Saturday, November 17, 2012

Scripture for a Saturday with Ominous Forebodings

This morning's Scripture readings for the Anglican Daily Lectionary spoke with unusual strength and clarity about the gathering warclouds around Israel. We had gone to bed last night after noting the troubling story that the terrorists of Gaza had lobbed two shells at Jerusalem, and after praying (fortunately, not with the Twitter following -- or consequences of doing so -- of Ms. Kim Kardashian) for all the people of Israel. (Note that when someone queried the Hamas Secretary of State about their random rocket firing endangering also the Palestianians who live in Jerusalem, the answer was: "We don't care about them; they shouldn't be there.")

Thus it was, when we turned to the Psalms appointed for today, our first point of resonance with the situation awaited, in the verses of Psalm 87:

A Psalm of lthe Sons of Korah. A Song.

87On mthe holy mount nstands the city he founded;
the Lord oloves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
pGlorious things of you are spoken,
qcity of God. Selah

Among those who rknow me I mention sRahab and Babylon;
behold, Philistia and Tyre, with tCush1
“This one was born there,” they say.
And of Zion it shall be said,
“This one and that one were born in her”;
for the Most High himself will uestablish her.
The Lord records as he vregisters the peoples,
“This one was born there.” Selah

wSingers and xdancers alike say,
“All my ysprings are in you.”

Normally, this Psalm (which forms the basis of the great Anglican hymn Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken [set to Haydn's music; traditional Anglican version here]) is interpreted to forecast the time when all races shall gather as one in Jerusalem, regardless of where they were born. (It is said to tie into the words of the preceding Psalm, especially 86:9.) But in light of the continued rocket attacks and threats of "more surprises" this morning, the words of Psalm 87 took on a very contemporary tone -- especially when one notes that "Rahab" in verse 4 is another name for Egypt, "Philistia" and "Tyre" are regions of Lebanon and Syria, and "Babylon" of course refers to the Persian empire, i.e., Iran.

The Psalm seemed to be describing the gathering around Israel of all of those who have historically been its enemies, with stress upon the national pride of each that underlies their hostile intent toward Israel. This sentiment of gathering danger was then reinforced by the passage from the Old Testament, Joel 3:9-17:

Proclaim this among the nations:
sConsecrate for war;1
stir up the mighty men.
Let all the men of war draw near;
let them come up.
10 tBeat your plowshares into swords,
and tyour pruning hooks into spears;
let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”

11 uHasten and come,
all you surrounding nations,
and gather yourselves there.
vBring down your warriors, O Lord.
12 Let the nations stir themselves up
and come up to wthe Valley of Jehoshaphat;
xfor there I will sit to judge
all the surrounding nations.

13 yPut in the sickle,
zfor the harvest is ripe.
aGo in, tread,
afor the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
for their evil is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
in the valley of decision!
For bthe day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision.
15 cThe sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining.

16 dThe Lord roars from Zion,
and dutters his voice from Jerusalem,
eand the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is fa refuge to his people,
a stronghold to the people of Israel.

The Glorious Future of Judah

17 g“So you shall know that I am the Lord your God,
hwho dwells in Zion, imy holy mountain.
And Jerusalem shall be holy,
and jstrangers shall never again pass through it.

Now the readings were really getting my attention. Why on this Saturday, O Lord?

Our Bible Study reading for the day required us to review chapters 6-9 of Genesis -- the story of the flood. The review questions brought out the differences and contrast between Genesis 6:5-8 and 8:20-22:

bThe Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every cintention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And dthe Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it egrieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah ffound favor in the eyes of the Lord.

God's Covenant with Noah

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled kthe pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again lcurse1 the ground because of man, for mthe intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. nNeither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 oWhile the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, pday and night, shall not cease.”

Notice that man's nature did not change before and after the flood; God's intent as to what to do about man's nature did. Implicit in the covenant God made with Noah was His promise to send His only Son for man's redemption, and His recognition that only by such an act could man escape the fate to which his nature inclines him. Never again would all of mankind be destroyed by God's wrath: those who, like Noah and his family, remained servants of the Lord, thereafter through the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ, could and would be saved.

And that saving promise echoed back on the second Psalm for this Saturday, Psalm 90:

From Everlasting to Everlasting

sPrayer of Moses, the tman of God.

90 Lord, you have been our udwelling place1
in all generations.
vBefore the wmountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
xfrom everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
and say, y“Return, zO children of man!”2
For aa thousand years in your sight
are but as byesterday when it is past,
or as ca watch in the night.

You dsweep them away as with a flood; they are like ea dream,
like fgrass that is renewed in the morning:
in ithe morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it jfades and kwithers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have lset our iniquities before you,
our msecret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span3 is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?

12 nSo teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 oReturn, O LordpHow long?
Have qpity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the smorning with your steadfast love,
that we may trejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have uafflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your vwork be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the xfavor4 of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish ythe work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

Moses' prayer is especially appropriate for those who find themselves besieged in the Middle East today -- whether Jews in Israel, Copts in Egypt, or Christians in Syria and Iran. He reminds us, just as did St. Peter (2 Pet. 3:1-13), that all things are ultimately in God's hands, and that our duty is to be prepared:

The Day of the Lord Will Come

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them gI am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, hthat you should remember the predictions of ithe holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come jin the last days with scoffing, kfollowing their own sinful desires. lThey will say, “Where is the promise of mhis coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth nwas formed out of water and through water oby the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed pwas deluged with water and qperished. But by the same word rthe heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and sdestruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and ta thousand years as one day. uThe Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise vas some count slowness, but wis patient toward you,1 xnot wishing that any should perish, but ythat all should reach repentance. 10 But zthe day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then athe heavens will pass away with a roar, and bthe heavenly bodies2 will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.3
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, cwhat sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 dwaiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and ethe heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for fnew heavens and a new earth gin which righteousness dwells.

Which duty of vigilance and preparation today's Gospel passage once again underlines (Luke 12:35-44):

You Must Be Ready

35 a“Stay dressed for action1 and bkeep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are cwaiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and  d knocks. 37 eBlessed are those servants2 whom the master finds eawake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, fhe will dress himself for service and ghave them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 hBut know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour ithe thief was coming, he3 would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be jready, for kthe Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
41 Peter said, “Lord, lare you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is mthe faithful and mwise nmanager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 oBlessed is that servant4 whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, phe will set him over all his possessions.

Truly, the Bible speaks to us in our day and age. And truly, we ignore it at our peril.

Deo sit gloria!


  1. Interesting analysis. However, I thought that Rahab was associated with Jericho, rather than Egypt. Hagar would be a female name symbolic of Egypt.

  2. VB, "Rahab" is admittedly a nickname for Egypt -- see Isaiah 30:7.

  3. I cannot recall a period of time so disheartening and frightening as the past two week. Have we lost our nation? Have we lost our faith? Will we see Israel ablaze?

    My only response, at this stage, is to bury my fears in prayer. I pray for a miracle.

  4. I agree with Fradgan - I bury my fears in prayer and I pray for a miracle.

  5. If they hit Jerusalem, let it be only that abomination of a mosque on the temple mount that is hit and totally destroyed.

  6. Is the board messed up, or is there only one post on this page? Have you posted anything other than this story lately? Thank you!

  7. No, Milton -- I have not posted anything more recent. We have been busy preparing for a big family reunion over the Thanksgiving holidays. I have been trying to put up a post about the vote in the CoE on women in the episcopate, but keep getting interrupted by my lively grandchildren! And I have to pay attention to what is more important ... there are lots of other comments and opinions out there about the vote, and I'm not sure that mine would add that much, anyway.

  8. You are not allowed to take any time off while we are out here! Just kidding! May you and your entire family, and all those that come here have a joyous Thanksgiving!