Sunday, September 28
Psalm 46 (Greek and Latin 45): The first line of this psalm inspired the opening of one of our most popular hymns, Martin LutherŐs EinÔ feste Burg ist unser Gott. This famous line of Luther, in turn, was to have an interesting history of its own, being translated over 80 times into 53 languages prior to 1900.
Though all of them attempted to preserve LutherŐs meter, the English translations varied quite a bit. Just ten years after Luther published it, Miles Coverdale did the first English rendering which read "Oure God is a defence and towre." In England they yet seem to be content with Thomas CarlyleŐs version: "A safe stronghold our God is still," but other translations have been attempted. For instance, there were W. R. WittinghamŐs "A mountain fortress is our God" and H. J. BuckollŐs "A tower of strength our God doth stand." The version destined to prevail in this country, however, was published by Frederic Henry Hedge in 1852: "A Mighty Fortress is our God." This brief survey may suggest something of the importance of Psalm 45 in popular Christian piety over the years.
The psalmŐs structure is very easy to perceive, its two strophes each ending in the refrain "The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our helper." The wording of this refrain accentuates what we may call its ecclesiological theme; that is to say, the voice in this psalm is the voice of the Church, the holy city, which is the dwelling place of God. Hence the importance of the first person plural all through this psalm: "we," "us," and "our." God is "our" refuge and strength, "we" shall not fear, The Lord of hosts is with "us" and so forth. This is the voice of GodŐs people, the same voice that prays "our" Father.
As in the Book of the Revelation, our psalm speaks of a stream of living water in connection with the holy city: " There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High." This stream is at once the primeval river of Paradise, the holy font of Baptism and the water of eternal life.
The psalmŐs first strophe is concerned with GodŐs protection of His Church in the midst of the conflict and instability of her life in this world, where "the nations raged, the kingdoms were moved." This section speaks of the very overthrow of the earth, the roaring of waters and the crashing down of mountains, but in all of this tumult the Church of God remains secure: "God will help her at the dawning of the day." That dawn and that day, of course, are the dawn and day of the Resurrection of Christ, GodŐs consummate victory over chaos and death.
The second strophe of the psalm is, therefore, a vision of peace, in which God "makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in fire." The second part of the psalm reflects the rest and peace of heaven.
Monday, September 29
The Apostle Timothy: Today we begin our annual reading of 2 Timothy, PaulŐs final epistle, sent from Rome in the closing days of his life.
When Paul had appointed Timothy to be the bishop at Ephesus in back in the mid-50s, he had sent the young pastor a series of wise pastoral directions. He told him, for example, to "give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:13). He urged Timothy to "fight the good fight of faith" (6:12) and to "reject profane and old wivesŐ fables" (4:7). He warned him to "observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing from partiality" (5:21). He exhorted him to "be an example to believers in word, in conduct, in love" (4:12), and so on.
What sort of man was Timothy? Well, we know what Paul thought of him. He told the Macedonians, "I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state" (Philippians 2:19), and went on to speak of his "proven character" (2:22). Indeed, Paul refers to Timothy as "our brother" (2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Philemon 1), "as a son with his father" (Philippians 2:22), and "my faithful son in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:17). Paul addresses him, moreover, as "son Timothy" (1 Timothy 1:18), "Timothy, true son in the faith" (1:2), and "Timothy, a beloved son" (2 Timothy 1:2).
Paul knew that Timothy had been raised in a devout, believing family (2 Timothy 1:5), where he was trained in the Holy Scriptures (3:15). Still young, Timothy had joined PaulŐs company during the second missionary journey (Acts 16:1-3) and remained with him through the ensuing years, carefully following his "doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra" (2 Timothy 3:10-11).
Along the way Paul found that he could entrust Timothy with important responsibilities in the ministry. The young man had not been a missionary even a year before Paul sent him from Athens to Thessaloniki for a needed pastoral visit (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). Later, from Ephesus, Paul sent Timothy to visit the Macedonians (Acts 19:22; Philippians 2:19-23) and the quarrelsome, spiteful congregation at Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10). It was to Timothy, finally, that Paul wrote this last letter of his life, asking him to "be diligent to come to me quickly" (2 Timothy 4:9).
Tuesday, September 30
Psalm 99 (Greek and Latin 98): among those that speak of the LordŐs symbolic enthronement over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies: "The Lord is King, let the peoples rage; He thrones upon the Cherubim, let the earth be shaken."
It also speaks of the worship offered to the Lord in that holy place by the same three men of whom we have been speaking: "Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among those who call on His name, they called upon the Lord, and He answered them. He spoke with them in the pillar of cloud, for they guarded His testimonies and the precepts that He gave them. O Lord, our God, You answered them."
We Christians pray, then, to be admitted, reverently, to the realm of holiness, as were GodŐs servants of old; "let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28).
This psalm also warns that the praise and adoration of God may not be separated from the doing of His will in holy obedience. As we read above with regard to His three ancient servants, "they guarded His testimonies and the precepts that He gave them." Were these men obedient at all times? Perhaps Samuel was, for the Bible speaks of no disobedience on his part, and "all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the Lord" (1 Samuel 3:20). However, Holy Scripture makes no secret of the failings of Moses and Aaron (cf. Exodus 32; Number 20). Our psalm likewise speaks of GodŐs reproving and forgiving the failings of these two servants: "You were gracious to them and corrected all their misdeeds."
In another and deeper sense, nonetheless, our own boldness of worship before the Lord may be said to surpass that of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. They stood and ministered before a "real presence" of God, certainly, but it was enshrined in a tabernacle made with human hands. The true Holy of Holies, however, that to which we ourselves draw near, is in "the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation" (Hebrews 9:11). The true "mercy seat" (hilastrion) where God meets us is Christ our Lord (cf. Romans 3:25), who "has not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself" (Hebrews 9:24). For us to worship in the name of Jesus means to "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (4:16).
Wednesday, October 1
1 Chronicles 1: Far more than the Books of Samuel and Kings, the Books of Chronicles are centered on David and his descendents who succeeded him on the throne of Judah. In these latter books, indeed, the history of the Northern Kingdom, the house of Israel, is simply omitted.
Similar in this respect to the hagiographic style of Wisdom 10-19 and Sirach 44-50, the Books of Chronicles make more explicit efforts to be "edifying." First Chronicles, for example, downplays certain features of the Davidic history and omits other parts altogether. Thus, it devotes 822 verses to the four edifying kings of Judah, while allowing only 342 verses for the remaining 17 kings. As for DavidŐs adultery and murder, these are not even mentioned. Second Chronicles omits the sins of Solomon.
David himself is treated more as a religious leader and reformer than anything else. Thus, only 73 verses of Chronicles treat of DavidŐs political activities and military exploits, while 323 verses are devoted to DavidŐs provision for the Temple worship (contrasted with only 77 verses on this subject in 2 Samuel).
First Chronicles treats the pre-monarchical part of human history is reduced to hardly more than an outline, or even a simple name list (Chapters 1-9). By leaving out all details of human history prior to IsraelŐs kingship, Chronicles conveys the impression that everything that happened before David was a preparation for the divine covenant with David. Indeed, in Chronicles, all the earlier covenants (with Noah, with Abraham, and even with Moses) appear diminished by comparison.
The genealogies of this first chapter are concentrated on the descendents of Abraham, who dominate the Arabian peninsula and the western part of the Fertile Crescent (verses 27-54).
Thursday, October 2
1 Chronicles 2: Now we begin the genealogies of the Israelites. Indeed, we first observe that Chronicles habitually refers to Jacob by the name Israel, the name he received after his famous wrestling match at Peniel (verse 1). Whereas the name Jacob denotes that very interesting historical character to whom so many interesting things happened, the name Israel denotes the patriarch of the twelve tribes, the man who gave his name to the twelve tribes.
In the genealogies of Chronicles, beginning with this chapter, we also observe that far greater prominence and elaboration are accorded the tribes of Judah and Levi, the kingly and priestly households. Taking Chronicles as a whole, Judah will get 102 verses and Levi 81 verses, whereas all the other tribes together will receive only 126 verses.
Within the genealogy of Judah, special prominence is given to the ancestors of DavidŐs father, Jesse (verses 10-12), for obvious reasons, and then to his descendents (verses 13-15). Because of CalebŐs prominence within the territory of Judah, a great deal of this chapter concerns his family.
This strong accent on the genealogy of Judah will be of even more importance to the Christian, of course, because it is the genealogy of the Incarnation; "For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah" (Hebrews 7:14).
Friday, October 3
1 Chronicles 3: We now begin the royal line of David. The Sacred Text names the mothers of the six sons that David fathered in Hebron, before the removal of his capital to Jerusalem in 993 (verses 1-4). This detail is curious, because Chronicles otherwise omits the fact that DavidŐs reign was not recognized by the northern tribes for the first seven years (cf. 2 Samuel 5:5).
Did the birth of these first six sons at Hebron diminish their claims to succeed David on the throne? Perhaps, but we must bear in mind that the rules for royal succession in IsraelŃkingship being a completely new thing for the nationŃwere not yet established, so there is no reason to suppose that the royal succession was expected to follow the principle of primogeniture.
The Bathshua of verse 5 is, of course, Bathsheba. (In accord with ChroniclesŐ sustained effort to edify, on which we have already commented, her adultery with David is not mentioned.) The reference to three sons of Bathsheba older than Solomon is unexpected. We would not have looked for such a detail after reading 2 Samuel 12:24.
The passage of the royal line to Solomon and his descendents is recorded in verse 10. Through verse 16 these Davidic kings are listed up until the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587.
The exilic and post-exilic descendents of the royal household, listed in such detail (verses 17-24) bear witness to the careful maintenance of records among the Jews of the sixth and fifth centuries. The Book of Ezra will further testify to this care.
Saturday, October 4
1 Chronicles 4: We have already remarked that the genealogies in Chronicles are vastly more detailed for the tribes of Judah and Levi than for any of the others. The present chapter (verses 1-23) on the tribe of Judah illustrates the point.
To grasp the historical reason for this emphasis, it is sufficient to reflect that the southern kingdom, the realm of Judah, had an unbroken succession of a single dynasty (the six years of AthaliahŐs usurpation being only a blip on the screen) from about 1000 to 587 before Christ. During more than four centuries, beginning in 993, it had its capital in a single city, Jerusalem. This stability and continuity of Judah contributed in no small measure to the better preservation of its historical memory through archived records.
In these respects Judah is to be contrasted with the northern kingdom, Israel, which was governed by a series of dynasties, some of them very short, over a period of only two centuries (922-722). Its capital, moreover, did not remain in a single place during that time. IsraelŐs instability and impermanence are reflected in the relative paucity of its preserved records. Sometimes, indeed, even the identity of individual Israelite kings was lost from the stories about their reigns. For example, 2 Kings 5 does not tell us the name of the Israelite king to whom the Syrian king sent Naaman in order to be cleansed of his leprosy.
In short, the final and dominating perspective of the Old Testament is that of Judah, not the northern kingdom. JudahŐs own records, therefore, are far better preserved, JudahŐs history being more immediate and proximate to the BibleŐs composition.
The tribes of Reuben and Simeon, because they were situated in the south, were in some measure absorbed into the political life of Judah. This is why their records are listed next (4:24Ń5:10).
The Chelub of verse 11 is Caleb.
The events of verse 41 will be explained in 2 Chronicles 20.