Friday, October 4, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Nehemiah 5 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 10)

Nehemiah 5 – There are community grievances. Jews complain about other Jews who have taken advantage of those who were in need of food. The poor have had to pledge their fields and vineyards to stay alive. The rich are charging interest and taking their brothers and sisters into servitude. These things make Nehemiah very angry. He brings charges against the rich nobles and officials, saying they were unlawfully taking interest from their own people. “The thing that you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?” (5:9)

He asks them to stop charging interest to restore their lands and houses and any interest already charged (5:11). They agree. He makes the priests also promise to do likewise. “I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, ‘So may God shake out everyone from house and from property who does not perform this promise. Thus may they be shaken out and emptied.’” (5:13). In these things, Nehemiah performs the role of prophet in the land, preventing the rich from exploiting the poor, reminding the wealthy of their obligations under the law, even his “acting out” the message he wants them to have from their God.

For the twelve years Nehemiah serves as governor in Judah, he never took advantage of the food allowance he was given to use. Other governors had exacted heavy burdens but he did not “for fear of God” (5:15). And this even though he often entertained 150 people or more at his table—Jews, officials and visitors from other nations. Here he also demonstrates the virtues of the good shepherd and leader of his people.

“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.

It is the spirit of repentance that is brought forth by that pure law, which the prophets and John the Baptist testify to; and it must be passed through before one can come to a participation in the cross of Christ.  Going through the judgment due under the pure law of God is a painful time for Fox as it is for all men, but as he permits God to exercise his just judgment over all that denies or kills his spirit, he passes through the ministration of the law to the ministration of the prophets and of John the Baptist, who sees to the fulfillment promised in Christ:

“I saw this law was the pure love of God which was upon me, and which I must go through, though I was troubled while I was under it; for I could not be dead to the law but through the law which did judge and condemn that which is to be condemned.  I saw many talked of the law, who had never known the law to be their schoolmaster; and many talked of the Gospel of Christ, who had never known life and immortality brought to light in them by it . . . as you are brought into the law, and through the law to be dead to it, and witness the righteousness of the law fulfilled in you, ye will afterwards come to know what it is to be brought into the faith, and through faith from under the law.  And abiding in the faith which Christ is the author of, ye will have peace and access to God” (Fox’s Journal 17).

In this passage, we see one of the difficulties Fox’s approach sometimes engenders; for even though he sees the ministrations as leading only gradually to the knowledge of Christ, he tends to mix and mingle Old Testament references with New Testament Christology throughout – as did the earliest Christian writers!!

The reason is because having passed through all the ministrations himself, Fox sees in all of them the Johannine Christ who is with God in the beginning and active throughout the entire story even when his face is hidden: He is in the promise to Eve in Genesis 3: 15--the seed of the woman who will bruise the head of the serpent; he is the voice that leads Abraham away from his ancestral land; the manna that feeds the Israelites in desert and the law Moses transmits to his people.  Finally he is the Word that speaks through the prophets and prepares the way for the incarnated Christ. Fox was not really a systematic thinker or writer either, so that one must also admit that the boundaries between the various ministrations sometimes blur in Fox’s retelling.  But these elements of potential confusion do not detract from the power of Fox’s insights when we remember that he was trying to communicate about things not really susceptible to clear and logical explanation.

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