Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.
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Sunday, September 18
Luke 8:22-25: In this account of the stilling of the storm, the Lord again speaks of faith, which was also the point of the second miracle account, the story of the centurion (7:9). There is a striking contrast between the utter serenity of the Lord (asleep!) and the agitation of the disciples. The Lord imposes his own tranquility on the sea itself (verse 24). Dominant in this narrative is a Christology of majesty, ending with the major query of the gospel itself: “Who is this?” (verse 25) This is the very question that Peter, in the name of the Church, will answer in 9:20. Luke sees this confession as the basis of the Church (Acts 8:37; 9:20,22).
Monday, September 19
Judges 21: The governing motif of this chapter is rebirth for the tribe of Benjamin.
It begins with a problem. The other Israelites have taken a vow not to let their daughters marry Benjaminites. This is the problem. No one had instructed them to make that vow, and now the vow has created a serious difficulty. They had taken the vow before they offered the sacrifice of reconciliation. They had acted with a split mind, doing things that were mutually opposed. This is an example of a rash vow, of the sort that Jephthe made. Such vows often enough create bigger problems than those they were supposed to solve. Anyway, this is the problem governing the present chapter, and the Israelites themselves caused it.
The story is full of irony, of course. For example, it ends at the shrine city of Shiloh, one of the ancient words for “peace.” The scene, however, is anything but peaceful.
How do we explain all this contradiction and activity to cross-purposes? The chapter's final verse does the best it can for an explanation. Namely, everybody was following his own inclination and preference. “Everybody do what you want, though it is a slogan not without popular appeal in our own times, is a formula for chaos, and what we have here toward the end of Judges is a chaotic situation.
Still, the Book of Judges finishes with an act of deliverance and a new birth. Benjamin is spared. It does not disappear from history, as did Simeon and Reuben. From the tribe of Benjamin, in fact, would come, in due course, the Apostle Paul. This final chapter, then, is about God's fidelity even in the midst of irony and chaos.
Tuesday, September 20
1 Chronicles 1: 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 Israel's 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.
In First Chronicles the pre-monarchical part of human history (that is, prior to the reign of David, which began about 1000 B.C.) is reduced to hardly more than an outline, in some places simply a name list (Chapters 1-9). By leaving out the details of human history prior to David's monarchy, the Chronicler conveys the impression that everything that happened prior to David was a preparation for the covenant that God made with David. Indeed, the real covenant of the Lord is that with David. In Chronicles all the earlier covenants (with Noah, with Abraham, and even with Moses) appear diminished by comparison. If the Chronicler would not regard the founding of the Northern Kingdom, the schismatic Kingdom of Israel, with so much as an explicit mention, it was because that kingdom was founded in opposition to the Davidic covenant.
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).
Still, the Chronicler places the history of Israel within human history. Thus, he commences with Adam, the single father of the human race, and his extensive genealogies of early man demonstrate what one historical calls “evidence of an ecumenical concern.” Israel's history is regarded as the high point of human history. The New Testament will later extend this perspective by tracing the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38).
Somewhat in contrast to this “ecumenical interest,” however, the genealogical lists in this first chapter also reflect a concern of the Chronicler for the purity of Israel's own bloodline. Religious leaders in post-exilic Judaism (that is, after 539 B.C.)-and no one more than Ezra himself-was very much preoccupied with this bloodline purity, out of a need to maintain the nation's ethnic integrity. This is why we find, in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, works follow the theological traits of Chronicles, a solidly negative attitude toward the Samaritans or any marriage with non-Israelites.
The lists here in Chapter One, then, serving the theological interests of the Chronicler, were not intended to be complete. For example, Cain and all his descendents are omitted. The Chronicler refuses to admit the existence of Cain's posterity for the same reason that he will later ignore the schismatic kings of the North-namely, why should he recall what the Lord Himself has chosen to forget? Hence, the Chronicler writes here only of those ancients who were important to the ancestry and family history of the Chosen People.
Respecting the list itself we observe that of the three sons of Noah, there are fourteen names associated with Japheth (verses 5-7), thirty with Ham (verses 8-16), and twenty-six with Shem (verses 17-24). Thus, the list consists of seventy peoples or nations. The Bible is fond of selections of seventy (Numbers 11:16; Luke 10:1), which is the sum reached by the multiplication of the digital ten by the perfect number, seven (which is “perfect,” because it comes from the union of the divine three with the human four [man himself having four sides and thus dividing the world into four directions]).
Wednesday, September 21
1 Chronicles 2: Now we begin the genealogies of the “Israelites.” Indeed, we here observe, for the first time, 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 more especially 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. For the Chronicler, writing long after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., only Judah and Levi were of immediate moment, and he was very eager to demonstrate the support of the priestly tribe for the covenanted royal house of David. Hence, this dominance of Levi and Judah in his genealogies.
This chapter also provides the Bible's only list of the Jerahmeelites (verses 25-41), David's “country cousins” mentioned in 1 Samuel (27:10; 30:29). As usual, the Chronicler is interested in this family solely because of its relationship to David.
This pronounced accent on the genealogy of Judah will be of even more importance to the Christian, of course, because this is the genealogy of the Incarnation itself: “For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah” (Hebrews 7:14).
Within the genealogy of Judah, special prominence is given to the ancestors of David's father, Jesse (verses 10-12), for obvious reasons, and then to his descendents (verses 13-15). Here we learn that Jesse had seven sons, which is a problem if we recall that 1 Samuel (16:6-11) mentions eight sons of Jesse. Perhaps the rabbis were correct in their speculation that one of the eight sons, having died childless, is intentionally left out of this genealogy.
Because of Caleb's prominence within the territory of Judah, a great deal of this chapter concerns his family (verses 18-24,42-50). There is, however, another reason given for this attention given to the family of Caleb. It provides some background for the character of Bezaleel, who will be introduced in 2 Chronicles 1:5. This Bezaleel was of interest to the Chronicler, because he was the craftsman credited with the proper embellishment of the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:35-38). In this genealogy of Caleb, then, we see another sign of the Chronicler's concern for all things associated with worship.
Since the word kenite means “smith,” we have in verses 50-55 the world's first genealogy of . . . , well, “The Smith Family.”
Thursday, September 22
1 Chronicles 3: We now begin the royal line of David, which this chapter extends to at least the beginning of the fourth century before Christ. This latter fact does not necessarily prove anything about the date of the composition of Chronicles, because it is very conceivable that a later editor or copyist of Chronicles may have extended this list of the Dadivic descendents. In this respect one does well to bear in mind that Chronicles was “canonized” into the Old Testament rather late in Jewish history, so that no earlier editor or copyist would have scrupled to augment the text. In fact, the ancient Greek translation (Septuagint) of this chapter extends the list all the way to about 250, exactly the period in which the Septuagint translation was being made.
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 David's reign was not recognized by the northern tribes for the first seven years (cf. 2 Samuel 5:5). This omission, in turn, is consistent with the Chronicler's general disregard for the politics of the northern tribes.
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 Israel-kingship being a completely new thing for the nation-were 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 Chronicles' sustained effort to edify, on which we have already commented, the lady's adultery with David is not mentioned.) The reference to three sons of Bathsheba older than Solomon is unexpected. In the light of 2 Samuel 2:24 (“Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon”-ESV) we would not have anticipated such a detail.
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 here so thoroughly (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.
The later names in this list, especially after Zerubbabel (verse 19), are difficult to reconcile with the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. The present writer is happy to leave this difficulty to the investigation of those with the interest and patience to resolve it.
Friday, September 13
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 Athaliah's 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. Israel's 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. Judah's own records, therefore, are far better preserved, Judah's history being more immediate and proximate to the Bible's composition. Judah, then, and not northern Israel, represents the true continuity of biblical history, and nowhere is this fact more evident than in Chronicles.
Some of the sources cited in this chapter appear to be very old, as the text itself claims (verse 22). Indeed, the expression “to this day” (verses 41,43) seems to refer, not to the time of the Chronicler, but to the period of these older sources that he is citing word-for-word. This is clear from the reference to the Amalekites, who were long gone by the time of the Chronicler.
With respect to Jabez we observe that his name involves a play on words. His mother, we read, bore him in “pain”-jozeb-so his name was derived from a switching around of letters. We also note that the prayer of Jabez, which the Lord heard, was concerned with the avoidance of future pain (verse 10).
The region of Judah contained the least fertile soil in all the Holy Land. Therefore, it does not surprise us that the tribe of Judah, where men may sometimes have felt absolutely desperate as farmers, produced so many craftsmen (verse 14), linen workers (verse 21), and potters. This last group was in the royal employ (verse 23).
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 (4:24-5:10).
The Chelub of verse 11 is Caleb.
The events of verse 41 will be explained in 2 Chronicles 20.
Saturday, September 24
1 Chronicles 5: This chapter begins with a brief explanation why Reuben, though Israel's eldest son, did not inherit nor transmit the right of primogeniture. (In fact, however, throughout the Bible God's favorable choice most often seems to fall elsewhere than on the eldest son.) The reasons given here reflect the narratives in Genesis (35:22; 49:4).
Even while admitting the transferal of Israel's birthright to Joseph, the Chronicler feels compelled to mention that Judah was the strong tribe that produced the leader (nagid) of God's People (verse 2; 2 Samuel 7:8).
Dealing with Reuben's settlements east of the Jordan and Dead Sea (verse 8) apparently prompts the author's mind to remain in that general location and discuss the tribe of Gad (verses 11-17) and the half-tribe of Manasseh (verses 23-24) that settled in Gilead and Bashan. This sequence interrupts the author's pattern of adhering to lists of the sons as they appear in Genesis 46:16 or Numbers 26:15-18.
The mention of Sharon in verse 16 is most mysterious, because the Plain of Sharon in nowhere near that area.
In verse 17 the author traces his source material to a census made in the mid-eighth century.
This chapter has two notices of wars against the Hagrites, Arabians living east of the Jordan, one in the late eleventh century (verse 10) and one at an apparently later period (verses 19-20). The Hagrites, twice defeated, were hardly destroyed. We find them later in the Greek writers Stabo and Ptolemy and the Latin author Pliny.
Some elements in this account suggest a source as early as the ninth century. For example we know that the towns of Aroer, Baalmeon, and Nebo (verse 8) fell under Moabite control during that century.
The chapter's closing verses (25-26) indicate the irony that these eastern tribes, victorious in war by God's favor, nonetheless succumbed to the religion of those whom they defeated. This explains their massive deportation by Tiglath-pileser in 734. (The material here is drawn from 2 Kings 15:19,29; 17:6; 18:11.) Thus, an Assyrian emperor is portrayed as an instrument in the hand of the supreme Lord of History.
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