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.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Righteous Anger

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 5 + Judges 14 + Tobit 3 + Mark 4

Quote of the Day
When you make a vow to God, do not delay fulfilling it; for he has no pleasure in fools. Fulfill what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not fulfill it. Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5

Daily Text: Judges 14:5-6, 14, 18-20
5Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah. When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion roared at him. 6The spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart barehanded as one might tear apart a kid. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. 14He said to them, "Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet." But for three days they could not explain the riddle. 18The men of the town said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down, "What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?" And he said to them, "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle." 19Then the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and he went down to Ashkelon. He killed thirty men of the town, took their spoil, and gave the festal garments to those who had explained the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father's house. 20And Samson's wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.


Lectio What one word or phrase from the Daily Text leaps out at you? ‘Comment’ below.

Righteous Anger
Weak the mighty man no doubt was. Full of the grace of God and mostly empty of His wisdom. Innocent, trusting, impetuous, he was vulnerable in all human emotions. Here was a man, not defined by coldness, distance, intelligence, and independence, but by passion, sensitivity, a sense of wonder, God’s touch. Full of fun and pranks, he could pose a riddle to get the best of those around him. Betrayed by wife and guest, father-in-law and friend, his outrage knew no bounds. Aroused he was danger defined. “In hot anger he went back to his father’s house” [verse 19c].

Meditatio What would you add to this commentary on the Daily Text? ‘Comment’ below.

Angry Samson
Robert Graves

Are they blind, the lords of Gaza
In their strong towers,
Who declare Samson pillow-smothered
And stripped of his powers?

O stolid Philistines
Stare now in amaze
At my foxes running in your cornfields
With their tails ablaze,

At swung jaw-bone, at bees swarming
In the stark lion’s hide,
At these, the gates of well-walled Gaza
A-clank to my stride.
395:185

(Alternative poem? Include under ‘comment’ below.)

Oratio Conspire to respond with an act of kindness for someone you encounter today. Make it loving, low key and low risk. Hold a door, clean a car, give a flower, notice the unnoticed, make Christ’s love real. Write your experience below under ‘Comment.’

Contemplatio Enjoy what God is doing through you.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Worker of Wonders

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 4 + Judges 13 + Tobit 2 + Mark 3

Quote of the Day
When the table was set for me and an abundance of food placed before me, I said to my son Tobias, “Go, my child, and bring whatever poor person you may find of our people among the exiles in Nineveh, who is wholeheartedly mindful of God, and he shall eat together with me. I will wait for you, until you come back. Tobit 2:2

Daily Text: Judges 13:1-5, 9, 19-23
The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines forty years. 2There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines." 9God listened to Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. 19So Manoah took the kid with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to him who works wonders. 20When the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground. 21The angel of the LORD did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD. 22And Manoah said to his wife, "We shall surely die, for we have seen God." 23But his wife said to him, "If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these."

Lectio What one word or phrase from the Daily Text leaps out at you? ‘Comment’ below.

Worker of Wonders
The woman has the visit from the envoy of the LORD, not her husband. This follows Deborah’s pattern and later that of Hannah and again with Mary. The God of Israel does not seem to be prejudiced against speaking with women, though Manoah is obviously jealous. So he prays, rather timidly, and the angel of the LORD honors his request and returns—to his wife! When Manoah discovers the angel can go up in flames and not be consumed, the angel whose name is beyond understanding, he realizes that he has seen the LORD. Now he is fearful that he will die. I love the practicality of this woman, his wife. She responds dryly, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering…or shown us all these things…” [vs. 23]. The LORD knew to whom she should appear.

Even so Manoah and his wife are not the central characters here. The LORD is. The One who works wonders does so, not by appearing and disappearing rather miraculously, but by providing a savior for God’s people. It is this regular intrusion into human history with loving intention that marks the One who works wonders.

Meditatio What would you add to this commentary on the Daily Text? ‘Comment’ below.

The Wife of Manoah to Her Husband
John Greenleaf Whittier
1807-1892

Against the sunset’s glowing wall
The city towers rise black and tall,
Where Zorah, on its rocky height,
Stands like an armed man in the light.

Down Eshtaol’s vales of ripened grain
Falls like a cloud the night amain,
And up the hillsides climbing slow
The barley reapers homeward go.

Look, dearest! How our fair child’s head
The sunset light hath hallowèd,
Where at this olive’s foot he lies,
Uplooking to the tranquil skies.

Oh, while beneath the fervent heat
Thy sickle swept the bearded wheat,
I’ve watched with mingled joy and dread,
Our child upon his grassy bed.

Joy, which the mother feels alone
Whose morning hope like mine had flown,
When to her bosom, over-blessed,
A dearer life than hers is pressed.

Dread, for the future dark and still,
Which shapes our dear one to its will;
Forever in his large calm eyes,
I read a tale of sacrifice.

The same foreboding awe I felt
When at the altar’s side we knelt,
And he, who as a pilgrim came,
Rose, winged and glorious, through the flame.

I slept not, though the wild bees made
A dreamlike murmuring in the shade,
And on me the warm-fingered hours
Pressed with the drowsy smell of flowers.

Before me, in a vision, rose
The hosts of Israel’s scornful foes,--
Rank over rank, helm, shield, and spear,
Glittered in noon’s hot atmosphere

I heard their boast and bitter word,
Their mockery of the Hebrew’s Lord;
I saw their hands His ark assail,
Their feet profane His holy veil.

No angel down the blue space spoke,
No thunder from the still sky broke;
But in their midst, in power and awe,
Like God’s waked wrath, our child I saw!

A child no more!—harsh-browed and strong,
He towered a giant in the throng,
And down his shoulders, broad and bare,
Swept the black terror of his hair.

He raised his arm—he smote again;
As round the reaper falls the grain,
So the dark host around him fell,
So sank the foes of Israel!

Again I looked. In sunlight shone
The towers and domes of Askelon;
Priest, warrior, slave, a mighty crowd
Within her idol temple bowed.

Yet one knelt not; stark, gaunt, and blind,
His arms the massive pillars twined,--
An eyeless captive, strong with hate,
He stood there like an evil Fate.

The red shrines smoked,--the trumpets pealed:
He stooped,--the giant columns reeled;
Reeled tower and fane, sank arch and wall,
And the thick dust-cloud closed o’er all!


Above the shriek, the crash, the groan
Of the fallen pride of Askelon,
I heard, sheer down the echoing sky,
A voice as of an angel cry,--

The voice of him, who at our side
Sat through the golden eventide;
Of him who, on thy altar’s blaze,
Rose fire-winged, with his song of praise.

“Rejoice o’er Israel’s broken chain,
Gray mother of the mighty slain!
Rejoice!” it cried, “he vanquisheth!
The strong in life is strong in death!

“To him shall Zorah’s daughters raise
Through coming years their hymns of praise
And gray old men at evening tell
Of all he wrought for Israel.

“And they who sing and they who hear
Alike shall hold thy memory dear,
And pour their blessings on thy head,
O mother of the mighty dead!”

It ceased; and though a sound I heard
As if great wings the still air stirred,
I only saw the barley sheaves
And hills half hid by olive leaves.

I bowed my face, in awe and fear,
On the dear child who slumbered near;
“With me, as with my only son,
O God,” I said, “Thy will be done!”
411:141

(Alternative poem? Include under ‘comment’ below.)

Oratio Conspire to respond with an act of kindness for someone you encounter today. Make it loving, low key and low risk. Hold a door, clean a car, give a flower, notice the unnoticed, make Christ’s love real. Write your experience below under ‘Comment.’

Contemplatio Enjoy what God is doing through you.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Internal Conflict

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 3 + Judges 12 + Tobit 1 + Mark 2

Quote of the Day
When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. Mark 2:16, 17

Daily Text: Judges 12:1-7
The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, "Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down over you!" 2Jephthah said to them, "My people and I were engaged in conflict with the Ammonites who oppressed us severely. But when I called you, you did not deliver me from their hand. 3When I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hand, and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day, to fight against me?" 4Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, "You are fugitives from Ephraim, you Gileadites--in the heart of Ephraim and Manasseh." 5Then the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. Whenever one of the fugitives of Ephraim said, "Let me go over," the men of Gilead would say to him, "Are you an Ephraimite?" When he said, "No," 6they said to him, "Then say Shibboleth," and he said, "Sibboleth," for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites fell at that time. 7Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in his town in Gilead.


Lectio What one word or phrase from the Daily Text leaps out at you? ‘Comment’ below.

Internal Conflict
Was Jephthah in the middle of Ephraim and Manasseh? So it seems. Did he belong to one of those tribes? Whatever it was, after the sacrifice of his daughter, a military contingent from Ephraim came to complain that he had fought the Ammonites without enlisting their aid. This encounter occurred east of the Jordan River; Ephraim was settled west of it. Jephthah, as we have observed before, negotiates instinctively. Vs.2 is translated in Boling [424:211] as follows: “Jephthah said to them, “I was using diplomacy, I and my people. But the Ammonites answered me with oppression. I summoned you, but you did not rescue me from their power.” So he reasons with them, but they are there to fight. As ready to use diplomacy as Jephthah is, he also can fight immediately and he does, defeating the Ephramite contingents, as many as forty-two of them.

He then moved immediately to secure the fords of the Jordan against the Ephramite fugitives trapped on the eastern bank of the Jordan. Militarily this man was also very capable. To test whether or not any man trying to cross the river was an Ephramite his sentries asked them to pronounce a word with an ‘sh’ sound in it because Ephramites, for some reason could not do so. Boling [424:214] cites sources that claim this was a procedure used in the Middle Ages to ferret out enemies and also claims to have been told that in “World War II the Dutch underground was able to screen out German spies by making them pronounce the Dutch city name Scheveningen, which only the Dutch can do properly.” That was evidently the end of Jephthah’s being disciplined by the Ephramitic tribal leaders! Judging for a short six years himself, he left the country in peace for the following 25 years under Ibzan, Elon and Abdon. Jephthah thus proved himself capable of resolving both foreign and domestic issues—militarily, certainly, in the two cases we have seen--but in all probability with equally tough and sensible diplomacy in cases of which we have no record. Presumably, the spirit of the LORD remained active in his life with honorable and productive consequences.

Meditatio What would you add to this commentary on the Daily Text? ‘Comment’ below.

Judgment is Justest
Emily Dickinson

Judgment is justest
When the Judged,
His action laid away,
Divested is of every Disk
But his sincerity.

Honor is then the safest hue
In a posthumous Sun—
Not any color will endure
That scrutiny can burn.
415:1671

(Alternative poem? Include under ‘comment’ below.)

Oratio Conspire to respond with an act of kindness for someone you encounter today. Make it loving, low key and low risk. Hold a door, clean a car, give a flower, notice the unnoticed, make Christ’s love real. Write your experience below under ‘Comment.’

Contemplatio Enjoy what God is doing through you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Failed Diplomacy

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 2 + Judges 10:17-11:40 + Hosea 14 + Mark 1

Quote of the Day
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11

Daily Text: Judges 11:2-29
2Gilead's wife also bore him sons; and when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah away, saying to him, "You shall not inherit anything in our father's house; for you are the son of another woman." 3Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him.
4 After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6They said to Jephthah, "Come and be our commander, so that we may fight with the Ammonites." 7But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father's house? So why do you come to me now when you are in trouble?" 8The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "Nevertheless, we have now turned back to you, so that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites, and become head over us, over all the inhabitants of Gilead." 9Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head." 10And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "The LORD will be witness between us; we will surely do as you say." 11So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.
12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, "What is there between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?" 13The king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, "Because Israel, on coming from Egypt, took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably." 14Once again Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites 15and said to him: "Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, 16but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, 'Let us pass through your land'; but the king of Edom would not listen. They also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh. 18Then they journeyed through the wilderness, went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, arrived on the east side of the land of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. 19Israel then sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, 'Let us pass through your land to our country.' 20But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people together, and encamped at Jahaz, and fought with Israel. 21Then the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel occupied all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22They occupied all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. 23So now the LORD, the God of Israel, has conquered the Amorites for the benefit of his people Israel. Do you intend to take their place? 24Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives you to possess? And should we not be the ones to possess everything that the LORD our God has conquered for our benefit? 25Now are you any better than King Balak son of Zippor of Moab? Did he ever enter into conflict with Israel, or did he ever go to war with them? 26While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the towns that are along the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27It is not I who have sinned against you, but you are the one who does me wrong by making war on me. Let the LORD, who is judge, decide today for the Israelites or for the Ammonites." 28But the king of the Ammonites did not heed the message that Jephthah sent him.
29 Then the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites.


Lectio What one word or phrase from the Daily Text leaps out at you? ‘Comment’ below.

Failed Diplomacy
Interestingly enough, Jephthah was a man of words. Son of a prostitute, maybe, leader of a band of cutthroats, perforce, but in many respects a forerunner of David, King of Israel. When he is called back to his town and made Judge, Commander, Leader, he comes with keen questions, solemn vows (vs. 11) and a rash commitment (vs. 30) to the LORD, the God of Israel. In between we find a fairly extensive record of arguments and negotiations with the Ammonites, the enemy with which he has been engaged to deal. First, he inquires as to what the issue is between Ammon and his people. Discovering that it is land he responds with a compelling summary of Israel’s possession of the land over the previous 300 years. Lying behind this recital is the reality that Ammon has displaced Moab, that is the king and nation with which Israel originally had to do. And Jephthah is careful to point this out. Even against Moab Israel did not move without considerable provocation, and then it wasn’t Israel that took the land ‘from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan,’ it was the LORD, the God of Israel who had done so.

And then came the brilliant stroke of argument. Since it was the God of Israel who took the land, do you propose to become the people of the God of Israel? And immediately, he suggests that they allow Chemosh, their god, to win for them the land they possess. This would be a powerful verbal stroke in itself, even if it were not for the fact that Chemosh had been the God of the Moabites whom the Ammonites had defeated. They had, in fact, adopted the Moabite god, so Jephthah’s riposte must have hit the mark and a very sore mark it would have been! His suggestion is that they move from god to god as nonchalantly as they try to move from one man’s kingdom to another. The response could have gone either way. If the Ammonites had truly become devoted to Chemosh they should have desisted, but obviously they had not become that devoted, for they did not ‘heed’ Jephthah’s message. Even his subtle argument that they were the johnny-come-latelies, had no deterrent effect. It seems obvious that the Ammonites were not impressed by gods! Failing in his negotiations, Jephthah, is filled with the spirit of the LORD and he moves to fight and win the battle.

Might I add that his vow to sacrifice the first one who greeted him on return from successful prosecution of this war was unnecessary. The LORD was already with him.
Meditatio What would you add to this commentary on the Daily Text? ‘Comment’ below.

Jephthah, Judge of Israel.
William Shakespeare
[In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act II., the hero of the play takes occasion to banter Polonius with some scraps from this old ballad.

The banter of Hamlet is as follows:

Hamlet. O Jephthah, Judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!
Polonius. What treasure had he, my lord?
Hamlet. Why,
‘One faire daughter, and no more,
The which he loved passing well.’
Polonius. Still on my daughter.
Hamlet. Am I not I’ th’ right, old Jephthah?
Polonius. If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter that I love passing well.
Hamlet. Nay, that follows not.
Polonius. What follows then, my lord?
Hamlet. Why,
‘As by lot, God wot;’
And then you know,
‘It came to passe,
As most like it was.’
The first row of the pious chanson will shew you more.]

Have you not heard these many years ago,
Jephthah was judge of Israel?
He had only one daughter and no more,
The which he loved passing well:
And , as by lot,
God wot,
It so came to pass,
As God’s will was,
That great wars there should be,
And none should be chosen chief but he.

And when he was appointed judge,
And chieftain of the company,
A solemn vow to God he made;
If he returned with victory,
At his return
To burn
The first live thing,
…………………………………….
That should meet with him then,
Off his house, when he should return agen.

It came to pass, the war was o’er,
And he returned with victory;
His dear and only daughter first of all
Came to meet her father foremostly:
And all the way,
She did play
On tabret and pipe,
Full many a stripe,
With note so high,
For joy that her father is come so nigh.

But when he saw his daughter dear
Coming on most foremostly,
He wrung his hands, and tore his hair,
And cryed out most piteously;
Oh! It’s thou, said he,
That have brought me
Low,
And troubled me so,
That I know not what to do.

For I have made a vow, he sed,
The which must be replenishèd:
……………………………….
“What thou hast spoke
Do not revoke:
What thou has said,
Be not afraid;
Altho’ it be I;
Keep promises to God on high.

“But, dear father, grant me one request,
That I may go to the wilderness,
Three months there with my friends to stay;
There to bewail my virginity;
And let there be,”
Said she,
“Some two or three
Young maids with me.”
So he sent her away,
For to mourn, for to mourn, till her dying day.
Old English Ballad
411:134
(Alternative poem? Include under ‘comment’ below.)

Oratio Conspire to respond with an act of kindness for someone you encounter today. Make it loving, low key and low risk. Hold a door, clean a car, give a flower, notice the unnoticed, make Christ’s love real. Write your experience below under ‘Comment.’

Contemplatio Enjoy what God is doing through you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Confession and Amendment of Life

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 1 + Judges 10:1-16 + Hosea 13 + Titus 3

Quote of the Day
After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned. Titus 3:10, 11

Daily Text: Judges 10:10-16
10 So the Israelites cried to the LORD, saying, "We have sinned against you, because we have abandoned our God and have worshiped the Baals." 11And the LORD said to the Israelites, "Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, oppressed you; and you cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. 13Yet you have abandoned me and worshiped other gods; therefore I will deliver you no more. 14Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress." 15And the Israelites said to the LORD, "We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you; but deliver us this day!" 16So they put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the LORD; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.

Lectio What one word or phrase from the Daily Text leaps out at you? ‘Comment’ below.

Confession and Amendment of Life
The familiar formula appears again—Israel has sinned, and God turns them over to their enemies, the people repent, a deliverer is raised, and the oppression is lifted. Except that this time there is an addition made that is marked within this passage. When the Israelites confess their sin, God in direct address charges them with abandonment and promises never to deliver again. They have gone too far, too many times. Their memories of their allegiance to the God of Israel are too short. God tells them to ‘cry to the gods’ they have chosen for deliverance. If they are so wonderful, let them provide relief from the oppressing neighbors.
But Israel will not be deterred. Knowing God has no intention of delivering them this time, they repent anyway and putting away their foreign gods worship the LORD. And then the editor pens this note: “and he (YHWH) could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.” Brown says this, “Christians, who believe that Jesus was the perfect revelation of God (John 1:18), must reject a hermeneutic that distingushes (sic) between ‘the God of the OT’ and ‘the God of the NT,’ especially by referring falsely and pejoratively to the God of the OT as a God of wrath and vengeance (426:221).” If God is God and God is one, then even the suggestion that there are two different gods in the OT and NT is blasphemy. No, the God of love seen through Jesus is the God of love we see through the eyes of the Deuteronomist in the book of Judges. But note that this God of love requires that his people serve the God of Israel and not other gods. Note, this God of love requires confession of sin and amendment of life. This is not a god of radical inclusion who winks at sin and wraps everyone in loving arms regardless of whom and what they are. This is the same God who took sin so seriously that he was willing to come and die himself upon a human-supplied cross at the hands of those who cared more for their own prerogatives than they did for God. This loving God consistently expects confession of sin and amendment of life in order for the costly redemption God has provided to become efficacious. Confession and amendment of life, like steadfast love (hesed), is required in both Hebrew and Greek testaments.

Meditatio What would you add to this commentary on the Daily Text? ‘Comment’ below.

A Hymn to God the Father
Ben Jonson
1573?-1637

Hear me, O God!
A broken heart
Is my best part:
Use still Thy rod,
That I may prove,
Therein, Thy love.

If Thou hadst not
Been stern to me,
But left me free,
I had forgot
Myself and Thee.

For, sin’s so sweet,
As minds ill-bent
Rarely repent,
Unless they meet
Their punishment.

Who more can crave
Than Thou hast done?
Thou gav’st a Son
To free a slave,
First made of naught,
With all since bought.

Sin, death, and hell
His glorious Name
Quite overcame;
Yet I rebel,
And slight the same.

But, I’ll come in
Before my loss
Me farther toss;
As sure to win
Under His cross
407:290

(Alternative poem? Include under ‘comment’ below.)

Oratio Conspire to respond with an act of kindness for someone you encounter today. Make it loving, low key and low risk. Hold a door, clean a car, give a flower, notice the unnoticed, make Christ’s love real. Write your experience below under ‘Comment.’

Contemplatio Enjoy what God is doing through you.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Abandoning the God of Israel

Daily Readings
Psalm 89:19-52 + Judges 8:33-9:57 + Hosea 11:11-12:14 + Titus 2

Quote of the Day
But as for you, return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God. Hosea 12:6

Daily Text: Judges 9:1-6, 52-56
Now Abimelech son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s kinsfolk and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family, 2‘Say in the hearing of all the lords of Shechem, “Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?” Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.’ 3So his mother’s kinsfolk spoke all these words on his behalf in the hearing of all the lords of Shechem; and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, ‘He is our brother.’ 4They gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the temple of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. 5He went to his father’s house at Ophrah, and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone; but Jotham, the youngest son of Jerubbaal, survived, for he hid himself. 6Then all the lords of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar* at Shechem. 52Abimelech came to the tower, and fought against it, and came near to the entrance of the tower to burn it with fire. 53But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, and crushed his skull. 54Immediately he called to the young man who carried his armour and said to him, ‘Draw your sword and kill me, so people will not say about me, “A woman killed him.” ’ So the young man thrust him through, and he died. 55When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they all went home. 56Thus God repaid Abimelech for the crime he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers;

Lectio What one word or phrase from the Daily Text leaps out at you? ‘Comment’ below.

Abandoning the God of Israel
There is a dual story evolving here. In the same way that Abimelech abandons YHWH , the God of his father, for Baal-Berith, so do the Israelites, particularly those of Shechem.
There comes to a point in this chapter, highlighted by Jotham’s wonderful song of betrayal, the historic struggle within the federation of Israelite tribes to serve God as their king and saviour. This struggle is coming to a head at Shechem which from Joshua’s time has become the covenant city of Israel (see Joshua 24:25). After the tribes had crossed the Jordan, the ark was at Gilgal for a time, moving then to Shechem where the covenant was renewed and kept there by Gideon, and finally destroyed by Abimelech, who had contrived to make himself king of the city. That he sought kingship was part of his betrayal of this historic commitment to YHWH. That he was killed, by a woman, as was Sisera, another enemy of YHWH helped tell the story of YHWH’s effort to continually call Israel to himself. The archaeological record of Shechem shows that it grew at the end of the 13th century and suffered massive destruction at the beginning of the 12th and can only be correlated by Abimelech’s rampages. From there the covenant city became Bethel and presumably became so in Deborah’s time, which actually followed Gideon and Abimelech (cf. I Samuel 12:11 and Hebrews 11:32). The arrangement of Judges in the hands of the Deuteronomist appears to have been an argument for settling the movement of the covenant city from Gilgal, to Shechem, to Bethel, to Shiloh and finally to Jerusalem by the time of Josiah in the 7th century. Boling (424:184) makes a strong case for this reality and if this is kept in mind as one reads the various historical vignettes in the Hebrew bible, it will help to set the chronological patterns in the reader’s understanding.

Above and beyond all of the political and human machinations at work, however, is the steadfast love and direction of the God of Israel working his purposes out in a very fallible human population. The treachery of Abimelech, as dire as is seen in holy scripture, is perhaps emphasized by his betrayal of his own brothers by killing them on one stone, the stone set up by his father Gideon as an altar to YHWH at Orphrah? Then he has himself crowned in denial of YHWH’s purposes beneath the Oak of Shechem where Joshua had cut the covenant sealing the commitment made by the Israelites to YHWH (Joshua 24:26,27)! His treacherous triumph lasted three years, his infamy will endure forever.

Meditatio What would you add to this commentary on the Daily Text? ‘Comment’ below.

Soldiers All
Roger Williams

They say the dying sense
they are not leaving us;
we are leaving them.
As if life is the one chance
to drive your stake into a rock
but you know
the rock is too hard
and it’s not the rock’s fault.

I rue deathbed visitations,
Their cods’ eyes accusing me
Of treason and superiority.
I plot an exit strategy
while going on inanely
about weather or ball scores.
The dying are the living
Going off to war.
Image #43:45

(Alternative poem? Include under ‘comment’ below.)

Oratio Conspire to respond with an act of kindness for someone you encounter today. Make it loving, low key and low risk. Hold a door, clean a car, give a flower, notice the unnoticed, make Christ’s love real. Write your experience below under ‘Comment.’

Contemplatio Enjoy what God is doing through you
.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Private Vengeance

Daily Readings
Psalm 89:1-18 + Judges 8:4-32 + Hosea 11:1-11 + Titus 1

Quote of the Day
He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it. Titus 1:9

Daily Text: Judges 8:13-21, 22-23
13When Gideon son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres, 14he caught a young man, one of the people of Succoth, and questioned him; and he listed for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven people. 15Then he came to the people of Succoth, and said, "Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me, saying, 'Do you already have in your possession the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna, that we should give bread to your troops who are exhausted?'" 16So he took the elders of the city and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them he trampled the people of Succoth. 17He also broke down the tower of Penuel, and killed the men of the city.
18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, "What about the men whom you killed at Tabor?" They answered, "As you are, so were they, every one of them; they resembled the sons of a king." 19And he replied, "They were my brothers, the sons of my mother; as the LORD lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you." 20So he said to Jether his firstborn, "Go kill them!" But the boy did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a boy. 21Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, "You come and kill us; for as the man is, so is his strength." So Gideon proceeded to kill Zebah and Zalmunna; and he took the crescents that were on the necks of their camels.
22 Then the Israelites said to Gideon, "Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian." 23Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you."

Lectio What one word or phrase from the Daily Text leaps out at you? ‘Comment’ below.

Private Vengeance
Gideon, with the LORD’s help has won the battle, and is now in hot pursuit over the Jordan to do the mop up work of battle. Intriguingly, he is refused bread for his 300 men in two successive communities. Why? Could it have been because the leaders of the communities understood that Gideon was misusing his authority in pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna? He threatens the two communities, but presses on to finish the work he is to do, primarily to capture the two commanders, Zebah and Zalmunna, which seem to be his exclusive preoccupation. Then he returns to the two communities and carries out his threats, flailing the leaders of one with ‘thorns of the wilderness and briers’ and destroying a tower and putting to death the men of the second city.

Following that he turns to Zebah and Zalmunna and asks them about a previous raid they had led. They give him the details and suggest that those they killed resembled Gideon. This is the heart of the matter. He swears a terrible oath, one which breaks the commandment not to do what he has just done, Exodus 20:7. Those ‘resembling’ Gideon had been his own brothers, and now he kills the two commanders in revenge, but only after his eldest son, Jether, refuses. This request of his son is also a problematic issue. Maturity is not Gideon’s strong suit.

The story of Gideon is continuously a mixed one. He serves the LORD and he doesn’t. He carries out God’s commands against Midian precisely, and then uses the LORD’s army for private vengeance. Later he refuses to become king acknowledging that the LORD is their king—an important insight into God’s relationship with Israel. But he demands an almost royal allegiance from the people exhibited in his request for gold from the booty the soldiers have collected and makes a golden ephod, evidently a very elaborate priestly garment that like a magnet draws people of Israel to his town and to him as diviner and judge, and in the process the people bow before this ephod as an image in an manner unacceptable to any true follower of YHWH.

Gideon exhibits a streak of maliciousness and vengefulness in all of this seen with the people of Shechem, Penuel, and the commanders of the Midianite troop, that surfaces again in his son Abimelech. By and large he called the people back to YHWH, but it was not to the purity of faith exhibited by Joshua before him. Still, his own intimate experience with the God of Israel, must have marked his life in spite of these visible weaknesses. He was honored all his life and Israel left off worshipping the Baals throughout his lifetime.

Meditatio What would you add to this commentary on the Daily Text? ‘Comment’ below.

Of Rivers, Theologies, and Persons Infamous
Roger Williams, 1771
by Brendan Galvin

The Woonasquatucket, the Sakonnet, its rocks
a terror to hulls, the Taunton, Warren, Swansea
and Moshassuck—boundary waters all,
each involved in our discordances. With
Massachusetts grinding away on one side
and Connecticut on the other, poor Rhode Island
seemed a miserable grain of corn between.
I could say those rivers contribute to this
Narragansett Bay as the sects we admitted
flooded our colony. The Sakonnet might be
the Familists, who believed in direct
inspiration from the Holy Spirit, God’s Law
written on Adam’s heart when His breath
quickened the clay. How many days did I stumble
across the gadfly Samuel Gorton wandering
among the trees at Shawomet, conversing aloud
with the Creator? And let the Pawtuxet River—
where that two-legged beast Richard Chasmore
practiced his lust on a heifer, and William
Harris tried to work his land-lust—stand for
the Quakers, their reliance on a “Divine Light”
within. The Woonasquatucket we might say
represents the Anabaptists, or perhaps
the Antipedobaptists, or the Seventh-day Baptists
or Six Principle Baptists, for we welcomed
whatever Baptist arrived, one and all, even as
these rivers contribute to this bay. Grindletonians,
Ranters, Socinians, Antisabbatarians. With liberty
of conscience all might think as they would,
Anglicans, Jews, even Papists. And so
to Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
came some who held that the Lord was present in
hogs, dogs, and sheep, or that a harlot
was sanctified when she married a godly man.
Conjure any theological point and we housed
its espouser or defender, so long as he made no riot,
provoked no gusts, caused no false military
alarms, and took no part in plots and diggings,
as with Irish pirates or Dutch grave-robbers.
Nor would we welcome persons infamous,
as William Baker, much given to consorting
among Mohegan squaws at Pequot,
nor various wandering self-made squires and “sirs,”
as Captain George Wright, who flew like a cowbird
from bed to bed across these colonies, Plymouth
to Newport to New Netherlands, where he continued
his ungodly sports, apparently with Dutch approval.
Nor the Widow Messenger’s daughter,
Sarah Neale of Boston, great in the belly though unwed,
with a mouth abusive and unstoppable, who called
our town a cage of unclean birds, and yet
would live among us to spite our teeth. The rigider
colonies call us Rogues Island, the latrina
of New England, where everyone thinks otherwise
from everyone. Still, we agree upon freedom of thought
and the walling of civil government from church.
There is no lopping of ears or lives to enforce orthodoxy,
no witch-burning. We have drunk deeply from
the cup of great liberties, none deeper, but I tell you
the din and clash of opposing doctrines has
converted me to a Seeker, one who awaits the cure
of the Second Coming, and wishes some days I had never
sold my trading post at Cocumscussoc, that nest
down this bay in the Narragansett country where
no disturbing hand could reach me, whose name
when I say it to myself is as salutary as
two crows calling across its benign coves.
Image #44:51

(Alternative poem? Include under ‘comment’ below.)

Oratio Conspire to respond with an act of kindness for someone you encounter today. Make it loving, low key and low risk. Hold a door, clean a car, give a flower, notice the unnoticed, make Christ’s love real. Write your experience below under ‘Comment.’

Contemplatio Enjoy what God is doing through you.