Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Chronicles 36 and My Own Article on Friends and Scripture (Part 1)

2 Chronicles 36 – Jehoahaz, son of Josiah, is made king. He is 23 and reigns only three months. The king of Egypt deposes him and imposes a tribute on the land. He makes Jehoahaz’s  brother Eliakim king and changes his name to Jehoiakim. Jehoahaz is taken to Egypt.

Jehoiakim reigns eleven years and does what is evil. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon comes against him, binds Jehoiakim in bronze chains and takes him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also takes some of the treasures of the Temple too.

Jehoiachin, Jehoiachim’s son, takes his father’s place when he is only eight years old and he reigns only ten days. He does what was evil too (at age 8??).

In the spring, King Nebuchadnezzar sends to have him brought to Babylon too. His older brother Zedekiah (36:22) is made king. He reigns 11 years but also does what is evil. He “refused to humble himself when the prophet Jeremiah spoke to him directly from the Lord” (36:12). He also rebels against Nebuchadnezzar “even though he had taken an oath of loyalty in God’s name. Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the Lord, the God of Israel” (36:13).

The leading priests and people also are unfaithful. “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, repeatedly sent his prophets to warn them, for he had compassion on his people and his Temple. But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words. They scoffed at the prophets until the Lord’s anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be dome” (36:15-16).

The Lord brings the king of the Chaldeans against them. He kills their youths in the sanctuary and has no compassion on anyone. All the Temple treasures are taken. They burn the house of God down, break down the walls of the city and burn all the palaces. “The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon, and they became servants to the king and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power” (36:20).

“So the message of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said” (36:21).

It is King Cyrus of Persia who will rebuild the Temple. Jeremiah’s prophesy is again fulfilled when King Cyrus when he permits the Lord’s people to return to Jerusalem.

“Friends and Scripture”
Introduction: This article is one I wrote some years ago and it was eventually part of the book I wrote called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. My plan here is just to include a few paragraphs of the chapter each day.

Part 1
When modern liberal Friends talk about the how the scriptures are not the “Word of God” but only the words, they do so, I think, with an eye to justifying the space they believe Quakers put between themselves and scripture, to distinguishing themselves from those benighted Christians who take a more literal or authoritative view of scripture or those who believe that the scripture is an essential element in the learning of truth.  The space they believe early Friends put between themselves and scripture justifies the even greater space they have put between themselves and the Bible, a space they believe is healthy because of the limitations they see in it—its “primitive,” warlike aspects, its historical unreliability, its cultural baggage (the exclusivity of its claims and the patriarchal elements that feminists find so irritating) and its authority in other Christian denominations that Friends find hard to take.

But the view that early Friends put any kind of distance between themselves and scripture is simply not true.  Early Friends questioned the prevailing approaches to scripture mainly to get people to erase the distance they put between themselves and scripture by seeing it too outwardly, by setting it up as an artifact rather than as something to be entered into and viewed from within.  One of the most moving and profound parts of the testimony and writings of early Friends is the way they internalized what they read in scripture, the way they entered into the spirit of it and saw the world in its terms.

I think this is something I always knew about 17th century Friends, but I could never find “outward” words in Friends’ writings that were clear enough to keep other Friends from insisting that Quakers had always viewed the book as less authoritative than other Christians of their day had seen it.  Their statements about it being the words, not the Word of God; their (or at least Fox’s) insistence that he had come to his inward revelation without “the help of man” and without the help of “the letter” by which he meant the letter of scripture (Journal 34) all seemed to justify the claim modern Friends made that Quakers did not view the scriptures as central.  But when I read the testimonies of early Friends or read their pamphlets or catechism or debates with others, the one thing I could not understand was why they always couched their ideas in scripture quotations.  And if they did not think the scriptures were authoritative, why were they seemingly the most literal of Christians in refusing to take oaths, in refusing to use any term that was not biblical, or in making sure that people understood that they believed Jesus’s teachings on simplicity and non-violence were normative for Christians, not merely ideals he set.

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