Saturday, July 18, 2015

Father de Piconio's Commentary on Romans 1:1-7

Text in red are my additions.

In this magnificent prologue the Apostle fixes the attention of his readers at Rome upon his own claim to be listened to by them, as an apostle of Christ.  We shall find that in the verses that succeed, 8-17, he continues to press the same subject on them, on the ground of his care and solicitude for their spiritual welfare.  In the remainder of the chapter he enters upon the task he has principally set himself in this Epistle, to prove that Justification is of faith, not of the law, natural or positive; and turning first to the Gentiles, convicts them of systematic and flagrant disobedience to the known laws of God.

Romans 1:1. Paul, servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated to the Gospel of God.

Paul.  The Apostle’s Hebrew name was Saul.  He may have had two names given him in circumcision, and this is the opinion of Origen, Saint Anselm, and Saint Thomas.  Or his name may have been changed to Paul in the same way that that of Simon was changed to Cephas, or Peter: this is the opinion of Saint Chrysostom.  Or else he took the name Paul from his first convert of distinction, Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus; which is the view of Saint Jerome, followed by Baronius (see Acts13:12).  Or lastly, he may have assumed the name Paul, which means little, out of humility, being small of stature, and considering himself the least (Eph 3:8), which is the opinion of Saint Augustine.  At any rate it is certain that he is called Paul from the date of his mission to Cyprus with Saint Barnabas, and takes this name in all his Epistles. 

The opinions concerning the name of Paul have a long history, right up into modern times.  The fact is, however, that no reason is given for the change of name: “Acts simply says, ‘Saul, who is also called Paul,’ and that is all there is to it” (Stanley B. Marrow, PAUL, HIS LETTERS AND HIS THEOLOGY pg 7). 

Servant of Jesus Christ.  There are several modes of servitude to God, says St Chrysostom: by creation, by faith, by institute (office) of life; and St Paul was God’s servant in all three.  The Greek word “servant,” as well as the Latin one, means literally “slave.”

Concerning St John Chrysostom, here is what he wrote: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” Why did God change his name, and call him Paul who was Saul? It was, that he might not even in this respect come short of the Apostles, but that that preëminence which the chief of the Disciples had, he might also acquire (Mc 3,16); and have whereon to ground a closer union with them. And he calls himself, the servant of Christ, yet not merely this; for there be many sorts of servitude. One owing to the Creation, according to which it says, “for all are Thy servants” (Ps 119,91); and according to which it says, “Nebuchadnezzar, My servant” (Jr 25,9), for the work is the servant of Him which made it. Another kind is that from the faith, of which it saith, “But God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from a pure heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you: being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Rm 6,17-18). Another is that from civil subjection (toliteia”), after which it saith, “Moses my servant is dead” (Jos 1,2); and indeed all the Jews were servants, but Moses in a special way as shining most brightly in the community. Since then, in all the forms of the marvellous servitude, Paul was a servant, this he puts in the room of the greatest title of dignity, saying, “a servant of Jesus Christ.”  
The title “servant” has its origins in the Old Testament, wherein we find numerous individuals, especially prophets or those chosen for a special mission, referred to as such (2 Sam 24:10; Amos 3:7; Jer 25:4).  The title was also used of  the people of Israel in general, especially in relation to worship, the service of God.  St Paul is using the word here in reference to his mission, a mission he also sees in priestly terms (Rom 15:15-21), for the sake of making a priestly people (Rom 12:1-2).     

Called to be an Apostle.  The Greek word kletos called, is an adjective, not a participle.  It means an Apostle by vocation, or the call of Christ, not by his own intrusion into the office, or any human appointment.  The same adjective occurs in verses 6 and 7,  and has in both cases an analogous meaning: saints y God’s calling.

St Paul often emphasizes the gratuitous nature of his office.  This is usually done in response to opponents who were apparently claiming Paul had no right to the ministry and had taken it upon himself, without Divine warrant (see Gal 1:1, 11-17).  At other times St Paul refers to its gratuitous nature to highlight God’s mercy (1 Tim 1:12-17).

Separated.  Has reference to the words of Christ in Acts 9:15, and 13:2.  Here the meaning has the sense of “appoint”, as in Galatians 1:15.  The three terms, servant, called, separated to the Gospel, are perhaps insisted upon to counteract some unfavorable rumors which may have been prevalent at Rome regarding the purity of the Pauline doctrine.  But they are also the inalienable marks of the true Bishop of the Church of God in all times.  He is to teach the Gospel of God, not human inventions.  He must have a divine call, not a merely human one.  And he must live, labor, suffer, die, if necessary, in the service of God and his Church.

The Gospel of God.   The Good News of Salvation in Christ Jesus.  The Good News is the announcement of the coming Reign of God (Mk 1:14); which is brought near in the death and resurrection of Christ, who now reigns in power and who, through the Church, is bringing the Reign and the Gospel to fulfillment (Matt 28:18-20).

Romans 1:2. Which He had promised in former times by His prophets, in the Holy Scriptures.


Which He promised.  God’s Gospel is no novelty.  It was announced and expected from the beginning of the world…St Paul sees the OT Scripture as being oriented towards the eschatological age in which we know live (see Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 9:10).  It is for this reason that the OT Scripture can only be understood in the light of the Gospel (2 Cor 3:7-4:7; 2 Tim 3:15 ) 

Romans 1:3. Concerning His Son, who was made to him of the seed of David according to the flesh. 


Who was made to him.  Who in time was made man, and born of the Virgin Mary, of the race of David.  The Greek word ginomai is also used for the birth of Christ in Galatians 4:4.  St Paul's application of this word in Christological contexts perhaps implys Christ’s pre-existence.  

Rom 1:4.  Who was predestined the Son of God in virtue according to the Spirit of Sanctification from the resurrection of the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ: (RSV Translation of this verse- and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,)
 

Who was predestined the Son of God.  This phrase has a long and complex interpretive history which cannot be gone into here.  Most modern scholars, rightly in my opinion, reject the Vulgate translation being used here.   The RSV reads:and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”  The full significance of Jesus being the Son of God and Messiah could not be adequately known until after his resurrection and the giving of the Spirit, when the prophecies of Scripture could be seen as fulfilled.

Rom 1:5.  Through whom we have received grace and Apostolate for the obedience of faith in all the nations for his name,

Through whom we have received grace and Apostolate.  Sanctification gratuitously given of God’s mercy: all free and supernatural gifts; and the Apostolate, to be exercised in Christ’s name and by his authority among all nations.  Clearly the author of these comments sees a twofold reference here.  More likely, “gace and Apostolate” means “the grace of apostleship,” thus building upon the references to himself as servant, called, and separated in vs 1. 

For the obedience of faith.  St Chrysostom: He does not say, to be brought into question and debate, or to be loudly canvassed: but obeyed.  We are not sent to put forward syllogisms and arguments; but to deliver that which is committed to our trust.  What God has pronounced and affirmed, men are not to criticize or cavil at, but to listen receive.  The spirit of faith is the spirit of obedience.  Not a simple and natural operation of the mind, or exercise of reason, but the submission and adhesion of the will of man by the help of grace, to the word of God.  Concerning the obedience of faith, see here See also 2 Cor 10:1-6.

Rom 1:6.  Among whom are you also, the called of Jesus Christ:

Among whom you also.  Among the other nations of the earth, to whom our mission extends universally, are you also, Romans, and to you therefore I write, who are the called of Jesus Christ.  This word (called) is more than once repeated, for the faithful to understand that they are Christians by the grace of God.

Rom 1:7.  To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Grace and peace.  Grace, to unite them to God; peace to untie them to one another.  The two words are repeatedly joined in this manner in St Paul’s Epistles.  This form of salutation was given y Christ to his Apostles, (Luke 10:5).  The two words together imply the fullness of covenant blessing. 

Called to be saints.  Sanctity is the end of your vocation.  Observe here the grandeur of the Christian Vocation.  The Christian belongs to Christ.  He is “the dalled of Jesus Christ;” and he is “beloved of God.”  And he is a “saint,” being sanctified by Baptism.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Background and Notes on Amos 2:6-16~Judgement Against Israel

The prophet Amos by artist Juan de Borgoña (1470 – 1536) from a two-dimensional image in the Museo Catedralico, Cuenca, in the public domain.
BACKGROUND

Read Amos 1:1~The Book opens with a superscription that situates the prophet's ministry in the eighth century BC. Mention of Kings Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel, along with the words "two years before the earthquake," allow us to date that ministry to about 760 BC. Archaeological excavations at Hazor and Samaria indicate that a massive earthquake struck this region around that time. Whoever authored this superscription may have seen the quake as a harbinger of worse judgements to come (Amos 8:8; 9:1, 5). Most scholars are of the opinion that Amos' ministry lasted only a few days. For more notes on the superscription you may wish to go here.

Read Amos 1:2~These words were probably originally nothing more than a snippet from the prophet's preaching but the compiler of the book has placed them here as a keynote to the entire book. Here the Lord is portrayed as roaring like a lion. As a stockherder (Amos 1:1; 7:14), a roaring lion would have been one of Amos’ worst nightmares and, indeed, the image of a lion is later compared to the Lord's roaring in judgement through His prophet (Amos 3:8). The judgement coming upon Israel will be as devastating as a lion's attack on a sheep (Amos 3:12, see also Amos 5:19). In the bible the people of God are often referred to as God’s sheepfold and He is often described as a Shepherd. Amos’ oracles make it clear that God, Israel’s shepherd, is about to become their worst nightmare.

The roar of a Lion is often a figure of hostility in the bible, describing what the enemies of God and his people do. In Psalm 22:13 it is used to described the enemies of the righteous psalmist. In Psalm 74:4 it is used to describe the yelling of God’s enemies (Babylonians) in as they destroyed the Jerusalem temple.
We are perhaps to understand that God is doing his roaring thru the prophet {see Amos 3:1-8 especially vv 4 and 8}. For more on this keynote verse see here

Read Amos 1:3-2:5~This passage consists of oracles against seven nations/city states for various crimes described as "transgressions," a word often denoting political rebellion and here indicating transgressions against the king of the universe. The nations/city states that are mentioned were from time to time hostile towards Israel. The northern kingdom of Israel was longing for "the day of the Lord;" a day they believed would work to their benefit by bringing destruction upon their enemies. This passage might lead them to believe such a day was approaching. However, notice that the people of the northern kingdom were not the victims of all the transgressions noted here, some were perpetrated on pagans. But more telling is the order of the oracles of condemnation against the various nations/city states. The first two oracles are against Aram and Philistia, two of the most trenchant enemies of God's people. The next is directed against Tyre, which during the time of David and Solomon and other early kings enjoyed a good working relationship with the Chosen People. Then come oracles against Edom, Ammon and Moab, peoples who belonged to the family of Abraham. Finally, the seventh oracle is directed against Judah, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, brothers of the ten tribes making up the northern kingdom of Israel. In other words, relationally speaking, the oracles come closer and closer to Israel. The very order of the prophecies bodes ill for the kingdom.

The beginning of all seven oracles are identical, save for their object; this gives them a song-like quality. An audience at a rock concert always joins in the song during the refrain, and scholars suggest that Amos' audience would have begun doing the same by the third oracle. It would have gone something like this:

Prophet and people: "Thus says the Lord: 'For three transgressions of

Prophet: 'Tyre'

Prophet and people: 'and for four, I will not revoke the punishment...'"

The sing-a-long would have continued at the beginning of each oracle, including the eighth (see next passage).

In light of what has preceded, the effect of the opening of the eighth oracle would have been shocking to the people. As they started "singing" with the prophet they would have come to the sudden realization that they had been singing of their own punishment and doom. Now they would hear the longest and most vehement oracle uttered against themselves.

Having spoke judgement oracles against seven nations, including Judah, the prophet begins his eighth and longest oracle -against Israel itself. 

Amos 2:6-8 ECONOMIC INJUSTICE

Vs 6. Thus says the Lord: For the three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not call it back; because for silver they have sold the righteous, and for a pair of sandals the destitute. My translation.

As we have seen already, transgression means deliberate rebellion against God. In Israel’s case, however, the trangression is more deplorable than it was with the pagan nations because it, unlike those nations, was privileged with the law, the revealed will of God (see Deut 4:5-8). Judah too, in a short, two sentence statement, was condemned for its infidelity to the law, but Amos sees Israel’s sins as much worse.

In the first reason given for the condemnation, the operative words are the righteous and the destitute, not “silver” or “sandals”. The sin of Israel, its rebellion against the revealed will of God is here identified as injustice toward men which manifests itself in greed. This brings to mind a famous Biblical text: He (Jesus) said to him: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: you mst love your neighbor as yourself. The whole of the law and of the prophets rests on these two commands. (see Mt 22:34-40. Also Lev 19:18)

As will be seen later, the righteous are sold and the needy are cheated by bribery in the law courts.

Vs 7 They lust for the very dust of the land that has settled on the head of the poor. They pervert the way of the poor; a man and his father go to the same servant, so as to profane my holy name. My translation.

Their greed, the manifestation of their unrighteousness, shows itself as greed for land. This greed is here described as so intense that it is a lusting after the very dust of the land that has settled on the poor man’s head!

they pervert the way of the poor. The Hebrew word for way is derek, like its Greek counterpart hodos, it refers literally to a path or road (highway, freeway, pathway). In the Bible, both words are used to denote moral activity (see Psalm 1:1-6). The sense here could be that the action of the unrighteous leads the poor man into unrighteousness. Another possible interpretation is that the word poor is being used here in the sense of meek or humble. They pervert the way of the meek would then mean that they have left the right road, the right course of moral activity. They no longer walk the road of the humble. (Again, see the metaphor of “the way” in Psalm 1:1-6).

A man and his father go into the same servant: The law in Leviticus 18:8 and 20:11-12 forbid a father and son from having sexual relations with the same woman. Such an act was considered a form of incest and a gross perversion of the moral order, thus a profaning of the holy name of God.

The word I translated as "servant" could also be translated as prositute. But given the econmic context of vss 6-8 I think servant is better. A man could put his daughter into servitude to pay off a debt, alleviate a desperate financial situation, or simply because he could not take proper care of her. The law provided protection for such women (see Exodus 21:7-11). It may be that the wealthy men of Isarel were cheating and taking advantage of the poor to gain their daughters as “sexual” servants. (This is the view of Marvin Sweeney in THE TWELVE PROPHETS, Vol. 1).

Vs 8 And on garments taken in pledge they stretch themselves out beside every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the place of their gods. My translation.

If a person owed a debt certain of his garments could be taken in pledge (Ex 22:25-26), but these had to be returned to him at night for humanitarian reasons. According to Deuteronomy 24:12-13, a man who took another's garment as a debt pledge was forbidden to sleep on it since it had to be returned to the debtor for him to sleep in. Apparently, Amos is accusing the wealthy of not only breaking this law, but of using the garment for false religious practices (probably sexual). They compound this by drinking the wine of the condemned. Condemned here means those who have had a legal judgement go against them. Fines could be paid with agricultural commodities. As we have already noted, the courts in Israel were perverted by bribes. The prophet is here condemning people for enjoying ill-gotten wine on ill-gotten garments. Worse still, they are enjoying these things beside every altar in the place of their gods. They enjoy the fruits of their perversion of justice beside the altars of the “high places” so often condemned by the prophets (see Hosea 10:8; Amos 7:9).

Amos 2:9-11 WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR HIS PEOPLE

Vs 9 Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorites before them, who were as high as the heights of the cedars, and who were as strong as the oaks; I destroyed the fruit that was above and the roots that were beneath. My translation.

The opening of verse 9 is emphatic. It highlights the marked contrast between what God has done for Israel and how they have responded.

Amorites refers to a Semetic speaking people who migrated into the Holy Land, Syria, and Mesopotamia (Iraq) early in the second millenium BC. The Bible identifies them , along with Canaanites and Hittites, as possessing the Holy Land before the advent of the twelve tribes. The Bible presents the Amorites as idolaters and as exceedingly sinful and this is given as the reason for God’s action against them (see Leviticus 18:24-30).

Their height is compared to that of the cedar tree and their strength is compared to that of an oak. In the bible, trees are often used as a symbol of might, but also of pride and arrogance (see Ezekiel 31; Isaiah 2:13; and my notes on Isaiah 2:13-16). The Amorites were too strong and powerful for the People of God to defeat without God’s help (see Numbers 13:25-14:45). For the sake of his people God destroyed the tree-like Amorites completely: their fruit above and their root beneath.

Vs 10 And it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, and who led you in the wilderness for forty years, so that you might take possession of the land of the amorites. My translation.

The forty years in the wilderness was a result of the people’s lack of trust in God, manifested in their refusal to trust that he could conquer the Amorites (see the Numbers link above). Yet, although God did punish the people for this sin he did not reject them, he thus manifested both his justice and his mercy. Even in the midst of their forty year punishment God took care of them (Deut 8:1-5). The purpose of all they experienced those forty years was so that they might take possession of the land.

Vs 11 From among your sons I raised up prophets; and from among your young men (I raised up) Nazarites. Is this not so, O sons of Israel? says the Lord. My translation.

Once the people had come into the Holy Land God raised up prophets for them, to ensure that they stayed on the straight and narrow in their relations with him, for a prophet's prime duty was to oversee the right worship of God and the eradication of idolatry (Deut 18:9-22).

Nazarites The law regarding Nazarites can be found in Numbers 6:1-7. The exact significance of Nazarites is unknown. The term means “dedicated”, this may imply that they were meant to be examples to the people of holiness and commitment to God since things were made holy when they were dedicated to the service of the Lord.

Amos 2:12-16 A FURTHER SIN AND GOD’S RESPONSE

Vs 12 But you caused the Nazarites to drink wine, and demanded of the prophet: “Do not prophecy.” My translation.

They probably find commitment to the Lord a burden on their own guilty consciences, and so they force the Nazarite to abandon his commitment in order to feel better about themselves. Some things never change. For the same reason, prophets calling for right morality and a commitment to God are silenced. “Why should I listen to a celibate in Rome talk about sex and marriage?” “Don’t impose your morality on me!” Like I said, some things never change.

Vs 13 Behold, I will press down upon you as sheaves press down upon a cart. My translation.

Having found God’s moral will a burden, the people will now be burdened by the the Lord’s punishment, which will weigh upon them like produce in an overloaded cart. Note the contrast with verse 11; having raised up prophets who were rejected, the Lord will now press down those who did the rejecting.

Vs 14 Flight will perish from the fleet, the strong will not hold onto his strength, and the mighty one will not deliver himself.
Vs 15 The skilled bowman will not stand, and the fleet of foot shall not deliver himself, and the one who rides a horse shall not save his life.
Vs 16 The stoutest heart among the mighty shall run away naked on that day, says the Lord. My translation.

Notice that here the self-reliance of the people is being thwarted: "the strong will not hold onto his strength, and the mighty one will not deliver himself....the fleet of foot shall not deliver himself, and the one who rides a horse shall not save his life." This stand in marked contrast to what was said in Amos 2:9. It is God who gives Israel its victories, but they are now left to their own devices. The self-reliant, the “free moral agents”, will not be so fast, strong, or mighty, to save themselves from God’s wrath (Vs 14). This wrath will apparently manifest it self in the form of an invading army (Vss 15-16); the Assyrians, who would destroy the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC.

My next post will be August 3 on Obadiah. 



Notes on Amos 1:2

Verse 2: Keynote of the book

Vs 2 He (Amos) said: The Lord does roar from Zion, gives out his voice from Jerusalem, the meadows of the shepherds mourn, the height of Carmel withers.
 
The Lord roars from Zion and gives out his voice from Jerusalem. As a stockherder, a roaring lion would have been one of Amos’ worst nightmares. In the bible the people of God are often referred to as God’s sheepfold and He is often described as a Shepherd. Amos’ oracles make it clear that God, Israel’s shepherd, is about to become their worst nightmare.

The roar of a Lion is often a figure of hostility in the bible, describing what the enemies of God and his people do. In Psalm 22:13 it is used to described the enemies of the righteous psalmist. In Psalm 74:4 it is used to describe the yelling of God’s enemies (Babylonians) in as they destroyed the Jerusalem temple.
We are perhaps to understand that God is doing his roaring thru the prophet {see Amos 3:1-8 especially vss 4 and 8}

The Northern Kingdom of Israel, after its split with Judah had set up sanctuaries in opposition to the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12: 26-33); the only place in the Holy Land where valid sacrifice could be offered. By doing this the kingdom showed itself an enemy of God, and now God is about to show himself an enemy to his sinful people.

Mourning meadows/withering Carmel. The text implies that God’s judgment of Israel has already begun. The beginning of this judgment is a drought. This was one of the curses threatened by God if his people ever forgot him or turned to false worship (see Deut 28:20-24).

Carmel is a reference to Mount Carmel. The name means “the garden with fruit tree,” a reference to the extraordinary fertility of the mountain which, due to its geographical location receives more rainfall than most other areas in the Holy Land. A withering Carmel would be a bad drought indeed. The prophet Nahum 1:4 and Isaiah 33:9 also see the drying up of Carmel as a sign of God’s anger.

Carmel was already famous to the people of the Northern Kingdom. During the time of Elijah,
God gave power to the prophet to bring drought upon the land of Israel for three years because of its idolatry (they were worshipping Baal). This situation came to an end when Elijah challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a duel on Mount Carmel. With his victory over them, the rain returned to Israel and the first sign of the coming rain was spotted atop Carmel. (see 1 Kings 18:1-46)

Notes on Amos 1:1

Verse 1: The Superscription.

Vs 1 The words of Amos, one among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw regarding Israel during the reign of Uzziah, the king of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, the king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

What is the focus and purpose of this superscription (vs 1)? At first sight it may seem that its primary purpose is to introduce the reader to the prophet and to the time period of his ministry; and this is not incorrect. However, notice that everything of importance that is told to us in this first verse is related to “The words”. We are told four things:

1. We are told who received the word-Amos.
2. We are told how he received it-in a vision.
3. We are told something of its content-it concerns Israel.
4. We are told when Amos’ vision concerning Israel and his subsequent ministry took place-During the reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam II, two years before and earthquake.

The fact that Amos is said to have received the word in a vision may sound odd to us at first; but it shouldn’t, since it’s a typical way of speaking. Do you see what I’m saying?

Words (the Hebrew term is dabar= “daw-baw”). The term usually refers to speech or words, whether spoken or written. It could however also refer to business, work or actions. Actions, like words, can be revelatory. This is why the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation states:

In his goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of his will (Eph 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (Eph 2:18; 2 Pet 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17) out ot the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (Ex 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (Bar 3:38), So that He might invite and take them into fellowship with himself. THIS PLAN OF REVELATION IS REALIZED BY DEEDS AND WORDS HAVING AN INNER UNITY: THE DEEDS WROUGHT BY GOD IN THE HISTORY OF SALVATION MANIFEST AND CONFIRM THE TEACHING AND REALITIES SIGNIFIED BY THE WORDS, WHILE THE WORDS PROCLAIM THE DEEDS AND CLARIFY THE MYSTERY CONTAINED IN THEM. (Dei Verbum 2)

God’s actions, and by extension the actions his prophets perform, are themselves as revelatory as spoken words. (See these “prophecy in action stories: Isaiah 20:1-6; Jer 19:1-15;). These actions dramatically reinforce oracles which accompany them. Other stories along similar lines can be found here (2 Kings 13:14-19; Ezek 4:1-8).

The words which Amos saw refers primarily to his visions narrated later in the Book.

Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa. The name Amos means “one who carries a burden.” This is a fitting name for a prophet since one of the words for prophecy in Hebrew is massa (mas-saw), which is derived from the same root (amas) as Amos. Amos=one who carries a burden, is a prophet who carries the burden (massa) of the Lord. (Note: The word massa is usually translated into English as “oracle.”)

Shepherd. The word used here (noqed= no-kade) is very rare. It is used in only one other place in the bible, 2 kings 3:4, where it refers to King Mesha of Moab. The noqed sheep are a short-legged, ugly species of sheep which were highly prized for their fine wool. Only someone of wealth would own them. Does this mean that Amos was wealthy? According to Jewish tradition he was. Christian commentators are divided. Amos appears to be a rather cultured individual. His writing is in good Hebrew style and his poetry is exceeded in the bible only by that of the aristocratic Isaiah. His knowledge of the history of his own nation, along with his knowledge of the history of surrounding nations suggests he is a man of some education. Likewise he seems to have had some knowledge of astronomy. All of this suggests a man of some means.
On the other hand, in chapter 7 he identifies himself as a herdsman but uses a much more generic term that noqed. He also describes himself a a “dresser of sycamore trees.” This means he poked holes into the fig-like fruit of this tree just before it began to ripen. This slowed down the ripening process and made the generally bitter fruit a bit sweeter and more palatable. Such fruit was the diet of the poor. This suggests that Amos was not a man of means.

I would propose this solution. At the time of Amos’ ministry king Uzziah of Judah was involved in massive building projects and also a large military build up. This of course took money, and governments get money by taxation. The taxes in Judah had become so severe that it was becoming hard for even the wealthy to maintain the lifestyle they were used to. As a result of this, the rich began to devise various ways of cheating the poor to supplement their income.

Amos was from Judea but he preached in the Northern Kingdom of Israel where the very same problems existed. In his preaching Amos is unmerciful towards the rich for their treatment of the poor. All of this leads me to the following conclusion: Amos had been wealthy but had fallen on hard times do to the excessive taxation. Unwilling to supplement his dwindling income by taking advantage of the poor he may have sold off most of his noqed sheep and started raising other types of livestock. He may also have been forced to supplement his income as a “dresser of sycamore trees.” But all of this is, of course, speculation.

Tekoa. The name probably refers to a wilderness area (2 Chron 20:20) located south of Jerusalem. It could also refer to a town in this area.

The reign of Uzziah/Jeroboam. To find out more about Uzziah click here. To find out more about Jeroboam II click here

RSM Notes on Zephanian and Haggai

The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing~Zeph 3:17
ZEPHANIAH

The superscription (Zeph 1:1) places the ministry of the prophet in the reign of the great reforming king, Josiah (640-609 BC). Most scholars are of the opinion that his ministry began circa 635 BC, eight or nine years before that of Jeremiah's, perhaps two or three years before the Josian reform got under way. (Scholars are not in agreement as to when the reform began. I accept the early date, 632 BC, when Josiah "began to seek the God of David" (2 Chron 34:3). Many scholars date it to 622 with the finding of the "Book of the Law" during the Temple renovations (2 Kings 22-23). The length of the prophet's genealogy and the name "Hezekiah" (a famous king of the davidic line) has led to the idea that the prophet was of royal blood; this is sheer speculation.

Zeph 1:2-3. The body of the book opens with an announcement of judgement coming upon all creation. The terms used are reminiscent of another world-wide judgment, the flood (Gen 7:21-23). Chapter 1 will also close with reference to world-side judgment (Zeph 1:14-18, esp. 17-18).

Zeph 1:4-6. Included in this world-wide judgement is Judah and its capitol, Jerusalem, because of rampant idolatry. In this passage the terms used are reminiscent of the punishments meted out to Egypt during the Exodus. Numerous times in the Book of Exodus-and the rest of the Books of Moses-it is said that God will "stretch out His arm," or, "stretch out His hand," and in every instance it is in reference to actions against Egypt (Exodus 6:6; 7:5, 19; 8:5-6, 16-17; 9:22-23; 10:12-13, 21-22; 14:16, 21, 26-27; 15:12; Deut 4:34; 5:15; 7:19; 11:2; 26:8). Moses did warn the people of Israel that if they ever became disloyal to the covenant, the plagues of Egypt (and worse besides!) would come upon them (Deut 28:58-61). Judah is here being threatened with the possibility that Moses' warning may become reality.

Zeph 1:7-13. Build upon the previous verses. The Day of the Lord (i.e., a day on which God will personally intervene in judgment-not necessarily the last judgement) is here described in sacrificial/liturgical terms. Since His people will not worship Him properly (Zeph 1:4-5), He will consecrate them (i.e., set them aside) for sacrifice. The sacrifice will include those who do not follow, seek, or inquire of Him (Zeph 1:6).

Zeph 1:14-18. Repeats verse 7 that the day is near but adds that it is "hastening fast". These verses also return to the theme of world-wide judgment. This sandwiching technique indicates that God's people are as deserving of judgment as the Pagan nations that surround them. The terror the day will bring is described using battle terminology in Zeph 1:14-16. References to trumpet blasts, darkness and clouds serve double-duty since these things are sometimes associated with God's manifestation in the Temple and the worship there. The pouring out of blood and flesh (literally, "entrails") compared to dung is also sacrificial, thus taking up the theme of 7-13.

Zeph 2:1-3. Supplies the reason for the content of chapter 1: God calls His people to gather together and hold assembly (sacrificial/liturgical terms) so as to ("perhaps") avoid the looming, quickly coming, punishment. The threefold use of "before" in 2:2 builds upon the nearness of the Day of the Lord (taking up Zep 1:7, 14).

Zeph 2:4-15. Oracles against traditional enemies of God's people. The tension of Zeph 2:3--"perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the wrath of the LORD"--is here alleviated; a remnant in Judah (the repentant, humble, seekers of righteousness) will survive and benefit from the Day of the Lord. But note too that

Zeph 3:1-20. The book ends with oracles concerning Jerusalem and Israel.The oracle opens with a woe upon an unnamed city (Zeph 3:1). Note how verse 1 could be taken as a woe upon Nineveh which was condemned at the end of chapter 2; in fact, it introduces a reproach against Jerusalem (Zeph 3:2-4). The ambiguity is probably intentional, indicating that Jerusalem is no better than Nineveh due to its sins. These stand in marked contrast to God's righteousness (Zeph 3:5). God's actions against the enemies of His people (Zeph 3:6) should have led His people to fear Him, instead, it made them more eager to deal corruptly (Zeph 3:7).

God will bring a world-wide judgement which will convert many peoples/nations (Zeph 3:8-10). The effects of the Sin of Babel will be reversed (comp. Zeph 3:9-10 with Gen 11:1-9). It's not hard to see an allusion to Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). The rebellious of Zeph 3:1-4 will be removed (Zeph 3:11). A people humble and lowly will be left, guileless and undisturbed (Zeph 3:12-13). Like their God (Zeph 3:5) they will do no wrong (Zeph 3:11). They will rejoice for all causes of fear will be removed (enemies, disaster, oppression, etc.) and God alone will be with them, restoring their fortunes (Zeph 3:14-20).

 And the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet~Ezra 6:14
HAGGAI

In 587 BC the Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonian Empire. In 539 BC this Empire fell to the Persians. A year later Cyrus, King of Persia, issued a series of decrees allowing those exiled by Babylon to return to their homelands; this included the Jews who began their repatriation in 537 (Ezra 1:1-4; 2 Chron 36:22-23). Work quickly began on rebuilding the Temple; the altar of holocausts was erected and consecrated, and the foundations of the Temple were laid (Ezra 3:1-4:5). Unfortunately, various things conspired to stall the project for nearly a decade and a half (see Ezra 4:1-24). According to the superscription to the Book of Haggai (Hag 1:1) the word of the Lord came to that prophet on July 29, 520 BC, telling him to exhort the leaders and the people to get back to building the temple.  

Hag 1:2-15. By the time Haggai came on the scene the people were dwelling in paneled houses and insisting that it was not yet time to build the Lord's house (Hag 1:2-4). The people were having trouble making ends meet. Basic material necessities were lacking, this in spite of the fact that they were working hard for them (Hag 1:5-6). No doubt this lack was part of their incentive to leave off the building of the Temple, but God asks them to consider what they have been doing (Hag 1:7). They were busying themselves with their homes while His was laying in ruins, therefore, what they have been working so hard to bring home, God has been blowing away in an attempt to get them back to the better part, the one thing necessary (Hag 1:8-11; see Lk 10:42). The leaders and the people obeyed the Lord who promised to be with them in the endeavor (Hag 1:12-15).

Hag 2:1-9. On October 17, 520 BC the word of the Lord again came to Haggai (Hag 2:1). Apparently, some of the returnees who were old enough to remember the glorious Temple built by Solomon (1 Kings 6:1-38; 7:13-51) were dismayed at the humble nature of the temple then under reconstruction (Hag 2:2-3). God bids them to have courage and He reminds them of the Sinai covenant and His promise to dwell with them (Hag 2:4-5. See Ex 29:43-46). He bids them to look forward to a future time when the wealth of nations shall come in and the splendor of the temple at that time will surpass its former glory of the Solomonic Temple (Hag 2:6-9). 

Hag 2:10-19. On the 18th of December, 520 BC another oracle came to Haggai (Hag 2:10). Ritually holy things do not pass on that holiness to other things (Hag 2:12); ritually defiled things  do pass on ritual defilement (Hag 2:13), "so it is with this people" (Hag 2:14). Like prophets before him Haggai is warning the people against presumptions based upon the temple and its sacrifices; such things do not automatically guarantee the people's holiness; repentance and living rightly are necessary. God wants them to consider what will take place "from this day onward' (Hag 2:15a). It will not be like the past, which they have broken with (Hag 2:15b-19a); rather, it will be a time of blessing because of that break (Hag 2:19b).  

Hag 2:20-23. Here we have a messianic promise (see Heb 12:26-28). The promise here made to this descendant of David, Zerubabel, is the reverse of the curse that was placed upon his grandfather, King Jehoiachin (Coniah), see Jer 22:24-26. The messianic line and its promises would have its continuance through Zerubabel (Mt 1:12) and would culminate in a heavenly Zion; and heavenly Jerusalem, with heavenl


 




The Visions of Zechariah

I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding upon a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen; and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses~Zech 1:8
 Zech 1:1. The Book of Zechariah opens with a call to conversion which is dated to November, 520 BC (Zech 1:1); it thus comes two months after Haggai's exhortation to the returned exiles to resume the building of the temple (Hag 1:1). The prophet is to tell his audience that The LORD was angry indeed with your fathers, i.e., the previous generation that went into exile (Zech 1:2). This statement is followed by a call to the present generation to return to their God (Zech 1:3), lest they end up experiencing what befell their fathers (Zech 1:4-6). Prophetic preaching and its threats of judgement--the point of the preaching being that such judgements can be avoided by repenting--are the result of God's patience, compassion and mercy (2 Chron 36:15-20). The underlying idea here seems to be that it is better to repent in response to this patience, mercy and compassion, than to let the hammer fall and repent after the judgment has come.

Zech 1:7-6:8. This passage contains another prophetic experience consisting of eight visions (some with oracles) which came to Zechariah on the 15th of February, 519 BC, two months after the final prophecy of Haggai (Hag 2:20). In my opinion visions 2 through 8 build upon vision 1; this I will try to bring out in what follows. Many scholars are of the opinion that the visions are structured as a reverse parallel series (1 parallels 8; 2 parallels 7, etc.), I find this plausible but will not consider it in this post.

VISION ONE~Zech 1:7-17. In this vision we see that horses have been sent to patrol the earth and they report to the angel of the Lord that the earth is at peace. The angel of the Lord then speaks: ‘O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these seventy years?’ The Lord makes clear that He is angry with these nations, for while He was angry a little at His people--punishing them with exile--these nations furthered the disaster that befell them (a similar charge was made against Assyria 200 year earlier in Isa 10:5-7). The Lord's presence has returned to Jerusalem (which He had abandoned in Ezek 10:4, 18-19; 11:22-23) and the Lord will oversee the rebuilding of the Temple and the cities in the land will enjoy prosperity. Zion will once again know comfort, and Jerusalem will once again be His chosen city. (Note: The earth at peace and ease may sound like a good thing, but the point here is that the nations have not as yet paid for their sins against God and his people when they "furthered the disaster." God's anger at the "ease" of the nations may recall Lamentations 1:5. [Note: the next two visions clearly build upon this one].

VISION TWO~Zech 1:18-21 (2:1-4 in the NABRE). [Vision one had mentioned God's anger at the nations; this vision indicates His response to them]. Animal horns were often a sign of divine power, might and protection (2 Sam 23:2-3; Ps 18:2; Lk 1:69), but they also signified human power bestowed by God (Ps 18:17); also human or demonic power manifesting hostility toward God or His people (Jer 48:25; Dan 7:7-25; Rev 12:3-9, 13:1-6, etc.). Horns were also found on the four corners of altars, thereby signifying the power of whatever deity the altar was dedicated to (Jer 17:1; Amos 3:14). Here they symbolize the power of the pagan nations that scattered God's people, but I suspect that the association with the altars and deities is implicit as well. The nations in question are, undoubtedly, the two great exiling powers, Assyria and Babylon, but also those nations that took advantage of the plight of God's people (Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Philistines.  See 2 Kings 24:2; Ezek 25:1-17; Obad 1:2-21).

The "four smiths." The Hebrew word indicates anyone who works in wood, stone or metal (standard material for making altars). These "smiths" have been sent "to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.”

VISION THREE~Zech 2:1-13 (2:5-17 in the NABRE). [Vision one had had indicated that God had returned to Jerusalem, which would be comforted, prosperity would return to the cities of the land. This vision builds upon that]. In this vision a man is prepared to survey Jerusalem so as to rebuild the walls that had been destroyed at the time of the exile. Lamentations had described the destruction of the walls as God's doing; He had stretched out His measuring line over it to destroy it (Lam 2:8). But now the wall rebuilder's task is halted, for the Lord Himself will be the protective wall. The city will no longer be confined by material walls but will be able to accommodate a multitude within the expansive wall of the Lord's protection. Those who plundered His people will now be plundered by them (recalls the promise of prosperity in vision one, but also Exodus 3:21-22; 12:35-36). Note the emphasis on the Lord's presence (Zech 2:5, 10-11) and His choice of Jerusalem (Zech 2:12), both picking up themes in vision one.

VISION FOUR~Zech 3:1-10. [Vision one had mentioned the rebuilding of God's house, i.e., Temple. In this vision we see Joshua being prepared to serve as high priest in that house, indicating that God had again chosen Jerusalem]. "Satan," without the definite article, is not to be understood here as the Devil; rather, the figure is probably representative of opposition to the temple (Ezra 4:1-24). The filthy garments removed from Joshua indicates the removal of his "iniquity." The word implies moral fault rather than ritual impurity. Joshua's letting the reconstruction of the temple cease for 16 years is probably the "iniquity" in view here. Joshua and his fellow priests are called "Men of good omen" because the of God's servant, "the Branch." This is a messianic term (Jer 23:5; 33:15). The re-establishment of the priesthood to serve at the soon to be rebuilt temple indicates that the promises to David are still intact. Recall that David had received a kingly dynasty from God because of his desire to build the temple (2 Sam 7).

VISION FIVE~Zech 4:1-14. [Vision one had spoken of the rebuilding of God's house/temple and that theme is evident here]. These verses are some of the most enigmatic in the bible. This is due in part to the fact that apparently significant elements of the vision are not explained (e.g., lampstand) and several verses are obscure or ambiguous (translations generally smooth over these). As a result of all of this, interpretations vary considerably. The Navarre Bible Commentary interprets the lampstand as the returned Jewish community, and the olive trees as symbols of the High Priest, Joshua, and the Davidic descendant, Zeubabbel, (he had been appoint as governor of the territory by the Persians). As olive oil supplies a lamp these two supply strength and impetus to the community and its actions. Zech 4:6, concerning Zerubabbel, indicates that the force behind him (and, by implication, behind Joshua), is God. The "great mountain" of verse 7 symbolizes the abundant obstacles Zerubabbel will overcome to see the completion of the temple. Verse 14 identifies the two men as "anointed" (literally, sons of new oil). The term is often taken as designating the priestly status of Joshua, and the kingly status of Zerubabbel. The problem with this is that the Hebrew term for "oil" used here is not used elsewhere to designate anointing oil. "New oil," like "new wine," often indicates an abundant harvest. The idea here seems to be that through the God-powered activity of these two men prosperity will return to the land, thus linking with a promise in vision one (Zech 1:17), and reversing the situation mentioned in Haggai 1:6, 10-11.

VISION SIX~Zech 5:1-4. [Vision one had spoken of God's renewed presence dwelling among His people, and of the rebuilding of His house/temple. In vision six evil doers in the land will have God's curse dwell in their homes, rotting them]. The presence of the Holy God demands holiness on the part of His people. It is no accident that the Ten Commandments and the rest of "The Covenant Code" precedes the command to build the Tabernacle wherein God would manifest His presence (Exodus 20-31). Also, it is no accident that immediately after God's takes possession of the Tabernacle (Ex 40:34-38) there follows the holiness codes of Leviticus.

VISION SEVEN~ Zech 5:5-11. [Vision one was about the return of God's presence to Jerusalem/the land and the rebuilding of His house/temple. In this vision iniquity will be driven from the land and deposited in Shinar (i.e., Babylon) the place where God's people had once been exiled for their iniquity. In Shinar a temple will be built for iniquity to dwell].

VISION EIGHT~Zech 6:1-8. [Vision one contained the symbol of four different colored horses patrolling the earth, gathering information. This vision refers to four chariots with teams of different colored horses]. In the first vision horses patrolled the earth for the purpose of gathering information; here in the last vision chariots--weapons of war in ancient times--are described as "the four winds of heaven" (the RSVCE mistranslates this), they thus represent God's power of worldwide judgement (Jer 49:36). The visions have come full circle. God, who was exceedingly jealous for His people, and very angry with the nations at ease because of the plight of His people, is now Himself at ease, having undertaken to aid His people and judge their oppressors. The question put to God in vision 1~"O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these seventy years?" has been answered.


Monday, July 13, 2015

RSM Notes on Micah 6:1-4, 6-8

I will make Samaria a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards; and I will pour down her stones into the valley, and uncover her foundations~Micah 1:6

The above photo shows some of the ruins of the City of Samaria, including part of King Omri's palace with expansions done by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. In fulfillment of Micah's prophecy the city was destroyed in 722 BC by Assyria, God's rod of anger and staff of wrath (Isa 10:5). The photo is under copyright  and appears courtesy of BibleWalks.com. For more photos and info about Samaria see here.

Micah 6:-4, 6-8 is the first reading for Monday of the 16th week in Ordinary Time, Year II. It is read in conjunction Ps 50:5-6, 8-9, 16-17, 21, 23, and with Matt 12:38-42. 

Background:

At one time scholars thought that Micah 6:1-8 was not original to the Prophet Micah, their assumption being that “its literary qualities (were) somewhat above the attainments of what a rustic Judahite was supposed to be capable” (Bruce Vawter, C.M., AMOS, HOSEA, MICAH).  This position has changed as it is clear that the passage makes use of “set formulas and traditional liturgical language that was as much at the disposal of Micah as it was any other alert Judahite of the time” (Vawter).

The passage is part of a broader unit (Mic 6:1-16) with Micah 6:1-5 containing what ancient Semites called a rib (pronounced reeb), a “contention” or “covenant lawsuit." The people have broken covenant with their God.  Micah 6:6-7 consists of a series of questions designed to act rhetorically and which serve to highlight the answer given to them in the very beautiful sentiments of Micah 6:8, one of my favorite passages. Mere formalism will not do. For a summary of the fuller context of this passage one can consult the Navarre Bible Commentary (this link is to an online text of the reading) and volume 2 of Marvin Sweeney’s The Twelve Prophets. 

Notes: I’m commenting on the text of the Douay Rheims Translation. See here for NAB; here for RSV. 

Mic 6:1  Hear ye what the Lord saith: Arise, contend thou in judgment against the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.

The verse opens with a stock prophetic formula found throughout the Bible: Hear ye what the Lord saith.  This is often referred to by modern scholars as “a call to attention formula” for it was designed to get people’s attention.  This and similar prophetic formulas often announce statements of judgment or condemnation; such is the case here: contend (rib) thou in judgment 

Arise, contend thou in judgment against the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.  It is not certain who is speaking.  Micah could be appealing to God, or God could be exhorting Micah.  The former position makes better sense.  God’s voice is often associated with judgment (see Isaiah 30:30, Amos 1:2), as is the word arise (see Isaiah 2:19, 21 and my notes on those passages). 

Mountains is sometimes (very rarely) taken as a symbolic reference to arrogant princes, rulers, people or nations (see Isaiah 2:9-17, especially verse 14).  The mountains and hills were often used as places of false worship (the so-called “high places”), by asking God to  bringing a contention and voice of judgment against them the prophet is, according to some interpreters,  subtly asking for judgment against the people who worship there in defiance of the covenant (see the effect God’s judgment has against mountains in Micah 1:2-7.  Ominously, both Samaria and Jerusalem were built on mountains/hills).  In light of this, the common interpretation that the mountains and hills are here being called upon as covenant witnesses-as the heavens and earth sometimes are (see Deut 32:1-5; Isaiah 1:2)-is, in my opinion, to be rejected.  If they are witnesses against the covenant breakers why are they suffering judgment? 

Mic 6:2  Let the mountains hear the judgment of the Lord, and the strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord will enter into judgment with his people, and he will plead against Israel. 

Let the mountains hear the judgment of the Lord.  As already indicated, the mountains do more than just hear the judgment of the Lord, they are affected by it.  In THIS sense one could say that they act as witnesses.  God affecting the landscape could be seen as a sign of his judgment (see Amos 1:2; see also Deut 32, especially verse 1 with verse 22).

Cornelius a Lapide sees irony here: “Insensate though ye (mountains) be, ye are more sensible than Israel, whom I endowed with sense; for ye feel the voice and command of God your Creator and obey Him; they do not.” 

The strong foundations of the earth.  I see this as a reference to Jerusalem which was thought to be the center of the earth (Ezek 5:5).  More exactly, the rock on which the temple was built was thought to be the first bit of dry land to appear at creation (see Gen 1:9). “As the navel is set in the center of the body of man, so too is the land of Israel the navel of the world…and the sanctuary in the center of Jerusalem, and the holy place in the center of the sanctuary, and the ark in the center of the holy place, and the foundation stone before the holy place, because from it was the world founded” (Midrash Tanchuma, Qedoshim). 

For the Lord will enter into judgment with his people, and he will plead against Israel. If the people do not give up their idols and their sins against others, Jerusalem and the Temple will suffer judgment. 

Mic 6:3  O my people, what have I done to thee, or in what have I molested thee? answer thou me.

Here begins the contention (rib).

These words are well known to Catholics from their use in the “Reproaches” of the  Good Friday Liturgy.  This liturgical usage has the same point as it does in the actual text, to call to mind our ingratitude to the Lord.  In the context of the text the questions are that of a covenant plaintiff (God) demanding to know what legal, covenant right the people had in acting against him. 

Answer thou me.  The underlying Hebrew verb sometimes has legal connotations (see Num 35:30.  The NAB translates it there as “evidence”). 

Mic 6:4  For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and delivered thee out of the house of slaves: and I sent before thy face Moses, and Aaron, and Mary (i.e., Miriam).
Mic 6:5  O my people, remember, I pray thee, what Balach, the king of Moab, purposed: and what Balaam, the son of Beor, answered him, from Setim to Galgal, that thou mightest know the justice of the Lord.

A reference to some of the saving deeds of the Exodus.  This establishes God’s bona fide as a trustworthy and merciful covenant partner. 

Balach (i.e., Balak)…Balaam.. See Numbers 22-24 

Setim (i.e., Shittim). See Joshua 2 

Galgal (i.e., Gilgal).  See Joshua 4-5.

Mic 6:6  What shall I offer to the Lord that is worthy? wherewith shall I kneel before the high God? shall I offer holocausts unto him, and calves of a year old?
Mic 6:7  May the Lord be appeased with thousands of rams, or with many thousands of fat he goats? shall I give my firstborn for my wickedness, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

The people are here portrayed as responding and ready to offer sacrifice to appease the Lord.  The reference to human sacrifice in the last part of vs 7 is jarring since such sacrifices were strictly forbidden (see Deut 12:31). It is probably mentioned to highlight how out of whack the people’s understanding of the nature of true sacrifice is.

It should be recalled that after the death of Solomon the Davidic kingdom split in two.  The ten northern tribes formed an independent nation and retained the name Israel; the two southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah remained under the Judahite kings of David’s line and became known as Judah.  In Micah’s day human sacrifice seems to have been practiced in the north and the practice was being taken up in the south (see 2 Kings 16:3).  However ready the people are to respond, the response must be on God’s terms  and not their own.

Mic 6:8  I will shew thee, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requireth of thee: Verily to do judgment, and to love mercy, and to walk solicitous with thy God.

I love this verse!  I pray that I could live it better.  In this verse we have “one  of those perfect summations of biblical religion that we frequently encounter in the prophets” (Vawter). 

Verily, To do judgment. The Hebrew is משׁפּט (mishpât, pronounced:̣ mish-pawt’).  The word means a verdict, either favorable or unfavorable.  In the abstract in means justice.  The basic idea here is to judge and act rightly towards every person or thing as they deserve and God demands.  In Mic 3:1 the leaders are told that their duty is to know right (mishpât) but, as the succeeding verse show, they did not (see esp. Mic 3:9).  The Hebrew text of Micah 6:99 indicates that the prophet had this quality, and in Mic 7:9 it is God who establishes the mishpât of the repentant sinner. 

Love mercy.  Hebrew חסד (chêsêd, pronounced kheh’-sed).  The word has a wide range of meaning and, consequently, can be variously translated.  Sweeney thinks it should be translated as “Loyalty” or “fidelity.”  He sees the word as conveying “a sense of moral obligation and responsibility.”  Such an understanding fits well with Micah’s moral teaching.  Man is called upon to practice what God does, though no one can equal him in this regard: “Who is a God like to thee, who takest away iniquity, and passest by the sin of the remnant of thy inheritance? he will send his fury in no more, because he delighteth in mercy” (Mic 7:18).  His mercy is never ending (Mic 7:20). 

Walk solicitous with thy God.  I.e., with care and concern be attentive in your relationship with God which necessarily includes how you act towards others.  “Humbly” is a common modern translation of the Hebrew. 

Suggested Readings From Works Consulted:

The Jerome Biblical Commentary.  There is a newer edition available but it is in my opinion less useful than the original.

A New Catholic Commentary On Holy Scripture.  An older version is available but it is less detailed.

Amos, Hosea, Micah.  A basic commentary by Father Bruce Vawter.

The Conscience Of Israel.  By Father Bruce Vawter.  Quite dated but gives a good introduction to major themes of the pre-exilic  prophets.

The Twelve Prophets (Vol. 2).  By Marvin Sweeney.  Part of the Berit Olam series published by The Liturgical Press, St John’s Abbey.  The series is ecumenical and focuses upon narrative and structure.  I cannot recommend a number of the works in the series but Sweeney’s (who is Jewish) is very good.

Minor Prophets.  Part of the famous Navarre Bible Commentary, the brainchild of St Jose Marie Escriva.  Not a large or detailed volume but a good, basic introduction.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

RSM Notes on Jonah 1:1-2:1-2, 11

The image "Jonah is Thrown Overboard" first appeared in The Coloured Picture Bible Fr Children, illustrated by Richard Andre. The work is in the Public Domain in the U.S.A.

Quotes are from the RSVCE~"The Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Jonah 1:1-17, 2:1-2, 11 is the reading for Monday of the 27th week in Ordinary time, Year I. Notice that this reading skips over the prophet's prayer, jumping from Jon 2:2 to Jon 2:11. This is because the prayer is not part of the theme for the Mass of the day. The Jonah reading is coupled with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37), wherein two leading members of Jewish religion compare poorly with the half-Pagan Samaritan, thus providing a parallel with how Jonah is presented. 

1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,  

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah. Verse 1 employs a typical phrase often found in the prophetic literature to introduce a prophet’s activity or mission (e.g., 1 Sam 15:10; 1 Kings 6:11); a quotation from a prophet (Jer 7:1, Jer 11:1); a prophet’s claim to ministry (Jer 1:4, 11; Ezek 6:1). It can also serve as (or at least as a part of) the superscription to a prophetic book (Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1; Micah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1). While many take the verse here as a superscription it is in fact akin to the usage of passages such as 1 Sam 15:10 and 1 Kings 6:11 previously mentioned. It introduces the action of the prophet. The work is very much concerned about Jonah, but not with the content of his message as such. In the entire book Jonah is never identified as a prophet, and the book itself contains only one very brief prophetic oracle (Jonah 3:4).

The name Jonah means “dove”, a bird which sometimes was used to symbolize fickleness in the Old Testament (Hosea 7:11). Jonah is certainly presented in this work as silly and capricious. In Psalm 55:7 the poet wishes he were a dove so that he might take flight, flee from a treacherous friend. Jonah will flee from the covenanted God of his people as if the Lord had betrayed him for offering the great enemy of the people, the Ninevites (i.e., the Assyrians)  the opportunity to repent (Jonah 4:1-3). The sound of those who mourn a disaster is sometimes compared to the cooing of doves (Isaiah 38:14), but Jonah will complain because a disaster has been averted.

(the LORD said) 2  “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” (Literally, “before my face”)
3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence
(literally, “from the face”) of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence (from the face) of the LORD.


The Lord’s very first words introduce one of the major satirical elements of the book. The word and conceptual links and contrasts in these two verses are many, and I’ve tried to convey some of the significance with color coding.  God says to the prophet arise, go to Nineveh…for their wickedness has come up before my face. But Jonah’s response is exactly the opposite! He rose to flee to Tarshish from the face of the LORD. He went  down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went on board (Literally, “went down into it”), to go with them to Tarshish, away from the face of the Lord.

Notice how the prophet completely reverses what the Lord’s intentions were in commanding him to arise and go to Nineveh. He rose up only to flee, and words and phrase such as went down, from, going to, etc all relate to this flight. Twice the flight is represented as being from the presence (face) of the LORD, which forms a contrast with the statement that the Ninevites wickedness has come up before my face (God's face).

The reason for the prophet’s response is not given until chapter 3:10-4:2~When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “I pray thee, LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil. When the Prophet learned that the Ninevites wickedness was before God (i.e., present to him), the prophet left the presence of God, knowing that these pagans were being marked out for His mercy and love. The book was written primarily as a critique of those who refused to believe that God can show mercy to whomever he chooses, even one’s own most violent enemies: should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle? (Jonah 4:11).

4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.

The words But the LORD indicate that God is responding to the prophet’s flight. To stop his prophet’s retreat and get him to do his bidding the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea.  Jonah should have known that the sea would offer him no escape from the Lord: there shall be no flight for them: they shall flee, and he that shall flee shall not be delivered. Though they go down even to hell, thence shall my hand bring them out: and though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down. And though they be hid in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them away from thence: and though they hide themselves from my eyes in the depth of the sea, there will I command the serpent and he shall bite them (Amos 9:1-3, Douay-Rheims Translation).

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me (Psalm 139:7-10).

It is interesting to note that a storm at sea precedes our Blessed Lord’s entrance into Pagan territory in the Gospels (see Matt 8:23-34; Mark 4:35-5:2; Luke 8:22-41).

5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god; and they threw the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. 

And each cried to his god. As the devout (but misguided) pagan mariners cry to their respective gods Jonah continues his flight from the Lord. 

And they threw (literally, ‘hurled”) their wares that were in the ship into the sea. As yet the sailors are unaware that it is the Lord God--whom they don’t know--who has hurled a great wind at them and caused the tempest (see the word “hurled” in verse 4). As yet they are also unaware that it is NOT their wares that were in the ship that is a danger to them, rather, it is the fleeing prophet who has gone down into the inner part of the ship that is the problem.

Note the re-occurrence of the word down, already used a few times in verse 3 to relate to the prophet's flight: he went down to Joppa and went on board (literally down into) the ship. Now he has gone down even further, into the inner part of the ship where he has lain down and gone fast asleep.

It may be that the prophet is here parodied as righteous, for he is presented as sleeping the sleep of the righteous who trust in God’s power to save: I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me (Psalm 3:5. 3:6 in NAB).  In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for thou alone, O LORD, makest me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8. 8:9 in the NAB).   As  he himself will come to admit, his sense of security is a false one (see Jonah 1:12).

6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we do not perish.” 

Arise, call upon your god recalls the command God had given to Jonah in verse 2: Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry (literally “call”) against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.  The prophet has not listened to the Lord, his God, will he listen to the pagan captain? Notice what the captain’s motivation is in asking Jonah to pray to the Lord: Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we do not perish. But it is precisely the fact that Jonah knows the Lord God is willing to save even pagans which is behind the prophet's flight from Him (Jonah 4:2)! The captain is asking Jonah to do for the pagan sailors what God had asked him to do for the pagan Ninevites (act on their behalf). Nothing is said about Jonah responding to the captain and we can probably conclude that he did not.

7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.

Getting no help from Jonah the sailors decide to cast lots in order to determine who has caused their predicament. This practice was known in both Hebrew and Pagan cultures and is often mentioned in the Bible (e.g., Num 26:55; Joshua 14:2; 1 Sam 10:20-24; Matt 27:35 and its parallels; Acts 1:26; etc.). The lot identifies Jonah as the culprit and leads the sailors to ask their questions in the next verse.

8 Then they said to him, “Tell us, on whose account this evil has come upon us? What is your occupation? And whence do you come? What is your country? And of what people are you?”
9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

The prophet’s reply to their questions is ironic, and perhaps not altogether truthful.  He applies to himself the term Hebrew, a word seldom used in the Old Testament to designate the Israelites once they had come into and secured the promised land. The term "Hebrew" was used to designate the chosen people as foreigners, without land, outside civilized centers, etc. Having left the Holy Land the prophet has reverted back to the state of his ancestors who were despised as foreigners and treated as slaves.

The prophet further declares that I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. His words are a confession of faith, but also full of irony. The faithful who fear the Lord are obedient (Deut 5:29) and stand in awe and reverence towards God (Psalm 33:8; Psalm 55:19; Lev 19:14; etc.); something Jonah has been loath to do. The confession that the Lord is the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land is also ironic, for the prophet to to the sea in order to escape the God he knows is its master! Recall Amos 9:1-3 and Psalm 139:7-8 I quoted above, commenting on verse 4.

10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

The fear of the pagans is motivated  by what Jonah has done in fleeing from the presence of the Lord. The fear Jonah claims to exhibit towards his God does not exist, and it is this that causes the pagans to fear, indeed, to fear the God they don’t even know. Once again their devotion, however minimal and darkened it might be, is contrasted with Jonah’s which is thoroughly hypocritical. Their question what is this that you have done? echoes God’s question to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:13. It is the question a prophet might ask a sinner (1 Sam 13:10-14). No one can escape their disobedience, not even a prophet of God.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous.
12 He said to them, “Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”
13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 

What shall we do to you?  In the Old Testament it is common to see people inquire of a prophet concerning what is the best course of action to take in a dangerous situation. The most dangerous situation is sin against God, and it is the case that sometimes people ask what they must do in this situation (Luke 3:10; Acts 2:37). But the situation the sailors find themselves in is not their doing, rather it is Jonah’s, hence they ask: what shall we do to you?

The prophet responds to their question by bidding them to Take me up and throw me into the sea. The word translated here as “throw” would be better translated as “hurl,” for it recalls the word used to describe God’s hurling the great wind at the ship (verse 4), and the mariners hurling their wares overboard to lighten the ship (verse 5).

Some scholars interpret the words of Jonah as noble, but in fact, he is still trying to escape God and the mission God gave him. His words take me up recall the very first word God spoke to him “arise.”    His words throw me into the sea reminds us that his descent into the ship (verse 3) and, latter, his descent into the inner parts of the ship were attempts to get away from God’s presence and escape his mission. Having shown contempt for the lives of others--the Ninevites and the sailors--he now shows contempt for his own life.

The pagan sailors understand this, thus they row hard to bring the ship back to land.They are attempting to save both themselves and Jonah, in contrast to Jonah who would rather save neither himself or the Ninevites. In spite of their hard rowing the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.

14 Therefore they cried to the LORD, “We beseech thee, O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood; for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.”
15 So they took up Jonah and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging.

Their own attempt at saving themselves and Jonah have failed, therefore, they cried out to the LORD. Having begun to respond to their situation by calling on their own gods (verse 5), then by bidding Jonah to call on his (verse 6), then asking Jonah what they should do concerning him (verse 11) they themselves now call on the LORD, the God of Jonah, the God Jonah has not yet addressed!

It appears that they have come to the conclusion that God does indeed wish Jonah to be tossed overboard, but not for the reasons the prophet had in mind. This fact becomes evident in Jonah 2:3 (2:4 in the NAB)~For thou (God, not the sailors) didst cast me into the deep. Jonah wanted to escape from his mission by dying in the sea, but God wanted him there in order to bring him to repentance.

What Jonah wanted was evident to the sailors, hence their attempt to avoid it. What God wants is unknown to them and so they act according to the light given them. They have come to conclude that Jonah’s God will act as he desires, not thwarted or checked by the contradictory desires and endeavors of men: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee. They decide to place their fate and Jonah’s in God’s hands with a prayer.

15 So they took up Jonah and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging.
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

Having originally avoided casting Jonah into the sea so that he might not fulfill his desire to avoid his mission (see note on verse 12 above), the sailors cast him into the sea in accord with God’s desire and the sea ceased from its raging. The reverential fear of the Lord which the prophet had falsely claimed for himself in verse 9 is now attributed to the pagan sailors who feared the LORD exceedingly. They offered what was, apparently a thanksgiving sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. What these vows (promises) were we are not told. Jonah, who until now has experienced the same storm and dangers as the sailors, will have to nearly die before he is brought to the thought of offering sacrifices and vows (Jonah 2:9; 2:10 in the NAB). Once again the pagans come out looking better than the Prophet.

17 (2:1 in the NAB)  And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. The word appointed indicates God’s mastery over all creation, men, beasts, plants. He can do with them what he will, and this is a major theological component of the book’s overall message. An important caveat is, of course, that man has free will, thus necessitating the need for preachers of repentance, acts of repentance, punishment for sin, etc. 

A great fish. Neither the Hebrew or Greek text identifies the beast as a whale though the words used in both translations can be so understood they are much more generic. 

And Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights. This becomes the sign of Jonah in Jesus preaching (Matt 12:38-42). The sign Jesus speaks of is often associated solely with the resurrection but, as the context makes clear, much more is implied. The sign of Jonah is seen in the intransigence,unbelief and lack of repentance of the scribes, pharisees, and all who imitate them. 

2:1 (2:2 in NAB). Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish,
2:10 (2:11 in NAB).  And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
In the reading, the actual prayer of Jonah is passed over since neither his prayer nor the necessity of prayer is the theme of today’s readings. The Responsorial takes up Jonah’s prayer with the response: “You will rescue my life from the pit, O Lord.” As is usually the case the response verse helps indicates the Mass theme: The God who rescues others from danger and death expects us to do the same as the sinner Jonah and the despised Samaritan (today’s Gospel reading) do (see Lk 10:25-37).

My next post will be on Micah (Aug 29), followed by a single post on Nahum and Habakkuk on Sept. 4