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 14, 2006

Fatally Vulnerable: Nahum 3 with poem by Thomas Curtis Clark, Nahum Dooms Nineveh

Daily Readings
Sirach 30, Jeremiah 38, Nahum 3, I Esdrus 3:1-5:6

Daily Text: Nahum 3

Fatally Vulnerable
Nahum 3 contains two of the four oracles in this little book. The oracles are not necessarily to be seen building one on the other. One might think of a reporter who may have more than one article in a newspaper, unrelated to each other. Or that same reporter may be syndicated and have articles published on different dates with ideas that relate, but each article standing on its own. So with oracles in prophetic works. The oracles in Nahum do relate, but they are not dependant upon each other [cf. J.M.M. Roberts 531:9ff].

Nineveh is addressed in the first oracle (1-17), the King of Assyria in the second (vss.18-19). Nineveh, the cruel city, full of plunder from other cities, is subject to attack and endless death—“dead bodies without end.” What Nahum was suggesting in verse 4 is unknown, but it is certainly possible that he was referring to trade emissaries that often precede the armies of great powers. They establish themselves without the benefit of the people in mind, only that of their home nation. “Like intercourse with a harlot…, involvement with Assyria led eventually to death.” Parallels with our own nation, attempting to build beachheads in the commerce of every other nation on earth if there are resources to be stripped out profitably, may naturally be drawn.

The LORD of hosts declares himself to be the adversary of Nineveh and he will treat her like the harlot she is. It may well have seemed improbable to Judah that such a powerful nation as Assyria could be reduced to such straits, so Nahum cites the situation of Thebes in 663 B.C. seemingly impregnable, but defeated handily by Assyria herself. Similarly, Nineveh will fall, her fortresses already fatally vulnerable, her troops weak, the gates open to the enemy, even the bars of the gates already burnt and useless to hold them closed. Nineveh may prepare and repair for the siege, vs. 14, but will be devoured like locusts devour vegetation, anyway.

In the final oracle the king is put on notice that it is obvious that his citizens are already scattered without effective leadership. This would seem to indicate that the prophecy is coming not long before 612 B.C. ‘Everyone in the world who understands your vulnerability rejoices in the prospect of your demise, O King!’

Nahum Dooms Nineveh
Thomas Curtis Clark

Of Nineveh, the proud and mighty one,
Jehovah wearied, and her end was told.
Her chariots, her horsemen, captains bold—
Their power was spent; they faced a setting sun.
For, as they raged, Jehovah, jealous God,
Planned direful death for Nineveh the great:
The bloody city, full of lies and hate,
Who on small Judah raised her vengeful rod.
What could avail the haughty men of lmight
Who slew Jehovah’s people in their wrath?
What could avail their strength when in the path
Of conquest stood the God of truth and right?
The kingdom fell—and thus all kingdoms fall
That take up arms against the Lord of All!

Collect for the Day
O God, the Lord of all, your Son commanded us to love our enemies and to pray for them. Lead us from prejudice to truth; deliver us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and enable us to stand before you, reconciled through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Siege and Fall of Nineveh: Nahum 2 with poem by Francis Quarles, Nahum 2.10

Daily Readings
Sirach 29, Jeremiah 37, Nahum 2, I Esdrus 1:34-58

Daily Text: Nahum 2

Siege and Fall of Nineveh
Nahum 2 is a prophecy of the siege and fall of Nineveh sometime prior to its actual fall in 612 B.C. Assyria is counseled to ‘guard the ramparts, watch the road, gird your loins and collect your strength’ in preparation for the siege that is coming. Nahum goes on to describe not only the siege, but the fall of Nineveh and what it is going to mean. It was going to mean exile, slavery for the women, loss for the ruling class, plunder for the victors. Nineveh would be drained of population like water from a pool and nothing could stop it for the LORD of hosts was against Nineveh.

Verse two is an insertion that is meant to explain what is going to happen. Essentially, this sentence proclaims that though Assyria has ravaged Israel and Judah, God is restoring them and their restoration presages the destruction of Assyria. Presumably, this prophecy is for Judah and is meant to encourage her. But if Assyrians saw it, it must have brought a chill that haunted them until the fulfillment of the prophecy. It is beautifully graphic, but the beauty is all in the eye of the beholder Judah, certainly not her enemy, Nineveh.

Nahum 2.10
Francis Quarles

She’s empty: hark, she sounds: there’s nothing there
But noise to fill thy ear;
Thy vain enquiry can at length but find
A blast of murmuring wind:
It is a cask, that seems as full as fair
But merely tunned with air:
Fond youth, go build thy hopes on better grounds:
The soul that vainly founds
Her joy upon this world but feeds on empty sounds.

She’s empty: hark, she sounds: there’s nothing in’t,
The spark-engendering flint
Shall sooner melt, and hardest raunce shall first
Dissolve and quench thy thirst;
Ere this false world shall still thy stormy breast
With smooth-faced calms of rest:
Thou mayst as well expect Meridian light
From shades of black-mouthed night,
As in this empty world to find a full delight.

She’s empty: hark, she sounds; ‘tis void and vast;
What if some flattering blast
Of flatuous honor should perchance be there,
And whisper in thine ear:
It is but wind, and blows but where it list,
And vanishes like a mist:
Poor honor earth can give! What generous mind
Would be so base to bind
Her Heaven-bred soul a slave to serve a blast of wind?

She’s empty: hark, she sounds; ‘tis but a ball
For fools to play withal:
The painted film but of a stronger bubble,
That’s lined with silken trouble:
It is a world, whose work and recreation
Is vanity and vexation?
A hag, repaired with vice-complexion, paint,
A quest-house of complaint:
It is a saint, a fiend; worse fiend, when most a saint.

She’s empty: hark, she sounds: ‘tis vain and void.
What’s here to be enjoyed,
But grief and sickness, and large bills of sorrow,
Drawn now, and crossed tomorrow?
Or what are men, but puffs of dying breath,
Revived with living death?
Fond lad, O build thy hopes on surer grounds
Then what dull flesh propounds:
Trust not this hollow world, she’s empty: hark, she sounds.

Collect for the Day
Grant peace and eternal rest to al the departed, but especially to the millions known and unknown who died as prisoners in many lands, victims of the hatred and cruelty of man. may the example of their suffering and courage draw us closer to thee through thine own agony and passion, and thus strengthen us in our desire to serve thee in the sick, the unwanted and the dying wherever we may find them. Give us the grace so to spend ourselves for those who are still alive, that we may prove most truly that we have not forgotten those who died.

[286:132:446 Sue Ryder and Leonard Cheshire]

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Vengeance: Nahum 1 with poem by Thomas Curtis Clark, The Vision of Nahum

Daily Readings
Sirach 28, Jeremiah 36, Nahum 1, Jeremiah 45

Daily Text: Nahum 1

Nahum was written sometime between 663 B.C., the Fall of Thebes, and 612 B.C. the Fall of Nineveh. J. M. M. Roberts prefers 640-630 B.C. as the narrowed interval of time during which the poem was written [531;36]. Nahum 1 is made up of an acrostic psalm (vss. 2-8) and a prophecy of direct address (vss. 9-15).

The acrostic, that is, each couplet beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is more or less complete between the letters Aleph and Caph. While the psalm may have had an origin prior to Nahum’s use of it, it is used to great effect in this first oracle. God’s vengeance is associated with his jealously and his anger. He will not be treated as one god among many in any nation of the world, not simply in Judah. And his anger relates to the way Assyria has treated Judah. He may be slow to anger, but once aroused he will not clear the one who has aroused his anger. Perhaps the reference to ‘slowness’ of anger has to do with the justification for it, so that once aroused he will follow through. He will not “clear the guilty” (cf. vs. 3). While he will always be a refuge to those who trust him, those who do not will have no hiding place from his anger and avenging spirit, not even the darkness. God’s vengeance is part of his justice by definition. A loving God that was not interested in justice would be one without moral character. The idea that vengeance is inappropriate is a ‘bogus morality’ for “vengeance cannot be discarded without discarding the concern for justice as well” [531:45].

Verse 9 seems to indicate the direct address of Judah and God is questioning why she questions, or meditates against or plots against the LORD. Even though she is being oppressed by Assyria, she need not question whether the LORD will avenge her, for Assyria will come to an end, she will be burnt like dry straw. There is a promise in this oracle for Judah in vs. 12b: “Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more.” Verse 14 is a direct address to Assyria who will be so completely cut off, from her people and her gods that there will be no one left to bury her except the LORD.

Verse 15 returns to Judah, a continuation of verse 13. There is the promise of peace within this beautiful poem, and the assurance that Judah will be able to celebrate her festivals and complete her vows. This may well be an historical reference that set the stage for Josiah’s celebration of the Passover as seen in II Chronicles 35.

The Vision of Nahum
Thomas Curtis Clark

Jehovah is mighty, and a jealous God,
And who can stand before him?
The chariots of Nineveh are strong,
Her men run like lightnings;
But Jehovah hath seen her drunkenness
And her violence toward Judah,
And he will make a full end of her,
And she shall perish from the earth.
Thus spake Nahum.
But Jehovah is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble;
He knoweth them that take refuge
In him.
Israel and Judah, the people of the remnant,
Shall be redeemed from the hand of the spoiler,
The bloody city.
Thus spake Nahum, the prophet of God:
Behold, upon the mountains how beautiful are
The feet of him that bringeth good tidings,
That publisheth peace!

Collect for the Day
O Almighty God, the Father of all mankind, we pray thee to turn to thyself the hearts of all peoples and their rulers, that by the power of thy Holy Spirit peace may be established on the foundation of justice, righteousness and truth; through Him who was lifted up on the cross to draw all men unto Himself, even thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

[286:74:213 William Temple, 1881-1944]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Take the Cup: Jeremiah 25 with poem by Abu-al-'Ala'al-Ma'arri, Bill of Sale

Daily Readings
Sirach 27 II Kings 23:31-24:17 Jeremiah 25 Jeremiah 46

Daily Text: Jeremiah 25

Take the Cup
Jeremiah 25 is a prophecy given 23 years into Jeremiah’s career, about half-way. He has been warning Judah and the nations for over two decades and on this day the ax falls. Jehoiakim may cut up his words and throw them into the fire (cf. ch. 36) but the words of the LORD are not so easily destroyed. Once given they bring about the completion of their own ends. So in 605 B.C. Egypt’s Pharoah Neco is defeated at Carchemish, not long after Josiah tries to stop him at that same location on the Euphrates River. Josiah cannot stop Neco, in fact, Neco becomes the de facto ruler of Judah even though he didn’t seek it, but Nebuchadnezzer does defeat Egypt’s prince. And it is Nebuchadnezzer that visits God’s wrath on Judah, and on much of the rest of the world in due time. It is in 605 B.C. that the 70 year Hebrew Exile begins, not with this battle, but very soon thereafter.

The LORD instructs Jeremiah to take the cup of the wine of the wrath of God and force the nations to drink it. If they refuse, ask them how they think they will avoid it since even the city that carries God’s Name is being forced to drink the same cup. The nations indicated surround Judah.

Bill of Sale

Translated from the Arabic by George Wightman and abdullah al-Udhari

God help us, we have sold our souls, all that was best,
To an enterprise in the hands of the Receiver.
We’ve no dividends, or rights, for the price we paid.
Yet should our wills choose between this corrupt business
And a paradise to come, rest assured they’d want

The world we have now.

Collect for the Day
To you, Creator of nature and humanity, of truth and beauty, I pray:
Hear my voice, for it is the voice of the victims of all wars and
violence among individuals and nations.
Hear my voice, for it is the voice of all children who suffer and will
suffer when people put their faith in weapons and war.
Hear my voice when I beg you to instil into the hearts of all human beings
the wisdom of peace, the strength of justice and the joy of fellowship.
Hear my voice and grant insight and strength so that we may always
respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice,
to need with the sharing of self, to war with peace.
O God, hear my voice, and grant unto the world your everlasting peace.

[489:226:December 15 Pope John Paul II]

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Omnipotence and Omniscience Qualified: II Chronicles 35 with poem by Jehuda Halevi, A New Song

Daily Readings
Sirach 26, II Kings 23:1-30, II Chronicles 35, I Esdras1:1-33

Daily Text: II Chronicles 35

Omnipotence and Omniscience Qualified
What is the meaning of foretelling prophecy, e.g., Huldah’s in 34:26-28, when it is not ultimately accurate? This is not at all unusual in either the Hebrew or Christian testaments. In spite of the high view of Scripture concerning God’s control of earth and heaven, it is not unexpected to see omnipotence and omniscience qualified in history. God’s power is always subject to human response. Presumably, if Josiah, in II Chronicles 35, had not been so determined to stop Pharoah Neco from assisting Assyria, he would not have been so abruptly put into his grave. Certainly, the text indicates that Neco had no desire to be in conflict with him. Perhaps Josiah too had enjoyed power long enough for his ego to be inflated and enjoyed the blessings of God long enough to believe they would be with him regardless of what he did. As his humility delayed the disasters God had prepared for Judah, perhaps his pride brought on those disasters sooner than God intended. The relationship between God and humankind is always responsive. It matters what we do. God can and will listen and God can and will turn his back, so to speak. Free will is so determinative that to rely on predestination apart from human will is to turn a blind eye to the facts of history.

A New Song
Jehuda Halevi

translated by Nina Salaman

The day the saved of God
Traversed the deep dryshod,
Then a new song
Sang Thy redeemed throng.

Lo, sunken in deceit
The Egyptian daughter’s feet,
But lo, the Shulamite (i.e., Israel)
Went shod in fair delight.
Then a new song
Sang Thy redeemed throng.

Thy banners Thou will set
O’er those remaining yet
And gather those forlorn
As gathering ears of corn.
Then a new song
Sang Thy redeemed throng.

Ah, take her as of yore,
And cast her forth no more
Let sunlight crown her day
And shadows flee away.
Then a new song
Sang Thy redeemed throng.

Collect for the Day
Lord, make me according to thy heart.

[286:255 Brother Lawrence, 1611-91]