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, September 17, 2005

The 'Lying' Spirit of God

Daily Readings
Sirach 12:1-24 + I Kings 22 + II Chronicles 11 + Jeremiah 34

Quote of the Day
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them, that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery. Jeremiah 34:8, 9

Daily Text: I Kings 22

The ‘Lying’ Spirit of God
Chapter 22 picks up where 20 left off, with peace between Ahab and Ben-hadad. It seems that Ramoth-Gilead has been promised back to Ahab, but the transfer has not yet occurred. That is what this passage is about, re-claiming Ramoth-Gilead. However, Jehoshaphat the new king of Judah, who has created peace between Israel and Judah by his actions, wants to know what YHWH recommends before they go off and end up in a military struggle. So Ahab asks the prophets of the LORD if they have a word from God and they do. To the man they recommend that Ahab go to claim Ramoth-Gilead. Jehoshaphat remains a little uneasy and asks if there is not another prophet. Oh, yes, says Ahab, there is one other, a man named Micaiah who never prophesies in my favor. He is one of these prophets, but he unfailingly contradictory. But if you insist, we will call him. And he does. Now Micaiah’s first words are “Go up and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” In my imagination I see that as being spoken dramatically, ironically, perhaps with Micaiah holding the back of his hand on his forehead! However he does this Ahab immediately understands that his leg is being pulled. So he insists on the ‘true’ word. That is very different. Micaiah relates a dream he has had where the spirits have come before the LORD about this very matter and one of the spirits volunteers to inspire the 400 prophets with a message that will lead Ahab awry and to his death. Only Micaiah is given the true word, and, of course, Ahab ignores this. The issue here is not 400 false prophets. It is that the word from the LORD has given to them is misleading. This passage may be unique in all of Scripture. The LORD has actually given the 400 a message and then given the true one to Micaiah. Ahab is ultimately killed in the ensuing battle and his blood having run into his chariot is washed out of the chariot near some pool in or around Samaria, his capitol.

Now there was a prophecy given by Elijah in chapter 21:19, that the dogs would lick Ahab’s blood. There is in verse 38 such a reference, but it is a strange one. It is suggested that the dogs licked his blood and the prostitutes washed in it. It is possible that the reference to ‘dogs’ is to male prostitutes, a common pejorative reference to them and the reference to ‘prostitutes’ to the female prostitutes. Blood in ancient Israel was considered to be the very life of the body and since this was the blood of the king it may have been considered to have some special value in it self [Leviticus 17:14]. It is also noted in I Kings 22 that Jehoshaphat rid Israel of the male prostitutes, and the coincidence of these references in the same body of material may be no coincidence at all. If this is logically acceptable, the reference to prostitutes in the same sentence with dogs makes good sense. We have only then to understand what it was they were doing, certainly not something honorable to the LORD.

The Death of Ahab
Richard Wilton

By robe or plume or equipage of king
All undistinguished, he eludes the eyes
Of captains bent to o’erpower him or surprise
When lo! an arrow from an unknown string
Drawn at a venture—on swift, silent wind
Right to a crevice in his armour flies.
God’s word of doom had fallen, and no disguise,
No power or wisdom could a respite bring.
So in life’s battle-field for each and all,
Or soon or late, the cloud of doom will lower,
But not at random will God’s arrows fall:
What though concealed from man the place and hour,
Enough that all has been arranged by Him
Whose eyes for us with mortal mists were dim.
411:256

Friday, September 16, 2005

Infantilism and Evil

Daily Readings
Sirach 12 + I Kings 21 + II Chronicles 10 + Jeremiah 33

Quote of the Day
Give thanks to the LORD of hosts,
for the LORD is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!”
Jeremiah 33:11b

Daily Text: I Kings 21

Infantilism and Evil
Two matters of note: Ahab’s sullen nature and his identification of Elijah (and the LORD) as his enemy. First, his sullenness. After his own failure to require Ben-hadad’s life, even though the LORD had given it to him, and the prophet’s castigation of him he sets out toward home, ‘resentful and sullen’! This is behavior characteristic of a spoiled child. Again, when Naboth refuses to sell or trade him his ancestral heritage, Ahab pouts. The Scripture says, “Ahab went home resentful and sullen” [I Kings 21:4]. Not only are these his feelings, but he goes to bed, turns his face away from whoever is with him and refuses to eat! Finally, after Naboth’s stoning, following which Ahab stole his land, Elijah brings a curse upon him and his response is dejection [21:27]. This man is known as one ‘who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD’ [21:25]. Not only is his behavior evil, it is infantile. Perhaps this is why he seems to be subject to Jezebel’s influence.

Second, following Naboth’s treacherous betrayal, Elijah appears before him to accuse him simply of what he has done. Ahab’s immediate response is: “Have you found me, O my enemy?” The sense of it seems to be, “Have you found me out?, Have you seen through my treachery?” The idea that perhaps Ahab did not know fully what Jezebel had done in setting up Naboth’s legalized murder is given the full light of truth at this point. Yes, he knew all right and was very willing to enjoy the fruit of it, namely the piece of land he had wanted in the first place. There is no depression at this point! He has what he wants. And he recognizes that not only is Elijah his enemy, but so is the LORD; for Elijah is simply conveying the LORD’s words. There is a curse delivered succinctly in this case:
Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD:
• I will bring disaster on you
• I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel
• I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah
• The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel
• Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat
• And anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat

Ahab avoids immediate retribution by fasting and humbling himself before the LORD. The LORD may be his enemy, but he respects God’s ability to carry out the curse.

Ahab the Builder
John Elliott Bowman

The son of Omri built at Shomron
A pleasure house with ivory inlaid,
Whereof the bruit, o’er field and vineyard blown,
Reached Tyre and Sidon. Cities, too, of stone
Well hewn, he builded. Rain and wind have played
Millennia with their dust. One pile alone
Remains. Though realms have risen and decayed,
No shard can vanish of the fragments thrown
On Naboth’s mangled corpse at Jezreel’s gate.
411:256

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Vassal No Longer

Daily Readings
Sirach 11 + I Kings 20 + II Chronicles 9 + Jeremiah 32

Quote of the Day
My child, do not busy yourself with many matters; if you multiply activities, you will not be held blameless. Sirach 11:10a

Daily Text: I Kings 20

Vassal No Longer
Ahab may have been the vassal of Ben-hadad of Aram for as many as 19 years when the incident in chapter 20 occurs [cf. Gray 438:371-2, also 20:34]. Certainly, his response to Ben-hadad’s demands seems practiced and servile. It is when the second, harsher demand comes that Ahab rebels. This is the demeaning requirement that Ben-hadad does not trust him, so he will send his emissaries through his palace with the instruction that they may take anything that pleases them. Even then his rebellion takes the form of inquiring among his own elders as to their reaction and it is only with their support that he pulls together a few troops. This is not the brash and hostile man we see in the Elijah stories. This is a subdued and wiser man, one who does not rashly move into conflict with one who is much stronger than he is. He does that only after receiving the deepest insult and after inquiring as to whether he has support from his fellow countrymen. Even the prophets of the LORD, and the LORD himself come to his aid, but note that Ahab trusts the LORD.

Notice how small his numbers of troops are against Ben-hadad’s overwhelming force—7,000 men! Fifty years earlier at the break between Judah and Israel, Judah had 180,000 troops and they were insufficient to match Israel’s strength. Such an erosion of force! There is also the possibility that larger numbers are used when Israel is at its strength and smaller numbers used when it is completely dependent upon YHWH. It was certainly an enormous victory when 7,000 men can defeat to the death 127,000 men in one day! But then again, we are told that the LORD has given the victory. Only in the matter of sparing Ben-hadad’s life is there censure by the prophet of God for Ahab this day. Josephus declares this unnamed prophet to be Micaiah [437:470], whom we will see in chapter 22, a chapter that seems to be a sequel to the present one. This early in Israel’s history, any effort by the king to do the will of his God, is honored by intervention from God. Later, e.g. in Josiah’s time [II Kings 23:26], this is not the case.

Abraham’s Child
from Lines Scribbled on an Envelope
Madeleine L’Engle

Towards afternoon the train pulled into the station.
The light came grey and cold through the dirty glass panes of the terminal roof,
and the passengers on the platform blew upon their hands and stamped their feet,
and their breath came out like smoke.
In the comfortable compartment I leaned back against the red plush of the seat
and looked out the window. All the signs were in a language I could not read.
I got out my passport and held it, waiting in readiness.
My papers were in order and the train was warm.
The conductor slid open the door to the compartment and said to me,
“This is the last stop on this train. You will have to get out.”
I held out my passport. “No, no, my journey’s barely half over,”
and I told him the cities through which the train was going to pass.
He handed me back my passport and said again, “You will have to get out,”
and he took me by the arms and led me from the train. His hands were so strong
my arms cried out in pain. On the platform it was cold.
“But I don’t know where I am!” I cried, “or where I am going.”
“Follow me,” he said. “I have been sent to show you.”
Through the glass of the station roof I could see the sun was going down
and a horror of great darkness fell upon me.
“Come,” the conductor said. “This is the way you are to go.”
and he led me past the passengers waiting on the platform
and past the foreign signs and a burning lamp in this strange land
where I was a stranger. He led me to a train with no lights, and broken windows,
and a pale wisp of smoke lifting from a rusty engine, and said,
“Get in. This is your train.”
I fell upon my face and laughed and said, “But this train isn’t going anywhere.”
And he said, “Get in,” so I got in, and through a hole in the roof I saw the stars.
He said, “you may sit down,” and I sat on a wooden bench
and he put my satchel on the rack over my head. “I must have your passport.”
I gave it to him. “Where are we going?” I asked. The train was cold.
“The way will be shown,” he said, and closed the compartment door.
I heard a puff of steam. The old engine began to pull the dark car
and we ventured out into the night.
2:131

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Silence

Holy Cross Day

Daily Readings
Sirach 9:17-10:31 + I Kings 19 + II Chronicles 8 + Philippians 2:5-11

Quote of the Day
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. I Kings 19:11, 12

Daily Text: I Kings 19

Silence
Elijah is fearless in the midst of big events. He confronts the kings, he confronts the prophets of Baal, he confronts the famine, he confronts the dead boy, but receive a threat from Jezebel, not an idle one, to be sure, and he disintegrates. He feels totally alone, he is ready to die, though, of course. he has put a thoughtful amount of distance between himself and the queen’s threat. His depression shows with the fear a consonant loss of trust in the LORD’s ability to preserve him. How easily we forget the goodness of God and the promises of God in our lives.

God’s response is to prepare him for a journey back to the place where Moses met with YHWH on Horeb, the mount of God—forty days journey. There God passes and demonstrates wind, earthquake and fire, and Elijah does fine, again fearless in the face of big events. But with the silence, the thin sound of silence, he once again articulates his aloneness. Is it silence alone that brings on depression and fear? If so, God demonstrates that it is in the silence that God can be found, there alone God is found. When we have something great to do, how much of that is in our own strength? Notice how Elijah recovers immediately when God gives him something to do—annoint a foreign king, a local king and his own successor. Those ‘little’ things he can handle with aplomb. Silence and depression are not necessarily linked, but they may be, and when they are God may be in them for you.

Chronology Broken by Kairos
Madeleine L’Engle

Silence was the one thing we were not prepared for,
we are never prepared for.
Silence is too much like death.
We do not understand it.
Whenever it comes we make up thunders and lightnings
and we call anxiously for the angels to sing for us.
It is all right for Elijah to kill all those false prophets,
though they were comfortingly noisy;
it is all right for him to bring that poor widow’s boy
back to life with his own audible breath;
that is only a miracle. We understand miracles.
But he survived God’s silence, and that is more extraordinary
than all the sounds of all of Israel’s battles rolled into one.
Why is God silent? Why does he not sound for us?
He came silently to birth. Only the angels,
taking pity on us, sang to make that silence bearable.
When he came to dwell among us men on earth
only his mother understood the silence,
and when he died she made no sound of weeping.
Why does silence make us shiver with the fear of death?
There was more sound to comfort our ears
when he was hammered to the cross
and cried out through the strangling bonds
and the temple veil was rent and graves burst wide,
than when he was born. I am not sure
that death is silent. But Easter is.
The angels did not sing for us, heralding the glory.
There was no sound to prepare us, no noise of miracle,
no trumpet announcing the death of death—
or was it what we call life? We did not understand
and we ran from the empty tomb and then
he came to us in silence. He did not explain
and at last I knew that only in silence is the word
even when the word itself is silent.

Thus in silence did that strange dark bird
Bring to Elijah in the desert the whole and holy Word.
2:151