in many places.  For example, even a boastful fool accidentally tells the truth sometimes.  The intoxicated Holofernes also imagines himself to be in control of the situation.  He has no idea how wrong he is.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF LUKE OF PRAGUE AND JOHN AUGUSTA, MORAVIAN BISHOPS AND HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT KAZIMIERZ TOMASZ SYKULSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF LARS OLSEN SKREFSRUD, HANS PETER BOERRESEN, AND PAUL OLAF BODDING, LUTHERAN MISSIONARIES IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF MARYRS OF EL MOZOTE, EL SALVADOR, DECEMBER 11-12, 1981

THE FEAST OF SAINT SEVERIN OTT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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Tobit’s Piety   Leave a comment

Above:  The Story of Tobit, by the Workshop of the Master of the Prodigal Son

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART 1

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Tobit 1:1-15

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The Book of Tobit, present in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles, falls into the canon of scripture for about three-quarters of the Christian Church.  Tobit, like Esther, Jonah, and Judith, is a work of fiction that teaches theological and spiritual truths.  The Catholic Study Bible (1990) and The Catholic Bible–Personal Study Edition (1995) describes the Book of Tobit as a novel.  The Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) accurately describes the Book of Tobit as a novella.  The Book of Tobit is too long to be a short story and too short to be a novel.

The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) acknowledges that the Book of Tobit is a work of fiction.  The introduction to the Book of Tobit describes the work as a love story in which a father sends his son out into the world.  The son finds and saves a bride, whom he brings home.  The introduction to the Book of Tobit links this story to Christ in John 3:16 and describes the Book of Tobit as an icon of the story of salvation.

The Book of Tobit is another Hellenistic work about Jews in exile.  (The Book of Daniel is also such a work.)  Superficially set in the eighth century B.C.E., the Book of Tobit teaches faith in God and trust in providence from the temporal perspective of the second century C.E.

The titular character is Tobit.  His son is Tobias.  “Tobit” is a shorter variation on “Tobias.”  Both names mean, “the LORD is good.”

Tobit 1:2 signals the book’s status as fiction by naming the wrong Neo-Assyrian king.  The verse names the monarch as Shalmaneser V (reigned 727-722 B.C.E.)  Historical records tell us Sargon II (reigned 722-705 B.C.E.) was the king who completed Shalmaneser V’s work and conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel.  (See 2 Kings 17:1-6, O reader.)  However, historical records and 2 Kings 15:19 tell us that Tiglath-Pilesar III, also known as Pul (reigned 745-727 B.C.E.), took the tribe of Naphtali into exile.

Tobit was a devout Jew.  The impossible internal chronology had Tobit live in excess of 150 years (1:4f), despite his age at death (14:1) being 112.  Anyhow, he eschewed idolatry and made his offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem (Numbers 18:12-13; Deuteronomy 18:3-4).  Tobit also distributed money to widows, orphans, and converts.  He kept the food laws (Exodus 34:15; Leviticus 7:26-27; Leviticus 11:1-47; Leviticus 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 12:23-25; Deuteronomy 14:3-21; and Deuteronomy 15:23) in exile, too.  Tobit obeyed the Law of Moses regardless of how difficult doing so proved to be.  At home and in exile, Tobit was a model Jew.

Tobit also deposited ten talents of silver with a relative, Gabael, in Media.  That amount equaled 3000 shekels.

The germane note in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) reads:

A substantial amount, but efforts to express in modern monetary units are futile.

Other sources do express that amount in modern monetary units, though.  The Catholic Study Bible (1990) estimates the value as being about $10,000.  The Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) estimates the value as being at least $10,000.  

We also read of Tobit’s wife, Anna, which means “Grace.”  Remember that, O reader; the name is sometimes ironic.

The Book of Tobit contains similarities to the Books of Job and Daniel.  We read of Tobit working for the king in Chapter 1.  One may recall that Daniel worked for several monarchs.  And one may remember accounts of Daniel’s piety.  The parallels to Job, already becoming apparent, will become stronger as we continue.

Tobit 1 contains the Theory of Retribution, that God rewards faithfulness and punishes faithlessness.  The Theory of Retribution, a hallmark of Deuteronomic theology, is prominent throughout the Book of Tobit and in much of the Hebrew Bible.  Deuteronomy 28 teaches the Theory of Retribution, which informs the Books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.  In particular, consult Joshua 7:1-8:29; Judges 3:7-11; and 2 Samuel 11:1-12:15, for example, O reader.

The counterbalance also exists un the Hebrew Bible.  Blessings also come undeserved.  A relationship with God should not be a quid-pro-quo arrangement.  See Deuteronomy 4:32-40; 6-11; 8:17-18; 9:4-6; 10:15; and 23:6, O reader.  Likewise, that seems undeserved is a form of testing (Deuteronomy 8: 2, 3, 5, 16-17), and repentance following suffering precedes divine mercy (Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

What we do matters.  How we respond to God is crucial.  One does know a tree by its fruits.  And actions have consequences.  However, Prosperity Theology remains a heresy.  Many of the devout suffer.  Many of the devout become martyrs.  And many of the devout endure poverty.

The Bible is a nuanced sacred theology.  Any impression to the contrary is erroneous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HILEY BATHURST, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ISAAC WATTS, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF PETRUS NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER; AND GEORG NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND HYMN WRITER

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