Saturday, December 15, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 46-49 and Matthew 2

Psalm 46 – God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea” (45:1-2).

“A river brings joy to the city of our God, the sacred home of the Most High. God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed” (46:4-5)

“The nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble. God’s voice thunders, and the earth melts. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress” (46:6-7).

Here is an interesting line – counter-intuitive: “Come, see the glorious works of the Lord: See how he brings destruction upon the world. He causes wars to end throughout the earth. He breaks the blow and snaps the spear” (46:8-9).

“Be still and know that I am God!” (46:10)

Psalm 47 – “Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise! For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth” (47:1-2).

“He chose the Promised Land as our inheritance, the proud possession of Jacob’s descendants, whom he loves” (47:4)

Psalm 48 – “How great is the Lord, how deserving of praise, in the city of our God, which sits on his holy mountain! . . . Mount Zion, the holy mountain, is the city of the great King!” (48:1-2).

“The kings of the earth joined forces and advanced against the city. But when they saw it, they were stunned; they were terrified and ran away” (48:4-5).

“Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever, and he will guide us until we die” (48:12-14).

Psalm 49 – “Listen to this, all you people! Pay attention, everyone in the world!. . . For my words are wise, and my thoughts are filled with insight” (49:1-3)

“Why should I fear when trouble comes, when enemies surround me? They trust in their wealth and boast of great riches. Yet they cannot redeem themselves from death by paying a ransom to God. Redemption does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough to live forever and never see the grave” (49:5-9).

“Those who are wise must finally die, just like the foolish and senseless, leaving all their wealth behind” (49:10).

“Like sheep, they are led to the grave, where death will be their shepherd. In the morning the godly will rule over them. Their bodies will rot in the grave, far from their grand estates. But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave” (49:14-15).

So don’t be dismayed when the wicked grow rich and their homes become ever more splendid. For when they die, they take nothing with them. Their wealth will not follow them into the grave . . . People who boast of their wealth don’t understand; they will die, just like animals” (49:16-20).

Matthew 2 - The story turns to the journey of the Magi. Magi were followers of Zoroaster or adherents at least to some of Zoroaster’s ideas.

Herod the Great (r. 37-4 BC) assembles his chief priests and scribes to learn what they knew of when and where the expected Messiah would be born.  When Herod puts together the prophesies of Isaiah concerning the place and the Magi concerning the time of the star’s appearance, he asks the Magi to report back to him if they find the child.  They then follow the star and come to the house where Mary is with the child and do him homage.  They give gifts that are symbolic gold (royalty), incense (divinity) and myrrh (passion). Warned in a dream, they return to their country by a different route.

In another dream, Joseph is warned to escape with the child to Egypt and stay there until Herod is dead. This would put the birth sometime before 4 BC. Egypt is 80 miles from Bethlehem and would likely have taken 8-10 days to walk.

Meanwhile Herod, angry that the Magi did not cooperate with him, orders all boy children under two to be killed.  Then they return from Egypt to Galilee. 

The parts added by Matthew seem geared to the idea that Jesus is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and “types.” Jesus’ story is made to parallel the history of his people—having to go into Egypt, the slaughter of the innocents, being called to return to Israel.  Matthew seems geared to showing that Jesus was “the light to the nations” and we can see the interest of the nations in the presence and actions of the Magi. Throughout the birth narrative, the writer tries to show how every detail was foretold in some way by the prophets, Isaiah or Jeremiah.  References to the Old Testament are the following:

·      Mary’s role in the birth (Isaiah 7:14).
·      Bethlehem as the place of the Messiah’s birth (Micah 5:1).
·      The grief at the death of the infants (Jeremiah 21:15)
·      Having to be a Nazarene (Isaiah 11:1).

When I think of these stories with the “mind of a modern,” which I certainly have, I try to imagine how stories like these, which I am not convinced are strictly factual might have come from. The Jews who were followers of Jesus believed that he was in fact the Messiah but came to see that his Messiah-ship was different in some ways from what they had been taught to expect. When he died and finally disappeared without anything political having changed, I think they plunged into their Scripture to understand what they might have missed. And they found there plenty, which they took as prophesy and they incorporated it into Jesus life story, which for the most part they saw as Mark had as beginning as an adult in association with the ministry of John the Baptist.
That they played a little “fast and loose” with FACTS is not important; they saw the “inspired literature” as valid as FACT. I think we moderns place too much of a burden on fact and not enough on human vision, which is in some ways “metaphysical.”

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