Monday, September 30, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Ezra 7-8 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 6)

Ezra 7 – The reign of Artaxerxes begins around 464. This is the period during which Ezra makes his appearance. He is the son of Seraiah—Azariah—Hilkiah—Shallum—Zadok—Ahitub—Amariah—Azariah—Meraioth—Zerahiah—Uzzi—Bukki—Abishua—Phinehas—Eleazar—Aaron.

He arrives from Babylon around the 7th year of Artaxerxes’ reign. He “had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel” (7:10). The document authorizing Ezra’s mission also permits any other priests, Levites, singers, doorkeepers, or other servants of the Temple to go with him and to take money, food, and other necessities. Freewill offerings from others they may take, and no one is permitted to levy a toll or other tribute on them. “Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal for the house of the God of heaven, or wrath will come upon the realm of the king and his heirs” (7:23).

The chapter ends with this nice passage. “Praise the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king to glorify the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, and who extended to me steadfast love before the king and his counselors and before all the kings mighty officers” (7:28). A Jerusalem Bible note says Ezra as a scribe was probably “a kind of minister for Jewish affairs at the Persian court. But because Ezra was such a scribe, when they are transplanted back to Jerusalem, the term comes to mean one who reads, translates, and expounds the Law to God’s people. Ezra is the father of these scribes. The edict alluded to here meant that the Jewish communities were to be governed on the basis of the Law.

Ezra 8 - So a second migration from Babylonia goes forward with Ezra. The names of those heads of families who accompany him are listed. He makes sure they have at least one descendant of the Levites with them—Sherebiah—but he has family too.

When all are assembled at the river Ahava, they fast in supplication for a safe journey. He says “I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and cavalry to protect us . . .since we had told the king that the hand of our God is gracious to all who seek him. . .” (8:22). He turns the precious gold an silver offered to them for the house of God to the leading priests, and tells them to guard it until it can be turned over to the chief priests and Levites and heads of families in Jerusalem.

They leave on the 12th day of the 1st month and with God’s help come through ambushes on the way. They get to Jerusalem and stay three days before turning over the valuables to Meremoth, son of Uriah and others. The returnees offer burnt offerings to God, and they deliver the kings’ commissions to the king’s satraps and to the governors of the province.

“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 6
But even this description of Quaker “biblical vision” does not exhaust what Friends did with scripture.  Fox saw the scripture story as inexhaustibly revelatory of God’s work in human life.  A similar but more detailed approach to the scripture’s narrative line involved breaking it down into “ministrations” or stages of God’s redeeming love. 

He believed that he himself had passed through a process of redemption substantially the same as what had happened in the history recorded in scripture, and he told the story of his own life in terms of these ministrations. The saga as Fox saw it was a passage through four or five “ministrations”: the “ministration of condemnation;” the “ministration of Moses;” the “ministration of the prophets” which culminated in the “ministration of John the Baptist;” and the last ministration—the ministration of Christ’s immediate presence and power.   He does not actually call this last a “ministration,” but it is clear that he saw Christ’s ministration in the new covenant as the substance and culmination of all the preceding ministrations.

The “ministration of condemnation” was the stage we were in when the real truth of our spiritual condition in the fall was opened to us inwardly; it is a condition of spiritual death and darkness.  Though it is a painful vision, it is the first opening of Christ’s light in the mind and heart of the seeker.  It can be distinguished from despair by the fact that it is always accompanied in some measure by a sense of God’s loving presence and power to overcome the death one is caught up in.  Fox enters this first ministration when he sees that people “do not possess what they profess;” indeed even he does not. (Fox’s Journal 4).

The problem is deeper than hypocrisy. The problem is that people are alienated from the very power that can help them live by the standards they admire, that can bring them into possession of the things they profess. In this ministration, Fox sees the gulf that separates him from God and wants to bridge it, but he is alienated from the life of Christ within him that is the only power that can bridge that gap and has not yet discovered that Christ.  He knows about the Christ of scripture and he knows about the Christ of church doctrine and teaching, but he does not yet know that it is Christ in him that is opening his condition to him or leading him.

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