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, January 14, 2006

Restoration Assured

Daily Readings
Psalm 12 Genesis 13 Isaiah 14 Acts 12

Daily Text: Isaiah 14

Restoration Assured
This chapter will be treated as unified, though obviously there are three separate prophecies, and some very difficult textual problems in the final four verses. One of the most beautiful poems in all of literature, dark though it may be, is this one found in verses 3-23. Contextually, it is a lament form twisted in tone to become a taunt song against Babylon. The tyrant who rules her is being cast down in the most ignominious way conceivable in the ancient Near East. All of this occurs as a part of Israel’s restoration, vss. 1-2. Note that preceding the unnamed Babylonian king’s demise is the parallel demise of his gods (vs. 12) and following it is a welcome in Sheol. Here, as everywhere, the events occur in the spiritual world first. That is true also of the interpretation given in the following poem. This is not to be thought of linearly, but simultaneously. YHWH is everywhere sovereign.

Assyria, likewise, will have her yoke removed from Jacob’s shoulders, and that removal would be extended to Judah’s release from oppression from every nation on earth. Lest Philistia become too exuberant in her rejoicing over the death of Assyria’s (unnamed) king, the prophet let her know that out of Assyria, referred to here as a ‘snake’ would come a more dangerous ‘adder,’ and from the adder there would ultimately be a ‘fiery dragon.’ Note the intensification. There is to be no comfort for Philistia, this millenial neighbor of Judah, for God would see to it that Philistia would die of famine, and even her remnant would be killed by Assyria’s deadly forces. At the same time YHWH would protect Jacob, and the children of her poorest, would continue to eat and be safe. Following both Clements [470]and Kaiser [472], there follows an attempt at reconstructing a meaningful order for vss. 29-32:

29 Do not rejoice all you Philistines, that the rod that struck you is broken,
For from the root of the snake will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying
fiery serpent.
31 Wail, O gate; cry, O city; melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you!
For smoke comes out of the north, and there is no straggler in its ranks.
30b For I will make your root die of famine, and your remnant I will kill.

32 What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The LORD has founded Zion, and the needy among his people will find refuge in her.
30a The firstborn of the poor will graze, and the needy lie down in safety.”

Lucifer in Starlight
George Meredith
Based on 14:12-18

On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
Above the rolling ball in cloud part screened,
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
Now his huge bulk o’er Afric’s sands careened,
Now the black planet shadowed arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
With memory of the old revolt from awe,
He reached a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he looked, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

Collect for the Day
Chosen Leader and Lord, Conqueror of hell, I thy creature and servant, delivered from eternal death, magnify and praise thee who art infinitely merciful; free me from all evils as I call upon thee: O Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me.
[1983. A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, p. 23.]

Friday, January 13, 2006

Heavenly Origins

Daily Readings
Psalm 11 Genesis 12 Isaiah 13 Acts 11

Daily Text: Isaiah 13

Heavenly Origins
What occurred in Isaiah 6 with the LORD in ‘heaven’ and the hem of his garment in the temple is repeated here. That the LORD is the prime mover is everywhere in scripture assumed. In chapter 6 it is God’s holiness. In chapter 13 it is again God’s holiness at issue. This time, however, God’s holiness is affronted by human sinfulness. Can God’s own creation be an affront and escape? The answer is clearly, ‘No.’ In Genesis, Noah alone is holy and God destroys the creation with one exception. In Isaiah 13 God destroys, not the creation, but the sinners that are fouling God’s creation. Babylon is the primary object, but not Babylon alone. In one of these five prophecies (13:6-8) Jerusalem is probably the original object and it may have been 587 B.C.
The Day of the LORD is a reoccurring theme in scripture, in Amos, Isaiah, Zephaniah, and with the Second Coming in the New Testament. Those who serve righteousness in their lives survive, those who serve evil are destroyed, regardless of nationality, and the prophet, or the editor, go from nation to nation with easy grace—it matters not. It is God’s world, and from this world is expected devotion and godly behavior.

The Destruction of Babylon

Lift up a banner on the lofty hill;
Let the loud trumpet every valley fill;
Call forth the tribes whose arms can wield the sword,
And let the chiefs and nobles hear the Lord!
“I, the Almighty, call; by my decree,
Ye are my ministers; go, fight for me!”—
Whence that deep roar, like thunder heard afar,
Or nations fiercely crowding to the war?—
‘Tis the tumultuous rush of countless bands,
That flock to execute the Lord’s commands;
With eager joy from climes remote they come,
Far as the extremest verge of heaven’s vast dome.
Howl, howl, O Babylon, and shriek for fear;
Howl! for the dreadful day of God is near.
Then hearts shall melt, arms faint, and strength decay;
Courage, like morning dreams, shall fade away,
With dread each man his fellow shall inspire,
And every eye dart forth consuming fire.
The firmament shall mourn in gloomiest night;
Nor sun, nor moon, nor stars shall shed their light;
The heavens shall tremble, the firm earth shall move,
At the fierce anger of the Lord above.
A man more scarce than purest gold shall be;
Not Ophir’s precious wedge more rare than he,
As flies the timid lamb or hunted roe
To its own herd—swift shall the stranger go.
For who remain shall die—not costliest gem
From the impending doom shall ransom them;
All, all must die. Proud Babylon shall stand
No more—a waste like tainted Sodom’s land.
On its cursed site shall spring no pasture green,
Nor Arab’s tent nor shepherd’s fold be seen;
Thither shall ravenous desert-beasts repair,
And owls shall shriek and satyrs gambol there.
In those gay halls, where minstrel notes now swell,
Shall howling wolves and hissing serpents dwell.

Collect for the Day
Kindle in us a passion for righteousness. Grant us the vision to see that only justice can endure, and that only in being just to one another can we make our lives acceptable to You. [471:686, Gates of Heaven]

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Name-Signs

Daily Readings
Psalm 10 Genesis 11 Isaiah 12 Acts 10

Daily Text: Isaiah 12

The Name-Signs
The theme of 10:33-11:16 is sung in chapter 12. The Song of the Redeemed, a song of Thanksgiving, a song. It recognizes judgement, it imbibes deeply and joyfully in the waters of salvation, and identifies the presence of God with them. This psalm of thanksgiving sums up the first eleven chapters of Isaiah. In a sense the name-signs of Isaiah’s children are present, not literally, but figuratively. The remnant is singing, singing for joy for the spoils are theirs—God is their salvation, the God who is with them, Immanuel.

Michael Drayton

O Living Lord, I still will laud Thy name,
For though Thou wert offended once with me,
Thy heavy wrath is turned from me again,
And graciously Thou now dost comfort me.

Behold, the Lord is my salvation,
I trust in Him, and fear not any power;
He is my song, the strength I lean upon,
The Lord God is my loving Saviour.

Therefore with joy out of the Well of Life
Draw forth sweet water which it doth afford;
And in the day of trouble and of strife
Call on the name of God, the living Lord.

Extol His works and wonders to the sun;
Unto all people let His praise be shown;
Record in song the marvels He hath done,
And let His glory through the world be blown.

Cry out aloud, and shout on Zion’s hill,
I give thee charge that this proclaimèd be:
The great and mighty King of Israèl
Now only dwelleth in the midst of thee.

The Second Song of Esai

George Wither

LORD, I will sing to Thee,
for thou displeasèd wast,
And yet withdrew’st thy wrath from me,
And sent me comfort hast.
Thou art my health, on whom
A fearless trust I lay;
For thou, oh Lord! thou art become
My strength, my song, my stay!

And with rejoicing now,
Sweet waters we convey,
Forth of those springs whence life doth flow;
And thus, we therefore say,
Oh, sing unto the Lord;
His name and works proclaim;
Yea, to the people bear recórd
That glorious is his name.

Unto the Lord, oh sing,
For wonders he hath done,
And many a renownèd thing,
Which through the earth is known.
Oh sing aloud, all ye
On Sion-hill that dwell;
For, lo, thy Holy One in thee
Is great, or Israèl!

Collect for the Day
O God, by the humiliation of your Son you lifted up this fallen world, rescuing us from the hopelessness of death. Grant your faithful people a share in the joys that are eternal; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen [Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 21, Third Sunday of Easter]

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lifting the Veil

Daily Readings
Psalm 9 Genesis 10 Isaiah 10:33-11:16 Acts 9

Daily Text: Isaiah 10:33-11:16

Lifting the Veil
There is a progression here: judgement on Judah, Messianic renewal, Israel’s restoration. If we see the three prophecies all relating to Israel and Judah, they fit in with the Isaianic pattern of prophetic words. Judgement, renewal and restoration brings the people of God back into right relationship. The magnitude of the judgement and the radical nature of the renewal simply lend themselves to an unnaturally large vision of the promised future. Historical and psychological perspective is lost and theologically grounded hope soars, lifting the veil, as it were, on the future.

John Oxenham

Lord, give me faith!—to live from day to day,
With tranquil heart to do my simple part,
And, with my hand in thine, just go Thy way.

Lord, give me faith!—to trust, if not to know;
With quiet mind in all things Thee to find,
And, child-like, go where Thou wouldst have me go.

Lord, give me faith!—to leave it all to Thee,
The future is Thy gift, I would not lift
The veil Thy love has hung ‘twixt it and me.

Collect for the Day
Give us insight, Lord our God, to understand Your ways, and consecrate our hearts to revere You.

From our sins redeem us with forgiveness; from pain and sorrow keep us far.

Bestow upon us Your earth’s abundance, and gather our exiles from earth’s four corners.

To those who stray, briing correction; upon the lawless, place Your hand.

Let the righteous rejoice in the bulding of Your city and the flowering of Your redemption.

Blessed is the Lord, who hearkens to prayer.
[Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayer Book 471:584, litany for Tish’a Be-av and Yom Hasho-ah]

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

God's Flexibility

Daily Readings
Psalm 7 Genesis 9 Isaiah 10:5-32 Acts 8

Daily Text: Isaiah 10:5-32

God’s Flexibility
In this passage are some five prophecies. The most powerful being that of vss.5-15, when God is using Assyria to discipline Samaria and Jerusalem, but he reserves the right for his anger to wane against his chosen, vss. 24-27a, and to come back to haunt Assyria!. The turning of his anger is demonstrated in vss. 16-19; historical references are given in Isaiah 37:36-38 and a twin passage in II Kings 19:35-37. There the 185, 000 soldiers struck by the angel of the Lord may well be the result of the wasting sickness of 10.16! Some historians have suggested bubonic plague [107:173]!
Another example of God’s flexibility is in the use of the name-sign given as Shear-jashub in chapter 7, meaning ‘a remnant shall return.’ In chapter 7 it is used as encouragement for Ahaz for it promises that only a remnant of Samaria’s (and Syria’s) armies shall be left in a very short period of time. In chapter 10:20-23, that a remnant shall be left to the Northern Kingdom is a promise to Israel. It is used consistently for Israel, but interpreted differently.
Such is the LORD’s sovereignty that he may punish and reward who he wills, when he wills. Has anything changed?

Hour to Remember
Lord Byron

The Assyrian came down
like a wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming
in purple and gold….

Like the leaves of the forest
when Summer is green,
That host with their banners
at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest
when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow
lay withered and strown….

And the might of the Gentile,
unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow
in the glance of the Lord!

Collect for the Day
O loving God,
to turn away from you is to fall,
to turn toward you is to rise,
and to stand before you is to abide forever.
Grant us, dear God,
in all our duties your help;
in all our uncertainties your guidance;
in all our dangers your protection;
and in all our sorrows your peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Book of Common Worship, p. 23, #25, Augustine of Hippo, 354-430]

Monday, January 09, 2006


Daily Readings
Isaiah 54 Genesis 8 Isaiah 8:1-9:7 Acts 7

Daily Text: Isaiah 8:1-9:7

Maher-shalal-hash-baz, ‘Spoil speeds—booty hastens,’ probably an Egyptian soldier’s chant [470:95] “Let the spoil hasten,” or in today’s parlance ‘Bring it on!’ It is the 3rd of the prophetic name-signs given to Ahaz and Judah to guide them into God’s path, but they reject it as seen in verse 5. Ahaz rejects the gentle brooks of Judah for the rampaging floods of Assyria, floods that will inundate Judah and all but drown it, certainly losing for Ahaz his independence. One of the most timely prophecies in chapter 8 begins in verse 11 where Isaiah is counseled by the LORD not to fear or dread what the people fear and dread, that is, he is not to get caught up in the popular politics of the day, but instead is to fear and dread a holy God, who will then become sanctuary for him, as he would have for the people and the king if they had walked in the fear of the LORD. How timely for us in early 21st century America!
In a 5th prophecy, 16-18, Isaiah seals the testimony inscribed on the tablet in 8:1, and celebrates the signs given to him and in his (3) children from the LORD of hosts. Chapter 9 brings a transition from anguish to light and joy for at Ahaz’ death a new king, probably Hezekiah, is anticipated in vss. 2-7. The Davidic dynasty will be continued in righteousness not only in Hezekiah’s reign, but continued in Josiah’s. This is the historical context for the great Christian prophetic interpretation of the coming Messiah, who is also one of David’s line.

Laura Simmons

Now each man knows a different God!
Each for himself doth see
A shape of doom; a vengeful Judge—
A fearsome mystery—
Or, blessed hope! A strength, a Friend—
Beloved utterly.

A Shadow, brooding and malign—
Or sanctuary blest.
No thing man knows so well as this—
The God within his breast.
The God he makes—and fears; or loves—
His soul’s most precious guest!

Yet, spent and stark, into the night
How like men always go!
Each staring back upon a Cross
Of matchless love, and woe:
And all men clutch that seamless robe,
Both God’s friend, and his foe!

Collect for the Day
Blessed is the Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has chosen faithful prophets to speak words of truth. Blessed is the Lord, for the revelation of Torah, for Moses His servant and Israel His people, and for the prophets of truth and righteousness.
[The New Union Prayer Book, before the reading of the Haftorah (471) p. 420]

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Flies, Bees and Razors

Daily Readings
Psalm 6 Genesis 7 Isaiah 7 Acts 6

Daily Text: Isaiah 7

Flies, Bees and Razors
Ahaz, son of Jotham, young king of Judah, has refused to become part of a regional military coalition to oppose Tiglath-pileser III and his nation Assyria. Backed by Syria, the kings of Israel and Aram mount an attack on Jerusalem. Perhaps Ahaz’ non-participation jeopardized the coalition in some way. Ahaz, so far, has held out against them, but is very fearful, as is the entire city. Isaiah encourages him to stay neutral. Isaiah’s son, Shear-jashub, has been named to reflect Isaiah’s encouraging prophecy. Stay out of the intrigue between these groups and only a remnant of your enemies will survive.
A second prophecy at a later date addresses this same issue. Ahaz is now considering contacting Assyria directly for protection. This prophecy might be called the Immanuel prophecy, for a second child, most likely the prophet’s own, is named to encourage Ahaz to stay neutral with the assurance that God is with him. This prophecy is controversial because it has also been picked up by Christians as preparing the way for the Messiah. But the context is clear, only the identification of the mother is unclear. However, ‘Immanuel’ falls between Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal –Hashbaz, and all three children’s names are used in the same fashion. Note, that in each of these cases it is the name that is critical, not the birth or the child himself.
Finally, there are four threats, each prefaced by the words “On that day.” In the first, concerning flies from Egypt and bees from Assyria, Ahaz is warned to stay neutral. The nuisance of being covered by a buzzing, stinging confusion from these nations will outweigh the stress of standing firm. The second threat, is that unless he stays neutral, the LORD will use Assyria to ‘shave the head, beard and genitals’ of Ahaz—that is, he will have nothing left. (Note that ‘feet’ in the Hebrew is often a softening of the word ‘genitals’.) The third threat brings ruin to good agricultural land leaving it fit only for cattle, and foraging for curds and honey for food. Finally, the fourth threat is explicit that producing vineyards will become briar patches good only for foraging cattle and hunting. The issue for Ahaz is to both listen and to act. Ahaz does not want to listen because he knows his own reluctance to act. Isaiah, however, is committed to the Davidic dynasty in Judah, and he is loath to give up on this man.

Simple Trust
R. F. Mayer

I do not know why sin abounds
Within this world so fair,
Why numerous discordant sounds
Destroy the heavenly air—
I can’t explain this thing, I must
Rely on God in simple trust.

I do not know why pain and loss
Oft fall unto my lot.
Why I must bear the heavy cross
When I desire it not—
I do not know, unless ‘tis just
To teach my soul in God to trust.

I know not why the evil seems
Supreme on every hand:
Why suffering flows in endless streams
I do not understand—
Solution comes not to adjust
These mysteries, I can but trust.

I do not know why grief’s dark cloud
Bedims my sunny sky,
The tear of bitterness allowed
To swell with my eye—
But, sorrow-stricken to the dust,
I will look up to God and trust.

Collect for the Day
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [BCP:]