Archive for the ‘Satan’ Tag

Numbers and Luke, Part XI: Atonement   1 comment

pieta-michelangelo

Above:  Pieta, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 23:4-28 (Wednesday)

Numbers 24:1-25 (Thursday)

Psalm 89:1-18 (Morning–Wednesday)

Psalm 97 (Morning–Thursday)

Psalms 1 and 33 (Evening–Wednesday)

Psalms 16 and 62 (Evening–Thursday)

Luke 22:47-71 (Wednesday)

Luke 23:1-25 (Thursday)

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How can I damn whom God has not damned,

How doom when the LORD has not doomed?

–Numbers 23:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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It would have been nice (per Numbers 31:16) if Balaam had maintained that attitude.

Balaam, in Numbers 23 and 24, did as God instructed him, to King Balak’s dismay.  This was risky in the short term, I suppose, but the two merely parted company. Thus that part of the story ended.

Among my essential books is A Short History of Christian Thought, Revised and Expanded Edition (Oxford University Press, 1996), by Linwood Urban.  Father/Professor Urban’s volume is a wonderful resource for reading about Christian theological development.  These doctrines which we Christians affirm, refute, or discuss did not fall fully formed from Heaven.  No, theologians wrote and debated.  Bishops gathered at council and synods.  And, more often than not, they got it right.

Urban devotes a chapter to the doctrine of the Atonement.  He contextualizes it in Scripture and theology.  And he traces three understandings of the Atonement in the Bible and the writings of Church Fathers.  To summarize:

Reconciliation or atonement is said to be accomplished by the Incarnation itself, by the sacrificial death of Christ on Calvary, and by the conquest and defeat of the Devil.

–page 106

I recommend reading Urban’s chapter for full citations to the Bible and named Church Fathers.  These are matters of theological history.  Thus the existence of more than one ancient interpretation of the mechanics of the Atonement in Christian theology is a matter of objectively correct and confirmed history, not opinion.  As the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, everybody is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.

As for me, I grew up learning St. Anselm of Canterbury’s theory of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.  Jesus took my place on the cross, people told me.  This does not satisfy me, for it makes God seem like a vindictive thug.

I will not be satisfied until I see my son tortured and executed,

I imagine such a deity saying or thinking.  I recognize the Conquest of Satan theory in the Scriptures, and I hear echoes of the Incarnation-as-Atonement in the Gospels before their Passion narratives begin.  But we must come to terms with the death of Jesus.  That even played a vital role in the Atonement process.  Yet me must not stop there, for dead Jesus did not redeem us; resurrected Jesus did.

My conclusion follows:  The entire earthly life of Jesus was necessary for the Atonement to occur.  The Incarnation was vital, as were the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  And Jesus was one whom God had neither damned nor doomed.  No, his death pointed out the futility and cruelty of scapegoating people.  And his Resurrection from the dead showed God’s power, which God had demonstrated many times.  Now and again, however, we mere mortals seem to need reminders.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 26, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF ISABEL FLORENCE HAPGOOD, ECUMENIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/devotion-for-wednesday-and-thursday-in-pentecost-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Numbers and Luke, Part X: Obedience to Our Sovereign God   1 comment

balaam-and-the-angel

Above:  Balaam and the Angel

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 22:1-20 (Monday)

Numbers 22:21-23:3 (Tuesday)

Psalm 5 (Morning–Monday)

Psalm 42 (Morning–Tuesday)

Psalms 84 and 29 (Evening–Monday)

Psalms 102 and 133 (Evening–Tuesday)

Luke 22:1-23 (Monday)

Luke 22:24-46 (Tuesday)

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A Related Post:

Luke 22:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/thirty-eighth-day-of-lent-maundy-thursday/

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NOTE:

This post continues a sequence which began in LENTEN AND EASTER DEVOTIONS.  You, O reader, may find the immediately prior post in the sequence at this URL:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/devotion-for-the-fiftieth-day-of-easter-day-of-pentecost-lcms-daily-lectionary/.

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Parts of the readings from the Book of Numbers prove to be inconsistent with my Western and scientific worldview and mindset, which I have inherited from my post-Enlightenment culture.  What influence might one non-Israelite prophet’s curse have upon them?  And we all know that donkeys lack the capacity for human language.  But these details are trivial matters; the main point of the Balak and Balaam narrative is to affirm the sovereignty of God.  Balaam, hired to curse the Israelites on behalf of Balak, the King of Moab, disobeys God by setting with Balak’s agents.  The the prophet receives divine permission to continue on the journey but only to speak as God, not Balak wishes.

To digress briefly, who stops Balaam and his donkey in their tracks?  The narrative, in 22:22-26, uses a Hebrew term for “the adversary,” or the Satan.  The theology of Satan changed from the beginning of the Bible to the New Testament.  Here, in the Book of Numbers, as in the Book of Job, the Satan was an angel who worked for God.  Free agency, such as we see in the New Testament, came later.  This is a well-documented pattern of facts, one which serious study of the texts reveals.  There are even entire books on just this subject.

While I am wearing my higher criticism hat….

Luke 22:24-27, set immediately after our Lord’s betrayal by Judas Iscariot and the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Last Supper, bears a striking resemblance to Matthew 20:25-28 and Mark 10:42-45, both of which follow on the heels of James and John, sons of Zebedee, asking for high status for themselves (or their mother, our Lord’s aunt, asking for them, depending on the account one reads) in the Kingdom of God.  And the passages from Matthew and Mark precede the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem almost immediately.  Such discrepancies did not trouble the Church Fathers who approved the New Testament canon, so I will not permit them to disturb me either.  Besides, I know that the Gospels are not documentaries.

Anyhow, the theme of obedience we find in Numbers 22 runs through Luke 22 also.  Jesus obeys God.  Those who defy the Greco-Roman system of age and patronage, a system which oppressed people while impressing them with moments of generosity, obey God.  Those who stand by Jesus obey God.  Even Judas Iscariot played his part in salvation history.  If nobody had betrayed Jesus, would he have suffered, died, and risen?  Again we see the sovereignty of God playing out in the texts.

Sometimes agents in these dramas of the sovereignty of God are less than savory characters.  Consider the Numbers and Luke readings for examples of this, O reader.  Balaam, for example, obeyed God until he did not; consult Numbers 31:16.  And, elsewhere in the Bible, the narrative presents the Assyrians and the Babylonians as agents of divine sovereignty and punishment–agents those texts also condemn.  The fact that you, O reader, and I have roles to play in divine plans does not necessarily bode well for us.  Yet may we be on God’s side.  It is better for us, and I propose that God prefers it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 26, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF ISABEL FLORENCE HAPGOOD, ECUMENIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-in-pentecost-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Wrestling with God, Part I   1 comment

Above: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Gustave Dore

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Genesis 32:22-32 (An American Translation):

That same night he [Jacob] arose, and taking his two wives, his two female slaves, and his eleven children, he sent them across the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them, and sent them across the stream, and everything that belonged to him across.  Jacob himself was left behind all alone.  Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak, and when he found that he could not master him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh, so that the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled him.  Then he said,

Let me go; for the dawn is breaking.

But he replied,

I will not let you go, unless you bless me.

He said to him,

What is your name?

He replied,

Jacob.

Then he said,

Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel [wrestler with God], because you have wrestled with God and man, and have been the victor.

Jacob requested,

Please tell me your name.

He replied,

Why is it that you ask for my name?

Nevertheless he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the name of that place Peniel (face of God];

For,

said he,

I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared.

The sun rose on him just as he passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.  That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the hip muscle which is on the socket of the thigh; for the socket of Jacob’s thigh was touched on the hip muscle.

Psalm 17:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;

give heed to my cry;

listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

I give no offence with my mouth as others do;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;

in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;

incline your ear to me and hear my words.

Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,

O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand

from those who rise up against them.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings.

Matthew 9:32-38 (An American Translation):

But just as they were going out, some people brought to him a dumb man who was possessed by a demon, and as soon as the demon was driven out, the dumb man was able to speak.  And the crowds were amazed, and said,

Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel!

But the Pharisees said,

It is by the prince of demons that he drives them out.

Jesus went round among all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.

But the sight of the crowds of people filled him with pity for them, because they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep that have no shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is abundant enough, but the reapers are few.  So pray to the owner of the harvest to send reapers to gather it.

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The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Jacob, literally the “supplanter,” was on his way to meet with Esau, his estranged brother.  Jacob had spent the previous three chapters and over 14 years in the shadow of Laban, his father-in-law, who had tricked him and whom he had manipulated.  With that dispute settled, there was older unfinished business to settle.  Jacob did not know what Esau’s mood would be.

So, one night, Jacob faced God in the flesh.  Sometimes certain Hebrew texts use “God” and “angel” interchangeably, but the meaning in Genesis 32:22-32 is that Jacob wrestled with God incarnate.  He held on and persisted through the night and received a new name, Israel (meaning “wrestler with God,” “contender with God,” “God rules,” et cetera), and a limp, but he survived mostly intact.  Jacob was a changed man in more than one way.

We ought to take comfort in such stories.  Jacob, despite his flaws, was a chosen instrument of God.  Note also that God instigated the wrestling match.

Submission to God is the chief moral virtue in Islam.  Yet one of the pivotal stories in the Hebrew Bible is one of a man and God wrestling, with God starting the match.  Struggling and arguing with God is a key element in multiple Hebrew Bible stories; consider Job, for example.  He argued with God until God answered.  Whoever coined the cliche “the patience of Job” did not understand that book well.

And, although our flaws might not be as dramatic as those of Jacob, our imperfections do have consequences for ourselves and others.  Yet God can work through us, too.

I posit that a vital detail in the account from Genesis is that Jacob grasped God and refused to let go.  The man who struggled with God did so while grasping God; there was a relationship with the deity.

I contrast this with the response of Pharisees to Jesus’ healing of a mute man.  Demon possession was a common diagnosis for muteness, epilepsy, and many other conditions, so who knows what caused the man’s inability to speak?  But, whatever it was, Jesus cured it.  And some tradition-moribund religious people chose not to wrestle (metaphorically) with this incarnation of God.  If they had, they might have discovered answers and changed their lives and those of others.

After reading and studying the Bible for most years of my life, and after years of attempts (of varying degrees of effort and success) of faithful living, I have learned many lessons.  Among them is this:  God is frequently surprising.  God does not fit into our artificial theological boxes.  We never have God figured out.  Yes, we can understand partially, but that is as far as we can go.  So, as useful as traditions can be, a spiritual wrestling match now and then can prove much more helpful.

By the way, Jacob and Esau reconciled then parted company;  Jacob’s fears proved false.  And Jacob became the father of the men whose names continue as Hebrew tribes.  There is no tribe of Joseph, but two tribes carry the names of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  And there was no tribal land allotment to the Levites.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/week-of-proper-9-tuesday-year-1/

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Posted August 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Genesis 32, Islam, Matthew 9, Psalm 17

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