Archive for the ‘Zephaniah 2’ Tag

Divine Judgment Against Ammon, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART XI

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Ezekiel 21:28-32 (Anglican and Protestant)

Ezekiel 21:33-37 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Ezekiel 25:1-7

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Oracles of divine judgment against nations are staples of Hebrew prophetic literature.  For example, they populate Isaiah 13-23; Jeremiah 46-51; Amos 1:3-2:3; and Ezekiel 25-32.

Since I began this long-term project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, I have read the material regarding Ammon in Amos 1:13-15; Jeremiah 49:1-16; and Ezekiel 21:28-32/21:33-37 (depending on versification).

Ammon was east of the River Jordan, and bordered the territory of the tribe of Gad (Joshua 13:8-10).  Ammon’s capital was Rabbath-Amman (modern-day Amman, Jordan).  Sometimes the Hebrews and the Ammonites were foes (Judges 3:13; Amos 1:13-15; Zephaniah 2:8; Judges 10:6-12:7; 1 Samuel 11; 2 Samuel 10; 2 Samuel 12:26-31).  Sometimes they were allies (Jeremiah 27:3).  After the Fall of Jerusalem, the Ammonites supported Ishmael, the Davidic claimant who rebelled against Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:7-41:18).  Before that, however, Ammon had occupied the territory of the tribe of Gad after the Fall of Samaria (722 B.C.E.).

Ammon, as a province of the Assyrian Empire, had a native ruler most of the time in the seventh century B.C.E.  During the Assyrian civil war that started in 652 B.C.E., some of the remote peoples rebelled.  They endangered the security of Ammon and other Assyrian vassals.  With the fall of Nineveh (612 B.C.E.), Ammon briefly regained independence.  Ammon allied with the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire against common foes, those pesky Arab tribes and the Kingdom of Judah.  The alliance quickly turned into Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian domination of Ammon.

The Ammonite rebellion against their Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian overlords informed the material in Ezekiel 21.  The Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians struck Judah first then came back around for Ammon.  After the failed Ammonite rebellion, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire instituted mass deportations of Ammonites and, for a time, ended sedentary settlement in Ammon.  Ammon became the abode of nomads until the Persian period.

Ezekiel 25:1-7 is consistent with this history.  The text of the oracle condemns Ammon for opposing Judah and siding with the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The fitting punishment, we read, is to fall to that empire, too.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Divine Judgment Against Ammon, Part I   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXIX

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Jeremiah 49:1-6

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Ammon was east of the River Jordan, and bordered the territory of the tribe of Gad (Joshua 13:8-10).  Ammon’s capital was Rabbath-Amman (modern-day Amman, Jordan).  Sometimes the Hebrews and the Ammonites were foes (Judges 3:13; Amos 1:13-15; Zephaniah 2:8; Judges 10:6-12:7; 1 Samuel 11; 2 Samuel 10; 2 Samuel 12:26-31).  Sometimes they were allies (Jeremiah 27:3).  After the Fall of Jerusalem, the Ammonites supported Ishmael, the Davidic claimant who rebelled against Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:7-41:18).  Before that, however, Ammon had occupied the territory of the tribe of Gad after the Fall of Samaria (722 B.C.E.).

Since I started this project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, I have read the oracle against the Ammonites in Amos 1:13-15.

The oracle regarding Ammon in Ezekiel 25:1-6 awaits me, in due time.

Some details in the oracle require explanation:

  1. We read place names.
  2. We read “Milcom,” the name of the Ammonite chief deity (1 Kings 11:5).  That name, rendered in Hebrew (which lacks vowels), can read, in English, “their king.”
  3. We read that the Hebrews would repossess the territory of the tribe of Gad.
  4. This oracle also concludes on a note of consolation.
  5. The Ammonites were relatives of the Hebrews (Genesis 19:38).

Ammon fell to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Mass deportations ensued.  After the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians and the Medes in 539 B.C.E., Ammon became a part of the Persian Empire.  This empire restored Ammon, reduced to a domain of Arab nomads, to political order.

The Ammonites, like many others, had relied on wealth, strength, and false gods.  The Ammonites had also seized land not legitimately theirs.  This type of activity was a major concern in Biblical times.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT METHODIUS I OF CONSTANTINOPLE, DEFENDER OF ICONS AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE; AND SAINT JOSEPH THE HYMNOGRAPHER, DEFENDER OF ICONS AND THE “SWEET-VOICED NIGHTINGALE OF THE CHURCH”

THE FEAST OF DAVID LOW DODGE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN BUSINESSMAN AND PACIFIST

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS J. UPLEGGER, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND MISSIONARY; “OLD MAN MISSIONARY”

THE FEAST OF FRANK LAUBACH, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF MARK HOPKINS, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, EDUCATOR, AND PHYSICIAN

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Fates of Kings and Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah Tells the King That Jerusalem Shall Be Taken

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XIII

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Jeremiah 21:1-22:30

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For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground,

and tell sad stories of the death of kings….

–William Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 3, Scene 2

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Jeremiah 21-25 consists of oracles in the last years of Jerusalem.  Zedekiah (born Mattaniah) in the regnant monarch named in 21:1.  The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), lists his reign as having spanned 597-586 B.C.E.  Outside of the Book of Jeremiah, one can read about King Zedekiah in 2 Kings 24:18-25:26; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; and 1 Esdras 1:47-58.

Passhur the priest (21:1) was a different person than Passhur the priest (20:1), just as Zephaniah the priest (21:1) was a different person than Zephaniah the prophet (Zephaniah 1-3).

The theme of divine retribution in exchange for rampant, persistent, and systemic social injustice recurs.

There was bad news all around.

  1. Jerusalem was fall to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C.E.
  2. King Zedekiah (r. 597-586 B.C.E.) would suffer an ignominious fate.
  3. King Jehohaz/Jeconiah/Shallum (r. 609 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 23:31-35; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4; 1 Esdras 1:34-38), would die in exile in Egypt.
  4. King Jehoiakim (r. 608-598 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 23:36-24:7; 2 Chronicles 36:5-8; 1 Esdras 1:39-42) either died peacefully in his palace (2 Kings 24:6), became a captive in Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:5-8; 1 Esdras 1:40), or died outside the walls of Jerusalem in 598 B.C.E. and received no burial (Jeremiah 22:19; 36:30-31).
  5. King Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah (r. 597 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 24:8-17; 2 Kings 25:27-30; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10; 1 Esdras 1:43-46) would become a prisoner in Babylon, too.

I detect odd editing, without regard to chronology.  Follow my reasoning, O reader:

  1. Zedekiah was the last King of Judah.  Material concerning him establishes the present tense at the beginning of Chapter 21.
  2. The material concerning Jehoahaz/Jeconiah/Shallum would have been contemporary to the Zedekiah material.
  3. Yet the material concerning Jehoiakim comes from during his reign.
  4. Likewise, the material concerning Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah comes from during his reign.

The divine condemnations of rulers who did not try to govern righteously remain relevant, sadly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARNABAS THE APOSTLE, COWORKER OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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A Song of Joy for Restored Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Zephaniah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING ZEPHANIAH, PART V

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Zephaniah 3:14-20

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The Book of Zephaniah, in its final form, from after the Babylonian Exile, has a dominant mood of apocalyptic gloom and doom–the justified wrath of God on Judah and her neighbors for their persistent, collective, and unrepentant sins for generations.  Hints of the return of the remnant of Judah after the Babylonian Exile exist in Chapter 2, though.  Zephaniah 3:14-20 concludes the book on a strong note of hope.  The final word in some Hebrew prophetic books is not hope, but hope is the final word in the Book of Zephaniah.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

Clinging to hope can be difficult.  Grief can be overpowering.  Jobs can be scarce.  The economic system may be rigged to keep many people in poverty.  The legal system may be rigged to benefit the wealthy and the White.  Addictions may be difficult to break.  Temptations may be extremely challenging to resist.  One may feel powerless to improve one’s lot in life despite following the rules.

Yet God is sovereign.  Hope based in God is never in vain.

In the case of the visions in Zephaniah 3:14-20, the ideal, Godly future has no Messiah.  The ideal, Godly future in some of the four prophetic books I read before Zephaniah does include a Messiah, though.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Book of Zephaniah.  I invite you to remain with me as I move along to the Book of Nahum next.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KOSTKA STAROWIEYSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1941

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS CARACCIOLO, COFOUNDER OF THE MINOR CLERKS REGULAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN LANCASTER SPALDING, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PEORIA THEN TITULAR BISHOP OF SEYTHOPOLIS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETROC, WELSH PRINCE, ABBOT, AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF THOMAS RAYMOND KELLY, U.S. QUAKER MYSTIC AND PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY

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Divine Judgment Against Foreign Nations, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of City United Methodist Church, Gary, Indiana

Image Source = Google Earth

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READING ZEPHANIAH, PART III

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Zephaniah 2:4-15

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The terrible Day of the LORD (Zephaniah 1) will affect other nations, not just Judah, we read.

  1. The judgment and destruction of the Philistines (2:4-7) contrasts with the restoration of the remnant of Judah.  A diligent student of the Bible sought to know about the long, difficult relations between Jews and Philistines.  The archaeological record belies the stereotype of Philistines as uncouth and barbaric.  Artifacts reveal that the Philistines had a high, sophisticated culture, actually.  Zephaniah 2:4-7 holds that culture in low esteem, though.
  2. The Moabites and the Ammonites (2:8-11), we read, will also meet their fates.  The text condemns these nations for taunting and boasting against God’s people.  We read that the restored remnant of that chosen people will dispossess the Moabites and the Ammonites.
  3. The Cushites/Nubians and Assyrians (2:12-15) will also meet with dire fates, we read.  One may recall from earlier in Hebrew prophetic literature that Cush/Nubia and Assyria were enemies of Judah and each other, and that Judah was sandwiched between these powers.  One may also recall that the (Cushite/Nubian) Twenty-Fifth Dynasty of Egypt, which had pushed for the creation of an anti-Assyrian alliance circa 714 B.C.E., fell after the Assyrian capture of Thebes, the Egyptian capital, in 633 B.C.E.  One may realize that the Cushites/Nubians remained in Cush/Nubia, of course.  And one may recall reading about the fall of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, in 612 B.C.E.

That which civilizations build can disappear relatively quickly.  Buildings, not maintained, collapse faster than one may guess.  For examples, one need not seek out ancient ruins.  One need look no farther than Detroit, Michigan, or Gary, Indiana, for example.

Zephaniah 2:15 condemns an attitude of haughtiness before God.  This attitude is unacceptable.  God, who is active, can bless and punish.  God will punish haughtiness, Zephaniah 1-3 tell us.

The haughtiness Zephaniah 2:4-15 condemns in various Gentile nations reminds of me of the myth of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).  In that account, we read of human hubris and a massive construction project.  The account, poetically, tells us that God had to come down to see the grand city.  In other words, human best efforts and grandest efforts and structures are insignificant compared to God.

So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN XXIII, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN GOTTFRIED GEISLER AND JOHANN CHRISTIAN GEISLER, SILESIAN MORAVIAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSER; AND JOHANNES HERBST, GERMAN-AMERICAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

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Divine Judgment on Judah, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Zephaniah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING ZEPHANIAH, PART II

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Zephaniah 1:2-2:3

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Certain ambiguities exist in the Hebrew text.  These give rise to competing scholarly and theological interpretations.  Yet the text is clear about other matters:  God was mad, idolatry continued to be rampant and intolerable, divine judgment on the people and the royal family was on the way, social injustice (especially economic injustice) was ubiquitous and still intolerable to God, and there was still no time to repent.  This last point contrasts with First Isaiah (Isaiah 6), in which the time to repent had passed.  Overall, the imagery of Zephaniah 1:2-2:3, set in the context of the Day of the LORD, should be familiar to one who has recently read Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah recently.

Certain details require explanation:

  1. Milcom (1:5) was the chief deity of the Ammonite pantheon (1 Kings 11:5, 7, 33; 2 Kings 23:13).
  2. The alternative translation to “Milcom” is “Malcam,” or “their king.”  This may be a human monarch, YHWH, or a false god.
  3. “The king’s sons” (1:8) refers to the royal family, the House of David.  Those responsible for leading the people astray bear greater accountability before God.
  4. Idolatry is apparent in 1:4-6, 8-9.
  5. People are foolish and sinful to commit fraud, exploit others, and be complacent.
  6. Another theme from earlier in Hebrew prophetic literature repeats:  Circumstances may seem good and pleasant.  The kingdom may be faring relatively well.  Nevertheless, the circumstances are about to get very bad.
  7. 1:14-16 is the basis of the Latin Dies Irae, formerly part of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass.
  8. The imagery of the Day of the LORD is vivid.  The powerful language addresses a situation of long-term, collective, and unrepentant violation of the Law of Moses, despite many messengers of God having called for repentance.  Divine patience is not infinite.  Neither is divine judgment.

Seek the LORD,

all you humble of the land,

who have observed his law;

Seek justice,

seek humility;

Perhaps you will be sheltered

on the day of the LORD’s anger.

–Zephaniah 2:3, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That “perhaps” is ominous.

The Hebrew text in 2:1-3 is somewhat ambiguous and, in scholarly terms, corrupt.  Therefore, an exegetical debate about the identity of the “shameless nation” (2:1) is robust; the text is vague.  2:1-3 sits between a section condemning Judah and a section condemning foreign nations.  Also, the Hebrew word translated as “shameless” can also mean “not desiring God” or “not desired by God.”  Circumstantially, the position of The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), that Judah is the addressed nation makes sense to me.  Yet other study Bibles I consult interpret 2:1-3 to apply to foreign nations instead.

This ambiguity does not disturb me.  Even if I err in interpreting 2:1-3 to have applied to Judah, my ultimate point remains unaltered.  These texts, in the Hebrew language, indicate editing that has created confusion about historical interpretation.  I acknowledge this reality; I do not ignore or seek vainly to reconcile the irreconcilable.  Yet I remain focused on the text’s meanings for today.  When is too late to repent?  And why might not repentance shelter people from the wrath of God?

Certainly, one person’s actions affect other people.  Also, membership in a society means that one suffers and benefits based on what other members of that society do or do not do.  This may seem unfair.  It may even be unfair.

Stating the obvious may answer a question partially.  Such a partial answer may prove unsatisfactory.  So be it.  I wrestle with the two questions I asked:

  1. When is too late to repent?
  2. Why might not repentance shelter people from the wrath of God.

Certainty is antithetical to faith.  I, as an Episcopalian, welcome doubt, my old friend, and greet questions warmly.  I affirm that “I don’t know,” is frequently the best and most honest answer.  Faith is about walking humbly with God, not knowing the answers.  My model of faith is Jewish, not Muslim.  Jews get to wrestle and argue with God; Muslims submit to God.

I agree that repentance should shield one from the wrath of God.  It does not always do so, however.  I also argue that no time should be too late for repentance.  I disagree with Isaiah 6 in so doing.

God calls people and peoples into a positive relationship with each other and Him.  God does not call us to shut down our minds.  No, God calls us to bring ourselves to the relationship.  God calls us to trust Him, acknowledge our complete dependence on Him, and take care of each other.  Trusting does not entail a lack of arguments and misunderstandings.  We can know of God what God has revealed.  The fullness of God, however, is a glorious mystery.  The proper response includes awe.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN XXIII, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN GOTTFRIED GEISLER AND JOHANN CHRISTIAN GEISLER, SILESIAN MORAVIAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSER; AND JOHANNES HERBST, GERMAN-AMERICAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

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Israel’s True Power and Strength   Leave a comment

Above:  King John Hyrcanus I

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART III

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Judith 4:1-6:2

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Holofernes represented an oppressive violent power and an ego-driven monarch.  The general had succeeded in his previous campaigns, even against people who had greeted his army with garlands, dancing, and the sound of timbrels (2:1-3:10).  The Israelites were in dire straits as he turned his attention toward them.

Yet the Israelites worshiped God.  They prayed to God.  And, as even Achior, the Ammonite leader acknowledged, the Israelites’ power and strength resided in God.  Yet Holofernes asked scornfully,

Who is God beside Nebuchadnezzar?

–Judith 6:2b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Achior found refuge with the Israelites, at least.

A refresher on the Kingdom of Ammon and on the Ammonites is in order.

  1. “Ammon” comes from Benammi, both the son and grandson of Lot (Genesis 19:30-38).  Lot’s daughters had gotten their father drunk then seduced him.  They gave birth to the founders of the Moabite and Ammonite peoples.
  2. The attitude toward the Ammonites in the Bible is mostly negative.
  3. The Kingdom of Ammon was east of the River Jordan and north of Moab.  
  4. The Kingdom of Ammon, a vassal state of Israel under Kings David and Solomon.  After Ammon reasserted itself, it became a vassal state of the Neo-Assyrian Empire then the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  A failed rebellion led to mass deportations of Ammonites and the colonization of their territory by Chaldeans.

Anyone who wants to read more about the Ammonites in the Bible may want to follow the following reading plan:

  1. Genesis 19;
  2. Numbers 21;
  3. Deuteronomy 2, 3, 23;
  4. Joshua 12, 13;
  5. Judges 3, 10, 11, 12;
  6. 1 Samuel 10, 11, 12, 14;
  7. 2 Samuel 8, 10, 11, 12, 17, 23;
  8. 1 Kings 11, 14;
  9. 2 Kings 23, 24;
  10. 1 Chronicles 11, 18, 19, 20;
  11. 2 Chronicles 12, 20, 24, 26, 27;
  12. Ezra 9;
  13. Nehemiah 2, 4, 13;
  14. Psalm 83;
  15. Isaiah 11;
  16. Jeremiah 9, 25, 27, 40, 41, 49;
  17. Ezekiel 21, 25;
  18. Daniel 11;
  19. Amos 1;
  20. Zephaniah 2;
  21. Judith 1, 5, 6, 7, 14;
  22. 1 Maccabees 5; and
  23. 2 Maccabees 4, 5.

Back to Achior…

A close reader of Achior’s report (5:6-21) may detect some details he got wrong.  Not all characters speak accurately in every matter.  One may expect an outsider to misunderstand some aspects of the Israelite story.

At the end of the Chapter 6, we see the conflict between the arrogance of enemies of God and the humility of Israelites.  We know that, in the story, the Israelites could turn only to God for deliverance.  Anyone familiar with the Hebrew prophets ought to know that this theme occurs in some of the prophetic books, too.

In the context contemporary to the composition of the Book of Judith, Jews had endured Hellenistic oppression under the Seleucid Empire.  Jews had won the independence of Judea.  John Hyrcanus I (reigned 135-104 B.C.E.; named in 1 Maccabees 13:53 and 16:1-23) had ordered the destruction of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerazim and forced many people to convert to Judaism.  The persecuted had become persecutors.  This was certainly on the mind of the anonymous author of the Book of Judith.

May we, collectively and individually, do to others as we want them to do to us, not necessarily as they or others have done to us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIERST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF ERIK CHRISTIAN HOFF, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONIST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIN SHKURTI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1969

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With God There Are Leftovers, Part II   1 comment

Above:   The Traditional Site of the Feeding of the Five Thousand

Image Source = Library of Congress

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FOR THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O God, you are the author of peace and lover of concord,

in knowledge of whom stands our eternal life,

whose service is perfect freedom:

Defend us your humble servants in all assaults of our enemies, that we,

surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries;

through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 155

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Zephaniah 3:8-13

Psalm 52

1 John 2:24-25, 28-29; 3:1-2

Mark 6:31-44

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Three of the four readings contain a balance of divine judgment and mercy.  Often judgment on the wicked constitutes mercy for their victims.  If one extends the readings from Zephaniah and 1 John (to Zephaniah 3:8-20 and 1 John 2:22-3:3), one gets a fuller understanding of those passages than if one omits certain verses.  The Book of Zephaniah is mostly about divine judgment.  After more than two chapters of doom mercy breaks through about halfway through Chapter 3, however.  Humility before God is indeed a virtue Zephaniah emphasizes; the haughty receive judgment.  With regard to 1 John 2 and 3, the reminder to dwell in Christ and rejoice in being children of God is always positive to hear or read again.

The power and grace of God, a theme in the other readings, is in full, extravagant force in Mark 6:30-44, one of the four canonical accounts of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  Each account is slightly different yet mostly identical.  In Mark we read that Jesus fed “five thousand men.”  In Matthew 14, we read, Jesus fed “about five thousand men, besides women and children.”  In Luke 9 our Lord and Savior, we read, fed “about five thousand men.”  Finally we read in John 6 feeding about five thousand people.  Oral tradition tends to have a flexible spine; the core of a story remains constant, but minor details vary.  The variation in details in the Feeding of the Five Thousand does nothing to observe the core of the story.  The generosity of God is extravagant.  Furthermore, with God there are leftovers.

God chooses to work with our humble and inadequate resources then to multiply them.  Each of us might feel like the overwhelmed Apostles, who wondered legitimately what good five loaves and two fish would do.  The faithful response of humility before God acknowledges one’s own insufficiency and relies on God, however.  And why not?  With God there are leftovers.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS, “ATHANASIUS OF THE WEST,” AND HYMN WRITER; MENTOR OF SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENTIGERN (MUNGO), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

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Warnings and Judgments   1 comment

Neo-Assyrian Empire Map

Above:  Map of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants.

Because we cannot rely on our own abilities,

grant us your merciful judgment,

and train us to embody the generosity of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Nahum 1:1, 14-2:2 (Thursday)

Nahum 2:3-13 (Friday)

Zephaniah 2:13-15 (Saturday)

Psalm 145:1-8 (All Days)

2 Corinthians 13:1-4 (Thursday)

2 Corinthians 13:5-10 (Friday)

Matthew 19:23-30 (Saturday)

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The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

–Psalm 145:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Death, desolation and destruction.

–Nahum 2:10a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Those four words summarize the Old Testament readings for these days.  The (Neo-)Assyrian Empire, notorious for its violence, had fallen.  The Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians, who had conquered them, were almost as bad, but two Biblical authors rejoiced at the fall of Assyria and declared that event to be God’s judgment.

Warnings precede judgments much of the time, especially in the Bible.  2 Corinthians 13, for example, contains a warning (verse 2) and calls for repentance.  The Corinthian congregation was a notoriously troublesome assembly.  Indeed, it remained so for decades (at least).  You, O reader, might wish to consult the (First) Letter to the Corinthians (circa 100 C.E.) of St. Clement I of Rome (died circa 101 C.E.), which is authentic, for evidence of continued difficulties.  A major problem was factionalism, one variety of attachment.

Attachments are of the essence in this post.  The Assyrian rulers were attached to violence.  One man in Matthew 20 was attached to money and possessions.  Others were attached to relationships.  No attachment should interfere with recognizing one’s total dependence on God and one’s reliance on other human beings and responsibilities to them.

These texts, among others, function as warnings to us today.  Will we heed the notice and amend our ways as necessary and proper?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 16. 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DIEFENBAKER AND LESTER PEARSON, PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA; AND TOMMY DOUGLAS, FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN JONES OF TALYSARN, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BROTHER ROGER OF TAIZE, FOUNDER OF THE TAIZE COMMUNITY

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-20-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Faithfulness of God, Part I   1 comment

Above: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, by John Martin (1854)

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 19:15-29 (An American Translation):

When dawn appeared, the angels urged Lot on saying,

Bestir yourself; take away your wife, and the two daughters that are at hand, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.

When he hesitated, the men, because of the LORD’s pity on him, seized his hand and those of his wife and his two daughters, and bringing them out, they left him outside the city.  After they had brought them outside, they said,

Fly for your life; do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the valley; fly to the hills, lest you be swept away.

Lot said to them,

O no sirs!  Your servant has indeed found favor with you, and great is the kindness that you have done me in saving my life, but I cannot possibly fly to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I perish.  Here is the town near enough to fly to, and quite small; pray, let me fly there (is it not small?) to save my life.

The LORD said to him,

See, I grant you this request as well, in that I will not overthrow the town of which you speak.  Hurry and fly there; for I can do nothing until you reach there.

Thus the name of the town came to be called Zoar [small].

Just as the sun rose over the earth and Lot entered Zoar, the LORD rained sulphur and fire from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah, devastating those cities and all the valley, with all the inhabitants of the cities and the vegetation on the land.  And Lot’s wife looked back, and had become a pillar of salt.

Lot’s Wife Pillar, Mount Sodom, Israel

Next morning when Abraham went early to the place where he had stood before the LORD, he gazed toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the region of the valley, and he saw smoke from the land rising like smoke from a kiln.

Thus it was that God remembered Abraham when he destroyed the cities of the valley, by sending Lot away from the catastrophe when he devastated the cities where Lot lived.

Psalm 26 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give judgment for me, O LORD,

for I have lived with integrity;

I have trusted in the LORD and have not faltered.

Test me, O LORD, and try me;

examine my heart and my mind.

3 For your love is before my eyes;

I have walked faithfully before you.

I have not sat with the worthless,

nor do I consort with the deceitful.

5 I have hated the company of evildoers;

I will not sit down with the wicked.

6 I will wash my hands in innocence, O LORD,

that I may go in procession round your altar,

Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving

and recounting all your wonderful deeds.

8 LORD, I love the house in which you dwell

and the place where your glory abides.

Do not sweep me away with sinners,

nor my life with those who thirst for blood,

10 Whose hands are full of evil plots,

and their right hand full of bribes.

11 As for me, I will live with integrity;

redeem me, O LORD, and have pity on me.

12 My foot stands on level ground;

in the full assembly I will bless the LORD.

Matthew 8:23-27 (An American Translation):

And he [Jesus] got into the boat, and his disciples with him.  And suddenly a terrific storm came up on the sea, so that the waves broke over the boat, but he remained asleep.  And they woke him, saying,

Save us, sir!  We are lost!

And he said to them,

Why are you afraid?  You have so little faith!

Then he got up and reproved the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm.  And the men were amazed and said,

What kind of man is this?  For the very winds and sea obey him!

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; 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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One of the challenges of following a lectionary can be identifying the common theme present in two or more readings from different parts of the Bible.  After consulting commentaries and pondering all that I have read in the readings and the commentaries, I have found the common thread:  Faithfulness to God is the path to life.  This faithfulness needs only to be present.  However, as Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is spiritual death.  The wages of sin can also be physical death, and the punishment flows from the sin itself.  In other words, we reap what we sow.  God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.

Let us examine the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah carefully.  In Genesis 19:1-14, two angels arrive at Sodom, where Lot rescues them from would-be gang rapists.  The angels tell Lot that God will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah very shortly because, as Professor Richard Elliott Friedman translates verse 13,  they have “grown big before YHWH’s face.”

I pause at this point to ponder the importance of growing “big before YHWH’s face.”  Later in Chapter 19, YHWH permits Lot and his family to flee to Zoar, which is small, for safety.  (Two angels appear early in Chapter 19, and by chapter’s end, YHWH is there, too.  When did God show up, after disappearing between the end of Chapter 18 and the beginning of Chapter 19?  Following the bouncing ball can be challenging.)  Anyhow, I posit that growing “big before YHWH’s face” indicates spiritual arrogance, a lack of faithfulness.

There is an interesting feature in the Hebrew text of verse 15.  The word for punishment, as in “…or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city,” means sin as well.  Sin and punishment are the same thing; consequences flow from actions, so we reap what we sow.

Lot is sufficiently hospitable to rescue the angels, strangers in Sodom, and, as Genesis 19:29 indicates, God saves Lot and family out of faithfulness to Abraham.  Indeed, Lot is a disturbing character, one who offers his two virgin daughters to the would-be gang rapists gathered outside his house (verse 8).  Fortunately for the daughters, the men are not interested.

But Lot is kind to the strangers, if not his own daughters, and the angelic guests offer him and his family a safe way out–if only they follow instructions.  Nobody must look back.  I suppose that curiosity about what is happening would inspire one to look back; we are a species of people who stare at the aftermath of car wrecks.

Biblical writers over many generations used Sodom and Gomorrah to demonstrate various points.  These include:

  • Repent, or be destroyed.
  • Sexual immorality (in all its forms) is wrong.  The first explicit link between homosexual acts and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah comes in Jude 7, however.
  • Any town that refuses to heed visitors bearing the word of God will face condemnation.
  • The failure to extend hospitality to strangers will lead to condemnation.
  • The neglect of the poor will lead to condemnation and destruction.

The word “Sodom” appears in the New Revised Standard Version 51 times.  For those of you who wish to follow up, here they are:

  • Genesis 10:19
  • Genesis 13:10, 12, and 13
  • Genesis 14:2, 8, 10-12, 17, 21, 22, and 26
  • Genesis 18:16, 20, and 26
  • Genesis 19:1, 4, 24, and 28
  • Deuteronomy 29:23
  • Deuteronomy 32:32
  • Isaiah 1:9 and 10
  • Isaiah 3:9
  • Isaiah 13:19
  • Jeremiah 23:14
  • Jeremiah 49:18
  • Jeremiah 50:40
  • Lamentations 4:6
  • Ezekiel 16:46, 48, 49, 53, 55, and 56
  • Amos 4:11
  • Zephaniah 2:9
  • 3 Maccabees 2:5
  • 2 Esdras 2:8
  • 2 Esdras 7:106
  • Matthew 10:15
  • Matthew 11:23 and 24
  • Luke 10:12
  • Luke 17:29
  • Romans 9:29
  • 2 Peter 2:6
  • Jude 7
  • Revelation 11:8

The reading from Matthew tells the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  In all fairness to the Apostles, I would have been afraid, too.  I note also that Jesus said they had little faith, not no faith.  This is a difficult text, one with more possible interpretations than I dreamed possible before reading commentaries.  However, remaining consistent with my methodology of following a common thread between or among lectionary readings, I latch onto the “little faith” comment.  At least the Apostles had some faith.  Are we not like this much, if not most, of the time?  We have some faith and we know that we need more.  We believe, yet we need God to forgive us for our unbelief.  But a little faith is better than none, and from little faith much more can spring.  As the Book of Psalms says, God knows that we are “but dust.”

Reciprocity matters in a healthy relationship with God.  We will get much wrong, for we are fallible.  But, by grace, we can walk in the paths of righteousness more often than not.  We might save not only ourselves, but friends and family members, too.  But are we trying?  That is the first question.  Fortunately, God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.  And let us remember what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said about faithfulness:  God calls us to be faithful, not successful.

Certainly, how we treat others can be an outward sign of faithfulness.  If we love God with our essence and respect ourselves, following the Golden Rule will result in frequent acts of kindness.  To follow up on a previous devotion in this series, Jesus said that “you shall know them by their fruits.”  I add to this thought the entire Letter of James.

May we be faithful to God for the glory of God and out of awe of God and gratitude for all the wonderful deeds God has done.  And why not?  God is faithful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELAIDE, HOLY ROMAN EMPRESS

THE FEAST OF MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/week-of-proper-8-tuesday-year-1/

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