Sunday, March 31, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 19 and The Didache 5-6

Exodus 19Some of the interesting observations made by the Schocken translator in his introduction to chapters 19-24 include the following: the mountain serves as a bridge between heaven and earth [Augustine would run with this image in his sermons]—and only Moses is permitted to ascend it.

Mt. Sinai itself never became a holy site for the Israelites.  The only other story that is located here is one with Elijah (1 Kings 19) and it tries to show the relationship between the two prophets.  The Midrash notices that the events on Sinai resemble the conclusion of a marriage ceremony: “rescue—courting—wedding w/stipulations—home planning—infidelity—reconciliation--moving in” (360); not the first or the last image of marriage as a “type” of the relationship between God and his people.

A new covenant will be entered into here. It differs from the two described in Genesis—Noah (Gen 9) and Abraham  (Gen 15, 17) where human beings are more passive recipients of God’s promises. Exodus introduces the idea of mutuality and conditionality.

Arriving at the wilderness of Sinai, Moses goes up to meet with God, and God addresses him thus: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me.  So now, if you will hearken, yes, hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be to me a special-treasure from among all peoples.  Indeed, all the earth is mine, but you, you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (19:4-6).

He comes down and speaks to the elders. He “set before them these words, with which YHWH had commanded him” (19:7).  They arrange a time for the people to assemble before YHWH at the base of the mountain. No one is to approach the mountain: “Whoever touches the mountain—he is to be put-to-death, yes, death; no hand is to touch him, but he is to be stones, yes, stoned, or shot, yes, shot, whether beast or man, he is not to live!” (19:12-13) TOUGH WORDS! 

Moses descends the mountain and helps to make the people holy (clean). On the third day at daybreak, there were “thunder-sounds, and lightning, a heavy cloud on the mountain and an exceedingly strong shofar sound. And all of the people that were in the camp trembled” (19:16).

The Didache
The Way of Death
5 – “The Way of Death is this. To begin with, it is evil, and in every way fraught with damnation. In it are murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, witchcraft, sorceries, robberies, perjuries, hypocrisies, duplicities, deceit, pride, malice, self-will, avarice, foul language, jealousy, insolence, arrogance, and boastfulness. Here are those who persecute good men, hold truth in abhorrence, and love falsehood; who do not know of the rewards of righteousness, nor adhere to what is good, nor to just judgment; who lie awake planning wickedness rather than well-doing. Gentleness and patience are beyond their conception; they care for nothing good or useful, and are bent only on their own advantage, without pity for the poor of feeling for the distressed. Knowledge of their Creator is not in them” (193).

Christians should flee from all of this.

6 – Be careful that no one lures you away from this Teaching. “If you can shoulder the Lord’s yoke in its entirety, then you will be perfect; but if that is too much for you, do as much as you can” (193).

Keep the dietary rules if you are able, especially regarding anything “that has been offered to an idol, for that is the worship of dead gods” (194).

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 18 and The Didache 2-4

Exodus 18 – Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro (AKA Reuel) brings Zipporah, Moses’ wife, and their two sons, Gershom/Sojourner There and Eliezer/God’s Help, to Moses at the mountain of God, and he rejoices to hear all that the Lord has done.  The Schocken Bible points out that the wilderness or “trek” narratives, Exodus and Numbers, have six stations or stops between Egypt and Sinai, and then six again from Sinai to the Promised Land.  Here they are at the midpoint of the journey. 

It is Jethro who notices that Moses really needs help in the work he is doing, judging the people’s disputes and advising them on what it is the Lord wants of them.  He suggests, “You will become worn out, yes, worn out, . . .for this matter is too heavy for you, you cannot do it alone” (18:18). He tells him “you are to have the vision (to select) from all the people men of caliber, holding God in awe, men of truth, hating gain,” and these men you should set over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens “so that they may judge the people at all times” (18:21-22). Sounds like the Roman military system. So, the introduction of law into the lives of the migrating people of God, will bring a degree of political organization as well as moral leadership.

The Didache
The Way of Life (Continued)
2 – The second commandment in the Teaching mean: Commit no murder, adultery, sodomy, fornication, or theft. Practice no magic, sorcery, abortion, or infanticide. See that you do not covet anything your neighbor possesses, and never be guilty of perjury, false witness, slander, or malice” (191).

Do not equivocate or speak falsely; do not be avaricious, hypocritical, spiteful or full of yourself. And do not “cherish” feelings of hatred you may have for others.

3 – Keep away from those who are bad. “Never give way to anger, for anger leads to homicide” (192). And “refrain from fanaticism, quarrelling, and hot-temperedness, for these too can breed homicide” (192)

Do not give in to lust or unclean talk.

“Do not be always looking for omens . . . for this leads to idolatry. Likewise have nothing to do with witchcraft, astrology, or magic” (192). These things also lead to idolatry.

“Tell no lies” and “do not be over-anxious to be rich or to be admired, for these too can breed thievishness” (192).

“Do not be a grumbler . . . for this leads to blasphemy. Likewise do not be too opinionated” (192).

Learn to be meek; “school yourself to forbearance, compassion, guilelessness, calmness, and goodness” (192).

“Accept as good whatever experience comes your way, in the knowledge that nothing can happen without God” (192).

4 – Day and night, “remember him who speaks the word of God to you. Give him the honor you would give the Lord; for wherever the Lord’s attributes are the subject of discourse, there the Lord is present” (192).

Seek the company of those who are holy. And “never encourage dissensions, but try to make peace between those who are at variance. Judge with justice, reprove without fear or favor, and never be in two minds about your decisions” (192).

Do not hesitate to give to those who are in need. Be sure to discipline your children; do not “withhold your hand from your son or daughter, but to bring them up in the fear of God from their childhood” (193).

If you are giving orders to those who work for you do not “speak sharply” especially if they share the faith. “God “has not come to call men according to their rank, but those for whom He has prepared the Spirit” (193). And if you are a servant, “obey your masters with respectfulness and fear, as the representatives of God” (193).

Do not neglect the commandments of the Lord, and do not add to them or detract.

“In church, make confession of your faults, and do not come to your prayers with a bad conscience” (193).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 17 and The Didache - Introduction through 1

Exodus 17The people in the desert are thirsty and again they complain to Moses.  Again, they belabor Moses with their complaints about the things they lack as “free” men. “Moses cried out to the Lord, “What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me” (17:4).

God instructs Moses to take his staff, “the one [he] used when [he] struck the water of the Nile” (17:5) and to strike a rock at Horeb, near Mt. Sinai so that water will come out of it.  Moses does this, but the place is named “Massah (which means ‘test’) and Meribah (which means ‘arguing’) because the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord here with us or not?” (17:7)

At a place called Rephidim, they are attacked by the Amalekites. Moses tells Joshua to take some men out to fight them while he, Moses, stands at the top of a hill, holding the staff of God in his hand (17:9). “As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up” (17:11-12). Aaron and Hur help him by holding up his arm so that the Israelites would win the battle.

The conflict and hostility with the Amalekites will go through the Old Testament as a continual theme—perhaps they are a kind of “type” of the outside, hostile forces that plague the people of God in the wilderness. The people are not sure any more that God is in their midst. If you have ever doubted the presence and power of God, if you have ever felt torn about whether you should trust in the Lord and in those sent to draw you to Him, you will relate at some level to this story.

The Didache
Introduction: This work, the Teaching of the Apostles, was written some time in the late 1st or early 2nd century and was thought to be “canonical” by Irenaeus and other early Church “Fathers.”  Eusebius (c.325), however, identifies it as one of the more “spurious” books and includes with The Shepherd, the Apocalypse of Peter and the Epistle of Barnabas.

The text of it disappeared very early, but Philotheos Bryennios, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan [Archbishop] of Nicomedia, found a Greek manuscript of it in 1873. It was published in English for the first time in 1883.

It has two parts. The first, chapters 1 through 6, is a version of the treatise found at the end of the Epistle of Barnabas on the “Two Ways” but editors of the Penguin Edition say “it is more thoroughly Christianized and, in particular, most of chapter 1 is additional material drawn from the (oral) tradition of Jesus’s teaching. The second [chapters 7 through 16] is concerned with the worship and discipline of an early Christian community” (188).

Where was [it] written and for whom? Egypt and Syria have both been proposed. Egypt because Clement of Alexandria knew of it and thought it “scripture.” There are versions of it in Coptic and Ethiopic. And Syria is considered a possibility because it seems similar to the brand of Christianity that was popular in Antioch and Syria and it makes reference to rural, hilly country that is more like Syria.

Part I: The Two Ways
The Way of Life
1 – The Way of Life is this: Thou shalt love first the Lord they Creator, and secondly thy neighbor as thyself; and thou shalt do nothing to any man that thou wouldst not wish to be done to thyself” (191). Bless those that curse you, “pray for your enemies” and “fast for your persecutors. For where is the merit in loving only those who return your love? Even the heathens do as much. But if you love those who hate you, you will have nobody to be your enemy” (191).

“Beware of the carnal appetites of the body” (191). Give to those who ask and do not look for repayment. “But woe to the taker; for though he cannot be blamed for taking if he was in need, yet if he was not, an account will be required of him as to why he took it, and for what purpose, and he will be taken into custody and examined about his action, and he will not get out until he has paid the last penny” (191).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 16 and Epistle of Barnabas 20-21

Exodus 16 – The Israelites take the “long way around” to Canaan, through the Wilderness of Shur, around the western coast of the Sinai Peninsula through Marah and Elim, then to the Wilderness of Sin - see the map if you are as unfamiliar with this territory as I was: - you have to love the internet. 

Here they begin to grumble: “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!” (16:3) It is interesting here that we are shown that the desire for freedom in man is not unequivocal.  We want our security as well, even the uncomfortable certainties we can get in a system that basically uses us. 

The Lord gives his people nourishment – quails and manna - from heaven, but it is not something they can store away or build up a supply of; it is fundamentally food that is received day to day, and they need to trust a lot in the provider. Right now they are thinking the slavery they knew in Egypt is better than the freedom they are promised at the end of this hard journey.

This is the kind of guidance and presence God gave us in the garden, the guidance that came from his daily presence.  But we did not like that kind of guidance. We wanted a “knowledge of good and evil” that would make us independent of God to a degree --a system to go by.  And though God wants us close and listening day by day, He will work with us.  He will ultimately give his people a Law to go by, a list of rules.  But is it what He really thinks is best? I don’t think so.

Some attention is also given to the holiness of the Sabbath—some manna may be set aside safely for the Sabbath rest. And Moses also puts a little manna in an urn to keep, to show those who will come after them what they lived on for forty years. Communication of the salvation story to future generations will be key.

The Epistle of Barnabas
20 – The Way of Darkness: The Way of the Dark Lord is devious and fraught with damnation. It is the way to eternal death and punishment In it is found all that destroys the souls of men: idol-worship, brazen self-assertion, and the arrogance of power; cant and duplicity; adultery, manslaughter, and robbery; vanity, rascality, sharp practice, spitefulness and contumacy; sorcery and black magic; greed, and defiance of God” (181).

The widow and the orphan mean nothing to people like this. “Gentleness and patience are alien to them” (181).

“They make away with infants, destroying the image of God” (181).

21 – “All this shows what a good thing it is to have learnt the precepts of the Lord, as they are set forth in Scripture, and to put them into practice. For the man who does this, there will be glory in the kingdom of God; but one who prefers the other Way will perish together with his works” (181).

If you are in a position of influence, do not fail to help those who need your help. Have “no more to do with the piety of hypocrites” (182).

Take God for your teacher, and study to learn what the Lord requires of you; then do it, and you will find yourselves accepted at the Day of Judgment” (182).

He asks that they remember his efforts on their behalf. “So long as the fair vessel of the flesh remains to you, try to leave none of these things undone; spend continual study on them, and see that all the commandments are carried out faithfully” (182).

Farewell “May the Lord of glory and of all grace be with your spirit” (182).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 15 and The Epistle of Barnabas 18-19

Exodus 15There follows here Moses’ famous “Song at the Sea” which the Schocken Bible editors aptly say, “provides a natural boundary in the book of Exodus. It sets off the Egypt traditions from those of Sinai and the wilderness, and brings to a spectacular close the sage of liberation”

“So YHWH delivered Israel on that day from the hand of Egypt; Israel saw Egypt dead by the shore of the sea, and Israel saw the great hand that YHWH had wrought against Egypt, the people held YHWH in awe, they trusted in YHWH and in Moshe his servant. Then sang Moshe and the Children of Israel this song to YHWH . . .

I will sing to YHWH,
for he has triumphed, yes, triumphed,
the horse and its charioteer he flung into the sea.

My fierce might and strength is YAH,
he has become deliverance for me (15:1-2).

You led in your faithfulness
your people redeemed,
guided (them) in your fierce-might
to your holy pasture (15:13).

Until they crossed—your people, O YHWH,
until they crossed—the people you fashioned.
You brought them, you planted them
on the mount of your heritage,
foundation of your (royal) seat
which you prepared, O YHWH,
the Holy Shrine, O Lord,
founded by your hands (15:17).

Miriam, Aaron’s (and Moses’s) sister is called a prophetess (15:20), but here she dances and sings this exultant song. They are led to the desert of Shur, to Marah, where the water is so bitter they cannot drink it. The people grumble, but the Lord helps Moses to sweeten the water.

They move on to Elim, a large oasis and camp there. Schocken editors again point out something interesting.  The whole exchange between Pharaoh and Moses can be seen as an argument about who shall be king—the powerful earthly ruler, pharaoh of Egypt, or the Lord of the universe—and here the choice is definitively made.  The Lord is king, “magnificent in power” (15:6), “my savior” (15:2), “magnificent in holiness. . .terrible in renown, worker of wonders” (15:11); “Let YHWH be king for the ages, eternity”(15:18). This hymn is the celebration of that revolution in sovereignty.

The wilderness narratives follow – they represent the process by which spiritual maturity is to be arrived at (Schocken, 341-343).  There are three desert themes: grumbling/rebellion; hostility of the surrounding nations; and working out a scheme of government and law (341).  The process cannot be achieved in a single generation.  He points out that here again as in the Abraham narrative, despite the promise of much fertility there is not a single birth story recorded in the wilderness—the process here is one of preparation for entry into the promised land where child-bearing, planting and productivity will be central.

The Epistle of Barnabas
There follow several sections on the “Two Ways” – the Way of Light and the Way of Darkness. These sections do not read like the earlier chapters; they seem to be the work of another writer. A similar theme will be part of the next “treatise” we will look at – The Didache.
18 – The Two Ways: “There are two Ways of teaching, and two wielders of power; one of light and the other of darkness . . . . over the one are posted the light-bearing angels of God, and over the other the angels of Satan; and one of these two is the Lord from all eternity to all eternity, while the other stands paramount over this present age of iniquity” (179).

19 – The Way of Light: “”First, then, for the Way of Light; and here a man who would make the pilgrimage to his appointed home must put his whole heart into his work. To aid our steps on the road, illumination has been given to us then – Love your Maker; fear your Creator; give glory to Him who redeemed you from death. Practice singleness of heart, and a richness of the spirit. Shun the company of those who walk in the Way of Death” (179).

Avoid every form of hypocrisy. “Do not exaggerate your own importance, but be modest at all points, and never claim credit for yourself” (180). Avoid appearance of presumption, and vices like fornication, adultery or “unnatural vice” (180). Be clam and mild-mannered.

Do not be duplicitous. “Never make free with the Name of the Lord. Love your neighbor more than yourself. Never do away with an unborn child or destroy it after its birth” (180).

Do not hesitate to discipline your children; bring them up in the fear of the Lord. Do not covet your neighbor’s goods or ever be greedy for gain. Don’t try to be pals with the powerful “but look for the company of people who are humble and virtuous” (180)

“Whatever experience comes your way, accept it as a blessing, in the certainty that nothing can happen without God” (180).

Do not equivocate in thought or speech. Obey your “masters” “as the representatives of God” (180). “The Lord did not come to call people according to their rank; He came for those who were already prepared by the Spirit” (180).

Give you neighbor a share of all that you have; don’t be in a hurry to speak “for the tongue is a fatal snare” (180)

Keep the Day of Judgment in mind at all times. And do nothing to encourage dissension “And make confession of your own faults; you are not to come to prayer with a bad conscience. That is the Way of Light” (181).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 14 and The Epistle of Barnabas 16-17

Exodus 14  - Pharaoh decides to pursue the people and overtake them encamped by the Sea.  “As Pharaoh drew near, the Children of Israel lifted up their eyes: . . . They were exceedingly afraid. And the Children of Israel cried out to YHWH” (14:10). The people start blaming Moses for putting them in this predicament (14:11).  “What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” (14:11-12)

Moses tries to comfort them, telling them not to be afraid: “YHWH will make war for you, and you—be still!”  (14:14) YHWH, in turn tells Moses that they should march forward and that he should hold high his staff so that the waters will split (14:16).  “[A]ll Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!” (14:18)

“[T]he angel [messenger] of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp” (14:19). A column of cloud is both before and behind them.  “The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night” (14:20).

On 14:10-20 – Ancient commentators made a great deal out of the line, “Why do you cry to me?” Even though there is no actual cry, all the “Fathers” point to the fact that God hears the cries of the heart (Origen and Jerome), Basil thinks God also hears the cry of the blood of those who are just and the silent longings of man (Cassiodorus).

Then Moses stretches his hand out again and “YHWH caused the sea to go back with a fierce east wind all night, [splitting the waters and making] the sea into firm-ground” (14:21).  The chariots follow, but they “drive with heaviness” (14:25).  The Egyptian camp becomes panicked; Moses stretches out his hand and the “waters returned and covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived” (14:28).

“When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (14:31).

The Epistle of Barnabas
16 – On the Temple: He turns to discussion of the Temple, and he claims he “will show how mistaken these miserable folk were in pinning their hopes to the building itself, as if that were the home of God, instead of to God their own Creator” (178).  He thinks there was little difference between the Jews and the “heathen in the way they ascribed Divine holiness to their Temple” (178). The prophet Isaiah himself wrote of the silliness of trying to house God in any kind of building.

And citing the Book of Enoch, he writes “it will come to pass in the last days that the Lord will deliver up to destruction the sheep of the pasture, with their sheepfold and their watch-tower” (178, citing Enoch 89:56).

Is it possible for there to be a temple of God at all, he asks? He thinks so, but “it [must] be built in the Name of the Lord; for in the days before we believed in God, our hearts were a rotten, shaky abode, and a temple only too truly built with hands, since by our persistent opposition to God we had made them into a chamber of idolatry and a home for demons” (178).

The Temple can be built through faith. “When we were granted remission of our sins, and came to put our hopes in His Name, we were made new men, created all over again from the beginning; and as a consequence of that, God is at this moment actually dwelling within us in that poor habitation of ours. How so? Why, in the message of His Faith, and in the call of His promise; in the wisdom of His statutes, and the precepts of His teaching; in His own very Presence inwardly inspiring us, and dwelling within us; in His unlocking of the temple doors of our lips, and His gift to us of repentance. It is by these ways that He admits us, the bondsmen of mortality, into the Temple that is immortal. For when a man is earnestly bent on salvation, his eyes are not on his fellow- man, but on the One who is dwelling in that person and speaking through him; and his is full of wonder that never till now has he heard such words from Him, nor known the desire of hearing them. This is what the building up of a spiritual temple to the Lord means” (179).

17 – The writer says that he hopes he has “omitted nothing that bears directly upon our salvation” (179). He worries that if he should start to try and speak of the present age, we would never understand “for such things are veiled in the language of parable” (179). So he says this will be enough.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 13 and The Epistle of Barnabas 14-15

Exodus 13 – The requirements of observing this pilgrimage-festival are outlined.  The importance of the memory for their children is stressed.  So, ways of actually putting the memory on their bodies—the phylacteries worn on the body—are stressed.  Schocken’s note draws a parallel to the place in Song of Songs where it says, “Set me as a seal upon your heart . . .upon your arm” (Song 8:6).  The first-born (males) of every womb are dedicated to the Lord too (redeemed is the word they use).

The Jews are not led directly to the land of the Philistines—a route that is not that long.  God worries that the warfare they would face that way would discourage them and make them want to go back to Egypt.  So they “swing about by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds” (13:18).  It is not the Red Sea, a translation that is ancient, but rather “suf” or End Sea.  Schocken suggests perhaps a kind of mythological sea at the end of the world, but he admits no one knows.  They have Joseph’s bones with them, it says. They camp at Etam at the edge of the wilderness.  God “goes before them, by day in a column of cloud, to lead them the way, by night in a column of fire, to give light to them, to (be able to) go by day and by night" (Schocken 13:21).

Cassiodorus, a 6th century monk and thinker, saw the waters of baptism in the waters crossed here. They are mixed with the blood at the crucifixion. After reading the Epistle of Barnabas, it wouldn’t surprise me if many Christian apologists saw all these stories as deeply figurative of Christ.

The Epistle of Barnabas
14 – So, was the promised covenant actually given by God to the Jews? Yes, it was “but their sins disqualified them for the possession of it” (176). The tablets Moses received from God to give his people were broken because the people did not remain faithful.

This covenant has now come to the Christian community: “the Lord Himself . . . conferred it on us, making us the People of the Inheritance by His sufferings on our behalf” (176).

The “Scripture tells us how the Father had charged Him to ransom us from the darkness, and create a holy People for Himself. I, the Lord your God, have called you in righteousness, the prophet says; I will hold your hand and strengthen you, and I have appointed you to make a covenant with the people, and to be a light to the nations; to open the eyes of the blind, to loose the captives from their chains, and to free those that sit in darkness from their prison-house” (176).

15 – On the Sabbath: “In the Decalogue, when God spoke to Moses face to face on mount Sinai, we read, Also keep the Lord’s Sabbath holy, with clean hands and a pure heart” (177).

He goes to the creation story and calculates that since it took God six days to create everything and “finished [the works of his hands] on the seventh day” (177), and one day is really equal to a thousand years, this means that in six thousand years “He is going to bring the world to an end” (177). His logic escapes me here.

“He will put an end to the Years of the Lawless One, pass sentence on the godless, transform the sun and moon and stars, and then, on the seventh Day, enter into His true rest” (177). The eighth day – which he comes up with out of nowhere – will the beginning of a new world.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 12:29-51 and The Epistle of Barnabas 12-13

Exodus 12:29-51 - Death hits in the middle of the night (12:12:29). Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron, and they are told to leave.  They “asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold. The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth” (12:34-35=36).

Not counting children there are 600,000—a crowd of mixed ancestry (12:38) with livestock.  “For bread they baked flat cakes from the dough without yeast they had brought from Egypt. It was made without yeast because the people were driven out of Egypt in such a hurry that they had no time to prepare the bread or other food” (12:39).

Further instructions for observing the festival of Passover are given in this chapter. On the regulations for Passover: foreigners are forbidden to partake, but slaves who have been circumcised are part of the people. Chrysostom and Augustus saw Christ’s crucifixion in the verses about how no bone of the sacrificial lamb could be broken.

We are told that 430 years had been the full term of their presence in Egypt.

The Epistle of Barnabas
12 – On the Cross: Quoting II Esdras 4:33 and 5:5: “When shall the consummation of all this be accomplished? Says the Lord. When a tree droops and then rises up again; and when blood drips from a tree. Here you have an allusion both to the Cross and to its future Victim. And in another place, when the Israelites were being assailed by the neighboring tribesmen, there is the command He gave to Moses, for the purpose of reminding those under attack that their own sins were responsible for the loss of their lives. That was when the Spirit, speaking inwardly to Moses, prompted him to make a representation of the Cross and Him who was to suffer on it; when was His way of intimating that unless they come to put their hopes in Him, the hostilities against them will never cease. So Moses made a pile of shields, one upon another, in the midst of the fray; and taking his stand there, high above all the rest, he spread his two arms out wide, and Israel thereupon began to regain the victory” (173-174).

He argues that the serpent on the pole that Moses fashioned for his people (Numbers 21:9) and the conversation between Moses and Joshua in Exodus 17:14 is also packed with typology.

13 – On the People of the Covenant: Who is the Covenant of God intended for? The Jews? Or the Christians? Who are God’s “people”? And to answer this question, he looks to Genesis 25: “Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife Rebecca, because she was barren; and she conceived. Then Rebecca went to inquire of the Lord, and the Lord said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples in your bowels; one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder shall be servant to the younger. Now then, it is for you to realize who Isaac is, and who Rebecca is, and to which people this prophecy of the superiority of one to the other refers” (175).

He looks to the difference painted between Joseph’s acceptance of Ephraim and Manasseh, Moses’ two sons by the Midianite woman Zipporah. There again it says that the “elder must serve the younger” (175).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 12:1-28 and The Epistle of Barnabas 10-11

Exodus 12:1-28 – The passage starts as an instructional on how the event shall be celebrated throughout Jewish history. The actual event begins around verse 21.

Here is the instructional: The month of Passover shall be reckoned the first month of the year for Jews.  On the tenth day of this month, every family must get a lamb (or join with a neighbor and get one)—sheep or goat—keep it till the fourteenth and then slaughter it in the evening.  Some of its blood shall be applied to the doorposts and lintel of every house partaking of that lamb, and that night they shall roast it whole and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (12:6-8).

They must eat it dressed to escape.  This Passover shall be celebrated “with pilgrimage” as a perpetual institution. A period of seven days is added (from fourteenth day to twenty-first) on which no unleavened bread shall be eaten and with sacred assemblies on the first and seventh days of the observance (12:15-16). They must observe this rite forever. The rite is an occasion for children to be instructed in the history of their people.

And then the author returns to the actual event: The people do as Moses instructs. They pick out the lambs or young goats and slaughter them; they drain the blood into a basin and dip hyssop branches into the blood to brush onto the doorframes of their houses. They stay in their homes all night and when the Lord comes to “strike down the Egyptians,” He will see the blood and “pass over” their homes.

The Epistle of Barnabas
10 – On Dietary Laws: On Moses’ dietary laws, presented in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, he believes Moses was speaking “spiritually” not literally. “The meaning of his allusion to swine is this: what he is really saying is, ‘you are not to consort with the class of people who are like swine, inasmuch as they forget all about the Lord while they are living in affluence, but remember Him when they are in want—just as swine, so long as it is eating, ignores its master, but starts to squeal the moment it feels hungry, and then falls silent again when it is given good.’” (170)

References to eagles and hawks as forbidden foods pertains to their habit of living off the foods killed by others, not by their own “toil and sweat” (170).

All the other “unclean” animals are similarly allegorized as representations of bad human practices. “In these dietary laws, them, Moses was taking three moral maxims and expounding them spiritually; though the Jews, with their carnal instincts, took him to be referring literally to foodstuffs . . . SO now you have the whole truth about these alimentary precepts (171). This is a form of biblical literalism that even modern literalists do not subscribe to. Allegorical Absolutist!! And the pride in his writing I find hard to take. Here is the end of this chapter:

“So you see what a master of lawgiving Moses was. His own people did not see or understand these things – how could they? – but we understand his directions rightly and interpret them as the Lord intended. Indeed, it was to aid our comprehension of them that He ‘circumcised’ our ears and our hearts” (172).

11 – On Baptism and the Cross: Did the Lord “give a foreshadowing of the waters of baptism and of the Cross”? (172)

Barnabas points to words in Isaiah and Jeremiah that reference water or wood: God as the “fountain of life,” “spring of never-failing water,” “a tree planted where the streams divide” as all prefiguring baptism.

Ezekiel’s words - “a river issuing from the right hand, with fair young trees rising out of it; and whoever eats of them shall have life for evermore. Here He is saying that after we have stepped down into the water burdened with sin and defilement, we come up out of it in full fruitage, with reverence in our hearts and the hope of Jesus in our souls; and whoever eats of them shall have life for evermore means that he who hears these sayings, and believes, will live for ever” (173).

Friday, March 22, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 10-11 and The Epistle of Barnabas 8-9

Exodus 10 – The Lord says that the obstinacy of the Pharaoh and his servants is designed to make the signs and wonders of the Lord more glorious and memorable (10:1). The next plague, the eighth, is locusts. By now Pharaoh’s servants are begging him to let the Hebrews go. “’How long will you let this man hold us hostage? Let the men go to worship the Lord their God! Don’t you realize that Egypt lies in ruins?’” (10:7)

Pharaoh “caves” to his unhappy officials and lets Moses and Aaron know that he will let them go, but he tries to limit the number who go.  He especially does not want to let the children go, just the men.  This is not going to do it. So at dawn, the east wind brings locusts, covering the land “till it was black with them” (10:15). Again the Pharaoh seems to cave to God’s power. The locusts are swept away by a west wind, and blown into the Sea of Reeds. 

The next plague, the ninth, is a “darkness [so] intense. . .that one can feel it” (10:21), a darkness that lasts for three days.  This time Pharaoh says everyone may go, but cattle and other livestock must remain. Moses refuses these terms.  Pharaoh sends him away.

Exodus 11 – The final plague, the tenth, will cause Pharaoh to drive them out.  At midnight, the Lord will go forth through Egypt and every first-born will die—not only of man but of beast as well. A “loud wail will rise throughout the land of Egypt, a wail like no one has heard before or will ever hear again” (11:6). But again the Hebrews will not be touched.

The Epistle of Barnabas
8 – On Purification: He goes on to analyze other ancient texts. “Men whose sins had come to a head were to bring a heifer for an offering, and slay it and burn it. Then, after gathering up the ashes and putting them into vases, young children were to tie scarlet wool on branches of wood (here again, you see, we have the scarlet wool and the type of the Cross), together with sprigs of hyssop; and with these the people were to be sprinkled, man by man, by the youngsters, to cleanse them from their sins. See how clearly His is speaking to you here! The calf is Jesus, and the sinners who offer it are those who dragged Him to the slaughter” (168).

9 – On Circumcision: Those whose ears are not deaf to the voice of the Lord have hearts that have been circumcised. The form of circumcision his people have relied on is a form that has been “completely set aside, for He has declared that circumcision is not a physical thing. That is where they went wrong, because they had been misled by an evil angel. God’s actual words to them were, Thus says the Lord your God – and this is where I find His commandment – do not plant your seed among thorns, but be circumcised for the Lord [citing Isaiah40:3]. What is His meaning? Why, circumcise the hardness of your hearts, and do not be so stiff-necked” (169).

While the Jews presented physical circumcision as a sign of their covenant with the Lord, Barnabas points out that “every Syrian and every Arab is physically circumcised, and so are the idol-priesthoods; but does that make them members of the Jews’ Covenant? Even the very Egyptians practice physical circumcision” (170).

So this is Barnabas’ take on it all: “Circumcision was given to us in the first place by Abraham; but he, when he circumcised himself, did so in a spiritual prevision of Jesus” (170). He offers a numerological interpretation of the Septuagint text that apparently is not an accurate translation of the Hebrew text, and it all gets very complicated. We’ll leave it with the idea that Abraham had a “spiritual prevision of Jesus.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 9 and The Epistle of Barnabas 5-7

Exodus 9 – God tells Moses to tell the Pharaoh that he must “Let my people go so they can worship me. If you refuse to hold them and refuse to let them go, the hand of the Lord will strike all you livestock—your horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats—with a deadly plague” (9:2-3). The livestock of the Hebrews will not be touched.

Pharaoh doesn’t yield, so the Lord sends this fifth plague. Still the Pharaoh is not convinced.

Then the Lord tells Moses to take soot from a brick kiln and scatter it toward the sky so that it turns into a fine dust, a dust that will cause boils on man and beast – the sixth plague.  These boils also afflict the Egyptian magicians. Still Pharaoh is unmoved. “[T]he Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (9:12).

Again the Lord sends Moses to tell Pharaoh this: “I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth. But you still lord it over my people and refuse to let them go” (9:15-17). If they do not listen, the Lord will send a terrible hailstorm. Some of Pharaoh’s officials respond with fear and try to shelter their livestock from the storm before it comes, but “those who paid no attention to the word of the Lord” (9:21) suffered great loss in this seventh plague.

“Never in all the history of Egypt had there been a storm like that . . . it left all of Egypt in ruins . . . The only place without hail was the region of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived” (9:24-26).

This time the Pharaoh calls Moses to come to him and he says, “’This time I have sinned. . . . The Lord is the righteous lone, and my people and I are wrong. Please beg the Lord to end this terrifying thunder and hair. We’ve had enough. Ii will let you go; you don’t need to stay any longer.’” (9:27-28). Moses doubts that they really mean it, and, sure enough, once the hail is stopped, Pharaoh’s heart hardens again and he refuses to let the people go.

The Epistle of Barnabas
5 – “Now, when the Lord resigned Himself to deliver His body to destruction, the aim He had in view was to sanctify us by the remission of our sins; which is effected by the sprinkling of His blood” (163).  

Pretty amazing this passage should come up on the very day I am reading about the last plague brought down by God on Egypt – the death of all their first-born., getting ready to post it later in the week. There it is the blood of the sacrificed lamb or goat that is sprinkled on their doorposts so that the Lord will know which houses He is to “pass over.” Again, we have there one of the multitude of “types” and “figures” set forth in the Old Testament Scripture, that helps us better to understand the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross. 

The writer quotes Isaiah, “he was wounded on account of our transgressions, and bruised because of our sins, and by his scars we were healed” (163).

“How deep should be our gratitude to the Lord, who thus gives us an insight into the past, as well as wisdom for the present and even a measure of understanding of the future!” (163). If we know the “Way of Holiness” and do not follow it, ruin justly awaits us.

He goes on to point out how the prophets foretold of Him. By appearing “in human flesh” and permitting Himself to suffer, “He would be able both to fulfill the promises that had been made to our ancestors, and to establish a new People for Himself” (164). He made it clear “during His presence on earth, that it was His intention to raise mankind from the dead, and afterwards to judge them” (164).

Then he says something a little shocking: “But it was in His choice of the Apostles, who were to preach His Gospel, that He truly showed Himself the Son of God; for those men were ruffians of the deepest dye, which proved that He came not to call saints, but sinners” (164, citing Mark 2:17).

6 – He continues to analyze the prophetic writings to undercover other texts that deepen his appreciation of what Christ did and who Christ was: the stone laid at great price in the foundations of Zion, the stone the builders rejected and other Old Testament images from the psalms and Isaiah.

When he looks to the writings of Moses, the author finds other ancient “types” – some I have never heard used before. The Lord’s promise to the Jews of a “land flowing with milk and honey” is seen as a reference to Christ’s mortal body “since it was out of earth that the shaping of Adam was wrought. What, then, is signified by a land that is ‘good, and flowing with milk and honey’? (Blessings on the Lord, my brothers, for vouchsafing to us wisdom and the discernment of His secrets! The prophet is speaking in a Divine figure here, though only a sagacious and instructed lover of the Lord would understand it.) (165-166).

7 – While the Lord has made much clear to us in these ancient writings, so that we would recognize His hand in the life and death of Christ. He examines other texts that “prefigure” events in Christ’s life. Some of the text is really impossible for me to understand. I get the big picture that he is finding prophecies of Christ in all the nooks and crannies of Old Testament writings, but some of the references are not legitimate – not according to the biblical texts that have come down. And some are so convoluted that they are impenetrable. Basically, though, he is simply conveying his conviction that all of Christ’s sufferings were predestined and foretold. The following is a good example of how detailed he gets on a story I am somewhat familiar with.

He mentions the scapegoat narrative in Leviticus. There are two goats spoken of in the story. The “first goat is for the altar, and the other is accursed” (168). The accursed one “wears [a] wreath. That is because they shall see Him on That Day clad to the ankles in His red woolen robe, and will say, ‘Is not this he whom we once crucified, and mocked and pierced and spat upon? Yes, this is the man who told us that he was the son of God.’ But how will He resemble the goat? The point of there being two similar goats, both of them fair and alike, is that when they see Him coming on the Day, they are going to be struck with terror at the manifest parallel between Him and the goat. In this ordinance, then, you are to see typified the future sufferings of Jesus” (168).