Thursday, January 31, 2013

Genesis 25 and Early Church Writings [Polycarp to Philippians] 6-8

Genesis 25 – With Sarah deceased, Abraham marries again (Keturah) and has another six sons – a strange ending to the story of this man who was said to be 100 when his son Isaac was born. He must be nearly 120 at this point. All of the progeny of this period are sent to the east. Abraham dies at 175 and is buried with Sarah.

Isaac makes his home near the well of Lahai-roi (well of the Living One who sees me) in the Negev Desert

Ishmael’s 12 sons are listed in verses 13-15 (northern Arabian tribes), and then the story returns to Rebecca and Isaac.  “Ishmael lived for 137 years. Then he breathed his last and joined his ancestors in death. [They] occupied the region from Havilah to Shur, . .  There they lived in open hostility toward all their relatives” (25:18).

Rebekah is barren.  Her pregnancy comes as a result of Isaac’s prayers; the twins she will have struggle even within her—Esau, the hunter and Jacob, the quiet one, his mother’s favorite.  They are who they are but they also represent two rival nations—Israel and Edom (the land south of Moab, a land marked by the prominence of a reddish sandstone). 

Esau is more like his father’s half-brother—Ishmael.  Like Ishmael Esau is the first-born, but he is not the promise bearer.  Jacob, the quiet man, his mother’s favorite, is that.  Jacob [Yaakov] also means “heel-holder” or even “heel-sneak” according to the Schocken Bible.  The name he will get in the future – Israel [Yisrael] -- means “God-fighter.”

As they grow up, Esau becomes a skilled hunter, but Jacob prefers to stay at home. “One day when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau arrived home from the wilderness exhausted and hungry” (25:29). He tells his brother he’s starving and needs some “red stew.” Jacob replies “’All right, . . . but trade me your rights as the firstborn son” (25:31). Esau tells him to stop fooling around; he’s starving. Jacob makes him swear the his birthright will go to him.

The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians [c. mid-2nd century)
Chapter 6 – “As for the clergy, they should be men of generous sympathies, with a wide compassion for humanity. It is their business to reclaim the wanderers, keep an eye on all who are infirm, and never neglect the widow, the orphan, or the needy” (121).

They should always avoid any “show of ill-temper, partiality, or prejudice” (121); and an “eagerness for money should be a thing utterly alien to them” (121).

Chapter 7 – To deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to be Antichrist (1 John 4:2-3). To contradict the evidence of the Cross is to be of the devil. And to pervert the Lord’s words to suit our own wishes, by asserting that there are no such things as resurrection or judgment, is to be a first-begotten son of Satan” (121-122). Strong words – tough for my modern ears. Let us pray that we will not be lead into temptation, for we know that the spirit willing, [but] the flesh is weak (122).

Chapter 8 – “Let us never relax our grasp on the Hope and Pledge of our righteousness; I mean Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in his own body on the tree; who did no sin, neither was guile found in this mouth, who steadfastly endured all things for our sakes, that we might have life in Him. Let us imitate that patient endurance of His; and if we do have to suffer for His Name’s sake, why then, let us give glory to Him” (122).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Genesis 24:33-67 and Early Church Writings [Polycarp to Philippians] 3-5

Genesis 24:33-67 - They show the servant of Abraham great hospitality; he tells them the whole story about Abraham – his success in making the move he did and the prosperity he came into with God’s help. He explains why his master sent him and how he came to believe that Rebekah was the intended bride for Isaac.

After hearing all the details, Laban and Bethuel [Rebekah’s brother] agree to the marriage; they only ask that she remain with them for ten days. Abraham’s servant wants to start back right away. Rebekah is willing, so they leave with a “nurse” who has been with Rebekah since childhood.

Meanwhile, back at home, Issac had returned from a trip to Beer-lahai-roi. One evening as he was out meditating in his fields, he looks up and sees camels in the distance. Out with the camels, Rebekah sees him and asks who he is. When she learns he is the man she has been brought to marry, she covers her face with a veil. Rebekah is brought into “Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. [Isaac] loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother” (24:67).

The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians [c. mid-2nd century)
Chapter 3 – He says he writes not because he knows everything they need to learn but because they have asked him for his advice. “For I am as far as anyone else of my sort from having the wisdom of our blessed and glorious Paul. During his [Paul’s] residence with you he gave the men of those days clear and sound instruction in the word of truth, while he was there in person among them; and even after his departure he still sent letters which, if you study them attentively, will enable you to make progress in the faith which was delivered to you. Faith is the mother of us all; with Hope following in her train, and Love of God and Christ and neighbor leading the way” (120).

Chapter 4 – “[T]roubles of every kind stem from the love of money. Therefore, since we know that we brought nothing into this world, and we can carry nothing out, we must gird on the armor in integrity, and the first step must be to school our own selves into conformity with the Divine commandments” (120).

Then we can teach these things to our wives, children and others in the community, for “they are an altar of God, who scrutinizes every offering laid on it, and from whom none of their thoughts or intentions . . . can be hidden” (120).

Chapter 5 – We want to make sure we are walking in a way worthy of God’s glory. Our “deacons [should] be blameless before the face of his righteousness”; they must not be “slanderers, double-tongued, or lovers of money, but temperate in all things, compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord.” (Ethereal version).

“If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future world, according as He has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live worthily of Him, ‘we shall also reign together with Him, provided only we believe.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Genesis 24:1-32 and Early Church Writings [Polycarp to Philippians] Introduction through 2

Genesis 24:1-32 – Abraham is now a very old man. He asks his oldest servant, “the man in charge of his household” (24:2) to take and oath “by putting [his] hand under [his] thigh” (24:2) and swearing that he “will not allow [his] son [Isaac] to marry one of these local Canaanite women” (24:3). He wants his steward to find a woman from the house of Abraham’s father in Haran. He makes it clear he does not want Isaac to travel there EVER. The steward is to go there on his own and find the right woman. The steward swears he will do as asked.

The steward travels a long distance to the northern parts of Mesopotamia. He arrives at a well outside the town and prays to the Lord to show him the woman he has been sent to find by having her respond to his request for a drink of water by saying “’Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’ – let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown unfailing love to my master” (24:14).

Before he is finished with his prayer, a young woman named Rebekah comes out with a water jug on her shoulder. She is “very beautiful and old enough to be married, but she was still a virgin” (24:16). She does all the right things, says what the Lord has told the steward she would say.

The woman is Abraham’s nephew’s daughter, Rebekah (Rivka).  She runs home and tells her family everything. Her brother Laban, goes out to meet the man. He asks him to come to their house to stay. They offer him generous hospitality.

The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians [c. mid-2nd century) – Introduction through Book 2

Introduction from the Ethereal Library Edition and from the Penguin Edition (1987):
Polycarp (69-155 AD) was born later than Ignatius (35 or 50 to 98-117 AD) and lived to a much later age (86 or so) but his epistle is usually made a kind of preface for the letters of Ignatius; we will look at the letters of Ignatius after reading Polycarp. They were both pupils of the apostle John.

Polycarp [Bishop of Smyrna--seaport town on west coast of Anatolia] was a teacher of Irenaeus, and Irenaeus often spoke of the conversations Polycarp had had with the apostle John and with “others who had seen the Lord.” The church of the Philippians to which he is writing here was the first in Europe

The manuscript scholars have worked with is not perfect in any of the Greek manuscripts, which contain it. But Eusebius had a Latin copy of the text – not as good as the Greek version.

Polycarp was a Christian from early childhood. He was appalled by the distortions of the faith brought by the Gnostics, and according to Eusebius, told a story about John the Apostle being so horrified by the presence of Cerinthus, an early Gnostic, in a public bath-house in Ephesus, he told everyone to flee from the place (Early Christian Writings, 115). Polycarp traveled to Rome to consult with the Bishop there – Anicetus (Pope ca. 154) – over a disagreement that existed as to when Easter was to be observed: on the Jewish Passover or the Roman custom of always celebrating it on a Sunday. They agreed to disagree (115).

Chapter 1
“I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because you have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied . . . those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and . . . the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord Jesus Christ. . . .” This is a reference to Ignatius and prisoners who were with him on their way to Rome.

“In Him, endurance went so far as to face even death for our sins; but God overruled the pangs of the grave, and raised Him up to life again. Though you never saw Him for yourselves, yet you believe in Him in a glory of joy beyond all words . . . knowing that it is by His grace you are saved, not of your own doing but by the will of God through Jesus Christ” (119).

Chapter 2
“So gird up your loins now and serve God in fear and sincerity” (119). Avoid the useless sophistries of the pagans, the myths of the Jews and the “theosophy” of the Gnostics (124). Put your trust in Him who raised Jesus Christ from the grave. “All things in heaven and earth have been made subject to Him; everything that breathes pays Him homage” (120).

“He that raised Him from the dead will raise us also, if we do His will and live by His commandments, and cherish the things He cherished – if . . . we keep ourselves from wrongdoing, overreaching, penny-pinching, tale-telling, and prevaricating, and bear in mind the words of our Lord in His teaching, Judge not, that you be not judged; forgive, and you will be forgiven; be merciful, that you may obtain mercy; for whatever you measure out to other people will be measured back again to yourselves” (119-120).

Monday, January 28, 2013

Genesis 22-23 and Early Church Writings [Mathetes to Diognetus] 10-12

Genesis 22 - God puts Abraham to the test at Moriah (said to be where Jerusalem would later be built).  “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, who you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you” (22:2).

Abraham obeys. On the third day of travel, Abraham spies the place he’s been told to go to in the distance. He tells the men with him to stay while he and Isaac go farther.

“Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders while he himself carried the fire and the knife” (22:6). The wood on the shoulders of in “only son” is the kind of detail that puts me in awe of the miracle of scriptural unity and cohesion. I mean all these stories, all these writings were from the hands of many people over nearly a thousand years.

Isaac wonders aloud to his father where the “sheep for the burnt offering” is, and the faithful Abraham answers, “God himself will provide the lamb” (22:8), and of course he does—not only ultimately but here proximately.  God is looking only for Abraham’s willingness to obey and his recognition that the son he has is also a gift, something that the Lord has provided, not anything really belonging to him.  What strikes me here is that having been asked to renounce the past (his ancient clan, the traditions and lands of his father in Ur), he is now asked to renounce the future (or at least any personal goal he might have for the future).  He is to live in the relationship of faith only, not in any notion of what faith may get him.

“When they arrive at the place where God told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied him son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’

‘Yes,’ Abraham replied. ‘Here I am’” (22:9-11). The angel tells him to stop, but is pleased that Abraham would not withhold anything from his God, even his own son.  He [the angel/God] says, “I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. . . . And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed” (22:17-18).

Verse 20 traces the genealogy of Abraham’s brother Nahor to trace the relationship of Rebecca to Isaac.  One of Nahor’s sons, Bethuel is Rebecca’s father.  The offspring of Nahor’s relationship with a concubine—Reumah—are also introduced.

Genesis 23 - Sarah dies at age 127 and is buried at Kiriath-arba (Hebron). The Hittite owners of the site try hard to give it to Abraham, but he finally tells Abraham that it is worth 400 shekels [pieces of silver] and Abraham pays that amount.

The spot – a cave at Machpelah and the fields around it -- is the first bit of land Abraham takes possession of in the “Promised Land.”

It is interesting to me that the promise - the promised heir and the first land right - comes concretely through Sarah — despite the fact that she is depicted as far from perfect in her relationship to God.  The faithfulness comes from Abraham.

Epistle of Mathetes [Disciple] to Diognetus
From Christian Classics Ethereal Library -

Chapter 10 – If you also desire [to possess] this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the knowledge of the Father. For God has loved mankind, on whose account He made the world, to whom He rendered subject all the things that are in it, to whom He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, who He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him.

If you attain to this, imagine the joy and the love you will be able to possess. “[D]o not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbors, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found . . .. On the contrary he who takes upon himself; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]; he is an imitator of God.”

Chapter 11 – “I do not speak of things strange to me, nor do I aim at anything inconsistent with right reason; but having been a disciple of the Apostles, I am become a teacher of the Gentiles.”

The Word manifested Himself to His disciples, who being found faithful were able to acquire a “knowledge of the mysteries of the Father.” This Word “was from the beginning. . . and is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints.” This is the Son “through whom the Church is enriched, and grace, widely spread. . . “

Chapter 12 – “When you have read and carefully listened to these things, you shall know what God bestows on such as rightly love Him, being made [as ye are] a paradise of delight, presenting in yourselves a tree bearing all kinds of produce and flourishing well, being adorned with various fruits. For in this place the tree of knowledge and the tree of life have been planted; but it is not the tree of knowledge that destroys—it is disobedience that proves destructive.”

“But he who combines knowledge with fear, and seeks after life, plants in hope, looking for fruit. Let your heart be your wisdom; and let your life be true knowledge inwardly received. Bearing this tree and displaying its fruit, thou shalt always gather in those things which are desired by God, which the Serpent cannot reach, and to which deception does not approach; nor is Eve then corrupted, but is trusted as a virgin; and salvation is manifested, and the Apostles are filled with understanding, and the Passover of the Lord advances, and the choirs are gathered together, and are arranged in proper order, and the Word rejoices in teaching the saints—by whom the Father is glorified: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Genesis 20-21 and Early Church Writings [Mathetes to Diognetus] 7-9

Genesis 20 - A doublet of 12:10, but involving not the king of Egypt but the King of Gerar, a kingdom south of Gaza, Abimelech.  Abimelech has a dream from God revealing the truth of what Abraham is doing and he confronts Abraham.  The idea of God’s prophets being favored and being people who can intercede with God for us is reinforced here (20:7). Abraham learns that there is fear and respect for God outside his own people, so at Abraham’s intercession, God does lift the sanction he had imposed on them for their inadvertent violation of his will.

Genesis 21 - Abraham, now 100, finally has his son Isaac (meaning ‘God smiled,’ or laughed).  Sarah is also very old.  Ishmael who, by Chapter 16 reckoning would be 15 years old here is pictured as still a child (14)—on his mother’s shoulder. 

At Sarah’s request, they are banished (again?).  God promises Abraham to look after them and make a nation of Ishmael as well. This is a kind of an echo or shadow of the promise to Abraham. In the desert Hagar is reassured personally by an angel.  They go to the wilderness of Paran (on the Sinai Peninsula south of the Negev,) and there Hagar gets a wife for her son from Egypt -- remember Hagar might be Egyptian as well.

Abimelech and Abraham make a covenant and settle a dispute over a well at Beersheba, just east of Gerar.

Epistle of Mathetes [Disciple] to Diognetus
From Christian Classics Ethereal Library -

Chapter 7 – “[T]his was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts.”

“As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Savior He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?”

They are exposed to wild beast yet they are not overcome. They are punished but their punishment leads them only to have greater numbers. “This does not seem to be the work of man; this is the power of God.”

Chapter 8 – Who of us “understood before His coming what God is?” Some said God was fire and others said water. No man has ever “seen Him or made Him known”; he has revealed himself “through faith.”

“But after He revealed and laid open, through His beloved Son, the things which had been prepared from the beginning, He conferred every blessing all at once upon us, so that we should both share in His benefits, and see and be active [in His service].”

Chapter 9 – “As long then as the former tie endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts . . so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able.”

“He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous. . . . O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!”

Having shown us in earlier times that we were not capable on our own of attaining that “life” he intended for us, he revealed to us our Savior so as to “lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.”

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Genesis 19 and Early Church Writings [Mathetes to Diognetus] 4-6

Genesis 19 - Two angel messengers are entertained by Lot whose hospitality is implicitly praised.  The men of the town beat at his door demanding that he turn them over to them so they can “abuse” them –“be intimate with them” [Tanakh 19:5]. There is virtually no discussion or follow up on the particular evil implied.  The whole focus is on the fact that destruction will come, but the virtuous Lot and those he loves are given a path to follow to avoid the destruction.

Lot’s daughters seem to be affected by the sexual decadence of the times in their own plot to sleep with their father.  The older daughter gives birth to Moah, the younger one to Ben-ammi (the Ammonites).  The note suggests it is a gibe at Israel’s enemies to link them in this way with such conduct.

There is controversy over whether God is outraged at what happens here because the men of Sodom “abuse” male visitors, hence are guilty of a crime involving homosexuality or because they violate the norm of “hospitality.” I personally think the crime is primarily a crime against the ethic of hospitality. Just having finished reading Fagel’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey, it is pretty clear that hospitality was central to ancient people. In Greek culture, and here apparently in Mesopotamian culture, you NEVER KNEW if the beggar who was seeking your help was really a god or the emissary of a god.

Epistle of Mathetes [Disciple] to Diognetus
From Christian Classics Ethereal Library -

Chapter 4 – He describes the Jews as a people full of superstitions concerning the Sabbaths, circumcision and “fancies about fasting and new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice . . ..” This part definitely sounds like something that early Friends picked up on.

To speak of God “as if He forbade us to do what is good on Sabbath-days” is impious. And “to glory in the circumcision of the flesh as a proof of election” – this too is worthy of ridicule. The Christians abstain from the vanities and common errors of both Jews and Gentiles. But “you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshipping God from any mortal.”

Chapter 5 –The Christians “are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct, which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners . . . They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all . . . They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all . . ..”

These words were a little thought-provoking to me - a little surprising in light of the way Quakers [and Mennonite Christians] have in some ways tried to create an “alternate culture” of “plain dress” and distinctive language; but perhaps these distinctive ways arose naturally out of a desire to do away with distinctions that were very much a part of the “worldly” culture of their day. I think we should keep this in mind today though. We are not seeking to be noticeable for being uniquely old-fashioned; we should be simple and not spend wads of money on clothing or ornaments; but we aren’t trying to set ourselves apart in superficial ways – just in the love we have and the faithfulness we have to Christ’s Light in us.

Chapter 6 – “To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. . . . The flesh hates the soul and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Genesis 18 and Early Church Writings [Mathetes to Diognetus] 1-3

Genesis 18 - This chapter shows us Abraham sitting at the entrance to his tent near a small tree called a Terebinth at Mamre.  It is just getting to the hot part of the day, when three strangers appear.  Abraham runs over to them and begs them to accept hospitality from him. 

He enlists Sarah’s help and arranges for meat and cheese to be offered.  While they are eating, they ask where his wife is and one of them says “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son”  (18:10). Sarah, inside the tent, laughs to herself for she is well beyond child-bearing age and knows it.  But the speaker, now identified as “the Lord” repeats to Abraham what she has only said to herself. Sarah tries to deny that she laughed, but of course we all know that Sarah is having trouble really believing that this promise will ever be brought to pass—that is why she resorted to the scheme with Hagar. 

The three men then set out from there, and Abraham goes with them a ways toward Sodom.  The voice changes back and forth from that of the men (or one of the men) to that of YHWH himself (18:9 and 18:13) and later again at verses 18:16 and 18:17.  It is clear that they are to be seen as His voice. He does tell him he plans to destroy Sodom.

This is an interesting passage both for its content and the point of view it pretends to speak from.  Here the writer presents to us the inner workings of the Lord’s mind concerning not only Abraham, but the whole plan of the future he has initiated through Abraham.  The conferring of the redemption promises on Abraham brings him into relationship with God in which God seems to acknowledge that he [Abraham] has a right or need to know how God will deal with men, to understand God’s justice and even to mediate mankind’s needs to God.  That this spurs Abraham to intercede for Sodom flows naturally from God’s including him in the divine reflection, which ultimately effects the action God takes. 

There is an inter-action between the divine intention and man’s response to that intention, which ultimately shapes what happens, what God puts into effect.  Also interesting is the point that God is going to punish Sodom because he is responding to an outcry against their wickedness.  In all this, the inter-involvement and interplay between God and man, not simply God’s omniscience and omnipotence, seem to be that which shapes events. 

Abraham pleads with God not to destroy the innocent with the guilty.  Noah didn’t do this (presuming that there were other innocents destroyed in the flood), but Abraham, like Moses and Jesus after him will take the part of man at least to a point and intercede for us.  In a sense this makes Abraham God’s first “prophet.”

The Lord finally does agree to spare Sodom if ten righteous men can be found there, and perhaps would have gone further, but Abraham does not presume to push Him beyond ten.

Epistle of Mathetes [Disciple] to Diognetus
From Christian Classics Ethereal Library -

Introduction: First published in 1592 as an epistle ascribed to Justin Martyr, it is now acknowledged that we do not know who the author was; Mathetes means simply "disciple" [anonymous].  The editor at the site includes it because it is thoroughly Pauline [and I would say Johannine] and primitive. The recipient of the letter is also uncertain. There is a Diogetus who was a tutor to a future emperor and stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, but there is no solid foundation for assuming this the same man. It was written when Christianity was still a “new thing” in the world.

I would think that these early Christian documents would be especially interesting to Quakers, inasmuch as they have long proclaimed that their Christian witness is one of “primitive Christianity revived” (Wm Penn, 1696).

Chapter 1 – He writes to one he sees as “exceedingly desirous to learn the mode of worshipping God prevalent among the Christians . . . what God they trust in, and what form of religion they observe.” They “despise death” and do not esteem “those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks . . . “; and they do not hold to what he calls “the superstition of the Jews” either.

Chapter 2 – Free yourself from “all prejudices possessing your mind”; “you are to be the hearer of a new [system of] doctrine.” He must free his mind of the thought that the idols people worship as gods can actually be such gods. They are merely stone, brass, wood, silver, iron and earthenware – all “corruptible matter.” They were all formed by the arts of man. They are deaf, blind and without life.

Chapter 3 – He writes that “the Christians do not observe the same forms of divine worship as do the Jews” either. They offer sacrifice “to God as if He needed them. . . “, but this is cannot be true. “For He that made heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and gives to us all the things of which we stand in need, certainly requires none of those things which He Himself bestows” on us.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Genesis 16-17 and Early Church Writings [Clement of Rome] 61-64

Genesis 16 - There is still one hurdle Abraham must negotiate—the human solution that his wife Sarai dreams up. Sarai, discouraged with her own infertility and not quite as ready as Abram is simply to trust in the word of God they have received becomes impatient and comes up with her own plan to make the promise of God come to pass.  

She offers Abram her maidservant Hagar with the idea that perhaps any children that result might be considered hers.  Hagar is an Egyptian woman (perhaps acquired when they were in Egypt?). She does become pregnant, but the success of Sarai’s scheme only creates problems.  Hagar now thinks she is better than Sarai. Sarai is jealous and blames Abram for her problems. Abram allows Sarai to decide what shall happen with Hagar (16:6) and the child, and Sarai has no pity now.  She “abuses” Hagar so much that Hagar finally runs away. The tragedy of human machinations here will require deep and on-going redemptive intervention by God—an intervention that is not yet at an end in our day.

The Lord’s messenger finds Hagar by a spring in the wilderness and asks her where she is going.  Then he advises Hagar to return and submit to the mistreatment, and in return she will be given a promise parallel to the one given to Abram.  She is the first woman with whom a covenant is contracted with the Lord.  Soon after her return, Ishmael is born.  Abram is 86.

This story is interesting for many reasons.  First there is the impatience and “unfaithfulness” of Sarai who simply cannot believe that God will be able to bring forth an heir for Abram from her aging body.  How is the promise to be realized?  Certainly God doesn’t expect them just to sit around and wait for a miracle.  “God helps those who help themselves—right?”  We reason like this all the time.  And what we learn from this story is that God, while clearly not behind this “solution,” will accept it and redeem it.  There will be many times in this story that a similar thing will happen.  God will promise something.  We will become impatient or get some inspiration of our own how we can “make” God’s promise happen, and we will get it wrong—we will grasp a way He is not behind—and He will make it work in spite of us.  It will happen with Ishmael’s birth; it will happen again with the institution of the monarchy in Israel; and perhaps it happens all the time.  Perhaps every redemptive “effort” that man has made will ultimately be transformed by God into real redemption by God’s deep and unrelenting love and redemptive work in us, in our lives and in our history.

Genesis 17 - Thirteen years later, when Abram is ninety-nine, the Lord appears to him again and restates his promises to him a third time: 17:2 - You will be the father of many nations, the covenant will be perpetual and is sealed by the act of circumcision. The first two are in 12:2 “I will make you a great nation, your name a blessing” and 15:18: “your descendants shall be countless, you will receive the land from Egypt to the Euphrates.” 

Perhaps what we have here is simply another version of the original covenant God makes with Abram, but the repetition of it highlights the fact that God’s promises and God’s intervention is on its own timetable, not ours.  Nothing Abram or Sarai do will hurry the process. God changes Abram’s name here to Abraham and institutes the practice of circumcision.  Thus, God says, “All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant” (17:13). 

Sarai’s name is modified to Sarah and the birth of their son is foretold.  The pact with Ishmael is confirmed as well.  He shall be the father of twelve chieftains and will become a great nation (17:20).  The chapter ends with Abraham and Ishmael being circumcised even while it is clarified that Ishmael is not to be the heir God has been promising all along.

First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (96 AD)

Section 61 – Clement assures his readers that the Lord is the source of the “sovereign authority” at issue in Corinth. Grant them “health and peace, harmony and security, that they may exercise without offense the dominion which thou has accorded them” (48). May thou, O Lord, “direct their counsels as may be good and pleasing in they sight, that in peace and mildness they may put to godly use the authority thou has given them, and so find mercy with thee” (48).

Section 62 – Epilogue: “Belief, repentance, true Christian love, self-discipline, discretion, perseverance – we have touched on these in all their aspects. We have reminded you of your duty to earn in all holiness the approval of Almighty God by a life of rectitude, truthfulness, and patient resignation, and to live amicably and without malice together, in peace and charity and unfailing consideration for others” (49).

It is through the exercise of these virtues that our forefathers won approval in the past.

Section 63 – He tells them they will give him great “joy and happiness if you will lay to heart what we have written through the Holy Spirit, and will respond to the appeal for peace and harmony which we have made in this letter, by putting an end once and for all to the rancours of an impious rivalry” (49).

Section 64 – He begs them to send his messengers back with news of “truce and unity” (49).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Genesis 14-15 and Early Church Writings [Clement of Rome] 56-60

Genesis 14 - There is a war in the region between the kings of Shinar (Amraphel), Ellasar (Arioch), Elam (Chedorlaomer) and Goiim (Tidal) and the kings of Sodom , Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela. 

The first league of kings is victorious and in seizing the possession and food supplies of Sodom and Gomorrah, they sweep up Abram’s nephew Lot and all he owns.  Abram then goes and with 318 of his retainers, he recaptures Lot and his possessions and brings them back. 

When he returns, not only does the king of Sodom greet him, but a King by the name of Melchizedek, King of Salem (Jerusalem), greets him as well. Melchizedek is a priest of “the Most High God,” (our God, the God of Abram) and he gives Abram offerings of bread and wine (14:18-20). In return Abram givens him a tenth of all “he had recovered” (14:21).  The king of Sodom offers to let Abram keep all the possessions of his he recaptured, but Abram refuses, not wanting to be beholden to him. He accepts “only what my young warriors have already eaten, and I request that you give a fair share of the goods to my allies” (14:24).

Here is a link to a map that plots the route Abram and his family took from Ur to Canaan:

Genesis 15 – God’s word comes to Abram again and takes him out to see the stars of the sky.  And God promises in words similar to those later given to Moses—“’I am YHWH who brought you out of [Ur] to give you this land . . . (15:7), and I will make [your] Abram’s descendants as many as the stars’” (15:5).  That Abram has faith (or trusts) in God’s promises is “credited . . .to him as an act of righteousness” (15:6).

Then God repeats the covenant, and solemnizes the occasion by having Abram offer a heifer, a she-goat, a ram (all age 3), a turtle-dove and a pigeon.  Each of the first three is split in two and Abram guards them all day.  In the evening, Abraham falls into a trance and “a deep, terrifying darkness envelope[s] him” (15:12). God reveals to Abram that his descendants shall suffer a period of slavery before He delivers them. 

When it is dark, a “smoking brazier and a flaming torch” (15:17) pass between the severed pieces of animal and the covenant is concluded with respect to the lands God intends to confer on Abram’s line.

It is important to remember here that Abram still has not even one blood descendant.  How could he have trusted this God? But his stubborn and resilient trust (faith plus reliance) “justifies” him in God’s eyes.

First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (96 AD)

Section 56 – Let us “plead for those who have fallen from grace, that they may be given the unselfishness and the humility to surrender themselves, not indeed to us, but to the will of God” (45). The formal leaders of the church, the consecrated, do not seek authority to inflate themselves but rather that the will of God may be more faithfully transmitted to his flock.

“O my friends, do let us accept correction; it is something nobody ought to resent. Mutual admonition is wholly good and beneficial, for it leads us into conformity with the will of God” (46). Everyone must learn to accept correction – the men at the top, the critics of the men at the top – everyone.

Reject not the admonitions of the Almighty, for though he inflicts pain, yet afterwards he makes whole again; he wounds, but his hands bring healing” (46).

Section 57 – “Those of you, then, who were at the root of these disorders, pray mow make your submission to the clergy. Bend the knees of your hearts and accept correction, so that it may bring you to a better frame of mind. Lean to subordinate yourselves; curb those loud and overbearing speeches. It will be better for you to be lowly but respected members of Christ’s flock, than to be apparently enjoying positions of eminence but in fact to be cast out from every hope of Him” (46).

He quotes from the book of Proverbs or Wisdom: See now, I am going to put before you the utterance of my Spirit, and teach you my word. Because I called you and you would not listen, because I uttered my words and you would not attend, but made light of my counsels and refused to heed my reproofs, therefore I will smile at your destruction” (46).

Section 58 – Let us be obedient to “His all-holy and glorious Name” and “dwell in trustful reliance on the most sacred Name of His majesty” (47). “As surely as God lives, as Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Ghost also (on whom are set the faith and hope of God’s elect), so surely the man who keeps the divinely appointed decrees and statues with humility and an unfailing consideration for others, and never looks back, will be enrolled in honor among the number of those who are saved through Jesus Christ, by whom is God glorified for ever” (47).

Section 59 – “But if there are any who refuse to heed the declarations He has made through our lips, let them not doubt the gravity of the guilt and the peril in which they involve themselves” (47).

“For our part . . .we will entreat the Creator of all things with heartfelt prayer and supplication that the full sum of His elect, as it has been numbered throughout the world, may ever be preserved intact through His beloved Son Jesus Christ, by whom He has called us out of darkness to light, and from ignorance to the clear knowledge of the glory of His name” (47).

“[Teach us, O Lord] . . . to hope in thy Name, which us the source and fount of all creation. Open the eyes of our hearts to know thee, who alone art Highest amid the highest, and ever abidest Holy amidst the holy. Thou does bring down the haughtiness of the proud, and scatterest the devices of the people . . .” (47-48).

Section 60 – “Lord, by thine operations didst [thou] bring to light the everlasting fabric of the universe” (48).

“Wisely has thou created, prudently hast thou established, all things that are. To look around is to see thy goodness; to trust in thee is to know thy loving kindness. O most Merciful, O most Pitiful, absolve us from our sins and offences, from our errors and our shortcomings” (48).

“Deliver us from such as hate us without a cause; to us and all mankind grant peace and concord, even as thou didst to our forefathers when they called devoutly upon thee in faith and truth; and make us to be obedient both to thine own almighty and glorious Name and to all who have the rule and governance over us upon earth” (48).