Thursday, February 7, 2013

Genesis 31:33-55 and The Martyrdom of Polycarp 11-13

Genesis 31:33-55 – Laban searches for the idol taken from his home. He looks in Leah’s tent and the tents of the two serving women; finally he looks in Rachel’s tent. She had hidden the idols in her “camel saddle, and was sitting on them” (31:34). Laban cannot find them. Rachel says she can’t get up because she is having her monthly period.

Jacob gets angry and challenges Laban; he’s angry not only for this assault on his household, but because of Laban’s having taken advantage of him for so many years. Laban offers to make a covenant with Jacob. “Jacob [takes] a stone and set[s] it up as a monument” (31:45). He has everyone bring stones to add to the pile. “Then Jacob and Laban [sit] down beside the pile of stones to eat a covenant meal” (31:46).

Laban declares “’This pile of stones will stand as a witness to remind us of the covenant we have made today.’ This explains why it was called Galeed – ‘Witness Pile.’ But it was also called Mizpah (which means ‘watchtower’), for Laban said, ‘May the Lord keep watch between us to make sure that we keep this covenant when we are out of each other’s sight’” (31:48-49).

They swear to never do each other harm and to respect the boundary line. They feast and sleep. The next morning Laban gets up, kisses his daughters and grandchildren and returns home.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp
Chapter 11 – The governor threatens Polycarp with “wild beasts”- says he will throw him in with them if he does not renounce his faith.  Polycarp responds, “’[C]all them up . . . for it is out of the question for us to exchange a good way of thinking for a bad one’” (128).

Then the governor threatens him with being burnt, and Polycarp responds, “’The fire you threaten me with cannot go on burning for very long; after a while it goes out. But what you are unaware of are the flames of future judgment and everlasting torment which are in store for the ungodly’” (128). Stop wasting time, he says further. Bring it on.

Chapter 12 – The debate with the governor makes Polycarp overflow with courage and joy . . . his whole countenance was beaming with grace” “ (129). The governor is the one who finds himself at a complete loss. He communicates to the herald of the coliseum that Polycarp has admitted to the crime of being a Christian, and the herald announces it to the crowd. They erupt into “loud yells of ungovernable fury” (129).

There are cries for the regional official who oversaw “emperor worship” in the province to throw Polycarp to the lions, but the official announces that the “beast-fighting” portion of the “show” is over. The coliseum’s “entertainment” included a number of things: chariot races, athletic contests, gladiatorial fights, mock battles and other things as well. Wild animals were brought in to fight each other or men who were either condemned criminals or professional animal fighters like modern-day bull-fighters.

The crowd then “set up a unanimous outcry that he [be] burnt alive” (129). This is seen as a “fulfillment of the vision he had had of his pillow, when he saw it catching fire during his prayers, and turned to his loyal friends with the prophetic words, ‘I must be going to be burnt alive’” (129).

Chapter 13 – “It was all done in less time than it takes to tell” (129). The crowd gathers together the timber for the fire, led by the Jews, it says (129).  He removes his “outer garments” and tries to take off his shoes, but cannot. There is comment that he was unused to doing this since his admirers sought to help him with such details, and remember he was quite old.

“The irons with which the pyre was equipped were fastened round him; but when they proposed to nail him as well, he said, ‘Let me be; He who gives me strength to endure the flames will give me strength not to flinch at the stake, without your making sure of it with nails’” (129).

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