Archive for the ‘Repentance’ Tag

To the Church in Laodicea   Leave a comment

Above:  The Ancient City of Laodicea

Image Source = Google Earth

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READING REVELATION, PART VIII

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Revelation 3:14-22

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The church in Laodicea had existed since the time of St. Paul the Apostle.  John of Patmos insisted that choosing God’s side against the Roman Empire and the worship of the Emperor of Rome was crucial.  Yet the congregation in Laodicea was lukewarm and complacent.  It had lost the ability to make moral and spiritual distinctions.

Yet that congregation had an opportunity to repent–or else.

Some of the members of that church in that commercial city relied on their wealth, not on God.  The poor members could not rely on wealth, of course.  They apparently relied on other idols.

Whenever any portion of the Church relies on God instead of God, it errs severely.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN DAVID, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF ALBAN BUTLER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HAGIOGRAPHER

THE FEAST OF HENRY STEPHEN BUTLER, EPISCOPAL ORGANIST, CHOIRMASTER, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JOAO BOSCO BURNER, BRAZILIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1976

THE FEAST OF VINCENT TAYLOR, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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Posted October 13, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Revelation of John 3

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To the Church in Ephesus   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins at Ephesus, Between 1850 and 1880

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-108956

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READING REVELATION, PART II

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Revelation 2:1-7

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Cultural accommodation can be a challenging issue.  Being a faithful Christian does not entail serial, default contrariness.  The outside culture gets some matters right.

The culture at the time of the composition of Revelation was pagan and Hellenistic.  Most religions were polytheistic.  Conventional expressions of patriotism included emperor-worship.  The culture was hostile to young Christianity.  The Nicolaitans favored cultural accommodation.  The church at Ephesus loathed the Nicolaitans, at least.  They had that much right.

Nevertheless, I have this complaint to make:  you have less love now than you used to.

–Revelation 2:4, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Recall the First Epistle of John, O reader.  The text prized theological orthodoxy–especially Christological orthodoxy.  It also valued love.

Anyone who fails to love can never have known God,

because God is love.

–1 John 4:8, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

The church at Ephesus had an opportunity to correct its error–or else.

Perhaps you, O reader, can think of at least one congregation strong in theological orthodoxy yet weak in love.  You may have been part of this congregation, been a neighbor of it, or heard of it second-hand.  Divorcing orthodoxy and orthopraxy from each other is foolish.  The love of God in Christ is part of Christian orthopraxy.  Maybe you, O reader, have struggled with this matter individually.

As I think about the mission of the church, as I hear calls for “more evangelism” and a stronger application of the Gospel to the social issues of the day, I wonder if we can do either unless we can love first–love each other and love the world, for Christ’s sake.

–Ernest Lee Stoffel, The Dragon Bound:  The Revelation Speaks to Our Time (1981), 27

To that I add more quote:

If I have the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.  If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fulness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all.  If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

–1 Corinthians 13:1-3, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Love takes work.  Love provides much satisfaction.  Love hurts.  Love laughs.  Love cries.  Love builds up.

This is much of the work of the Church.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILHELM WEXELS, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR; HIS NIECE, MARIE WEXELSEN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN NOVELISGT AND HYMN WRITER; LUDWIG LINDEMAN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN ORGANIST AND MUSICOLOGIST; AND MAGNUS LANDSTAD, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, FOLKLORIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

THE FEAST OF BRADFORD TORREY, U.S. ORNITHOLOGIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CLAUS WESTERMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHANN GOTTFRIED WEBER, GERMAN MORAVIAN MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND MINISTER

THE FEAST OF JOHN WOOLMAN, QUAKER ABOLITIONIST

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Waiting Together for God   2 comments

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART VI

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James 5:1-20

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The apocalyptic element held the theological imaginations and the psyches of many in the early Church.

That element continues to grasp many psyches and theological imaginations.  I confess, however, that the apocalyptic element grasps neither my psyche nor my theological imagination.  I am a detail-oriented student of the Bible and religious history.  I know too much to believe some doctrines.  I know that the end of the world, according to some canonical Hebrew prophets, was supposed to end centuries prior to the advent of Jesus.  I know that the Second Coming of Jesus, according to certain books of the New Testament, was supposed to happen nearly 2000 years ago.  I know that, according to many people over nearly 2000 years, until the recent past, the Second Coming of Christ was supposed to have have happened already.  The list of alleged Antichrists, the vast majority of them deceased by now, is long.  I leave all details of eschatology to God and place no stock in any human predictions thereof.

Nevertheless, the author of the Epistle of James believed that he lived during the End Times.  How long were the End Times supposed to last?

The function of the apocalyptic element that is of moral usefulness is the confrontation of evil and other forms of injustice.  In so doing, one confronts that which one should confront and tells the enablers there that they fell short of God’s standard.  That is part of what we read in James 5.  Divine judgment of the oppressors is inseparable from divine deliverance of the oppressed.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

In the meantime (however long that will be), members of Christian faith community must model mutuality.  The swearing mentioned in 5:12, in the context of oppression, expressed bitterness and impatience.  Yet, in the meantime, patience is essential.  People ought to pray for themselves and each other.  And members of Christian faith community ought to bring each other to repentance and restoration.

The necessity of writing this advice in James 5 indicates spiritual failings in some early congregations.

A perhaps-apocryphal story fits this post thematically.

St. John the Evangelist, elderly and frail, visited a house church.  The members, excited, gathered.  Men carried the apostle in on a chair and set him down in front of the congregation.  St. John said:

My children, love one another.

Then the apostle motioned to his helpers, who carried him out.  One member of the congregation chased after St. John and asked the equivalent of

That’s it?

St. John replied:

When you have done that, I will tell you more.

If more members of the original audience of the Epistle of James had loved one another, that text would be much shorter or would not exist.

Sadly, loving one another remains challenging for many Christians.

In 2000 or so, Dr. Donald S. Armentrout (1939-2013), a Lutheran minister, spoke at a Lay Ministries Conference in the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.  I was present.  Armentrout, at one point, said that if the Epistle of James was one’s favorite book of the Bible, one was

easily pleased.

Contrary to that typically-Lutheran evaluation, I count James as one of my favorite books of the Bible.  This epistle lives where the spiritual rubber meets the road.  Due to the failings of human nature, the Epistle of James remains relevant.  Circumstances change, but timeless principles remain fixed.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Epistle of James.  I invite you to remain by my side as I set my course for the First Epistle of Peter.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANNA ELLISON BUTLER ALEXANDER, AFRICAN-AMERICAN DEACONESS IN GEORGIA, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF HENRY HART MILMAN, ANGLICAN DEAN, TRANSLATOR, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUVENAL OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MARTYR IN ALASKA, AND FIRST ORTHODOX MARTYR IN THE AMERICAS, 1796

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER THE ALEUT, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MARTYR IN SAN FRANCISCO, 1815

THE FEAST OF SAINT SILOUAN OF MOUNT ATHOS, EASTERN ORTHODOX MONK AND POET

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The Righteous Triumphant   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART III

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Malachi 3:13-24 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Malachi 3:13-4:6 (Anglican and Protestant)

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Malachi 3:19-24 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox) = Malachi 4:1-6 (Anglican and Protestant).

The final section of the Book of Malachi speaks of the beginning of a new era–the long-anticipated, fully-realized Kingdom of God.  In this context, divine judgment and mercy remain balanced (3:18f).  Apocalyptic writings in the Bible balance divine judgment and mercy–judgment on the wicked and mercy on the faithful.

In Christian Bibles, the Book of Malachi concludes on a threat of partial destruction.  Divine action–grace–prevents the threat from being of complete destruction.  Jewish Bibles, however, reprint the penultimate verse (3:23) after 3:24.  Hence, in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), the Book of Malachi concludes with:

Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the LORD.

In Jewish Bibles, therefore, the Book of Malachi ends on a positive note.

Christian tradition, of course, associates St. John the Baptist with Elijah.

Another point I would be remiss not to mention is that 3:22/4:4 (depending on versification) asserts the superiority of the Torah to the Hebrew prophetic tradition.

The Book of Malachi–and this project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, with some exceptions–concludes on a note of grace, mixed with judgment.  Divine self-restraint in matters of judgment is an example of grace.  YHWH, according to the Book of Malachi, is far removed from being God of hellfire-and-damnation theology.  YHWH provides laws, practices patience, calls on people and peoples to repent, and exercises self-restraint in judgment.  YHWH condemns nobody; people and peoples condemn themselves.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Hebrew prophetic books as long as you have done so.  I wish you shalom as I consider what my next project should be.

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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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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Israel Forgiven and Restored   Leave a comment

Above:  Joel, the Prophet, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JOEL, PART III

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Joel 2:18-4:21 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Joel 2:18-3:21 (Anglican and Protestant)

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The divine forgiveness and restoration of Judah in the rest of the Book of Joel relies on the assumption that God has been punishing them with a swarm of locusts.  As glorious as the predicted restoration is and as much as I welcome divine mercy, I reject the underlying assumption.

The unidentified invading force in 3:1-21/4:1-21 (depending on versification) will be the recipient of divine wrath, we read.  Again, divine deliverance of the oppressed is catastrophic for the oppressors. We also read that named enemies of Judah–those perennial foes Egypt and Edom–will suffer terrible fates for “shedding the blood of the innocent” in Judah.

But Judah shall be inhabited forever,

And Jerusalem throughout the ages.

Then I will treat as innocent their blood

Which I have not treated as innocent;

And the LORD shall dwell in Zion.

–Joel 4:20-21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Joel 3:6/4:6 (depending on versification) helps somewhat to date the book.  The verse refers to Philistines selling the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Ionians.  This is a reference to the slave trade.

The Book of Joel ends on a note of divine vengeance against foes of Judah, juxtaposed with a glorious future for Judah.  In this regard, Joel ends like Third Isaiah.

I have mixed feelings about the Book of Joel.  I do not blame or credit God for natural disasters.  Logic teaches a simple principle:

If x, then y.

Given that I reject x, I harbor questions about y.  I embrace calls to repentance, of course.  Populations and individuals always need to confess their sins and repent.  But what if x (the swarm of locusts, in this case) is not God’s army of destruction?  I also enjoy certain passages of Joel, read on Ash Wednesday and Pentecost, especially.  Yet I do not like the book, as a whole.

Thank you for joining me, O reader, for this journey through the Book of Joel.  My next (and penultimate) destination will be Second Zechariah (Zechariah 9-14).  Stay beside me, so to speak, if you choose.  You are certainly welcome.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Posted July 16, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Joel 2, Joel 3, Joel 4

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The Day of the LORD: Havoc from Shaddai   Leave a comment

Above:  Joel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JOEL, PART II

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Joel 1:2-2:17

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Alas for the day!

For the day of the LORD is near;

It shall come like havoc from Shaddai.

–Joel 1:15, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Locusts have been afflictions in northern Africa and the Near East since antiquity.  They have consumed food and grapes, and devastated lives and livelihoods.

Despite some exegetical interpretations of the locusts in Joel 1:2-2:17 as metaphors for invading armies, one may reasonably read “locusts” as referring to locusts.  The four names for locusts have a rhetorical effect and refer to the life cycle and/or manner of eating of locusts.  The infestation of locusts in Joel 1:2-2:17 is especially devastating.  It is so severe that the text likens the swarm to an invading army on the feared Day of the LORD.

The text calls on priests to lament before God, whom the text portrays as following divine orders.  The text explains the swarm of locusts as divine punishment for human sins, hence the calls for lamentation and repentance (2:12-14).

I object strongly.  I recall certain right-wing, homophobic televangelists explaining the devastation of Hurricane Katrina (2005) as divine wrath for alleged moral laxity.  Locusts go where they will.  God does not direct the paths of hurricanes.  I doubt that any deity who would six hurricanes or swarms of locusts on populations is capable of being merciful.

Joel’s concept of God is not my concept of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Posted July 16, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Joel 1, Joel 2

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The Commissioning of Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Zechariah from the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo Buonaroti

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART III

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Zechariah 1:1-6

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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).

Jerusalem, October (prior to October 17), 520 B.C.E.

Zechariah ben Berechiah reported that God had been angry with the previous generation of Judean Jews, and that God urged the current generation to repent.  Zechariah stood in line with the great majority of the Hebrew prophetic tradition to that point, starting with Hosea and Amos–some portion (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) of Second Isaiah excepted.  First Zechariah also stood in line with Ezekiel regarding individual responsibility before God (Ezekiel 3:18-21; 14:12-23; 18:1-32; 33:1-20), contrary to Exodus 20:5b-6 and Deuteronomy 5:9b-10.

Thus said the LORD of Hosts:  Turn back to me–says the LORD of Hosts–and I will turn back to you–said the LORD of Hosts.  Do not be like your fathers.

–Zechariah 1:3b-4a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The personal pronouns are plural, of course.  The message still applies to populations in 2021.  That message also applies to individuals.  I have to turn back to God daily–more than once, daily, in fact.  Perhaps you, O reader, resemble that remark.  If so, I do not judge you.  On what grounds would I judge you?

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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The Conclusion of Second Isaiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART X

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Isaiah 54:1-55:13

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The theme of the Babylonian Exile as deserved punishment is dominant in Second Isaiah.  The Fourth Servant Song (52:13-52:12) contradicts that theme, which returns in chapters 54 and 55.  So do the motif of God taking the covenant people back, renewing the covenantal relationship, ending the exile, and renewing Jerusalem (personified as a woman).  The soaring poetry of Isaiah 55 contains certain familiar verses, such as:

But as the heavens are high above the earth,

So are My ways high above your ways

And My plans above your plans.

–Isaiah 55, 9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Notwithstanding the theological whiplash of reading the Fourth Servant Song within the context of Second Isaiah, Second Isaiah concludes on a note of grace and mercy.  One cannot earn grace; is free.  But it is not cheap.  Faithful response to God is proper.  Isaiah 55:6-7 indicates that not everyone will repent of wickedness, and therefore, receive divine pardon.  Despite human faithlessness, though, divine faithfulness holds.  And we mere mortals still reap what we sow.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through Second Isaiah.  I invite you to remain with me as I move along to the Book of Obadiah, just one chapter long.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MYLES HORTON, “FATHER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS EUMENIOUS AND PARTHENIOS OF KOUDOUMAS, MONKS AND FOUNDERS OF KOUDOMAS MONASTERY, CRETE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF DAMASCUS, SYRIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1860

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS SPIRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF RUED LANGGAARD, DANISH COMPOSER

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The Fourth Servant Song   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Crucifixion

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART IX

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) lists the Fourth Servant Song as one of three options for the reading from the Old Testament on Good Friday.  Another option is Genesis 22:1-18.  My thoughts on Abraham nearly killing his son, Isaac, are on record at this weblog.  The other option is the Wisdom of Solomon 2:1, 12-24, in which the wicked reject justice.  That reading fits Good Friday perfectly, for, as the Gospel of Luke emphasizes, the crucifixion of Jesus was a perversion of justice.  One may recall that, in the Gospel of Luke, for example, the centurion at the foot of the cross declares Jesus innocent (23:47), not the Son of God (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39).  As I will demonstrate in this post, the applicability of the Fourth Servant Song to Good Friday works thematically, too, but interpretive issues that have nothing to do with Jesus also interest me.

In the original context, the servant in Isaiah 53:13-53:12 is the covenant people during the Babylonian Exile.  The dominant theology in Second Isaiah (chapters 34-35, 40-55) is that the Babylonian Exile was justified yet excessive (40:2; 47:6)–that people had earned that exile.  The theology of Second Isaiah also argues that this suffering was vicarious, on behalf of Gentile nations in the (known) world.  In other words:

Yet the Israelites are still the focus in that these verses offer them a revolutionary theology that explains the hardships of exile:  The people had to endure the exile and the suffering it engendered because that suffering was done in service to God so that God, through their atoning sacrifice, could redeem the nations.

–Susan Ackerman, in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), 1031

Much of the Hebrew Bible, in its final, postexilic form, holds that the Babylonian Exile was divine punishment for persistent, collective, and unrepentant disregard for the moral mandates in the Law of Moses.  This attitude is ubiquitous in the Hebrew prophetic tradition.  I know, for I am working on a project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in historical order (with some exceptions), starting with the Book of Hosea.

Yet Isaiah 53:7-9 contradicts that interpretation.  It rejects even 40:1-3 and 47:6, from within Second Isaiah.  Isaiah 53:7-9, not about Jesus, argues that the Babylonian Exile and its accompanying suffering was unjust and the people were innocent.  The thematic link to the atoning suffering of sinless Jesus is plain to see.

Let us not neglect the theme of the vicarious suffering of the Hebrews in the Babylonian Exile, though.  I can read; the text says that, through the suffering of these exiles, Gentile nations would receive divine forgiveness and the Hebrews would receive a reward–renewal.  I try to wrap my mind around this theology, yet do not know what to make of it.  I wrestle with this theology.

Atonement via vicarious suffering is a topic about which I have written at this weblog.  Reading in the history of Christian theology tells me that three theories of the atonement exist in the writings of Church Fathers.  These theories are, in no particular order:

  1. Penal Substitutionary Atonement,
  2. The Incarnation, and
  3. The Conquest of Satan (the Classic Theory, or Christus Victor).

I come closest to accepting the Classic Theory.  It has the virtue of emphasizing that the resurrection completed the atonement.  In other words, dead Jesus cannot atone for anything; do not stop at Good Friday.  I like the Eastern Orthodox tradition of telling jokes on Easter because the resurrection of Jesus was the best joke God ever pulled on Satan.  The second option strikes me as being part of the atonement, and the first option is barbaric.  I stand with those Christian theologians who favor a generalized atonement.

Whether the question is about the atoning, vicarious suffering of Jewish exiles or about the atoning, vicarious suffering of Jesus, perhaps the best strategy is to accept it, thank God, and live faithfully.  The Eastern Orthodox are correct; we Western Christians frequently try to explain too much we cannot understand.  Atonement is a mystery; we may understand it partially, at best.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MYLES HORTON, “FATHER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS EUMENIOUS AND PARTHENIOS OF KOUDOUMAS, MONKS AND FOUNDERS OF KOUDOMAS MONASTERY, CRETE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF DAMASCUS, SYRIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1860

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS SPIRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF RUED LANGGAARD, DANISH COMPOSER

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