Saturday, September 1, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Judith 5 and Hebrews 6

Judith 5 – Holofernes hears of all the preparations the people of Judaea are making for war and he becomes furious. He summons all the princes, satraps and generals he can and asks about the Israelites – what towns they inhabit, the size of their army and the “sources of [their] power and strength” (5:3).

A man named Achior, a virtuous pagan sage, tells him a brief version of their history: Descended from “Chaldeans,” they “abandoned the way of their ancestors to worship the God of heaven, the God they had learnt to acknowledge” (5:8).  At the urging of this God, they “set out for Canaan,” settled there and became wealthy. In a time of famine they went to Egypt where they eventually were enslaved. They cried out to their God and he led them out to the land of the Amorites and others.

As long as they were faithful, they prospered, but when the “turned from the path he had marked out for them” (5:18), they suffered the loss of their country. But then they were restored and promised to be faithful. He suggests that before they attack, they should inquire if this people has indeed been faithful to their God, for if they have been, they will not be conquerable. Achior is ridiculed and threatened for hinting that they may be running a risk.

Hebrews 6 – Starting at the end of chapter 5, the author complains that the community of believers – the second generation – has become a little slow-witted in understanding the theology of Christ’s priesthood. So rather than focus on the simpler doctrines – the milk – he is going to concentrate on the tough stuff – the “completion” of the teachings regarding Christ:

The fundamental teachings he lists as the “turning away from dead actions and towards faith in God” (6:2), the “teaching about baptisms and the laying-on of hands”  (6:2), and the “teaching about the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment” (6:2).

There is a sense in the writer of this letter that those who “were once brought into the light, and tasked the gift from heaven, and received a share of the Holy Spirit, . . . appreciated the good message of God and the powers of the world to come” (6:4-5), yet have fallen away cannot be “renewed a second time” (6:6). This apparently was a belief common among early Christians, that if you came to Christ and then fell away either because of fear of persecution or simply losing trust in the message, that you could never repent and return. It is because of this early belief that you could not "fall away" and then come back that many believers did not become baptized until very late in life. A good many men who became bishops only submitted to baptism just before taking on these leadership roles. I think the sacrament of confession and reconciliation was wisely added once the church realized that this fear was not something Christians had to live with.

Still the letter ends with encouragement to those who have remained faithful. They should “take a firm grip on the hope that is held out to us. Here we have an anchor for our soul, as sure as it is firm and reaching right through beyond the veil where Jesus h as entered before us and on our behalf, to become a high priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever” (6:19-20).

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