Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Unadorned Truth

Daily Readings
Sirach 16 + II Kings 3 + II Chronicles 14 + Jeremiah 37

Quote of the Day
When the Lord created his works from the beginning,
and, in making them, determined their boundaries,
he arranged his works in an eternal order,
and their dominion for all generations.
They neither hunger nor grow weary,
and they do not abandon their tasks.
They do not crowd one another,
and they never disobey his word. Sirach 16:26-28

Daily Text: II Kings 3

Unadorned Truth
Mesha, king of Moab, rebelled against Israel to whom he had been subject, as soon as Ahab died. Ahab’s son Ahaziah didn’t live long enough after becoming king to go to war and so it fell to Jehoram his brother, who with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah and troops from Edom to take the fight to Mesha. There are two things to be noted. First, Jehoshaphat asked for a prophet’s guidance precisely as he had done with Ahab when they were going to war to recover Ramoth-Gilead. Then the prophet was Micaiah; this time it is Elisha. The circumstances are a little different since the three nations have already embarked on military maneuvers. They have gone to Moab via a southern route through the desert. They don’t seem to concerned about their ability to make war. Their concern, after a week in the desert, is the lack of water and Elisha brings a word from the Lord about how the Lord will provide the water. Jehoshaphat is consistently concerned with the Lord’s leadership. Thankfully, the water came, and through a series of circumstances the armies of Israel, Judah and Edom begin to take city after city in Moab until they come to the capitol. It is obvious to Mesha, who by now is shut up in his capitol fighting a defensive battle that his enemies are going to overtake him. At that point he sacrifices his firstborn son ostensibly to Chemosh, the god of Moab.

Now here is the problem. The account of this entire war is written after the fact. Presumably, it reports accurately the whole course of the campaign up to this point. Elijah has prophecied the following: “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this wadi full of pools.’ For thus says the lord, ‘you shall see neither wind nor rain but the wadi shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your cattle, and your animals.’ This is only a trifle in the sight of the lord, for he will also hand Moab over to you. You shall conquer every fortified city and every choice city; every good tree you shall fell, all springs of water you shall stop up, and every good piece of land you shall ruin with stones.” All of this occurs. However, after Mesha sacrifices his son there is this simple mystifying statement: ”And great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.” And we know from other sources that Moab was not conquered!

Whose wrath came upon Israel? The wrath of Chemosh? If so, the author has admitted that Chemosh is more powerful than YHWH. No biblical writer would suggest that [Cogan and Tadmor, 439:51]. An alternative explanation would be that the sacrifice was to Israel’s God in the first place and that YHWH then visited his wrath on his own people. This is, of course, nonsense. Another possibility is that Israel committed some sin and was punished for it, but if so we are never told that. Most likely, there was no explanation for Israel’s retreat. After the sacrifice of the child, something happened within the troops to cause them to retreat without reconquering Moab, and the author of the II King’s report simply couldn’t say what it was, because to say was blasphemy and/or a lie. Rather than commit either of those he tells the truth as he understood it without any explanation. We will never know why the retreat occurred, but we can take comfort from the honesty in the report that it did. Whatever it was it did not shake their faith in YHWH or his prophet.

W. H. Auden

Whether conditioned by God, or their neural structure, still
All men have this common creed, account for it as you will:--
The Truth is one and incapable of contradiction;
All knowledge that conflicts with itself is Poetic Fiction.


Blogger Norm said...

Human sacrifice, common in many ancient religions, was not unknown among the people of Israel and Judah (Ex22:29-30; Judg11:30-31, 39; 1King16:34) though they learned that it was wrong (Gen22:12; Ex34:20; Deut18:10) The king of Moab in his terrible extremity made the supreme sacrifice of his firstborn son, and the forces of Israel were so impressed and so filled with fear of the great wrath (perhaps of Chemosh, the god of Moab) that they gave up the victory that lay within their grasp and hastily returned to their own land. Two later kings of Judah are condemned for participating in the horrible practice (2Kings16:3; 21:6).

8:22 AM  

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