Saturday, October 5, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Nehemiah 6 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 11)

Nehemiah 6 – Returning to the wall story, reports go back to Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem the Arab (all of them officials of the Persian provincial government who are enemies of Nehemiah), that the wall is nearing completion. Only the gates remain to be done (6:1).

The three try to get Nehemiah to come and meet with them, but he believes it is a conspiracy to do him harm, so he puts them off repeatedly. They continue to charge him with an intent to rebel against the emperor. Sanballat’s servant brings a letter to him about the rumor that Nehemiah and the Jews are planning to rebel and that he – Nehemiah has appointed “prophets in Jerusalem to proclaim concerning [him], ‘Look! There is a king is Judah!’” (6:7)

He accuses them of making everything up to intimidate those working on the wall.  As in the days of Jesus, the enemies of God try to implicate the righteous in a plot to challenge the ruling nation, here Persia; in Jesus’ case Rome.

He goes to the house of Shemaiah, who is confined to his house and he suggests that they meet together in the Temple to seek asylum there, but Nehemiah will not. Nehemiah believes this man too is trying to compromise him at the instigation of Sanballat. Interestingly, when Nehemiah, thinks of all the bad things Tobiah and Sanballat have tried to do, he also mentions a woman prophet, Noahiah, as being one of the prophets who have tried to intimidate him. I wonder how many female prophets there were.

The wall is finished in October of 445, 52 days after it was begun. When their enemies and the nations around them learn of it, they become afraid “for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (6:16). The nobles of Judah send letters to Tobiah, and he sends letters to them. Tobiah somehow uses this bond of allegiance to intimidate Nehemiah (6:19).

“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 11
Sometimes neat, linear concepts are just not adequate to point to spiritual truth.

It takes about five years from the time Fox begins his pilgrimage in the ministration of condemnation to the point where he passes through the ministration of John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, and enters into the very life and power of Christ, an experience he describes as a kind of combination of coming up out of slavery, a resurrection from the dead, and a restoration to the state Adam was in before he fell. It is the veritable reentry into paradise.

"Now was I come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell" (Fox’s Journal 27).

Fox’s account reflects spiritually the entire redemption narrative, from fall to restoration. He was convinced that everyone who opened to the spirit of Christ in them would find themselves involved in a journey like this, one that patterned itself after the events of the Scripture narrative. But until one entered personally on that journey, the Scripture narrative was not something one could really penetrate.

But of course, the passage of individual believers from condemnation to restoration was not all that the scripture story told of or promised.  It also went forward to tell of the final in-gathering of God’s faithful and the establishment of his kingdom on earth.  These future times scripture tells of were also very real to Fox, but while these times might not yet be upon us, Fox believed they, like all the other historical events scripture told of, had also an interior parallel. 

Fox tended to make the “day of the Lord” itself a kind of microcosmic recapitulation of the redemption trajectory—the dawning of Christ’s light, the pain of recognizing our distance from God, Christ’s judgment and the purgatorial, cleansing fires of his presence bringing us to God—but he tended to apply the imagery involved here to the corporate body of believers as well. When people criticized Fox for allowing women to preach, for example, or prophesy, he routinely cited Joel’s famous end-time prophecy as his justification, as if the gathering of Friends in response to his preaching was, in effect, the inauguration of those end-times. 

Peter, who also believed that the end-times were upon them, also cites these same words in his first address to the people of Jerusalem.

“In the days to come—it is the Lord who speaks—I will pour out my spirit on all mankind.  Their sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.  Even on my slaves, men and women, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.  I will display portents in heaven above and signs on earth below.  The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great Day of the Lord dawns.  All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2: 17-21).

Whether Fox saw the rapid gathering of Friends in response to his preaching as the beginning of an end that had been delayed because of some early apostasy in the church is something Fox scholars might debate, but what clearly was true was that he saw the scripture story as occurring on several different levels—historical, individual and again in the corporate life of the redeemed community, of which he took Friends to be the vanguard. 

No comments:

Post a Comment