Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Kings 3 and Luke 6:27-49

2 Kings 3 – Joram [or Jehoram in some versions], Ahab’s son, becomes king in Samaria and reigns 12 years [Jerusalem Bible notes says it was really only eight years—849 to 842 BC]. He did what was evil “though not like his father and mother, for he removed the pillar of Baal that his father had made” (3:2). Still, he “clung to the sin of Jeroboam” (3:3). It doesn’t say how – golden calves? high places?  

King Mesha of Moab, a sheep breeder, used to provide Ahab with lambs and wool, but now he rebels. Jerusalem Bible notes indicates that a stele, discovered at Dibon in 1868, 12 miles east of the Dead Sea and four miles north of the Arnon River, mentions this Moabite “war of liberation” but omits this episode. Joram secures the aid of Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom in this effort to subdue the Moabites.  Jehoshaphat says to him, “I am with you, my people are your people, my horses are your horses” (3:7).

They go by way of Edom, south and east of the Dead Sea. The king of Edom is an ally. Lacking water for seven days, they fear defeat at the hand of Moab, so they consult Elisha. Elisha tries to put Joram off by saying “What have I to do with you? Go to your father’s prophets or to your mother’s” (3:13). But Elisha finally yields to him because of his respect for Jehoshaphat (3:14).

Elisha asks for a musician, and while the musician plays, “the power of the Lord came on him” (3:15). He prophesies that the wadi would be filled with water (without wind or rain) and that the Lord will hand Moab over to them.  The next morning they see water flowing from the direction of Edom until it fills the country.  The Moabites prepare to fight, but see the reflection of the water “as red as blood” (3:22). They think it is because the three kings have fought amongst themselves, and killed one another, so the Moabites go against them.  When they arrive they are attacked and defeated. 

In a desperate attempt to halt the attack, the King of Moab offers up his first-born son as a burnt offering on the wall to the god of the Moabites [Chemosh]. Interesting differences arise in the translations at this point. Some say this act brought “great wrath” down on the Israelites; others say “great terror” struck them. The result is the same. The attackers halt their invasion. “[T]hey drew back from the city and returned to their own country” (3:27).

The Jerusalem Bible notes that some interpreters think that there is reference here to the fury of Chemosh, god of the Moabites; but that is problematic.  It is basically accepting that the Moabite god responded to the sacrifice of the king’s son by helping them fend off the Israelites. Isaac Asimov (359) indicates that most cultures at this time were “henotheistic,” that is they believed in the idea that each territory had its own powerful god to protect it; so that even if Israelites were not worshippers of Chemosh, they might have believed that the sacrifice to him in his own territory would likely bring that god into the fray in a powerful way. But you would think this an unlikely passage in the Old Testament – unless the firm monotheism of later generations of Jewish chroniclers was not yet firmly in place.

There are a multitude of complicated historical and theological questions related to this event, which you may read about in the following article posted on the internet:

Luke 6:27-49 - The teaching goes on to speak of loving our enemies (6:27); blessing those who curse you (6:28) and praying for those who mistreat you.

Jesus speaks of those who hear his words and build on them as people who set their lives on a foundation of rock—when floods arise, the rivers will burst against them, but they will not be shaken (6:48). None of these teachings are in Mark.

The rewards promised to those who would be children of the Most High are not the rewards the world has to give like power, wealth, praise, status, but the rewards only God can give like deep joy, integrity, dignity, peace of mind and heart.

Jesus tells the people that now they must learn to see the splinters in their own eyes before they can see to correct the defects in others’ eyes.  There is an implied promise that when they are “trained” they will be able to see in a discerning way.  One knows what a person is by the “fruit” each produces.  We are to be doers of the word, not sayers only.  “The one who listens and does not act is like a person who built a house on the ground without a foundation.  When the river burst against it, it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed” (6:49). 

It is interesting in Luke that he focuses so intently on how important “the fruits” are in a person’s life—what it is they DO.  In Mark there is so little emphasis on this; it is remarkable.  Maybe this is one of the things Luke felt was missing from Mark.  Again Mark is really more Pauline in focusing on the ”gnosis” the gospel gives us and on the inner transformation it involves—Paul also talks about fruits, about behavior; but I think his emphasis is on the change in “being” that occurs in the person of faith, not primarily on the change in behavior.

Reflection:  For Luke, Jesus holds out for us a new way of life, a way of life built on sincerity of faith and obedience to God.  These are not just idealistic precepts or a way of life impossible for us to reach.  But we must learn to see in the way God meant for us to see and overcome the impediments to faithful action.  It is not what we feel or think that mark us as children of the Most High, but real differences in our lives.  The fruit, whether of deeds or words or work must grow from the tree of life Christ brings to fruition in us.

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