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.
The Daily Reflections will be updated weekly.
Please report any problems with Daily Reflections here.
Sunday, October 9
1 Chronicles 20: This chapter, which treats mainly of trouble with the Philistines, begins by completing the Chronicler's treatment of the Ammonites.
In verse 2 the expression “their king” (malkom) should probably be read as the “Milkom,” who was the major Ammonite god (cf. 1 Kings 11:5). (The error in the text here doubtless occurred when later copyists inserted the wrong vowel marks into the text.) This suggested textual emendation of the Hebrew text is bolstered by the Septuagint, which gives the equivalent Greek name, “Molchol” (known elsewhere as Moloch).
Between verses 3 and 4, the Chronicler skips over the entire story of Amnon and Absalom and the rebellion, all the material in 2 Samuel 13:1-21:17. Thus, the great complex drama that fills about one-third of 2 Samuel has no counterpart in Chronicles. Try to imagine a biography of Lincoln that failed to mention the Civil War!
Sparing the reader that entire scandalous episode, the Chronicler continues in verse 4, which corresponds to 2 Samuel 21:18.
The Chronicler's omission here, explained simply by the fact that the material in question lay outside his interest and perspective, is nonetheless instructive about the variety of historiographies we find in Holy Scripture. Not only is this undeniable variety of perspective compatible with the ascription of divine revelation to the Bible. There is a sense in which the Holy Spirit's authorship of the Scriptures encourages, perhaps even requires, such diversity. That is to say, this variety of historical perspectives indicates the richness, the fruitfulness, of the divine revelation of biblical history.
God's revelation of Himself, we Christians believe, did not take place solely in the inspiration of the Bible, but also in those events that the Bible records. The entire process--history becoming historiography--bears the character of divine revelation.
This consideration prompts another, this one having to do with the historical nature of biblical historiography itself. The divine inspiration of the Sacred Text does not mean that the biblical historiographer views his subject from a detached, timeless perspective. On the contrary, each biblical historian (including the authors of the Four Gospels, for instance), in his treatment of earlier times, embodied also the concerns and perspectives of his own times. What we find in the Bible, then, is a progression in which history interprets history.
In turn, the Bible creates history, in the sense that its own interpretations of history serve to influence the history yet to come. Divine Revelation is inserted into the world by this ongoing conversation between human history and the Sacred Book that serves the Church to understand history.
Thus, the Bible is not a reservoir of eternal truths that can be removed from their historical shape. The “fixed” character of biblical revelation does not render it timeless. Biblical doctrine cannot be abstracted from the Bible itself, nor from the reading of the Bible within the strictures and conditions of time.
Just as the Bible itself bears witness to a variety of interpretations of biblical history, so the Bible encourages a certain diversity of biblical interpretations, as long as all such interpretations correspond to what the Fathers of the Church called The Rule of Faith. Thus, St. Augustine, in his long treatment of biblical history wrote, “Now any one may object to this interpretation, and may give another which harmonizes with the Rule of Faith. . . . Although different interpretations are given, yet they must all agree with the one harmonious catholic faith” (The City of God 15.26).
Monday, October 10
1 Chronicles 21: With their nearly identical stories of the census, we perceive the great difference between the Chronicler and the author of Samuel. Whereas in 2 Samuel 24 the account of the census appears to be set apart, as it were, and treated outside the sequence of the narrative, the Chronicler puts it right here in the middle of David's career.
This difference is only apparent, however. In Chronicles the story only seems to come earlier in the reign of David, because the Chronicler, as we just saw, has skipped so much of that reign. On the other hand, in these next nine chapters he will include a great deal of material that is not found in 2 Samuel, material that relates entirely to David's plan for the coming temple.
Comparing this chapter with its parallel in 2 Samuel 24, we note the Chronicler's inclusion of angelic powers, both the evil angel “Satan” and the remark about the angel of the pestilence (verse 20).
The Chronicler thus ascribes David's temptation to “Satan” (verse 1), a demonic figure with whom the Jews became familiar during the Babylonian Captivity and the Persian period. This “Shatan” is well documented in Zoroastrian literature of that time, and he appears in the post-exilic books of Job and Zechariah. The name means “adversary,” as in Numbers 22:22. In due course Satan will be recognized as identical with the serpentine tempter who seduced our first parents (cf. Wisdom 2:24; John 8:44; Revelation 12:9; 20:2).
As an expression of David's pride, ambition, and hubris, the census is regarded by both 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles as something less than his finest hour. Even Joab, hardly a moral giant, recognizes that something is not quite right about it (verses 3,6; compare 2 Samuel 24:3).
With respect to the census itself, we observe that the tribe of Levi is not included. This exclusion may have to do with the purpose of the census itself, which was to provide a “data base” for Israel's military conscription. Members of the tribe of Levi were not subject to that conscription.
Benjamin's exclusion evidently had to do with the fact that the census was not completed, because of the plague that came as a punishment.
The story of this plague, here as in 2 Samuel, leads directly to the site of the future Temple (verses 18-27). This is the point that is of greatest interest to the Chronicler. As we have noted, this interest in the “Father's house” provides the basis for the Chronicler's entire history.
The Chronicler alone identifies the site of the future Temple as the place where Abraham went to offer Isaac in sacrifice (verse 18; 2 Chronicles 3:1; Genesis 22:2). We shall later reflect on this very important identification.
Tuesday, October 11
1 Chronicles 22: In 2 Samuel 24:30 the plague story is followed immediately by David's old age and death, but here in Chronicles David is just getting started! Yet, we are dealing with exactly the same time frame as 2 Samuel. David's real and best work, for the Chronicler, still lies ahead-namely, the Temple. He promptly begins to assemble the material for this great enterprise (verses 2-3).
Because in the Bible's prophetic view this Temple was to be a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11:17), it is theologically significant that the Gentiles participated in its construction (verse 2). Of course they will also be involved in the building of the Second Temple (Isaiah 60:10). Here in this fleeting reference in Chronicles, then, lies hidden the mystery that Paul will explore in Romans 9-11, the engrafting of the Gentiles on to the stock of Israel.
Solomon is still young (verse 5); we can only guess how old he was at his accession. Not even the Jews could agree; Josephus estimated that Solomon was fourteen, and Rashi said twelve. 1 Kings, on the other hand seems to make him fully an adult. In any case, David gives the young man proper instruction with respect to the temple (verses 7-16). As Moses passed on to his successor, Joshua, the authority to conquer the Promised Land, so David here authorizes his successor to build the Lord's house. In 2 Timothy there will once again be the sense of such a transition, as Paul, preparing to die, hands on to Timothy the historical ministry of the Church.
In verse 9 there is a play on various words have to do with “peace” (shalom). Solomon's name, Shlomo, means “his peace,” and Shalem is an ancient variant for Jerusalem. This emphasis on peace in David's last exhortation to Solomon stands in sharp contrast to the final instructions about blood-vengeance that David gives to Solomon in 1 Kings.
Indeed, the fact that David had shed much blood was the reason given for his inability to see the Temple's construction through to the end (verse 6; 28:3). The Temple would always be more associated with Solomon, whose very name suggests peace. The Chronicler is sensitive to this point. War, even justified war, even necessary war, yet carries a quality of defilement, incompatible with the proper worship of God. Men are to offer their prayers with “holy hands, without wrath” (1 Timothy 2:8). Blood, in the Bible, is a holy thing. To have shed blood in anger-which is what is done in warfare-carries a ritual, if not a moral, defilement that fits ill with the purity of God's worship. This persuasion has always been expressed in the Church's canons on ordination.
Wednesday, October 12
1 Chronicles 23: This chapter begins by elaborating the scene in 1 Kings 1 into the full-blown co-regency, as it were, of Solomon with David (verse 1).
Then comes a long section on the Levites. The Chronicler, after telling us (in 21:6) that the Levites were not counted, now proceeds to give us a detailed count of them (verses 2-24).
The description of the work of the Levites makes it clear that their ministry was subordinate and ancillary to that of the priests (verses 24-32). They care for the music and many other tasks associated with the worship but did not, it appears, perform the sacrifices central to the Temple's ritual. Consequently, it is not surprising that the Christian Church, from before the end of the first century, has thought of the order of Levites as the Old Testament's parallel to the New Testament's deacons (Clement of Rome, Corinthians 40.5).
The outstanding quality of the liturgy in the temple may be gauged by the fact that it was accompanied an orchestra of four-thousand (verse 5)! (With respect to David's interest in musical instruments, see 7:6; 29:26; Nehemiah 12:36; Josephus, Antiquities 7.12.3.) This figure suggests massive, continuous praise (verse 6).
In verse 30 we find early evidence for the beginning of those two major hours of daily Christian prayer. The times of the morning and evening sacrifices in the Temple became the times of daily prayer in the synagogue, and these services went directly into the Christian Church as Matins and Vespers, which abide unto the present hour. Both of these daily offices of Christian worship are the historical extensions of the services described in this chapter of Chronicles.
Verses 21-22 demonstrate the common biblical meaning of the expression “brothers and sisters.” In these verses it is logically impossible for the young ladies, who are described as having no brothers, to marry their brothers, if we depended on the standard English use of those terms. Clearly these women are marrying their cousins, for which there is no special word in either Hebrew or Aramaic. In Holy Scripture the expression “brothers and sisters” only rarely corresponds to the meaning of that same expression in common English.
This usage must be borne in mind when we read about the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus in the New Testament. The expression is properly interpreted in accord with the traditional view, held by the entire Christian tradition without exception (including the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century) that the Mother of Jesus, whose very body was consecrated by the Divine Son's becoming incarnate in her womb, remained a virgin all her life.
Thursday, October 13
1 Chronicles 24: The Chronicler now runs through the courses of the priests, who took their turns at the various liturgical functions in the sanctuary (verses 1-19). There “the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services” (Hebrews 9:6). There they stood, “ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices that could never take away sins” (10:11).
One of the most memorable portraits of the Old Testament priest leading the worship of the Temple comes from the pen of Ben Sirach, who described Simon the High Priest in the second century before Christ:
“When he went up to the holy altar, lending honor to the vestment of holiness. And when he took the portions out of the hands of the priests, he himself stood by the altar, while about him was ranged the ring of his brethren: and as the cedar planted in mount Lebanon, like as branches of palm trees, they encircled him, all the sons of Aaron in their glory. And the oblation of the Lord was in their hands, in the presence all the congregation of Israel. Completing his service at the altar, to honor the offering of this exalted circle, he extended his hand to pour a libation and offered of the blood of the grape. He poured out at the foot of the altar a divine odor to the Most High Prince. Then the sons of Aaron shouted; they sounded with beaten trumpets and were loud with acclaim to be heard for a remembrance before God. Then all the people hastened together and fell down to the earth upon their faces, adoring the Lord their God and praying to Almighty God, the most High. The singers lifted up their voices, and in the great house there swelled forth sound of sweet melody. And the people in prayer besought the Lord the most High, until the worship of the Lord was brought to perfection, and they had finished their service. Then coming down, he lifted up his hands over all the congregation of the children of Israel, to give glory to God with his lips and to glory in his name: And he repeated his prayer, fervent to show forth the power of God” (Ecclesiasticus 50:12-23 my translation).
All of this worship was symbolic of the liturgy of heaven, where the true high priest, Jesus the Lord, “entered into the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (9:12). Accordingly the twenty-four courses of the priests in this chapter of 1 Chronicles correspond to the heavenly sanctuary's twenty-four elders who worship day and night before the Throne (Revelation 4:4,10), offering the prayers of the saints (5:8).
Particularly to be noted in this list is the eighth course, that of Abijah (verse 10). In due time one of the priests of Abijah's course, Zachary (Luke 1:5), would draw the lot to offer incense in the sanctuary (1:8-9). The beginning of all good things, this scene opens the Gospel of Luke.
This list of the twenty-four courses of the priesthood will be paralleled, in the next chapter, by twenty-four groups of Temple singers (25:31).
In the present chapter the list of the priestly courses is followed by another listing of Levites. No one has yet explained, to the present writer, why this second list of Levites, which contains ten names not found in the previous chapter, has been inserted at this unexpected place.
/Friday, October 14
1 Chronicles 25: More than one commentator on Holy Scripture, observing the Chronicler's partiality toward the Levitical singers (1 Chronicles 15:16-22; 16:4-42; 2 Chronicles 15:12-13; 29:27-30; cf. Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:27), has suggested that this writer himself may have been numbered among them.
Corresponding to the twenty-four courses of the officiating priests, the Chronicler now introduces us to an equal number of groups of Temple musicians.
Particularly to be noted in this chapter is the ease with which the Chronicler associates music with prophecy. Thus, the musicians are said to “prophesy with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals” (verse 1), and the author speaks of “their father Jeudthun, who prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the Lord” (verse 3).
Earlier, in Chapter 15, we observed that the very expression “to lift up the voice” suggested that music was a 'burden' of some kind. Indeed, the word employed there, massa', which comes from the root ns' (“to lift”), also means “oracle.” So often in the prophetic writings we find the expression “the burden of the Lord” in the sense of a prophetic statement.
No one in antiquity questioned the relationship between prophecy and music, not even Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 10:5). It was not unknown, “when the musician played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him” (2 Kings 3:15). In the Bible one moves easily from the prophets to the psalms (cf. Luke 24:44), and the Bible's chief musician, David, is also called a prophet.
David's own place in the history of Israel's liturgical music was so dominant in the tradition that it became customary among the Church Fathers to ascribe to him the authorship of whatever parts of the Psalter were not otherwise ascribed. David's name became synonymous with the Book of Psalms very much as Solomon's with Proverbs and Moses' with the Pentateuch.
The present chapter should remind us that the signing of hymns is an essential part of the Christian's birthright (not to be usurped by a church choir of specialists). Indeed, the chanting of psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles is an essential, irreplaceable feature of the Church's worship of God. This feature is, if anything, even more characteristic of the Church in glory (cf. Revelation 4:8-11; 5:8-14 and so on).
Saturday, October 15
1 Chronicles 26: The office of porter, or gatekeeper (verses 1-19), was not so humble and insignificant as the name may suggest. These men, in fact, enjoyed considerable prestige as ministers of the sanctuary, serving in such functions as did not require the ministry of a priest.
Indeed, for many centuries and differing somewhat from place to place, the Christian Church revived this ministry as one of the “minor orders” and graced it with a rite of ordination. Analogous to the porters of the Old Testament, these Christian porters were charged with such responsibilities as the locking and unlocking of the church doors (hence their name, from the Latin word for door, porta), the ringing of the bells for the sacred services (and therefore care of the church clocks), the maintenance of certain material elements used in those services (such as prayer books and hymnals), and the general upkeep of the sanctuary. With all the candles and incense burning, vestments soiled, oil accidentally spilt, penitential ashes, and so forth, it is no small work to keep a church building clean.
Gradually, as these duties were taken over by others (which would always be the case in those congregations that did not have an ordained porter), the Christian order of porter eventually disappeared. (The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, stopped ordaining porters in the early 1970's.) Even if they are no longer ordained, a special respect and honor is due to those who take care of a church building, mend its vestments and linens, polish its candlesticks, maintain the appointments of its worship, clean its floors and windows, arrange its flowers, dust its pews, replace its light bulbs, and adorn it for the special services of feast days.
We have already reflected that the higher office of Levite in the Old Testament became the model for the office of deacon in the Christian church. In particular, we may note that Christian deacons, like the Jewish Levites (verses 20,24,26-28), have traditionally been charged with the oversight of the church's material resources, becoming the successors to those original seven who served at tables in the early Church (Acts 6).
Managing the physical and financial assets of the Church, it often happened that deacons became very powerful. In some places it was not unusual for a deacon to succeed the bishop he served. Among the more famous deacons who did so was Saint Athanasius of Alexandria in the fourth century.
Copyright © 2004 by the Fellowship of St. James. All rights reserved.
Home - Mere Comments - Daily Reflections - Store - Speakers & Conferences - Archives - Contact Us