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

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Hezekiah's Tears

Daily Readings
Isaiah 38 + II Kings 20 + II Chronicles 31 + Lamentations 1

Quote of the Day
The living, the living, they thank you,
as I do this day;
fathers make known to children your faithfulnesss.
The LORD will save me,
and we will sing to stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
at the house of the LORD. Isaiah 38:19 ,20 --Hezekiah

Daily Text: II Kings 20

Hezekiah’s Tears
Hezekiah reigned for 29 years. He became sick and it was a sickness to the death, but God gave him, in response to his prayer, an additional 15 years. So his sickness came in the 14th year of his reign, rather than Sennacherib’s first seige, which was most likely in 701. The illness was in 713, the same year that Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys because they heard that Hezekiah was sick. Was it his sickness that created their interest or was the report that the sundial had reflected a ten degree backward move? The latter seems to be the qualifying motivation since the Babylonians were notoriously interested in astronomy and astrology. So the Chronicler indicates in 32:31 of II Chronicles. There is then this tangled skein of chronology concerning Hezekiah’s reign in Kings, Chronicles and Isaiah. Each author adds his perspective and while the events are the same, the chronology differs. The above seems the most likely and for it there is the evidence cited. Sennecherib’s seige came a dozen years after Hezekiah’s illness, with the second campaign in Judah occurring after 689 [Cf. 439:246 ff.].

In Isaiah 38 there is recorded a psalm of thanksgiving written by Hezekiah, one of a very few outside the Psalter and written by someone other than David. It is a beautiful and haunting poem reflecting the knowledge of YHWH held by this king. Like David of old he seems to have this intimate and prayerful relationship with the Almighty that confirms what has been said of him in each of the sources named above. There is one disturbing note, for after Hezekiah shows all the treasures of his house to the envoys from Babylon, the LORD sends a word by Isaiah to let him know that his sons will pay for his lack of foresight in this matter. Hezekiah comforts himself with the thought that the retribution will come not in his own time, but after his days. What a commentary on the man’s character. So much that is wise and good, and so much that is weak and despicable. And yet each of us knows the nature of that weakness. How much we are placing on our children and grandchildren with just such a mixture of concern and relief!

Hymn to the Supreme Being
Christopher Smart

On recovery from a dangerous fit of illness.

When Israel’s ruler on the royal bed
In anguish and in perturbation lay,
The down relieved not his anointed head,
And rest gave place to horror and dismay.
Fast flowed the tears, high heaved each gasping sigh
When God’s own prophet thundered-MONARCH, THOU MUST DIE.

‘And must I go,’ th’ illustrious mourner cried,
‘I who have served thee still in faith and truth,
Whose snow-white conscience no foul crime has died
From youth to manhood, infancy to youth,
Like David, who have still revered thy word
The sovereign of myself and servant of the Lord!’

The judge Almighty heard his suppliant’s moan,
Repealed his sentence, and his health restored;
The beams of mercy on his temples shone,
Shot from that heaven to which his sighs had soared;
The sun retreated at his maker’s nod
And miracles confirm the genuine work of God.

But, O immortals! What had I to plead
When death stood o’er me with his threatening lance,
When reason left me in the time of need,
And sense was lost in terror or in trance,
My sickening soul was with my blood inflamed,
And the celestial image sunk, defaced and maimed.

I sent back memory, in heedful guise,
To search the records of preceding years;
Home, like the raven to the ark, she flies,
Croaking bad tidings to my trembling ears.
O Sun, again that thy retreat was made,
And threw my follies back into the friendly shade!

But who are they, that bid affliction cease!—
Redemption and forgiveness, heavenly sounds!
Behold the dove that brings the branch of peace,
Behold the balm that heals the gaping wounds—
Vengeance divine’s by penitence suppressed—
She struggles with the angel, conquers, and is blessed.

Yet hold, presumption, nor too fondly climb,
And thou too hold, O horrible despair!
In man humility’s alone sublime,
Who diffidently hopes he’s Christ’s own care—
O all-sufficient Lamb! in death’s dread hour
Thy merits who shall slight, or who can doubt thy power?

But soul-rejoicing health again returns,
The blood meanders gentle in each vein,
The lamp of life renewed with vigour burns,
And exiled reason takes her seat again—
Brisk leaps the heart, the mind’s at large once more,
To love, to praise, to bless, to wonder and adore.

The virtuous partner of my nuptial bands,
Appeared a widow to my frantic sight;
My little prattlers lifting up their hands,
Beckon me back to them, to life, and light;
I come, ye spotless sweets! I come again,
Nor have your tears been shed, nor have ye knelt in vain.

All glory to the’ Eternal, to th’ Immense,
All glory to th’ Omniscient and Good,
Whose power’s uncircumscribed, whose love’s intense,
But yet whose justice ne’er could be withstood.
Except through him—through him, who stands alone,
Of worth, of weight allowed for all Mankind t’ atone!

He raised the lame, the lepers he made whole,
He fixed the palsied nerves of weak decay,
He drove out Satan from the tortured soul,
And to the blind gave or restored the day,--
Nay more,--far more unequaled pangs sustained,
Till his lost fallen flock his taintless blood regained.

My feeble feet refused my body’s weight,
Nor would my eyes admit the glorious light,
My nerves convulsed shook fearful of their fate,
My mind lay open to the powers of night.
He pitying did a second birth bestow
A birth of joy—not like the first of tears and woe.

Ye strengthened feet, forth to his altar move;
Quicken, ye new-strung nerves, th’ enraptured lyre;
Ye heaven-directed eyes, o’erflow with love;
Glow, glow, my soul, with pure seraphic fire;
Deeds, thoughts, and words no more his mandates break,
But to his endless glory work, conceive, and speak.

O! penitence, to virtue near allied,
Thou canst new joys e’en to the blessed impart;
The listening angels lay their harps aside
To hear the music of thy contrite heart;
And heaven itself wears a more radiant face,
When charity presents thee to the throne of grace.

Chief of metallic forms is regal gold;
Of elements, the limpid fount that flows;
Give me ‘mongst gems the brilliant to behold;
O’er Flora’s flock imperial is the rose;
Above all birds the sovereign eagle soars;
And monarch of the field the lordly lion roars.

What can with great Leviathan compare,
Who takes his pastime in the mighty main?
What, like the sun, shines through the realms of air,
And gilds and glorifies th’ ethereal plain—
Yet what are these to man, who bears the sway;
For all was made for him—to serve and to obey.

Thus in high heaven charity is great,
Faith, hope, devotion hold a lower place;
On her the cherubs and the seraphs wait,
Her, every virtue courts, and every grace;
See! on the right, close by th’ Almighty’s throne,
In him she shines confessed, who came to make her known.

Deep-rooted in my heart then let her grow,
That for the past the future may atone;
That I may act what thou hast given to know,
That I may live for Thee and Thee alone,
And justify those sweetest words from Heaven,

Friday, October 07, 2005

Praying Monarch

Daily Readings
Isaiah 37 + II Kings 19 + II Chronicles 30 + Jeremiah 52

Quote of the Day
“O LORD the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.” II Kings 19:15 --Hezekiah

Daily Text: II Kings 19

Praying Monarch
That Hezekiah prayed (and his prayer survives) is the most amazing matter in this reading. The accounts of confrontation by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, are historically confused. It appears that in 701 B.C. he came against Jerusalem and defeated the resistance of Hezekiah without actually entering the city. Hezekiah did pay heavy tribute, however. All of this is confirmed in three annals of Sennacherib—the Taylor Prism, the Oriental Institute Prism and the Rassam cylinder [439:247]. This last cuneiform inscription, once translated by scholars, created a debate as to whether the Assyrian or the biblical account was the most accurate. To date, that debate has not been settled. Was there a second siege by Sennacherib after Babylon was defeated in 689 the result of which was a defeat of Sennacherib as the biblical account suggests? Assyrian records are not available after the ones reported above. This author would throw his opinion in with the two-campaign theory for one reason: the biblical historical account, while biased and selective, is more or less complete for several hundred years. Assyrian records are patchy, incomplete and without the same continuity. Where the Assyrian and biblical accounts do cover the same material they essentially agree. There is no reason to doubt that even given the religious nature of the biblical account it has been created out of whole cloth.

There is no claim that Hezekiah and his weakened troops defeated the mighty Sennacherib. The claim is that an angel of death (a plague?) struck down his troops and he went home to Nineveh leaving the city intact. Even acceptance of this second siege does not preclude the possibility that Hezekiah continued to pay the Assyrians tribute all of his life. This was a mighty little nation in the midst of Assyrian ascendancy. A story of Assyrian troops defeated by an invasion of mice as they confronted the Egyptians at Pelusium in 674 was later told by Herodotus and reported in Josephus (Bk. X:ch. II:para. 4). Was there some connection? With a monarch praying, one can never predict the outcome.

Only One Way
Author Unknown

However the battle is ended,
Though proudly the victor comes,
With fluttering flags and prancing nags
And echoing roll of drums,
Still truth proclaims this motto,
In letters of living light:
No question is ever settled
Until it is settled right.

Though the heel of the strong oppressor
May grind the weak in the dust,
And the voices of fame with one acclaim
May call him great and just,
Let those who applaud take warning,
And keep this motto in sight:
No question is ever settled
Until it is settled right.

Let those who have failed take courage;
Though the enemy seemed to have won,
Though his ranks are strong, if in the wrong
The battle is not yet done.
For, sure as the morning follows
The darkest hour of the night,
No question is ever settled
Until it is settled right.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Fall of Israel

Daily Readings
Sirach 29 + II Kings 17 + II Chronicles 28 + Jeremiah 50

Quote of the Day
The necessities of life are water, bread, and clothing, and also a house to assure privacy. Sirach 29:21

Daily Text: II Kings 17

The Fall of Israel
Israel comes to an end as a nation in this reading. From this time onward she will be known as Samaria, after her capital city, and the people are known as Samaritans even in the New Testament. Samaritans are despised by the Judeans, by the Jews. They came about in this way. The King of Assyria, Shalmaneser V, imprisoned Hoshea, the last king of Israel, and put Samaria under siege until it fell to Sargon II in 721 BC. Sargon removed by his own count 27, 290 citizens to Assyria and repopulated Samaria and its surrounds with people from other conquered areas—Babylon, Cutha, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim. They settled in with one singular difficulty. Lions began moving in and attacking the settlers. When Sargon II was told of this, he was also told that it was because these new settlers did not know how to worship the god of the land, YHWH. In response he sent back one of the priests to teach them how to worship the LORD. This was the source of the teaching of the Samaritans (John 4:7-42), this people of mixed ancestry, about the God of Israel. The teaching, however, did not stop them from serving the gods of their original lands.

Israel fell as a nation, according to the author, because they did not worship their God consistently. That is, they too worshipped the gods of the peoples who were there before them. In this extended treatise, vs. 7-18, their sins are recorded in detail. They resisted and rejected the commandments of the LORD their God embracing every false god available. Theology and politics become a seamless garment of explanation for the plight of the people of Israel. The nature of prophecy, prediction and plight, grows out of an intimate weaving of religious behavior and political consequence. Simply because Christians are so often resistant and resentful of the application of theological teaching to political process this point needs to be reiterated over and over. There can be no separation between theological teaching and political practice. Judgement of political practice and process must always be made by the faithful on the basis of religious teaching, and that is not necessarily synonymous with religious language, for the worst of human practice is often promulgated by the misuse of religious language. Such defines the nature of the false prophet and the true prophet in the Scriptures. The false prophet uses religious language to further his own or the ruler’s agenda, while the true prophet speaks out without regard for personal political benefit or to benefit the political agenda of the ruler. All of this is accomplished on the basis of the teaching of Scripture rather than simply the ‘language’ of Scripture. Two examples of this are the Christian Crusades where religious language is used to accomplish political interests and the United States today where politicians continually uses religious language to justify heinous action.
Silence the prophet and the world will to go to hell.

I Sit and Look Out
from” Leaves of Grass”
Walt Whitman

I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves,
remorseful after deeds done;
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected,
gaunt, desperate;
I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the treacherous seducer
of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted
to be hid—I see these sights on the earth;
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners;
I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who
shall be kill’d, to preserve the lives of the rest;
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers,
the poor,and upon negroes, and the like;
All these—all the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Practicing Evil

Daily Readings
Sirach 27:30-28:26 + II Kings 16 + II Chronicles 27 + Jeremiah 49

Quote of the Day
Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Sirach 28:2

Daily Text: II Kings 16

Practicing Evil
The contradictions in the Ahaz story are legendary, or they should be legendary! In the first place his age when he began to rule was 16 and after twenty years of rule his son Hezekiah began to rule at the age of 25. So the father was 11 eleven years old at Hezekiah’s birth? Then in II Kings it is said that Aram and Israel were unable to conquer him (vs. 5). II Chronicles 28 suggests that not only did they conquer him individually, but they each took captive a great number of his people, 200, 000 by Israel alone!

What is not in question is Ahaz’ doing wrong before God. He followed the pattern of Israelite kings in this, rather than the pattern set by Judah’s monarchs. He himself sacrificed to Baal, something never before said of a Judean king, and furthermore he sacrificed his own sons to the fires of Moloch. Evidently, these sons did not die, for if they did and one of them was the firstborn, at what age would Ahaz have fathered him? On the other hand, younger infant sons could have been sacrificed to Moloch. Jeremiah (19:5) prophesying within a 100 years certainly believes that children died in Judah as sacrifices and only Ahaz and his grandson Manasseh were the only kings to pass their children through fire in Judah, such was the strength of the prohibition and the horror of the practice.

Ahaz practiced evil in Jerusalem. What is required to bring a man to such action, then or now?

Israel Mocked
Anonymous“Why so sad, thou princely child?”
Moloch’s servants scornfully chide,
Times appear and pass away
Why does son of Jesse hide?
If your God in Heaven’s height
Will bring you to His holy hill
Wherefore then we seek to know
Why His chariots linger still?

I hoped that all my foes
Would see my swift redemption;
But they mock and say: “Away as a cloud
It passeth; no hope is left for thee.”
I hearken shame-filled, and my tears
Flow unresistingly.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Passing Through

Daily Readings
Sirach 26:29-27:29 + II Kings 15 + II Chronicles 26 + Jeremiah 48

Quote of the Day
He built towers in the wilderness and hewed out many cisterns, for he had large herds, both in the Shephelah and in the plain, and he had farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil. II Chronicles 26:10

Daily Text: II Kings 15

Passing Through
Amaziah or Uzziah, as he was alternately known, ruled for 52 years in Judah. Stability marked his reign. With the exception of his error in trying to offer sacrifices in the temple, for which God struck him with leprosy, or if not Hanson’s disease, some other fearful skin disease, Amaziah’s reign was one of great accomplishment in terms of extending the boundaries of Judah and enriching the land through careful husbandry.

At the same time, with Jeroboam’s death in Samaria, Israel was wracked by assassinations and regime change, all of which weakness is reflected in Amos’ prophecy at the time. Too they were confronted with the campaigns of Tiglath-pileser, III of Assyria who in the 8th century consolidated his power throughout the region, to Damascus, Syria, Babylonia and north into modern-day Armenia. Tiglath-Pileser used a novel mechanism to consolidate his power removing large numbers of exiles to the north and replacing them with large numbers of other exiles from the north. The upshot was a consolidation of his own power that was remarkable for the time. Israel was caught in this, according to the Deuteronomist, because of their sins against God, their service to Baal and other pagan gods.

One of the lessons to be learned, in addition to that of the value of serving the one God, is that economic strength comes from solid defense and the building of internal mechanisms to benefit your own people. While sometimes foreign adventuring can bring great wealth, usually it only impoverishes the nation. It does that through exhorbitant military costs, and continual rebellions among conquered peoples. Occupied nations are never happy ones and they can bleed the conqueror in an untold number of ways. This was as true for the great oppressors like Assyria as it was for little Israel. Judah under Uzziah stayed the more stable course.

In the Ruined Citadel
Samuel Hanagid

I billeted a strong force overnight in a citadel
laid waste in former days by other generals.
There we slept upon its back and flanks,
while under us its landlords slept.

And I said to my heart:
Where are the many people who once lived here?
Where are the builders and vandals,
the rulers and paupers, the slaves and masters?

Where are the begetters and the bereaved, the fathers
and the sons, the mourners and the bridegrooms?
And where are the many people born after the others had died,
in days gone by, after other days and years?

Once they lodged upon the earth;
now they are lodged within it.
They passed from their palaces to the grave,
from pleasant courts to dust.

Were they now to raise their heads and emerge,
they would rob us of our lives and pleasures.
Oh, it is true, my soul, most true:
tomorrow I shall be like them,
and all these troops as well!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Reassembling Boundaries

Daily Readings
Jonah 2:2-9 + II Kings 14 + II Chronicles 25 + Jeremiah 47

Quote of the Day
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the LORD!” Jonah 2:9

Daily Text: II Kings 14

Reassembling Boundaries
Jeroboam II began his reign in Samaria in 786 B.C. The son of Joash of Israel, he ruled 41 years, longer than any other king of Israel if you count the eight years that he was co-regent with his father. II King’s has a very terse record of his accomplishments and though they were considerable, our predominant impression is that he was another of Israel’s sinful royals. The terseness probably has to do with the Deuteronomist’s bias against Israel and toward Judah. However, Jeroboam was used of God to reassemble the boundaries that matched those of David and Solomon from central Syria in the north, beyond but including Damascus, the capital of Aram, to the Dead Sea in the south. Jonah, and his whale of a reputation, supported Jeroboam’s military adventures in contrast to both the Deuteronomist’s opinion and the prophecies of Amos, who was prophesying at the same time as Jonah. Amos in 6:14 inadvertently confirms Jeroboam’s triumphs as he castigates his arrogance and predicts his downfall. There is this conflict for YHWH between carrying out the covenant he has concluded with Jacob and his progeny, and holding the people accountable for their sins. In Jeroboam’s time he does both reinforcing the statement recorded in 13:23 with the words in 14:26,27: “For the LORD saw that the distress of Israel was very bitter; there was no one left, bond or free, and no one to help Israel. But the LORD had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Joash.”

The Home of Love
Judah Halevi

Ever since You were the home of love for me,
my love has lived where You have lived.
Because of You, I have delighted in the wrath of my enemies;
let them be, let them torment the one whom You tormented.
It was from You that they learned their wrath, and I love them,
for they hound the wounded one whom You struck down.
Ever since You despised me, I have despised myself,
for I will not honour what You despise.
So be it, until Your anger has passed,
and again You will redeem Your own possession,
which You once redeemed.