Archive for the ‘Revenge’ Tag

Forgiveness, Part V   1 comment

Above:  Jesus Heals the Man with Palsy, by Alexandre Bida

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 43:18-25

Psalm 41 (LBW) or Psalm 130 (LW)

2 Corinthians 1:18-22

Mark 2:1-12

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lord God, we ask you to keep your family, the Church, faithful to you,

that all who lean on the hope of your promises

may gain strength from the power of your love;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 16

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

God of compassion, keep before us the love

you have revealed in your Son, who prayed even for his enemies;

in our words and deeds help us to be like him

through whom we pray, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 16

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

O Lord, keep your family and Church continually in the true faith

that they who lean on the hope of your heavenly grace

may ever be defended by your mighty power;

through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.  

Lutheran Worship (1982), 28

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The key word this week is forgiveness.  A second word–faithfulness–relates to it.  As we read in 1 Corinthians 1:18, God is faithful.

I, I wipe away your transgressions for My sake,

and your offenses I do not recall.

–Isaiah 43:15, Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Vol. 2, Prophets (2019), 766

Those are words addressed to Jews at the twilight of the Babylonian Exile.  This forgiveness is unconditional and absolute, apparently without any sign of repentance.

Psalm 130 reminds us that nobody could endure if God were to “watch for wrongs” (Robert Alter) and encourages the chosen people of God to wait for God, in whom is steadfast kindness.

Psalm 41 cites the betrayal by the author’s enemies, including a former friend.  The author, not forgiving, seeks divine vindication:

But you, LORD, take note of me to raise me up

that I may repay them.

–Psalm 41:11, The New American Bible–Revised Edition

A rejoinder from the Gospels is appropriate:

For if you forgive others, the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs that you have done.

–Matthew 6:14-15, The Revised English Bible

Forgiveness, from a human perspective, can be challenging to commit or to accept.  Committing forgiveness liberates one, regardless of the effect on the person or persons forgiven.  Lugging a grudge around is never spiritually helpful and healthy.

Forgiving someone is a matter separate from seeking justice.  Some deeds are inexcusable and indefensible.  Sometimes justice requires punishment.  Forgiveness precludes revenge, not justice.

Isaiah 43:25 occurs in a particular context.  I notice the lack of penitence and repentance between verses 24 and 25.  This does not mean that penitence and repentance are irrelevant; they occur in other passages.  Yet Isaiah 43:25 tells us that sometimes God forgives for divine purposes.

Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance throughout the Bible.  Trust nobody, O reader, who pretends to know what that balance is.  I have some guesses.  Some may be correct for the same reason for the same reason that a broken clock is correct twice a day.  Grace remains a glorious mystery.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 14, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE SEVENTEENTH DAY OF LENT

THE FEAST OF FANNIE LOU HAMER, PROPHET OF FREEDOM

THE FEAST OF ALBERT LISTER PEACE, ORGANIST IN ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND

THE FEAST OF HARRIET KING OSGOOD MUNGER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALISTS HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF NEHEMIAH GOREH, INDIAN ANGLICAN PRIEST AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENZINA CUSMANO, SUPERIOR OF THE SISTERS SERVANTS OF THE POOR; AND HER BROTHER, SAINT GIACOMO CUSMANO, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS SERVANTS OF THE POOR AND THE MISSIONARY SERVANTS OF THE POOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LEDDRA, BRITISH QUAKER MARTYR IN BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY, 1661

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adapted from this post

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Advertisement

Psalm 139: Struggling with Anger   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART LXXIX

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalm 139

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

Will Campbell (1924-2013)

Psalm 139 gives me theological whiplash.  It opens with pious introspection and praise of God.  Then the text expresses hatred for the wicked and those who hate God.  The psalmist wishes that God would “slay the wicked.”  Then Psalm 139 concludes with a pious prayer for divine guidance.

In my adopted tradition, the following prayer occurs early in the Holy Eucharist, Rite II:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and no secrets are hid:  Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 355

Wickedness is the rejection of divine generosity.  Therefore, the wicked cannot be generous.  They are greedy.  When the wicked give, they do so in a stingy manner.  They imagine that they mut rely on their own strength, resources, and devices.  These are the people whom the psalmist wishes God would slay.  These are the people the psalmist hates.

Examine me, O God, and know my mind;

probe me and know my thoughts.

See if I have vexatious ways,

and guide me in ways everlasting.

–Psalm 139:23-24, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

One may imagine that God considers such hatred “vexatious.”

Nevertheless, I understand such emotional outbursts and strong feelings.   I recall a painful period of my life more than a decade ago:  A man whom I did not know, by doing his job, as he believed was proper, pushed me to the edge of suicide.  I do not think warm and positive thoughts about him as I write this post.  I even think some profane titles for him.  I spare you those titles and leave them to hour imagination, O reader.  So, yes, I understand this psalm and others like it.  My foe may not have been wicked, but I care about the result more than the intention.

We mere mortals, in our limited knowledge, may inadvertently commit horrible deeds, thereby damaging other people.  Not all abuse is intentional.  So, by grace, may we avoid harming one another as much as possible.  And, when we feel hatred or animosity rising internally, may we take our darker feelings to God.  May we never permit these feelings to define or to overwhelm us.  We can never escape or hide from God, who loves us, knows us better than we know ourselves, and in whom we can become the best possible versions of ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 22, 2023 COMMON ERA

ASH WEDNESDAY

THE FEAST OF HANS SCHOLL, SOPHIE SCHOLL, AND CHRISTOPH PROBST, ANTI-NAZI MARTYRS AT MUNICH, GERMANY, 1943

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET OF CORTONA, PENTIENT AND FOUNDER OF THE POOR ONES

THE FEAST OF CHARLES JOHN VINCENT, JR., ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF GEORGE CLEMENT MARTIN, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PRAETEXTATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ROUEN

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BINNEY, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND “ARCHBISHOP OF NONCONFORMITY”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Posted February 22, 2023 by neatnik2009 in Psalm 139

Tagged with , , ,

Psalms 105, 106, 107, 126, and 137: Divine Faithfulness and Human Infidelity   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART LXIV

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalms 105, 106, 107, 126, and 137

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalms 106, 126, and 137 reflect the harrowing experience of the Babylonian Exile.  Psalms 105, 106, and 107 are similar yet different. Hence, I write based on these five psalms in this post.

The Hebrew Bible has a small collection of repeated “God is…” statements.  The more common manner of explaining divine attributes is to recall what God has done and to state what God does.  By extension, we humans–both collectively and individually–are like what we do and have done.  Judaism, having neither invented nor accepted Augustinian Original Sin, teaches that we can keep the covenant if only we will; doing so is neither beyond our reach nor too difficult for us (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).  Sirach 15:15, a Jewish text from the Hellenistic period, agrees:

If you wish, you can keep the commandments,

and to behave faithfully is within your power.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Psalms 105, 106, and 107, taken together, present a stark contrast between divine faithfulness and human infidelity, with its terrible consequences.

Although Robert Alter dates the composition of Psalm 137 to the early part of the Babylonian Exile, The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014) places composition after the Babylonian Exile.  Either way, the anger and resentment of exiles is palpable in the text.  Why should it not be so?  The treacherous Edomites bear the brunt of particularly potent venom.  Without attempting a justification of

Happy who seizes and smashes your infants against the rock,

(to quote Robert Alter’s translation), I ask one question:

What else did you expect?

Treating a population harshly frequently and predictably leads to such resentment, complete with revenge fantasies.

Etymology tells us that the English word “anger” derives from the Old Norse angr, meaning “grief.”  We mourn that which we have lost.  So, we become angry.  If all we do with that anger is to take it to God, we do well.  However, if we permit that anger to consume us, we harm ourselves.

Whether Psalm 126 anticipates the end of the Babylonian Exile or reflects upon it, having happened, is a matter of scholarly debate.  Either way, the juxtaposition of Psalm 126 to Psalms 106 and 137 works well and continues the story.  That God ended the Babylonian Exile pays off Psalm 106:47:

Deliver us, O LORD our God,

and gather us from among the nations.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail a portion of the troubles returned exiles endured.  Beside those books one may properly read the conclusion of Psalm 126:

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like watercourses in the Negeb.

Those who sow in tears

shall reap with songs of joy.

Though he goes along weeping,

carrying the seed-bag,

he shall come back with songs of joy,

carrying his sheaves.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 7, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HELDER CAMARA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF OLINDA AND RECIFE

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADALBERT NIERYCHLEWSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF DANIEL J. HARRINGTON, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF GREGORIO ALLEGRI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, COMPOSER, AND SINGER; AND HIS BROTHER, DOMENICO ALLEGRI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER AND SINGER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES, APOSTLE TO THE SARACENS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BOYCE AND JOHN ALCOCK, ANGLICAN COMPOSERS

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalm 83: Waiting for the Kingdom   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART LVII

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalm 83

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalm 83 contains elements already familiar to me as I blog my way through the Psalter:

  1. A prayer for national deliverance,
  2. The identification of the enemies of Israel and Judah as the foes of God,
  3. Petitions for revenge against those adversaries, and
  4. The assertion of divine sovereignty.

I understand that all governments–even the most benevolent ones–are merely human.  Therefore, I do not assume that the adversaries of Israel and Judah (including the modern State of Israel) were/are necessarily enemies of God.  No government is beyond legitimate criticism, after all.

The real point of Psalm 83 seems to be to pray for what, in Christian terms, we call the fully-realized Kingdom of God.  The venom in the prayers of the attacked is both predictable and understandable.  Yet that venom is also spiritually toxic.  Giving voice to that venom for the purpose of purging the system has benefits.  Marinating in revenge fantasies has no benefits, though.

So, as we–regardless of our circumstances–await the fully-realized Kingdom of God, may injustice fill us with righteous indignation.  May we–both collectively and individually–act to leave the world and some corners of it better than we found them.  May we act as agents of God.  And may we never marinate in revenge fantasies.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 31, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES FREDERICK MACKENZIE, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF NYASALAND, AND MARTYR, 1862

THE FEAST OF ANTHONY BÉNÉZET, FRENCH-AMERICAN QUAKER ABOLITIONIST

THE FEAST OF MENNO SIMONS, MENNONITE LEADER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Posted January 31, 2023 by neatnik2009 in Psalm 83

Tagged with , ,

Psalms 58, 59, 140, and 141: Honest Speech, Lies, and “Alternative Facts”   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART XLIV

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalms 58, 59, 140, and 141

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalms 58, 59, 140, and 141 are similar; they emphasize justice and honesty.  Prayers that the wicked will suffer the consequences of their actions also exist in all four texts.

The concepts of justice and righteousness require explanation in Biblical terms.  The two terms are interchangeable.  Also, righteousness denotes right relationship with God, self, others, and all creation.  So, O reader, I disagree when I read Psalm 58:11a (Robert Alter):

The just man rejoices when vengeance he sees….

Justice and righteousness may be interchangeable, but vengeance is neither just nor righteous.  Justice may entail punishment, but never revenge.

The superscription of Psalm 59 links that text to 1 Samuel 19:11, in which Michal helped David, her husband, escape from men whom her father, King Saul, had sent to kill David.  The superscription is dubious, for:

  1. Psalm 59, in the form in which we have it, is the product of authors and editors.  The content and the style are inconsistent.
  2. Psalm 59 refers to both individual and national foes, including “all the nations” (vers 6, Jewish versification).
  3. If we accept Robert Alter’s hypothesis, physical violence may be a metaphor for slander (verse 13, Jewish versification).

Psalm 59 likens the foes to a pack of wild dogs.  This reference comes from a cultural context in which dogs were unclean animals, not beloved pets.  The “dogs” of Psalm 59 are aggressive evildoers.  They are also arrogant and never satisfied.

Yet God is the haven of targeted righteous and the falsely accused.

The emphasis on honest speech is an evergreen issue, for it never ceases to be relevant.  It may be more important in the age of social media and the Internet.  Technology accelerates the speed of character assassination and the spread of lies and inaccurate information.  So, the prayer that slanderers will have no place in the land becomes more urgent with the march of time and the progress of technology.

A related issue is the spread of inaccurate information–not necessarily lies.  A lie is an intentional deception.  So, one may spread objectively false information while believing that it is true and accurate.  This matter is a major problem in the age of “alternative facts.”  A person’s motivation and perception filters aside,

the proof of the pudding is in the eating,

to quote an old saying.  Objective reality is what it is, regardless of what anyone thinks about it.  “Fake news” is objectively inaccurate information, not whatever is accurate and true yet politically inconvenient for a person, for example.

Discerning the liars and slanderers from the deluded fools may prove difficult sometimes.  The consequences of their words may be the same, though.

By grace, may we speak the truth, honestly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 18, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE CONFESSION OF SAINT PETER THE APOSTLE

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalms 54 and 55: Justice and Revenge   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART XLI

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalms 54 and 55

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalms 54 and 55 are individual petitions.

The tacked-on superscription of Psalm 54 links the psalm to 1 Samuel 23, in which David, on the run from King Saul, took refuge in the territory of the Ziphites.  1 Samuel 23 tells us that some Ziphites told Saul where David was hiding (verses 19 and 20).  The superscription contradicts Psalm 54:

For strangers have risen up against me,

and ruthless men seek my life.

they are unmindful of God.

–Verse 5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985, 1999)

Saul and David knew each other well.

The author of Psalm 54, beset by foes, trusts in God to issue a favorable judgment, as in a legal proceeding.  The psalmist affirms that God is more powerful than the enemies and will act from hesed–steadfast love.  Yet the psalmist is vengeful; he prays that God will exterminate the enemies, literally.

The translation by Father Mitchell J. Dahood, S.J., places that verse in the past tense:

He made the evil recoil on my defamers,

in his fidelity he annihilated them completely.

Revenge fantasies abound in the Book of Psalms.  Psalm 54 is not the first text in this series to contain them.  Neither is it the last.  My comments about the folly of revenge are on the record in this series of posts, so I move along.

Psalm 55 is a challenging text. m Not only does it contain difficult vocabulary, but it also seems to be the product of splicing two poems together.  The psalm opens in the midst of a threat by armed enemies.  The psalm addresses God then a treacherous former friend then God again.  The text concludes with a prayer that God bring “those murderous, treacherous men” down to Sheol, followed by an expression of trust in God.

The text in verses 19-22 (Jewish versification) is difficult, especially in the first half of verse 20.  A comparison of translations of verses 19 and 20 demonstrates this point.  TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures reads:

He redeems me unharmed

from the battle against me;

it is as though many are on my side.

God who has reigned from the first,

who will have no successor,

hears and humbles those who have no fear of God.

Robert Alter’s translation reads:

He has ransomed my life unharmed from my battle,

for many were against me–

Ishmael and Jalam and the dweller in the east,

who never will change and do not fear God.

Mitchell J. Dahood’s translation reads:

And the Ransomer heard my voice,

making payment for my life.

He drew near to me

when full many were against me.

El heard me and answered,

the Primeval One sent his reply

because in him there is no variation.

But they did not fear God.

What is happening in verse 20a?  Based on the three translations I have quoted, we have either “Ishmael and Jalam and the dwellers in the east,” “God who has reigned from the first,/who will have no successor,” or “El heard me and sent me his reply/because in him there is no variation.”  A literal translation of the Masoretic Text is gibberish:

God hears and answers them and is seated as of old.

Robert Alter’s translation follows one scholarly approach to verse 20a:  listing some enemies by name.  Alter’s commentary is the only I have read that refers to this approach in verse 20a.

The concluding petition of Psalm 55 suits the text:

And You, O God, bring them down

to the pit of destruction.

Men of bloodshed and deceit

will not finish half their days.

But I shall trust in you.

–Verse 24, Robert Alter

In contrast, these enemies were attempting to kill the psalmist.  Yet I detect revenge again.  Yet I cannot dispute that those who live by the sword will also die by it.

One commentary I consult argues that these passages in Psalms 54 and 55 are not prayers for revenge.  J. Clinton McCann, Jr., writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4 (1996), insists that they are petitions for justice instead.  So, where is the line that separates justice from revenge?  It may be difficult to identify sometimes.  May we, by grace, favor justice and eschew revenge.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 15, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR A

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

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

THE FEAST OF GUSTAVE WEIGEL, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN COSIN, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF DURHAM

THE FEAST OF JOHN MARINUS VERSTEEG, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT NIKOLAUS GROSS, GERMAN ROMAN CATHOLIC OPPONENT OF NAZISM, AND MARTYR, 1945

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalms 39 and 41: Collective and Individual Character   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART XXIX

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalms 39 and 41

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Psalms 39 and 41 are similar to each other, hence their grouping together in this post.  These texts share the context of prayers for deliverance from enemies.  Psalm 39 reminds me of Ecclesiastes, with talk of vanity and futility.  “Hustle and bustle” are futile, and life is brief.  The author of Psalm 41 has death on the mind, too.  His prayer for healing includes a reference to the way he will recognize divine pleasure with him:

But you, O LORD, have mercy on me;

let me rise again and repay them.

Then shall I know that You are pleased with me:

when my enemy cannot shout in triumph over me.  

You will support me because of my integrity,

and let me abide in Your presence forever.

–Psalm 41:11-13, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985, 1999)

The author of Psalm 41, suffering from a serious illness, seeks to repay those who regard his plight with malicious delight.  William R. Taylor writes that this is

something less than a Christian petition.

The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4 (1955), 218

Yet J. Clinton McCann, Jr., offers a different analysis:

The psalmist’s expressed intent to repay them is not simply an expression of personal revenge.  Rather, it may be interpreted as a matter of justice (see Ps 31:23).  Liberation for the oppressed means judgment upon oppressors.  As v. 11 demonstrates, the failure of the enemies is not just the psalmist’s will, but God’s will as well….Integrity is not a matter of the psalmist’s merit (as the NRSV) seems to suggest) but indicates the psalmist’s dependence upon God for life and future….”

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4 (1996), 848

I acknowledge–as I have many times in blog posts–that divine rescue of the oppressed may be catastrophic for the oppressors.  Yet I side with William R. Taylor (no relation to me) over McCann; this is “something less than a Christian petition.”  A gaping chasm separates the psalmist–predictably resentful–from Jesus praying,

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,

on his cross.

I understand resentment and fantasies of revenge.  I also grasp that they hurt me, not their intended targets.  Oppressors and others who deride malignantly may juge and condemn themselves by their actions, but I have much power over what kind of person I will be.  The better angels of my nature tell me to eschew vengeance.

Why not?  Life is short.  Yes, our “hustle and bustle” is futile.  So, may we focus on that which does not crumble and fall into ruin.  May we love one another, revere God, and protect creation.  May we build up the common good and maintain it.  May live, not resentment and revenge–define our collective and individual character.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 3, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF EDWARD CASWALL, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD PERRONET, BRITISH METHODIST PREACHER

THE FEAST OF ELMER G. HOMRIGHAUSEN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF GLADYS AYLWARD, MISSIONARY IN CHINA AND TAIWAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ALFRED PASSAVANT, SR., U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND EVANGELIST

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Opening of the Seven Seals   Leave a comment

Above:  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING REVELATION, PART X

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Revelation 6:1-7:17

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Without getting lost in the tall weeds of symbolism and numerology, one can consult books that explain the historical background and theological significance of Revelation 6:1-7:17.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE

We begin with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  They are, in order:

  1. Jesus, who rides alone, in opposition to the other three;
  2. War,
  3. Famine, and
  4. Death.

The progression of famine and death makes sense.  War is, after all, one of the leading causes of famine.

Emperor Domitian issued an unpopular edict in 92 C.E.  He forbade the laying of new vineyards in Asia Minor and ordered the conversion of half of the vineyards into agricultural land.  The backlash forced Domitian to rescind this edict.  This incident inspired 6:6:

But do not harm the oil and the wine!

In context, the wage in 6:6 was a starvation wage–the price of wheat was sixteen times what it should have been, and the cost of barley was exorbitant, too.  The level of inflation was consistent with wartime scarcity.  Greed frustrated that artificial scarcity and accompanying famine.

Sadly, war, famine, and death have remained ubiquitous since antiquity.  Human nature has not changed.

THE MARTYRS IN HEAVEN

The question of the martyrs in Heaven (6:9-11) is understandable.  Even in Heaven, they are impatient and not entirely happy.  These are the ones whose bodies became sacrifices on the Earth and whose souls became sacrifices in Heaven.  This scene is similar to some scenes in Pseudepigraphal literature.  The prayers of the persecuted righteous, seeking revenge and justice, ascend to Heaven in 1 Enoch 47:1-2; 99:3; and 104:3.  God will answer these prayers in the affirmative, we read there.

What do you intend to do, you sinners,

whither will you flee on that day of judgment,

when you hear the sound of the prayer of the righteous ones?

–1 Enoch 97:3, translated by E. Isaac

2 Baruch 21:19-25 echoes that theme.  That passage begins:

How long will corruption remain, and until when will the time of mortals be happy, and until when will those who pass away be polluted by the great wickedness in this world?

–21:19, translated by A. F. J. Klijn

That is a fair question.

That passage concludes:

And now, show your glory soon and do not postpone that which was promised by you.

–2:25

Revelation 6:9-11 inspired part of a great hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” by Samuel John Stone (1839-1900):

…yet saints their watch are keeping,

their cry goes up, “How long?”

and soon the night of weeping 

shall be the morn of song.

In the meantime, Revelation 6:11 tells us, the martyrdoms will continue.

DIVINE JUDGMENT AND MERCY

Revelation 6:12-17, drawing on images from Hebrew prophets and the Assumption/Testament of Moses 10:4-6, presents a vivid depiction of divine wrath.  Divine deliverance of the oppressed may be catastrophic for the oppressors.  How can it be otherwise?

Part of the good news, in the Assumption/Testament of Moses, is:

Then his kingdom will appear throughout his whole creation.

Then the devil will have an end.

Yea, sorrow will be led away with him.

–10:1, translated by J. Priest

I am getting ahead of the story, though.

THE SEALING OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD

Revelation 7:1-8 borrows from Babylonian cosmology, in which the planet was a square, with an angelic watcher of one of the four winds stationed in a corner.  Daniel 7:2-3 also uses this cosmology and describes the winds as destructive agents of God.  This understanding also informs the Syriac Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Pseudo-John (chapter 5), and the Questions of Bartholomew (4:31-34).

The sealing (for the preservation) of the servants of God (Revelation 7:3) is similar to a scene in 2 Baruch 6:4-8:1.  The sealed do not receive protection from earthly harm and martyrdom.  They do go to God after they die, though.  The number 144,000 is a fine example of numerology.  One may recall that there were 12 tribes of Israel and that 1000 indicated a large, uncountable quantity.  In context, the meaning is that a vast, uncountable throng of Christians from every people and nation must join the ranks of martyrs before the condition of Revelation 6:11 is fulfilled.

That is not encouraging news, is it?  Yet the news that these martyrs are in Heaven does encourage.

Forces of evil have the power to kill bodies.  Then they have corpses.  These forces can do nothing more to harm these martyrs.

The Gospel of John 16:33b depicts Jesus as telling his apostles:

In the world you will have trouble,

but be brave:

I have conquered the world.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Those words occur in the context of the night Jesus was about to become a prisoner.

Let that sink in, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, SPANISH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, MYSTIC, AND REFORMER

THE FEAST OF GABRIEL RICHARD, FRENCH-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST IN DETROIT, MICHIGAN

THE FEAST OF OBADIAH HOLMES, ENGLISH BAPTIST MNISTER AND CHAMPION OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN NEW ENGLAND

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Sin and Punishment   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING JEREMIAH, PART XII

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Jeremiah 17:1-20:18

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  When one reads the genre methodically, one realizes this.  Pardon me, therefore, O reader, for not explaining every repeated theme in Jeremiah 17:1-20:18.

Jeremiah 17:1-4 uses powerful imagery to condemn illegitimate worship at cultic sites.  Proverbs 3:3 and 7:3 refer to the tablet of the heart, on which the divine commandments are inscribed.  Yet in Jeremiah 17:1, those tablets are inscribed with the guilt of Judah instead.  Such a heart symbolizes disobedience to God in Ezekiel 2:4 and 3:7.  Eventually, God will make a new covenant, one inscribed on the hearts of the people (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  For now, however, repentance is not an option.  The sins of Judah, not the reparation blood (Leviticus 4:1-7, 13-20), are on the stones of the altar.

2 Kings 22-23 tells of the religious reformation of King Josiah (r. 640-609 B.C.E.).  One may read Jeremiah 17:1-4 and surmise that 17:1-4 predates those reforms or that his four successors presided over a rollback of those reforms.  Either option is feasible.  The second option may be more likely.

God is faithful and forever.  Even the most pious and benevolent people, those who keep the covenant, are not forever.  The Book of Jeremiah focuses on God and on those who are neither pious nor benevolent, though.

Returning to the imagery of the human heart in 17:9-10, we read that the human heart is crooked and deceitful.  The germane Hebrew word, suggestive of deceit, means “crooked.”  The human heart is the most crooked thing, we read.  This is a spiritual and moral pathology.

Jeremiah 17:11 speaks for itself.

Jeremiah’s desire for vengeance (17:18) was predictable.  I have known the same desire under less severe circumstances.  Maybe you have, also, O reader.

The Deuteronomic perspective in the Book of Jeremiah and other Hebrew prophetic books teaches that the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah declined and fell because of persistent, unrepentant, collective disregard for the moral mandates of the Law of Moses.  This is the perspective written into much of the Old Testament, from the perspective of the editors after the Babylonian Exile.  Jeremiah 17:19-27 singles out violations of the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:14)–especially commercial transactions–as being emblematic of widespread, systemic disregard for the covenant.

Sabbath-keeping has long been a feature of Judaism and Christianity.  Keeping the Sabbath–a sign of freedom in the Law of Moses–has been a way of emulating God.  On the seventh day, in mythology, God created the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3).  Sabbath-keeping has always been challenging, in practical terms.  Stopping all work on that day (however one defines it) has always been impossible.  Certain work has always been crucial to perform on the Sabbath, and members of the clergy have had to take their Sabbath some other time in the week.  The Hasmoneans, zealous keepers of the Law of Moses, bowed to reality and engaged in defensive combat (1 Maccabees 2:31-48; 1 Maccabees 9:23-73; 2 Maccabees 15:1-19).  If they had done otherwise, they would have lost battles and lives needlessly.

Sabbath-keeping works to the benefit of people.  Everyone needs to take time off to live.  One should work to live, not live to work.  Structural economic factors may restrict one’s options in keeping the Sabbath as one would prefer to do.  Also, the common good requires, for example, that public health and safety continue on the Sabbath.  Time off is a mark of freedom.  Slavery assumes many forms; one can be a wage slave.

The prophecy of the potter (Jeremiah 18:1-12) is familiar, and popular with lectionary committees.  I have written about it while blogging through lectionaries.  I bring your attention, O reader, to a key point:  God, the Creator, is free to handle His creation as He sees fit.  I am a piece of pottery, not the potter.

People kept plotting against Jeremiah.  Had I been Jeremiah, I would have complained to God, too.  I would have prayed to God to show no mercy on the plotters, also.  I, too, may have rued the day of my birth.  Jeremiah was only human.  God knew that before calling Jeremiah to be a prophet.

Jeremiah made no allies by following God’s instructions in Chapter 19 and symbolically smashing a jug.  That act led to a flogging and a brief incarceration.  Jeremiah suffered intensely and briefly, but Passhur the priest was going to experience “terror all around.” Judah was failing; nobody could change that.

Many people in authority like to maintain their power.  Some of them peacefully resign themselves to the realities of age, health, constitutional term limits, and election results; others do not.  Many people in authority are servant leaders; others are tyrants or would-be despots.  I suppose that nobody in authority wants to hear that the institution, nation-state, kingdom, empire, et cetera, is doomed.  Yet how one handles that news is a test of character.  Besides, power reveals a person’s character.  And, as Heraclitus said,

A man’s character is his fate.

I wonder how Passhur the priest felt in 586 B.C.E., after the Fall of Jerusalem.  I wonder if he remembered the words of Jeremiah and wept bitterly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF NISIBIS, BISHOP; AND SAINT EPHREM OF EDESSA, “THE HARP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK C. GRANT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, ROBERT M. GRANT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND PATRISTICS SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS OF GETULIUS, AMANTIUS, CAERAELIS, AND PRIMITIVUS, MARTYRS AT TIVOLI, 120; AND SAINT SYMPHROSA OF TIVOLI, MARTYR, 120

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDERICUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF THOR MARTIN JOHNSON, U.S. MORAVIAN CONDUCTOR AND MUSIC DIRECTOR

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A Collection of Speeches: The Wickedness of Judah, and the Degenerate City   Leave a comment

Above:  Tares

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART II

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 1:2-31

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

G. H. D. Kilpatrick, author of the exposition on Isaiah 1-39 in The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5 (1956), described Isaiah 1 as

The Heart of Isaiah’s Message.

Kilpatrick began:

Here is a tremendous indictment of an apostate nation.  The charge is the blindness, the insensitivity, the brutish stupidity of a people steeped in sin.  The prophet is against them.  In a sense the chapter is an epitome of Isaiah’s whole message and ministry.  In this series of oracles he proceeds from accusation to judgment, and on to the divine promise of mercy in terms of repentance and obedience.  Throughout the book the changes are rung on these themes.

–165

As I reread this chapter for the umpteenth time, I noticed themes that populated the (contemporary) Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, too.  I noticed these themes readily because I have blogged my way through them before starting First Isaiah.  I noticed legal charges of having abandoned the covenant.  I noticed the allegation of idolatry–prostitution, metaphorically.  I noticed the condemnation of corruption and social justice, especially that of the economic variety.  I noticed the pronouncement that sacred rituals do not protect one from the consequences of impiety.  I noticed the call to repentance and the possibility of forgiveness.

Chronology is not the organizing principle of the Book of Isaiah.  No, the commission of the prophet is in Chapter 6, for example.  Chapter 1 contains short speeches that summarize themes First Isaiah unpacks in subsequent chapters.

The text provides many options for where I may dwell in this post.  I choose verses 27 and 28.  The translation in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible (2019), is close to the standard English-language rendering:

Zion shall be redeemed through justice,

and those who turn back in her, through righteousness.

But the rebels and offenders together are shattered,

and those who forsake the LORD shall perish.

However, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) offers a somewhat different translation:

Zion shall be saved in the judgment;

Her repentant ones, in the retribution.

But rebels and sinners shall be crushed,

And those who forsake the LORD shall perish.

These verses date to either the Babylonian Exile or afterward.  (As I wrote regarding the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, the final versions of early prophetic writings date to the time after the Babylonian Exile.)  Differences in Hebrew meter and the concept of Zion’s slavery relative to the surrounding material point to later origin.  That may or may not prove interesting, but there it is.

I noticed that righteousness and justice are related concepts.  This has long constituted old news to me, but I delighted to see another instance of it in Isaiah 1.

That justice and righteousness are related establishes a high standard.  Many people mistake human vendettas for justice.  Many people mistake torture for justice.  Many people are oblivious to or forget Deuteronomy 32:35, in the voice of God:

Vengeance is mine and recompense,

for the time they lose their footing;

Because the day of their disaster is at hand

and their doom is rushing upon them.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

When we set out to take revenge, we embark on a path we ought to leave alone.  God knows better than we do.

I also noticed the difference between the translations of verse 27.  I noticed that TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) had “judgment” for “justice” and “retribution” for “righteousness.”  Yet the germane note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), read:

Having been punished, Zion will again know justice and faithfulness.  A new name is given to the reformed Jerusalem; c.f. 62:2-4; Ezekiel 48:35.

–769

The promised salvation will stem only from divine justice and righteousness, not the virtue of Israel.  The destruction of rebels and sinners, however, will stem from their lack of virtue.  For the meantime, Zion, as a faith reality, not a political entity, contains the good and the wicked.  Likewise, in the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30), the wheat and the weeds will grow together in the field until the harvest time.  God will judge at the harvest time.  In the meantime, attempting to remove weeds may result in the removal of some wheat, also.

May we–you, O reader, and I–strike a proper balance, by grace.  May we understand correctly the difference between good and evil.  May we understand correctly the difference between that which is sinful and that which is not.  May we understand correctly the difference between justice and injustice.  When appropriate, may we speak out, and do so in the right way.  And may we understand correctly the difference between our tasks and God’s tasks.

If I am going to err, I prefer to do so on the side of kindness, not harshness.  I would rather be too gentle than mean.  I prefer to strike the proper balance in each circumstances, of course.  Yet maybe my Southern training takes over and tells me not to create a needless scene.  I prefer to practice personal diplomacy, even when doing so entails telling white lies.  “No, that dress does not make you look fat,” except it does.  I also know enough to have some idea of what I do not know.  God knows more than I do, and I do not bring people to God by behaving obnoxiously in God’s name.

Nevertheless, as anyone who has read my weblogs sufficiently ought to know, I do not always shy away from writing what I really think.  I am capable of being blunt, too.  There is a time for diplomacy, just as there is a time for bluntness.  Yet there is never any moral justification for not leaving vengeance to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PERCY DEARMER, ANGLICAN CANON AND TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONA OF PISA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, LUTHER OF THE SLAVES AND FATHER OF SLOVAK HYMNODY

THE FEAST OF RUBY MIDDLETON FORSYTHE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EPISCOPAL EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY THERESA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF SAINT PETER CLAVER, AND “MOTHER OF AFRICAN MISSIONS;” AND HER SISTER, SAINT URSULA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE URSULINES OF THE AGONIZING HEART OF JESUS (GRAY URSULINES)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++