November 26 – December 3, 2021

Friday, November 26

2 Chronicles 35: Although 2 Kings 23:21-23 tells of the Passover observed in Jerusalem in the year that the scroll was discovered, the account of that same celebration here in Chronicles is far more ample and detailed. Indeed, verses 2-18 of the present chapter are peculiar to the Chronicler.

Josiah entrusted the organization and preparation for this feast to the ever-reliable Levites, who were especially charged with the actual slaying of the paschal lambs (verses 3-5). At each part of the ritual the Levites performed their sundry duties as assistants, musicians, and doorkeepers (verses 10-15).

So great was Josiah’s celebration of Passover that the Chronicler’s mind was forced back to the time of Samuel to find its equal (verse 18). For two reasons this high estimate is unexpected. First, it makes Josiah’s celebration of Passover eclipse notable Passover celebrations of David, Solomon, and Hezekiah. Second, it suggests a liturgical standard in the pre-monarchical period, a time about which, as we have seen, the Chronicler had fairly little to say at the beginning of the book. These considerations render the Chronicler’s assessment very surprising.

The Chronicler is careful to note that this Passover celebration involved “all Judah and Israel” (verse 18). Josiah’s ability to bring together the entire Chosen People, all the descendants of those who celebrated that first Passover on the night before the Exodus, indicates the recent political changes in the Fertile Crescent. Obviously no one was any longer afraid of what the Assyrians might think.

It is very significant of Josiah’s thinking, moreover, that the remnants of the northern tribes were invited to the feast, as Hezekiah had done in the previous century. The Passover was not just any feast. It was the feast in which Israel was separated from all other peoples of the earth. It was the feast that rendered Israel God’s Chosen People. Therefore, it was preeminently the feast of the unity of the People of God.

Being restricted to Jerusalem, Josiah’s celebration of the feast, we observe, corresponded to the prescription of Deuteronomy, which we believe to have formed, at least in part, the scroll so recently discovered. In that text it was commanded, “You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, but at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice” (Deuteronomy 16:5-6 ESV).

Perhaps more than any other feast in the liturgical calendar, Passover roots Israel’s worship in the concrete, documented facts of history. The annual feast itself is part of the historical continuity inaugurated by the events remembered on that holiest of nights. Israel represents, in this respect, a religious adherence profoundly different from that of the religions of India, which involve various efforts to escape from history into some kind of experience transcendent to history. Israel’s worship does not endeavor to escape the flow of history but to place the worshippers into the People’s historical identity established by historical events. Those who keep this feast become one with those who have always kept it, including those who stood to eat the Passover on that first night, protected by the sprinkled blood of the paschal lambs.

The proper celebration of the Passover, however, is more than a “then and now.” The “then and now” forms only the two extremes of the greater continuity. The full continuity is also important, because this feast is essentially an inherited feast, and the inheritance is received, not simply from the distant past, but from the more immediate past of the previous generation of worshippers.

What was true of Israel’s celebration of the paschal feast is, of course, likewise true of that new Pascha celebrated by Christians (in the identical historical continuity, for those Israelites were our own forefathers!). This is how we should understand the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians at Passover season, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

The closing verses (20-27) of this chapter bring us to the year 609, when the final remnants of the Assyrian army were destroyed at the Battle of Carcemish. Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, had fallen to the allied forces of the Medes and Babylonians three years earlier in 612 (to the great joy of the prophet Nahum, who made this the theme of his book). In 610 the vestigial, refugee government of Assyria were driven out of Haran, at the top of the Fertile Crescent. The Assyrian situation had become desperate.

To the new pharaoh who took the throne of Egypt that very year, Neco II (610-594), this was not a good development. He felt certain that the Babylonians, after they finished off the Assyrians, would begin to cast its gaze down toward the southwestern border of the Fertile Crescent. Deciding to cast in his lot with the remaining forces of Assyria, Neco marched his army northwards along the coastal road through the Carmel range, heading toward a rendezvous with the Assyrians at Carchemish on Euphrates River, with the hope that with joined forces they might stop the march of the Babylonians and the Medes.
This road lay, of course, right through the territory of Judah, and Josiah was forced to make some determination about the matter. Perhaps recalling that his great-grandfather Hezekiah had been friendly toward Babylon (32:31), and certainly remembering all that the Holy Land had suffered at the hands of the Assyrians, Josiah determined to throw in his lot with Babylon and resolved to march counter to Pharaoh Neco and stop him from reaching Carchemish. When their two armies met at a crossroads on the plain beneath Armageddon, the “hill of Megiddo,” King Josiah perished in the battle.

Whereas in 2 Kings this story is told in two and a half verses (23:28-30a), the Chronicler provides a longer, more detailed, more colorful account. According to this account Pharaoh Neco tried to dissuade Josiah from fighting him, claiming even the will, protection, and providence of God for the side of the Egyptians (verse 21). What is important here is not the nature of Neco’s claim, but the fact that the Chronicler apparently agreed with it (verse 22). In the narrator’s eyes, this was one more occasion when a king of Judah refused to pay heed to a message from on high, with disastrous results for the kingdom. He will summarize this theme in the next chapter (36:15-16).

Saturday, November 27

2 Chronicles 36: Whereas 2 Kings (23:31—25:21) devotes 58 verses to narrating the history of Judah after the death of Josiah, the Chronicler needs only a dozen verses to describe the same period (609-587 B.C.). It was a miserable time, easily summarized, and the Chronicler was not disposed to dwell on it.

As we have suggested, Josiah’s own motives may have been mixed when he determined to attack the invading army of Pharaoh Neco. The decline of the Assyrian Empire, a process requiring two decades until its fall, had created something of a political vacuum in the western half of the Fertile Crescent. In Judah itself at least one political faction favored the rise of Babylon, and this faction apparently included Josiah himself. The books of 2 Kings and Jeremiah indicate the emergence of another party that preferred an alliance with Egypt. One side or the other would prevail, because it was becoming evident to everyone that Judah’s days of political independence were at an end.

The first part of the present chapter (verses 1-10) illustrate the political struggles in which these competing forces worked themselves out. Josiah at his death was not succeeded by his eldest son Jehoiakim. A popular uprising, apparently motivated by pro-Babylonian sympathies, gave the crown to another son, Jehoahaz/Eliakim (verse 1). Within three months, however, Pharaoh Neco intervened and took this son hostage into Egypt. To replace him on the throne of Judah he chose the older son, Jehoiakim, who was perhaps more favorable, and certainly more acceptable, to Egypt (verses 2,4,5). The annual tribute that Judah paid to Egypt made manifest the de facto subjugation of Judah (verse 3).

After eleven years, nonetheless, Babylon decided to make its move on the southwest end of the Fertile Crescent, deposing Jerhoiakim and replacing him with his son Jehoiakin (verses 6-9). (In verse 9 read “eighteen” instead of “eight,” following the Greek manuscripts and 2 Kings 24:8). Within three months the Babylonians found the latter also unacceptable, so he was deposed and replaced by his uncle, Zedekiah (verses 10-11), the youngest son of Josiah. (In verse 10 he is called Jehoiakin’s “brother,” but this noun is to be understood in the normal biblical sense of “kinsman.” Only rarely does the word “brother” carry in Semitic languages the strict and limited sense that it has in English.)

The Chronicler especially blames Zedekiah for ignoring the sound counsel of Jeremiah, the last of the pre-exilic prophets. Indeed, the entire leadership of the nation is charged with polluting the Temple (verse 14), apparently with various forms of both idolatry and neglect, an indictment found only in the Chronicler.

In addition, the Chronicler speaks of two pre-exilic spoliations of the vessels of the Temple by the Babylonians (only one of which is mentioned in 2 Kings 23:13). These sacred vessels of the worship thus suffer, as it were, an early captivity in Babylon. (The Book of Ezra will give much attention to their return.)

The Chronicler perceived such defilements of the Temple and its worship, by both the Chosen People and their enemies, to attack the very being of Israel. Eviscerating the very reason for Israel’s existence, these defilements led inevitably to the downfall of Jerusalem.

The Chronicler indicts the leaders of Judah for their sustained refusal to take seriously the warnings of the messengers whom the Lord who “sent warnings to them . . . , rising up early and sending” (verse 15). This quaint latter expression the Chronicler took straight out of the Book of Jeremiah, where it is common (7:13,25; 25:3,4; 26:5; 29:10; 35:15; 44:4; cf. 11:7; 32:33), though it appears nowhere else in Holy Scripture.

The Chronicler, even as he invokes the prophetic literature against his countrymen, appeals to the Wisdom literature by accusing them of mockery (mal‘bim), contempt (bozim) and scoffing (mitta‘t‘im) (verse 16). That is to say, the leaders of Judah have proved themselves to be the consummate “fools,” who not only refuse to receive instruction but treat with malice those who would instruct them. Against such as these, says the Chronicler, there is no remedy.

As our reading of Chronicles would lead us to expect, Jerusalem’s fall is described chiefly in terms of the Temple (verses 17,19) and its sacred vessels (verse 18).

Judah’s exile in Babylon lasted until 517 B.C. (verse 20), exactly seventy years from Jerusalem’s fall in 587. The Chronicler notes that Jeremiah (25:12) prophesied this detail (verse 21). That number, seventy, serves in the Bible as a kind of ironic Sabbath, because during all this period it is a fact that the land lay fallow and no one worked on it.

Because there was no Temple, active priesthood, nor sacrifice during the seventy years of the Babylonian Captivity, that period held no interest for the Chronicler. He skipped it completely and went straight to the downfall of Babylon and the return of the exiles in the Book of Ezra.

In a later editing the Book of Chronicles were separated from Ezra and Nehemiah, which had originally served as a narrative sequence, and became the final works in the Hebrew Scriptures. Hence, this became the last page of the Hebrew Bible. When this editing was done, the opening verses of the Book of Ezra were borrowed and added to the end of Chronicles, an arrangement that permitted the Hebrew Bible to end on a positive and optimistic note.

Sunday, November 28

Advent: In the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian churches of the West, the several weeks prior to Christmas are known as Advent, from a Latin word meaning “coming.” It happens that the beginning of Advent always falls on the Sunday closest to November 30, the ancient feast day (in both East and West) of the Apostle Andrew. Among Christians in the West, this preparatory season, always begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Thus, from year to year it will vary in length between 3 and 4 weeks, but always with four Sundays.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the corresponding penitential season of preparation for Christmas always begins on November 15, the day after the Feast of the Apostle Philip. For this reason, it is often called “St. Philip’s Fast.” A simple count of the days between November 15 and December 25 shows that this special period lasts exactly 40 days, the same length as Lent.

We take note here of three features of Advent:

First, during the twentieth century there arose, among Western Christians, the lovely custom of the Advent wreath, both in church buildings and in homes. This wreath lies horizontally and is adorned with four candles. The latter, symbolic of the four millennia covered in Old Testament history, are lit, one at a time, on each Saturday evening preceding the four Sundays of Advent, by way of marking the stages in the season until Christmas.

Second, a far more ancient custom associated with this season is called “The Jesse Tree,” a title obviously drawn from Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy: “”And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.”

Artistic representations of the “Jesse Tree” portray a tree or vine with spreading branches to represent the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in the Old Testament and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In the he 12th-century a monk named Hervaeus of Bourg-Dieu expressed the meaning of of this image: “The patriarch Jesse belonged to the royal family, that is why the root of Jesse signifies the lineage of kings. As to the rod, it signifies Mary, as the flower signifies Jesus Christ.”

The Jesse Tree was the only Old Testament prophecy to be so literally and frequently illustrated, and so came also to stand for the Prophets, and their foretelling of Christ, in general. The personal figures sometimes carry banderoles with a quotation from their writings, as they point to Jesus, the foretold Messiah.

The “Jesse Tree” has been depicted in almost every medium of Christian art. It appears in many stained glass windows and illuminated manuscripts. It is also found in wall paintings, architectural carvings, funerary monuments, embroidery, and floor tiles. Sometimes, moreover, this is a real tree, adorned with small icons or other symbols associated with Old Testament figures and prophetic themes.

More recently, the “Jesse Tree” has been adapted into Christian Education programs for children, as an appropriate instrument for their study and understanding of the Bible.

Third, because of the prophetic emphasis on repentance, Advent is a season of fasting, seriousness, and enhanced sobriety, not a time proper for festivity, much less of partying and secular concerns. Advent is not part of the “Christmas holidays,” and Christians of earlier times would be shocked at the current habit of treating this as a period of jolly good times and “Christmas cheer,” complete with office parties, the trimming of Christmas trees and other domestic adornments, the exchange of gifts, caroling, and even the singing of Christmas music in church.

All these festive things are part, rather, of the celebration of Christmas itself, which lasts the 12 days from December 25 to January 6. To anticipate these properly Christmas activities in advance of Christmas is to lessen the chance of our being properly prepared, by repentance, for the grace of that greater season; it also heightens the likelihood that we will fall prey to the worldly spirit that the commercial world promotes during this time.

Monday, November 20

Revelation 11.1-14: In our reading of the Book of Revelation thus far we have encountered the Danielic expression, “a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 12:7). If we substitute the word “year” for “time,” the meaning of the expression is clear: “three and a half years,” or forty-two months, or (following the Hebrew calendar of thirty days per month) twelve-hundred and sixty days. In the Book of Daniel this was the length of time during which the Jerusalem temple was violated by Antiochus Epiphanes IV (Daniel 9:27).

Similarly here in Revelation it is the symbolic length of time of severe trial and the apparent triumph of evil (verses 2-3; 12:6; 13:5). John’s contemporaries must also have been struck by the fact that the Roman siege of Jerusalem also lasted three and a half years, from A.D. 67-70. In the present chapter this length of time refers to the persecution of the Christian Church, of which Jerusalem’s temple was a type and foreshadowing.

There is found within the Christian Church, however, an inner court, as it were, a deep interior dimension that the forces of evil cannot trample. This inviolability is conferred by being sealed with the sign of the living God. It asserts that believers are not to fear those who can kill the body but can do no more, because there yet remains an inner court that is off-limits to the invader and defiler. This is the inner court of which John is told to take the measure (cf. Ezekiel 40:1-4; Zechariah 2:1-2), a measuring that he will narrate later (21:15-17).

The literary background of John’s vision of the two witnesses is Zechariah 4:1-3,11-14, where the prophet has in mind the anointed ruler Zerubbabel and the anointed priest Jeshua, the two men who preserved the worship in God’s house. Those two figures represented royalty (for Zerubbabel was a descendent of David) and priesthood (for Jeshua was a descendent of Aaron), which are two essential aspects of the life in Christ (cf. Revelation 1:6; 5:10).

“Two” witnesses are required, of course, this being the minimum number required in order “to make the case” (Deuteronomy 19:15). But the two witnesses in this chapter of Revelation are the heirs, not only to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, but also to Moses and Elijah. It was the first of these who afflicted Egypt with plagues, and the second who closed up heaven for three and a half years (cf. Luke 4:25; James 5:17). This is John’s way of asserting that the Christian Church, in her royal priesthood, continues also the prophetic war against false gods. She will destroy God’s enemies by fire (verse 5), as did Moses (Numbers 16:35) and Elijah (2 Kings 1:9-12).

When the monster from the abyss kills these two servants of God (verse 7), the forces of evil seem to have triumphed (verse 10), but they will be carried up to heaven, again like Moses (Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.48) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), because the victorious Lamb has the final word.

Tuesday, November 30

John 6.1-14: The Evangelist begins by telling us, “Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do” (John 6:5–6).

What, we are justified in asking, was accomplished by this question to Philip, since Jesus already “knew what He would do”? His question here served the purpose of evoking the assistance of the apostles in what was about to take place.

Jesus did not ask that question for Philip’s sake, I believe, but for Andrew’s. They were a pair. He knew that wherever you saw Philip, Andrew must be nearby. The question was apparently meant to be overheard by Andrew, who promptly replied, “There is a lad here who has five barley buns and a couple of dried fish” (John 6:9). Now they could get started!

Thus, by putting to Philip a question to which he already knew the answer, Jesus transformed these apostles—Andrew and Philip, in particular—from mere spectators to active participants in the experience of the multiplication of the loaves. It is they who will seat the people for the meal (John 6:10).

It is they who will distribute the bread and fish (6:11). In this scene, then, Jesus’ question both commences the event and provides for its participatory structure.

Now, the attentive reader of Holy Scripture should be asking a question of the text at this point, namely, just how did Andrew know that there was a little boy present who was carrying those articles of food? It is unlikely, after all, that a small boy would be holding all seven items in his hands at the same time. The five barley loaves and two little fish must have been carried in a sack of some sort. The lad was part of a large multitude that had been with Jesus for some days, and his mother had packed him several meals in a lunch bag.

So how did Andrew know what was contained in that little boy’s bag? Surely the answer is obvious. He noticed the child standing near him, maybe alone, perhaps a bit distracted, and he simply asked in a cordial, engaging way, “Say there, son, what all did your mama pack for you in that sack?”

Jesus knew what He would do, but also knew the character and qualities of Andrew. He knew Andrew to be solicitous, and he also knew that Andrew, being solicitous, would be well informed about possibilities.

Yet, Jesus did not ask Andrew directly. He could have, surely, so it seems significant that He did not. Instead, He made the inquiry to Philip. This indirect address of the question—asking Philip but expecting the answer from Andrew—intimates the Lord’s notice and special regard for this Apostle.

Wednesday, December 1

Esther 3: Although one might expect the next stage of the story to tell of the king’s promotion of Mordecai as an expression of the royal gratitude, it speaks, rather, of the favor bestowed an a completely different person—a stranger to the reader—someone named Haman. The irony is obvious.

Everything we need to know about Haman, at this point in the story, is conveyed in the brief identification of him as “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite.” The author expects us to remember that Agag was the king of the Amalekites, the monarch whose end is recorded in 1 Samuel 15. From that older account we know that Saul, Mordecai’s distant relative, had defeated Agag in battle. Consequently, we readers, knowing of the “bad blood” between these two families, should pay close attention to this sudden appearance of this “Agagite” in a story about a relative of Saul. It is an ominous sign. Even before he tells anything else about Haman, we sense that our author is setting the scene for a “grudge match.”

Mordecai, for his part, immediately perceives the appearance of Haman as a serious challenge to his integrity. When a royal decree is proclaimed that the king’s new appointee, when he passes through the city gate, must be universally greeted with a deep bow, Esther’s uncle demurs. No bow for Haman, he resolves. No Jew is going to bow before an Amalekite; the thing is unthinkable.

In refusing to bow to Haman, Mordecai is moved by a deep and disturbing memory. He recalls that God’s People, in olden times, had just managed to escape the clutches of Pharaoh when “Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” At that time, after Israel’s army defeated the Amalekites while Moses prayed on top of the hill, the Lord Himself pronounced the curse that summed up what He thought of this enemy: “I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” The Lord, indeed, went even further, dictating what Israel took to be the proper attitude, at all times, with respect to the Amalekites: “the Lord fights with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:8-15). Mordecai is keenly aware of representing the current generation, and he determines to “do his bit.”

Mordecai also knows that his distant relative, King Saul, failed to implement that curse against Amalek. When Samuel invoked the relevant curse with respect to Agag, Saul spared the life of Agag, disobeying the prophetic injunction, and the Lord rejected Saul for this disobedience (1 Samuel 15:1-20). Mordecai, remembering the disobedience of his distant relative, is determined not to repeat it. No, Saul was rejected for treating Agag with mercy, Mordecai is certainly not about to demonstrate public obeisance to this son of Agag. Saul was rejected for not doing something. Mordecai is not about to be rejected for doing something. Bow down to Haman? Forget it; it won’t happen.

Haman, meanwhile, his head held high over the prostrate forms of those who did him homage on his entrance to the city, fails to notice the solitary figure of Mordecai, who remains seated at the gate. However, two of the king’s servants take note of it and become alarmed; this kind of behavior is not safe.
Indeed, it is rebellious. Everyone remembers the fate of Vashti when that unfortunate lady declined to obey the command of Ahasuerus. Now here is this Mordecai, sitting down, each day, in flagrant defiance of a royal decree. Vashti’s disregard for he husband’s authority, it was feared, would incite other women to a similar disrespect in their own homes. How much more will this defiance on the part of Mordecai provoke a spirit of rebellion in those who learn of it. This Jew, then, must be warned.

The two servants approach Mordecai several times for an explanation. ‘Sorry,’ he says, ‘I can’t do it. I am a Jew, and that’s that. You Persians would not understand, and it would take too long to explain it to you. But believe me, no homage for Haman.’ The servants, probably afraid they would be held liable for permitting Mordecai rebellious, bring the matter to Haman’s attention.
Haman’s memory of history, it turns out, is just as long as Mordecai’s, and he fully understands the implications of the latter’s refusal to do him homage.
In addition to these observations on the opening verses of the present chapter, attention may be drawn to yet another correspondence with the Joseph saga in Genesis 39. There are a striking verbal resemblances between the stories in which these two protagonists are accused: Just as Potiphar’s wife pesters Joseph “day after day” (yom yom) with her unwelcome advances and “he does not listen to her (welo’ shama’ ’eleyha),” so the royal servants speak to Mordecai “day after day” (yom wayom) and “he does not listen to them (welo’ shama’ ’eleyhem).” At the end of their respective ordeals, both men are finally accused. In these details we detect, once again, our author’s sustained effort to connect Mordecai with Joseph, the original model of the Diaspora Jew.

Thursday, December 2

Revelation 12.1-17: Though it is surely no myth, this awesome vision bears a more than slight resemblance to certain themes in ancient mythology. For example, there was the very primitive solar myth concerning the powers of darkness, which appear to triumph over the sun and to reign over the time of night, defying the promised sun. This darkness, which has usurped the reign of the sun, attempts to devour the sun in its very birth; to kill the sun, that is to say, as it emerges from its mother’s womb.

In at least two versions of this ancient myth, in fact, the darkness is portrayed as a dragon-like snake. Thus, Egypt has its myth of the dragon Set, who pursued Isis while she carried the sun god Horus in her womb. Set’s plan was to devour Horus at his birth. It is further curious that Isis, like the Woman in Revelation 12 (verse 14), is portrayed in Egyptian art (on an elaborate door in the King Tut collection, for instance) with wings, so that she could flee from Set.

Similarly, Greek mythology describes the dragon-snake Python as pursuing the goddess Leto, who is pregnant with the sun god Apollo. In both cases, the little child escapes and later returns to destroy the usurping serpent. The similarities of both of these myths to the vision in Revelation 12 are rather striking. Both myths also touch on the subject of the illegitimate “usurper,” a theme Matthew develops in his story of Herod seeking to destroy the true King, Jesus, at His very birth.

John’s vision takes place in the vault of heaven, where the Woman is described as a “sign,” an image reminiscent of Isaiah 7:10-11. Indeed, John seems to be saying that in the birth of Jesus Isaiah’s prophecy of virgin birth is fulfilled (cf. also Isaiah 26:17). Like Christ Himself (Revelation 1:16), this Woman is clothed with the sun. All Christians know the virginity of the mother of Jesus. Is this Woman being represented, therefore, as the zodiacal sign of Virgo? It would seem so, because, like the sign for Virgo, there are twelve stars involved. In the southern hemisphere the six stars crowning Virgo are sigma, chi, iota, pi, nu, and beta. In the northern hemisphere they are theta, star 60, delta, star 93, second-magnitude beta, and omicron.

Nonetheless, this is not simply a description of Christmas. The Woman in the vision is the mother of Jesus, but she is more; she is also the Church, which gives birth to Christ in the world. The sufferings and persecution of the Church are described as birth pangs (cf. John 16:21-22).

The serpent, of course, is the ancient dragon that is the enemy of our race, the one who seduced the first woman in the garden. Now he must face the new Woman, who is more than a match for him. His seven heads put one in mind of the ancient mythological dragon Hydra, well known from a Canaanite narrative found in the excavations at Ras Shamra and from the traditional story of the Labors of Hercules. In Revelation it is clearly Satan, the Accuser (verse 10) from the Book of Job and from Zechariah 3.

Michael appears right out of the Book of Daniel, of course; in the New Testament he is spoken of only here and in the Epistle of Jude.

Friday, December 3

Psalms 85: “Unto us a Child is born,” the lyric prophet wrote, “unto us a Son is given” (Is. 9:6). And he wrote these things with respect to the Incarnation of the divine Son becoming a human Child. Both aspects of this Christian mystery, which Isaiah perceived so lucidly (cf. John 12:41), were likewise seen by the Wise Men who came with adoration to welcome this Newcomer to the scene, the divine Son and human Child. St. Ambrose of Milan comments on these Wise Men: “When they looked upon the little one in the stable, they said: ‘Unto us a Child is born.’ And when they beheld His star, they exclaimed: ‘Unto us a Son is given.’ On the one hand, a gift from earth, and on the other a gift from heaven, for both are one Person, perfect in both respects, with no change in His divinity, and no diminution of His humanity. Only one Person did these Wise Men adore, and to one and the same did they present their gifts, showing that He who was beheld in the stall was the very Lord of the stars” (On Faith3.8.54).

Psalm 85 (Greek & Latin 84) is a further canticle honoring both facets of the Incarnation, for the latter is that history-defining encounter of two worlds, wherein “the Lord will grant His mercy, and our earth shall give its fruit.” “Truth has arisen from the earth,” we pray in this psalm, speaking of the Child born unto us, “and righteousness has stooped down from the heaven,” we go on, telling of the Son given unto us. This union is the sacrament of God become Man, in which “mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have shared a kiss.”

Thus, still following St. Ambrose, when mankind cried out in this psalm, “O Lord, show us Your mercy, and grant us Your salvation,” it was a prayer for the Incarnation, in which “He, who is God’s Son, is born as Mary’s Child and given to us” (On Faith3.8.56).

Such, ultimately, is the meaning of the lines with which we begin this same psalm: “Kindly have You been to Your land, O Lord, bringing back the captivity of Jacob. You have forgiven Your people their iniquities; You have covered all their sins. An end have You given to Your anger; You abandoned the fury of Your wrath.” All these blessings of reconciliation between two realms were accomplished, when the Father sent His only-begotten Son, “that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him” (Eph. 1:10).

In this mystery of God’s reconciliation, then, is fulfilled the prophecy of our psalm: “For His salvation is near to all those who fear Him, so that glory may inhabit (kataskenosai) our earth.” This glory inhabiting our earth is what was first seen when “the Word became flesh and dwelt (eskenosen) among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John1:14, 18).

The Father sent His Son in response to the most profound aspirations of men’s hearts, because Isaiah spoke for all mankind when he pleaded: “Oh, that You would rend the heavens! / That You would come down” (64:1). Driven from God’s presence in paradise and retained in bondage to unclean spirits by reason of transgression, the human race with Adam and Eve cried out in our psalm: “Convert us, O God of our salvation, and turn Your fury from us. Will You be angry with us forever? Or from generation to generation prolong Your wrath? O God, You will convert us and restore us to life, and Your people shall rejoice in You.”

Christ, then, “is our peace” (Eph. 2:14), and likewise our “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). It is of these things that our psalm says: “Righteousness shall go before Him, and He will set His footsteps in the way.” This is the Christ who “came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Eph. 2:17). This the Christ, “being both begotten of the Father before all ages and created from the Virgin in these final times” (Ambrose, On Faith 3.8.60).

We pray with confidence, then, in the words of our psalm: “I shall hear what the Lord God speaks within me, for peace will He speak to His people, and to His saints, and to those who turn their hearts to Him.”