Monday, October 7, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Nehemiah 7-8 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 12)

Nehemiah 7 – The Lord “put[s] into [Nehemiah’s] mind” the idea of assembling the nobles and officials to be enrolled by genealogy. All the returning families are lists with the number of descendants returned—first the people, then the priests, the Levites, the temple servants, descendants of Solomon’s servants and those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon and Immer but who couldn’t proved they belonged to Israel. The whole group was 42,360, not counting male and female slaves of whom there were 7,337. The financial contributions of the various houses are also listed.

Nehemiah 8 – In the seventh month, everyone old enough to understand, gathers before the Water Gate, just next to the Palace of Solomon, and they listen to Ezra read the book of the law of Moses. He stood on a wooden platform, surrounded by other leaders. The people stood up to listen. The Levites help the people to understand as they went along. “So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (8:8).

The people weep, but Nehemiah and Ezra and Levites told them they ought not to mourn, for the day was holy (8:9). “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (8:12).

The next day the heads of the ancestral houses, the priests and Levites came together to Ezra “in order to study the words of the law” (8:13). They read about the festival of booths, which they are supposed to celebrate in the seventh month. So the people “went out and brought [branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm and other leafy trees to make] booths” (8:14). They put them up on the rooftops of their houses and in the courtyards and in the square at the Water Gate and at the Gate of Ephraim (to the west of the Temple). From the days of Jeshua, son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.

For the seven days of the festival, they read from the book of the law and there was a solemn assembly. Tradition needs to be revived from time to time for it to remain meaningful. We forget. Just remembering our ancestors’ desire to be faithful, to create for their children and their children’s children (us) a world that is better and more redeemed, helps us to appreciate them more.

"Friends and Scripture"
Part 12
While numbers [of converts drawn to Fox’s message] are difficult to come by, thousands of people responded to Fox’s preaching in the early years.  It has been estimated that by 1657, only eight years after Fox’s first started his preaching, there were at least twenty thousand Friends in England and probably many more. 

But the point here is not to explore how Friends viewed themselves in church history but simply to look at how they used the scripture writings.  Scripture for Friends was not an artifact of God’s work in the past but a story that recapitulated itself wherever God’s spirit worked unhindered—in the individual heart and among God’s faithful on earth.

Fox was not the only Friend to use “ministrations” to describe the spiritual passage from fall to restoration.  Few went into the detail Fox did, but many early Friends make reference to one or more of the ministrations to describe their own journeys.  Here is one other example:

“. . .as I travelled in and under the ministration of condemnation, and true judgment of sin and transgression, great was the warfare and combats that I had with the Enemy of my soul, who through this subtility (sic) did what in him lay, to betray me to despair of my condition, as though there was no mercy for me. . .And having nothing whereof to accurse myself, only some little things through childishness which I knew the Lord as a tender father had passed by, so through faith in the power of God and shining of his glorious light in my heart, I overcame the wicked one. . .through a diligent waiting in the light and keeping close unto the power of God, in waiting upon him in silence among his people. . .I came to experience the work thereof in my inward parts, in order to work my freedom from bondage and redemption from captivity” (John Banks, Early Quaker Writings, 184-185).

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