Thursday, September 26, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Ezra 2-3 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 3)

Ezra 3 – After seven months, Jeshua, head of the priests, and Zerrubabel, set out to build the altar of the God of Israel and to offer burnt offerings on it. They do it fearful of the response of the neighboring people (3:3).

They kept the Festival of Booths [or Shelters - Sukkot] and other offerings prescribed by the Law. They gave money to the masons and carpenters to work on the foundations, food and drink to Sidonians and Tyrians for the cedar they brought in ships. The second year after arriving, they “made a beginning” (3:8). Levites oversee the work, and Jeshua and certain other families “took charge of the workers in the house of God” (3:9).
Praise is offered up when the foundation is complete. “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, thought many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away” (3:12).

Ezra 4 – When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin (Samaritans?) hear that the temple is being rebuilt, they reproach Zerrubbabel for not asking them to help. They claim to be worshippers of Yahweh too, but their offer is rejected. Then the landed people, “people of the land” [Samaritan settlers] discouraged the people of Judah from their efforts. So things are frustrated until the coming of Darius in 522, it says.

Then it goes on to say that in the reign of Artaxerxes (much later from 464-423), some of the adversaries of the returnees wrote to the Emperor, complaining that they were “rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations” (4:12). The petitioners encourage the Emperor to recheck the court records to see that this is a rebellious people, not one that should be encouraged to rebuild. The Emperor responds ordering them to cease the rebuilding. When Rehum and Shimshai (Governor of Samaria, center of Persian government for the region, and his Secretary) get this message, they go to Jerusalem and “by force and power made them cease” (4:23). The work is discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius (4:24).A Jerusalem Bible note says the delay in rebuilding occurs between 538 and 522 or through the reign of Cambyses, not Artaxerxes. Haggai blames the delay on their indifference. The Chronicler blames their opponents.

“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 3
Now Fox would never have described the words of scripture in this way [analyzing the words and meanings of the scripture narrative as a way of “opening” some inward reality – kind of the way the “Life of Pi” describes].  The concepts were just not part of his intellectual life in the 17th century.  But I am convinced that the fundamental experience of coming into those familiar words was the same in his life and in mine.  So what I want to explore here is what early Friends did with respect to the scriptures—not what did they say, but how did they use them to encourage others to “enter into” the words.

One of the most revealing passages from Fox’s journal on the scriptures goes into great depth on the problem as Fox saw it. People approached scripture, according to Fox, “without a right sense of them, and without duly applying them to their own states (Fox’s Journal 31).

. . .I saw the state of those, both priests and people, who in reading the Scriptures, cry out much against Cain, Esau, and Judas, and other wicked men of former times, mentioned in the Holy Scriptures; but do not see the nature of Cain, of Esau, of Judas, and those others, in themselves.  And these said it was they, they, they, that were the bad people; putting it off from themselves: but when some of these came, with the light and spirit of Truth, to see into themselves, then they came to say, “I, I, I, it is I myself that have been the Ishmael, and the Esau”, etc.  For then they came to see the nature of wild Ishmael in themselves, the nature of Cain, of Esau, of Korah, of Balaam and of the son of perdition in themselves, sitting above all that is called God in them (Fox’s Journal 30).

The characters of scripture were not merely historical personages, people comfortably distant from us in time and place.  They were exemplars of every kind of spiritual condition and nature that one might have to contend with—inwardly or outwardly. Those who envied and persecuted the godly were people who dwelled in the nature of Cain; those who chose earthly goods over the heavenly promises of God were in the nature of the earthly Esau. Those who rebelled against God were in the nature of Korah, and those who traded in God’s wisdom for material gain had the nature of Balaam.  On the other hand, those who received the living Word of God in their hearts and responded to it were in the nature of Abraham; those who saw into the pure law of God were in the nature of Moses and those who were able to see into the types and shadows had the nature of the prophets.  This did not mean for Fox that the historical Moses or Korah or Cain were imaginary.  It simply meant that they were more than just human and historical; they represented spiritual realities we all encounter either in ourselves or in others.  So we should approach the characters and events of the scriptures with an eye to “types” and “figures” they represented, the truths they illuminated and the insights they gave us into our own spiritual conditions.

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