Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 1

Patristic = From the Fathers (Latin: Patria) of the Church.

1 Blessed is the man, that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners: and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful.

Blessed: As the prize is proclaimed before the contest, so this book, the companion to the Church to the end of time in her great contest, opens with the promise of her great reward-blessedness. Both David and the Son of David, Jesus Christ, begin their teaching with a blessing; only whereas here we have but one, the commencement of the Sermon on the Mount gives us eight. (Michael Ayguan) 

Blessed is the man: Namely, both He who is both God and Man, Jesus Christ. The counsel of the ungodly was oftentimes offered to Him. Satan said, “Command these stones to be made bread” (Mt 4:3); His brothers said, “If you do these things, show Yourself to the world” (Jn 7:4); The chief priests said, Let Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe” (Mk 15:32). The way of sinners was open before Him; but He warned against it when He said, “Enter in at the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction” (Mt 7:13). Before the seat of the scornful He stood indeed, when He testified of Himself that for this end He came into the world, that He should bear witness to the truth . But when He sat, it was in the seat of teaching, as when He instructed the multitude in the Sermon on the Mount; or in the seat of love, as when He was known to the tow disciples in the breaking of bread; and finally He shall sit in the seat of judgment, when He shall come in the glory of the Father and of the holy Angels.( Michael Ayguan). You, therefore, O Christian, if you seek the name of blessed, repel these temptations as your Master did; for it is written: “Blessed is the man that endures temptation” (James 1:12). And when you have repelled them, remember to return the blessing to Him from Whom it came, according to that saying, “Blessed be the Name of His Majesty forever” (Ps 72:19). (Parez)

Notice the gradual way in which a man grows in hardened in sin. First he walks, or rather departs in the counsel of the ungodly; depart from God, and goes to himself; leaves the Fountain of all wisdom, for the advice of him that is the source of iniquity. Secondly, he stands in the way of sinners, for in that way all were born; but, who has not stood in it, after being once removed from it by holy Baptism. Lastly, which is more than walking or standing, there is the sitting in the seat of scoffers; the throwing in our lot and portion with them here, because we chose it, whose lot and portion will be ours hereafter, whether we chose it or not (St Bonaventure). And, again, there are three other steps of guilt: the ungodly, namely, those that forget God; the sinners, those who commit open and grievous sins; the scornful,those who boast themselves in their wickedness and ridicule that which is good . Where observe, that the three miracles of raising the dead which our Lord performed set forth for us His power over all these three degrees of sin (Parez). Jairus’ daughter was just dead; there is the state of the ungodly. The son of the widow of Nain was already carried out of the city; where we have the sinners, who are removed from the company of the faithful. Lazarus had been dead four days, and was buried; and he is a type of the scorners, who are dead and buried in trespasses and sins. And further, notice, that of these three, Lazarus is the only one that is mentioned by name; just as it has oftentimes pleased God to make the greatest sinners into the great lights of His Church.

Blessed is the man: The word man does not here denote sex, but maturity of reason, wherefore the Church does not hesitate to use the Psalm of certain Virgin Martyrs. And as the Psalmist tells us of the man Adam, who was wretched because he walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and thereby drew all men into condemnation, so he points to the doming Man, Whose obedience shall be rewarded with blessedness above human thought. The way of sinners: This world is that way, observes St Augustine, the broad way which leads to destruction. The seat of the scornful: The LXX and the Vulgate read “the seat of pestilence.” Sitting, that is, as a teacher of evil, corrupting by precept and example, in contrast with Christ, Whose words are healing to the soul. Pride is that seat, remarks another, and he only sits not there who desires not the kingdom of this world. Or, better, it is heretical doctrine, whose “word will eat as a cancer”(2 Tim 2:17) especially the false philosophy of Gentile pagans.

2. But his delight is in the law of the Lord: and in his law he exercises himself day and night.

Here we have three steps in holiness, which in some degree answer to the three stages of sin. And in the respective position of the two verses we learn that the beginning of God’s fear is to depart from sin,-its progress, to do good; as it is written, “ceases to do evil, learn to do good” (Is 1:16). To delight in the law of the Lord; this is much: and yet this, after a sort, is done by the wicked: “They take delight in drawing near to God” (Is 58:2). To meditate on his law by day,-that is, in the day of prosperity, is more; and yet of this Satan may say, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” But most of all it is to do so in the night of adversity. So it is with the Man of whose blessedness the Psalm treats. He so meditated on the law of His Father in the same night in which he was betrayed, that whereas He might presently have called for more than twelve legion of angels, He would not, saying, “How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it might be?” (Mt 26:54) Again, he so meditated on it in that night when “there was darkness over the whole earth from the sixth to the ninth hour,” that is is written of Him, “after this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, I thirst.” And in these three steps to, or degrees of, holiness, we are reminded of that Blessed Trinity, to Whose presence they lead. 

His delight is in the law…Yet the Apostle said that “the law is not made for the righteous man” (1Tim 1:9). But it is one thing to be IN the law, and another to be UNDER the law. He who is IN the law, deals according to the la, he who is UNDER the law, is dealt according to it. The one is free, the other a slave. Day and night…This is, in its fullness, true of Christ only, Who kept God’s law sleeping as well as waking, and of whom it is therefore said, “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Sng of Sngs 5:3).

3. And he shall be like a tree planted by the water:

Here, leaving for a moment the Lord, David turns to the servant. He, the true follower of Christ, shall be like the tree planted by the water-course, which is Christ himself, “the green tree” on which his enemies did such things, and which they hewed down, but which now flourishes in the midst of the Paradise of God. Thus it is said that the true servant of the Lord shall be transformed into the image of his Lord. Planted by the water…for as rivers flow through valleys and low countries, so the root of all holy actions is nourished by humility. And here also the tears of repentance are set forth to us, that the water-course by which the greatest of God’s saints have most loved to be planted. Planted…and that by the hand of God, as it is written, “Every tree which My heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up” (Mt 15:13). In due season…for it is not enough that our works be good, unless they also be done at the right time. As one says, “God loves adverbs; it matters little to him if a thing be good, than that it be well.” And this also was fulfilled by the Man of Whom we speak. Who Himself testified, “My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready” (Jn 7:6). 

He, Christ Jesus Himself, shall be like a tree, in His humanity, planted by the water-course, because hypostatically united to the Godhead of the Son, which flows from the Father, that will bring forth His fruit, the Holy Spirit, Who has mission from Him, in due season, after His own resurrection and ascension. The Monastic Breviary, prefixing, on the Exaltation of the Cross, the words of Venantius Fortunatus as the antiphon of the Psalm:

Sweetest wood, and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee,

teaches us that the Cross itself is the Tree which brought forth its fruit in God’s own season, as the same poet sings in another hymn:

When at length the sacred fullness
Of the appointed time was come,
This world’s Maker left His Father,
Sent the heavenly mission from.

And the verse will then tell us of conformity to the Passion as the true mark of the saint.

Others again, while referring the Tree to Christ, find in the water-course a reference to the Church, intended for all nations, according to the saying, “The waters are peoples, and multitudes, , and nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:15), and the fruit then denotes the local churches founded in many lands by the Apostles. They who take the Tree to represent a Saint, explain the water as the gift of the Holy Spirit, free cooling, satisfying.

4. His leaf shall not wither, and whatsoever he touches, it shall prosper:

As the fruit signifies works, so the leaves set forth words. The leaves of the tree, the words of Him who spoke as man never spoke, “are for the healing of all the nations”(Rev 12:2). His leaf, not leaves; for all the words of the Christ are comprehended in this one, namely,-Love. Shall not wither… wherefore, O servant of God, knowing that every idle word men speak they shall give account, take heed lest you give offense with your tongue, and remember what the Master said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, bu My words shall not pass away” (Mt 5:18) whatsoever he does, it shall prosper: It shall indeed. “He went forth conquering and to conquer” (Rev 6:2). “The help that is done upon earth, He does it Himself.” Shall prosper: There are three kinds of prosperity: that of fools, which destroys them; that of the godly, which may be a snare to them; and that of the blessed, the only true prosperity, when, as the prophet writes, “Jacob shall return, and be at rest and at ease, and none shall make him afraid’ (Jer 46:27). And thus David lays down six conditions necessary for the righteous man, and which were fulfilled by Him, Who died at the sixth hour of the sixth day. He must depart from sin (has not walked in the cousel of the ungodly); must love the commandments of God (his delight is in the law of the Lord); be conversant in them (on His law does he meditate); fulfill them (he brings forth his fruit); teach them (his leaf also shall not wither); persevere unto the end (whatsoever he does, it shall prosper).

Ps 1:5. As for the ungodly, it is not so with them: but they are like chaff which the wind scatters away upon the face of the earth.

Now follows the wretched estate of the enemies of Christ. It is not so with them: They reviled The Man Whose blessedness is set forth, and reviled yet again; they gave Him vinegar and gall; He who feeds the sons of men with His own Body and Blood. They set on Him a crown of thorns; He who prepared for them a crown of glory. “I fed you with manna in the wilderness, and you gave me to drink vinegar and gall,” says the reproaches on Good Friday. They are like chaff which the wind scatters away. “As soon, then, As He said to them, ‘I am He, they went backward and fell to the ground”(Jn 18:6). The wind: Like that great and strong wind of old time, which rent the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, so this shall at the Last Day utterly destroy those whose hearts were hard as rocks. This is that whirlwind which Ezekiel saw coming, “Out of the north, with a great cloud and a fire enfolding itself”(Ezk 1:4). Scatters away upon the face of the earth: As it is written in another Psalm, “let them be as dust before the wind, and the angel of the Lord scattering them.” And it is also written in the Book of Revelations how the ungodly shall desire the mountains to fall on them and the hills to cover them from the wrath of the Lamb. 

Chaff: The Vulgate reads dust, which the wicked are like, because unwatered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, not united by any bond of charity, “carried about by every wind of doctrine,” and by every temptation of the Devil, they are scattered away upon the face of the earth, that is, from the Church, the solid ground of the truth, which bears fruit for God.

6. Therefore the ungodly shall not be able to stand in the judgment:  

The Godly did stand in the judgment of that unrighteous governor; and by so standing for a while there, was exalted to sit down at the right hand of the Glory forever. Shall not be able to stand in the judgment: In one sense they certainly shall stand in it, as it is written, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of God.” But either they shall not stand in it, as being already judged, as it is written, “He that believes not, is condemned already” (Jn 3:18); or they shall not so stand in it as to abide in it, so as to be justified in it, so as to be delivered from it. “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinners appear?” (1 Pt 4:18) Neither the sinners in the congregation of the righteous: In this world they do stand in that congregation. The wheat and the tares grow together till the harvest. The net that is cast into the sea gathers bad fish as well as good. The man without the wedding garment comes into the palace of the king as well as he who is arrayed in it. But then it shall not be so. The sheep on the right, the goats on the left; the good fish gathered into buckets, the bad fish cast away; the wheat housed in the barn, the chaff burnt in fire that is not quenched; the other guests sitting down at the marriage supper of the Lamb, while he without the wedding garment is cast into outer darkness. The congregation of the righteous: Gathered together, that is, by the merits of the strength of Him Who is only righteous, and therefore truly His congregation.

7. But the Lord knows the way of the righteous: and the way of the ungodly shall perish:

God is said to know things in two ways: in the way, as the schoolmen speak, of cognition, and in the way of complacence. By the one He knows all things, bad as well as good: as it is written, “You know the hearts of the children of men” (1 Kng 8:39); and again, “He knew what was in man” (Jn 2:25). By the other, He knows so as to approve: and in this sense it is said to the foolish virgins, “Truly I say to you, I know you not” (Mt 25:12). Knows the way of the righteous: and that will end in their knowing Him as He is. The way of the ungodly shall perish: Note, not the WAY of the ungodly shall perish, lest it should seem that no place were left for repentance.

Wherefore: Glory be to the Father, Who knows the WAY of the Righteous; glory be to the Son, Who is the WAY of the Righteous, the Man Who is blessed, and prosperous in whatever He does; glory to the Holy Spirit, Who is the Wind that scatters the ungodly. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Gregorian. Ferial. Serve the Lord * with fear, and rejoice unto Him with reverence. [Common of a Confessor: Blessed is the man whose meditation is in the law of the Lord; his delight shall remain day and night, and all things whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Common of One Martyr: In the law of the Lord * was his delight day and night. Common of many Martyrs: By the rivers of waters he planted the vine of the just, and in the law of the Lord was their delight. Easter Day: I am that I am, * and My counsel is not with the wicked, and in the law of the Lord is My delight. Alleluia. Corpus Christi: The Lord gave the fruit of salvation to the taste at the season of His death. All Saints: The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous * who meditate in His law day and night.]

Monastic. [Whitsun Day: Suddenly there was a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind. Alleluia. Alleluia.] 

Parisian. Blessed is the man * that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, but his meditation is in the law of the Lord day and night.

 Mozarabic. In the law of the Lord was his delight, day and night: in His law shall he meditate.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Some Notes on Daniel 1-6

Immediately the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace~Dan 5:5
The first six chapters of Daniel are stories designed "to exemplify how Jews can preserve their religious integrity in the service of Gentile kings." "The tales provide 'a lifestyle for the diaspora' that showed how fidelity to the Jewish law and service of the [Pagan] king could be combined" (John J Collins, DANIEL, WITH AN INTRODUCTION TO APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE, pgs 34, 38. bracketed word is mine). How to live in a Pagan milieu as a Jew must have been a major concern as the books of Daniel, Esther, and Tobit indicate. When the People of God entered the Promised Land they were required to keep the statutes and commands of God for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’ (see Deut 4:5-6). But what were they to do once they were exiled from the land for not keeping the statutes and commands? Having ceased to observe them in the land, could they continue to ignore them in exile? Compounding the problem were the words of Jeremiah, the prophet: Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon... seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (see Jer 29:4-7). Human nature being what it is, there is no doubt in my mind that many Jews sought the "welfare" of Babylon by compromising their observance of the law in order to "fit in" with the empire's inhabitants. This is the spirit of Balaam, the Nicolaitans and Jezebel (Rev 2:14-15, 20). It is the spirit that gave rise to Antiochus, great precursor of the Antichrist (1 Macc 1:11-15). 

To encourage the people to fidelity the Book of Daniel was written to remind them that their God was in control, in spite of appearances to the contrary, or the assumptions of pagan kings. Some kings thought that their victory over a people was a victory over the people's gods (Isa 36:18-21). Some kings pillaged temples of conquered peoples and moved the sacred objects into the temple of their own favored god as a sign that "my god beat your god"  This is what Nebuchadnezzar did (Dan 1:2). But, Daniel tells us in that very same verse that it was the Lord [who] handed over some of the sacred vessels to him. For it was the Lord who also handed over king and nation, bringing down the covenant punishment upon His people for their covenant infidelities (Deut 28:36-37; see also Jer 13:18-19;  21:1-10).

That God is sovereign and can both punish His people for their infidelities and aid them when they are faithful is the central message of the book, and even the very structure of chapter 1 bears this out. The chapter has three parts with the first and the third paralleling one another in reverse order. The second part is itself constructed as a reverse parallel (the use of indenting and color coding highlights parallels):


Dan 1:1-2~Babylon effects the demise of Judah.
Dan 1:3-7~Young Israelites are placed under the king's chief eunuch for three years of training in wisdom in order to serve the king. ; four of them are specifically named.
Dan 1:8~Daniel wishes not to defile himself.
Dan 1:9-14~He thus proposes a test involving eating vegetables.
Dan 1:15~Daniel comes through the test successfully.
Dan 1:16~He thus continues to eat vegetables and so avoids defiling food.

Dan 1:17-20~At the end of their training period the chief eunuch brings all the young men in his charge before the king. By God's favor the four young men previously named excel all others in wisdom and literature and thus enter into the king's service.
Dan 1:21~Daniel remained in Babylon until the first year of King Cyrus (i.e., he, a faithful Jew, lived to see the defeat and downfall of Babylon). 
 Of special importance is the fact that each of the three parts emphasizes God's actions (each using the Hebrew word nâthan, "give," "make"). God gave the king and sacred vessels into Nebuchadnezzar's hands (Dan 1:2). God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of eunuchs (Dan 1:9). God gave the four youths all skill in learning and wisdom (Dan 1:17). Even in the midst of their punishment (represented by the giving of the sacred vessels) God will aid those of His people who embrace fidelity (this aid represented by the giving of compassion and the giving of wisdom). Daniel is thus shown to be able to remain faithful to the Law, but also to the command given through Jeremiah to work for the welfare of Babylon.

Further in Dan 1:1-2 God's action of "giving" stands in marked contrast to the use of various verbs denoting Nebuchadnezzar's actions. The king came to Jerusalem and besieged it, and he may have brought the sacred vessels to his homeland and placed them in the temple of his god, but all of this was by the act of the One God. Also, in Dan 1:3, 4, 5, 7 we see verbs used in reference to Israelites. The king commanded the eunuch to bring some Israelites and teach them, assign them food and educate them. And the eunuch named them. Yet as we've already seen, the king can only command that they be brought to his court because God gave up Judah and Jerusalem. As Dan 1:17 indicates their teaching and education was God's doing. And, of course, because of their fidelity to the Law they did not eat the food assigned to them. In ancient times the changing of a foreigner's name in a royal court indicated that he had new masters, namely, the king and his gods; But chapters 1-6 of this book indicate that Daniel and his companions are, like St Thomas More, "the king's good servant, but God's first".

An odd feature about the book is the fact that it is written in three different languages. Dan 1:1-2:4a and Dan 8:1-12:13 are written in Hebrew; Dan 2:4b-7:28 is written in Aramaic; and Dan 13:1-14:42 is in Greek.

The Aramaic section (Dan 2:4b-7:28) has a very interesting structure (parallels indicated by indentations and color coding): 

A1) Dan 2 beginning in verse 4b~A dream concerning four kingdoms represented by various metals; culminating in the Kingdom of God.
B1) Dan 3~Jews refuse an order to worship an idol and are saved from being punished in a fiery furnace.
C1) Dan 4~Divine judgement comes upon the Pagan King Nebuchadnezzar.
C2) Dan 5~Divine judgement comes upon the Pagan King Belshazzar.
B2) Dan 6~Daniel refuses to obey and order not to worship the one true God and is saved from punishment in a lion's den.
A2) Dan 7~A vision concerning four kingdoms represented by various beasts; culminating in the Kingdom of the Son of Man.

The structure makes the message of these chapters clear: Human kingdom's will have their end when God's Kingdom comes (A1 & A2). One must remain faithful to God in spite of ruling human authority (B1 & B2), because such rulers are subject to the judgments of God (C1 & C2).

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.

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. 


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).


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.


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

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

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 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. 


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.